At 8:30 in the morning we found ourselves in a big traffic jam in Guwahati. Our vehicle was on a road leading up a metal bridge across the Brahmaputra river. Traffic crawled on this narrow, single-lane bridge. "Why don't we try the next bridge?", I asked the driver.
He gives me the are-you-making-fun-of-me look. "The next bridge across this river", he says blandly, "Is 200 km away, in Tezpur".
As we finally get to the bridge (built after the 1962 war), I see that efforts are on to build a wider, concrete bridge. Work seems to be moving a lot slower than the traffic. They have been at it for the past four years...
This just about sums up Guwahati for you - a sprawling, shabby town with a municipality that seems pretty much dysfunctional.
This is, of course, not the city I expected to see. Impressions gathered from conversations, satellite maps and history notes had created a picture in my mind of a great city on the banks of the Brahmaputra river. A metropolis, a hub, a gateway to the seven colorful states of India's North-East.
All my expectations began to crumble as soon as we drove out of the airport, towards the city. Empty, uncertain plots of land line both sides of the road. As darkness sets in we drive past the old, crumbling buildings of Guwahati University.
There were hardly any street lights, pavements or place-boards anywhere. Lights from hundreds of little shops lit the roadsides where people parked their bicycles and cars wherever randomly. Despite the apparent greenery and availability of water, there were no grand trees to be seen. Instead, the byepass was lined with famished, scrawny Ashoka trees, planted just two feet from each other...
Is this the city which sent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the Rajya Sabha? Is this the state that has had a "stable" government for the past 13 years??