We had welcomed 2020 with the same enthusiasm and happiness just like any other year. But, starting with the Australian bushfire to this coronavirus pandemic, this year isn’t going easy on the world.
It is still difficult to comprehend that almost everything, including educational institutions, were ordered a ‘temporary’ shutdown and my university had to do the same. I belong to Silchar in Assam and am studying at Jalandhar in Punjab.
On March 15, my university announced a 15-day suspension of classes due to the prevailing situation. At that point of time, we could not sense the intensity of the threat – we may not have thought it to be a threat at all. Many students, who belonged to far-off places, decided to stay back at the hostels. But, in almost no time, we realized how critical the situation had become. The rising number of COVID-19 cases in the western countries and reports of its spread in many parts of India, left us confined to our hostels only. And soon, the university had to limit our movement. We had to spend two long months indoors until the Assam government allowed us to get back home.
The journey from my university in Jalandhar back to my home in Silchar was nothing but a nightmare. We were a group of 123 students and two faculty members from Assam. We were provided with four buses for the journey at a cost of Rs 7,000 each. Considering the heat in the month of May and the price we paid, we expected air-conditioned buses but that was not the case. And for such a long journey, mobile phone charging ports were the least they could have cared to provide.
For our first day of our journey, the university provided us with lunch and some snacks. The first day was fine. It was the second day when things started worsening. The heat during the day made it very uncomfortable and by the end of the second day, we realised that food was going to be an issue. Because of the country-wide lockdown, roadside eateries were not open. We struggled to manage only one small meal during the whole day and dinner after midnight as a kind gesture by the Uttar Pradesh government. Fortunately we had started our journey with a few packets of chips and biscuits which turned out to be of great help.
It took us almost 30 hours of driving to cross UP and enter Bihar. As I mentioned earlier, the availability of food was an issue throughout the journey. We had one meal during the whole day, and were served roti-subzi the next day at around 3:30 in the morning – not sure whether to call it a dinner or a breakfast.
In Bihar, our buses were sanitized but it made the interiors very dirty. Spraying liquid sanitizer made things worse.
We made it to West Bengal on the third night. By the next morning, we were exhausted – a continuous journey, lack of proper food and water coupled with lack of sanitation facilities, all played their part.
On the fourth day, we reached Kokrajhar in Assam. Because of the lockdown, a number of formalities were in place and it took more than five hours for the authorities to complete the same. Our names were registered in the list of people entering the state during the pandemic. I believe it could have been done a lot quicker.
It was 10 minutes past midnight. I woke up when the bus came to a halt right outside Sarusajai Stadium quarantine centre. It took me a minute to realise that we had finally reached Guwahati, after four long days of journey covering almost 2300 km. I was happy to finally be back in my home state and close to my home.
But the struggle continued. Just when I thought the ordeal was over, we were thrown another challenge at. We were hungry and exhausted. We thought that the basic formalities would be done in an hour or two and we would be given our rooms and the chance to freshen up. But what happened was totally opposite to that. They did not even care to arrange some drinking water for us, let alone food.
Our buses were parked at a swampy field with thick grass and mosquitoes hovering all over the place and at first we were asked to stay the night there. At around 2 am, a person came to us and asked us to make a queue as the registration process was to begin. We followed the instructions and did what we were asked to. The queue was so long that it took me nearly four hours to reach the registration desk. And, when I reached the registration desk, I came to know that the last four hours I spent standing went in vain! I was told that due to some reasons people from Barak Valley will not be kept in Guwahati quarantine centres anymore. We were told that we will be taken to Barak Valley instead.
It was around 6 in the morning now.
Now the challenge for us was to arrange for a bus which will get us to Silchar. The authorities at Sarusajai told us that a bus could be arranged only if the total number of passengers is 20. We were 15. We agreed to pay the fare difference. At around 11 am, our bus – a mini city service in Guwahati – came to fetch us.
The bus driver had never been to Silchar and the route was not properly known to him. Although we were provided a police escort vehicle, it got lost in some confusion and we ended up taking a big detour – a challenge we never expected when we boarded the ‘mini city service’ from Guwahati.
The road we took was bad, was missing actually! It was only a mud road with no milestones or road signs. Our ma’am had a friend in Assam Police who was posted somewhere near Silchar. He had promised that he would arrange some food for us. We managed to connect a call to him. He guided us as we reached a police check post where he was there.
To our relief, it was time for some food! We were served packed food: rice and egg curry. It felt heavenly to get some proper food after so many days. We took a 30 minutes break and then continued our journey towards Silchar.
At around 2 am, I could see the familiar roads outside my window. I could see the lights on both sides of the street from far off. We were at Sadarghat Bridge. We were at Silchar, finally!
We were taken to ISBT Silchar for our screening and some other formalities. We were also provided with proper meals. The arrangements done by the Cachar administration was impressive.
Our next destination was Silchar Medical College and Hospital (SMCH), where our samples were to be collected for a test. We reached SMCH at around 4 in the morning. We were told that the doctors who collected samples were unavailable at that moment but would be back in an hour or two. At around 9 am, a lady started taking the exact same details that we gave earlier. The person who will collect our samples was nowhere to be seen till then.
The doctors finally arrived. It was around 11 am. One by one, our samples were collected. It does hurt quite a lot in the process. The burning sensation lasted for over an hour. We left for the hotel – where we will have to undergo our quarantine period at around 1 pm.
I slept the whole day after a quick shower. I only woke up at around 6 am, the next day. It actually took me some time to realize that I was at a hotel in Silchar!
Our test results came on the fifth day of our quarantine. We were lucky to have everyone from our university tested negative for COVID-19. We were asked to stay at the hotel for two more days before we were sent home.
It was a great stay at the hotel and the food was way better than what we used to be served at our hostel. And the thing I liked the most were the people at the hotel. They were very friendly and supportive.
On the seventh day, I got a call from the hotel manager asking me to report at the reception desk to complete some formalities. I knew, now I will get back to my home – which was just about 5 minutes drive from the place.
I walked out of the hotel at around 5 pm with two other guys from my university. A bus came to pick us up about 15 minutes later. I was told that the bus will move in the opposite direction and the conductor suggested me to take an auto-rickshaw. I was pissed-off at him when he said that. According to the rules we were not allowed to use any public transport until our 14 days in home quarantine was over. I walked straight to the hotel and complained to the hotel manager about it. The driver followed me. After some talking, he agreed to drop me near my home, he said that he will have to pick some more from another hotel.
At around 6 pm, we reached the other hotel. But, to our utter dismay, now the engine of the bus failed. The ordeal was not ending there.
At around 8 pm, I called up a senior official who was in charge of the transport. She assured me help and said that a different bus was on its way. Now this took another hour. And the one that came, had to rush to a fuel station first!
After dropping a number of passengers, the bus stopped near my home at around 10 pm – a ‘journey’ which was supposed to take around 5 minutes, took 5 hours! Probably this summed up my overall experience.
I am happy to be home, finally, after a tiring journey amid the pandemic. I was looking at the photographs I captured through the journey. I never liked bus journeys, but this one taught me a lot and made me a lot stronger. This was one great experience with both good and bad memories…