It seems that the local nutters in North East Assam have managed to get train operations suspended on the most exotic part of the route. The 5814 Arunachal Express hasn’t run since the start of November, and while it’s bookable from 1st January 2011, my chief rail fan/journalist has assured me that the General Manager of the Northern Frontier Railways Division has no intention of opening it up again “in the next 6 months”. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland, who appear to be anything but democratic, have been active again, killing people in retaliation for one of their leaders being killed. From what I can gather they haven’t actually kidnapped any of the train drivers yet, a common tactic employed by the Maoists and others elsewhere in India, but I am told that they’ve threatened to do as much. Our train is due to stop at Udalguri, headquarters of the NDFB, at round about 3am in the morning on it’s way to Rangiya. As with any of these types of organistaions it’s difficult to work out who is in charge, but the self-proclaimed leader of the NDFB, a Mr Ranjan Daimary, described as a “terror mastermind”, is currently helping police with their enquiries. He says he’s willing to make peace, here’s the article http://www.newslivetv.com/exclusive/index.php?aID=12019&s=17e88c3471efd5639e0ebf1f929ed65f&cat=3. Part of the problem with these chaps, as you will see from a quick glance at any map of the area, is that both Bangladesh and Bhutan have close borders with the Bodoland , which is the part of Assam north of the Brahmaputra, and they hide in the hills along the border, and they can also run away into Burma.
I’m currently trying to work out what we might be able to do as a contingency. It would be a real bummer if we don’t get to do the Arunachal Express as it’s the one section of the route where you’ll be hard pressed to find any non-Indian, or non Assamese for that matter, who has ridden on this line, perhaps for obvious reasons. Either way, you need to be aware that the line has been closed recently due to “insurgency”. If the mossies don’t get you then the local separatists just might. You’ll be getting a mail to this effect also, so if you want to bottle out I can arrange for you to take the sissy route back along the southern side of the river.
One alternative might be to do a southern spur on the eastern Assam network, between Lumding and Agartala. But the timings don’t really match up, and so we’d miss Darjeeling, which as I told you all to get yourself a hotel room booked there I think we should make it to that most iconic of hill stations. Another option is to make more definite provisions at the Tipong colliery. I have been taking a laissez-fair attitude to the colliery. If they are steamed up all well and good. But we could have 24 hours on our hands at this rate, so I’ll make more effort if it looks like we’re not going to get to do the Arunachal.
More news as I get it. Here’s some obligatory media content