Winter in Assam is a time for outdoor activities – camping, wildlife watching, fishing, trekking and picnics. Most of these activities for my family revolved around the river Brahmaputra, where the water recedes post the monsoon and islands form. These sandbanks that are teaming with wildlife, especially migratory birds.
I remember once my father and his friend, organized a camping trip where we were to spend 3 days island hopping on a boat by day and camping on the sandbanks at night. The wives were told to get the children ready and not to worry about the other arrangements. The planning was fabulous except that in their enthusiastic optimism, they hadn’t organized any food except for the basic rice and dal. They were so sure that they would get a good catch, fishing and shooting ducks! Thankfully just before nightfall we came across some fishermen who sold us some of their catch. After that particular trip, my father wasn’t allowed to organize camping trips entirely on his own.
Another time, we had gone on a picnic to a spot in Arunachal Pradesh with family friends , very beautiful but quite a trek to get to. All the camping and cooking equipment had to be hauled by the helpers , a small group consisting of our driver, cook and their assistants. Once base was set, my father ordered tea for everyone. Our friends were very impressed when the cook served it in my mother’s fine porcelain tea set placed on her silver tray, with a delicate tray cloth covering it. Apparently the cook was told to pack stuff for tea and since he usually served tea in this manner, it was all in the day’s work for him.
Numerous river dolphins use to bob along the ferry boats and as kids we threw bits of bread or rotis for them. They are quite lovely to look at as they leap out of the water. Unfortunately in our recent picnic trips we spotted very few. They are killed by fishermen and used as bait to attract fish. Even though river dolphins are included in the schedule 1 of Indian wildlife act of 1972 and its illegal to hunt them or use their meat for bait.
Gone are the days of elaborate planning and long camping trips, where search parties were sent ahead to scout for good locations and set up base for the rest to follow. Standing instruction given by my father was that they had to first cool the beer by keeping the crates immersed in the river, so that when he arrived, there was chilled beer available. Long before modern camping gear appeared on the scene, large tents used to hired or borrowed from the army , through someone’s relative working there. Regular bedding use to be taken and after a whole day of ” roughing it out” we use to get into beds made with crisp freshly ironed sheets.
A day picnic is very much a part of my family’s annual trip to Assam, where we gather friends and family, hire a boat from the ghat at Uzanbazar, Guwahati or from a friend’s farm and set sail. Barbecue, delicious lunch cooked by the banks of the river, bird spotting, trying out various cocktail recipes, walking barefoot on the sand, great company and reminiscing old adventures mark these days as special.
Building sand castles, swimming, target shooting, rubbing stones to start a fire, exploring the river side to collect stones and shells, getting rowing classes from the patient boatmen, reading Enid Blyton with feet buried into warm sand and fighting with my sister and cousins for a turn to use the family binoculars to spot faraway ducks have all left me with an eternal longing for the outdoors, especially for time out on my father’s beloved river, the Brahmaputra.
Image source & credit – Author’s own