The road from Guwahati rises sharply to form the Garo Hills, situated in the western half of the province of Meghalaya. While regions to the west are parched and desertifying, the fields of slopes here are a riot of shades of green punctuated with water lilies the colour of carmen, the dusty rose of giant hibiscus and the yellows of trumpet vine and wild orchids.
The vegetables, fruit and meat, butchered and on-the-hoof, sold from bamboo and rattan booths perched precariously on the edges of deep ravines that score these Hills, add to the palette. The pumpkins are many-coloured—browns, greens, oranges and soft blues blend together, covering a flesh as orange as our butternut. Bananas, lumpy green vegetables (known in English as squash), brown roots rather like yucca, gnarled ginger roots, tiny dried fish, long white radishes, miniature aubergine, and a big white sausage-shaped vegetable that looks as if it’s been dredged in flour, hot peppers of all colours, small, sweet red onions and great boughs of leaves cooked for their antioxidants.
It is at one such market that we stop, Malthyus and Babul, the driver, in search of some foodstuff, Pulotoli and I in search of a place to throw up. I had had my usual early morning granola—my constant companion–and coffee. It was followed a couple of hours later by an Indian breakfast that was flavourful and hot. And too much to keep as my body was tossed about and bruised by a journey punctuated by deep holes and ruts and hairpin turns and steep inclines—and the always fascinating if, at times, terrifying, dance of undifferentiated traffic oblivious to lines on roads and suggested speed limits.
Whether slogging upward or careering downward, vehicles of all sorts—from bicycles and auto-rickshaws to motorbikes loaded with entire families, ox carts hauling brightly scrubbed children off to school or home, and lorries heavily loaded with lengths of bamboo or re-bar or piled to overflowing with burlap bags of rice or some other produce, topped with a person or two, there to monitor the goods—would dodge and weave, at the very last half-second pulling smoothly into line so that whoever or whatever was bearing down from the other direction could neatly slip into the narrowest of gaps. ‘Sound horn’, painted onto every public or commercial vehicle, lets other drivers, walkers and riders know that you’re coming through. Horn-sounding here rarely has an angry tenor; they all know the rule book and the hand signals though they remain mostly inscrutable to me. And all of that is not to mention the cows, goats and occasional dog that wander into traffic or stand or sit, oblivious to the turmoil or threat to their own wellbeing.