Monday, April 2, 2012

North East Chronicles 11: NH39 - The Highway of Hope!

A road is a road is a road.  ( Or was it a rose?).   It is something that everybody takes for granted and most people use it, but ignore it.  It is like the quintessential ladder.  One uses a ladder for climbing - literally stamping the feet on its backbone a la stairs, but after that it is forgotten.   Ask a fire tender, he will tell you how important ladder is.

An elaborate map of NH 39
Roads are very important for accessing cities and towns in the mountains.    These roads have saved many region's destiny, peoples' survival and nation's pride.  They have made decisive contributions to the course of the history of the neighbourhood.

Railways are rare in these terrains, but can act as the main artery for both people and freight transport. But to reach to the interiors, it has always been the road.   The second option of air traffic is for the rich and famous ( who can afford it), for the tourists ( who use it occasionally) and for emergencies (it depends on who is being rescued or saved).  

Places like Ooty in Tamil Nadu, the Kashmir Valley have suffered cold isolation during rainy and snow seasons respectively.  The population has suffered from lack of supplies of food and medicine for long periods due to road blocks - mainly due to landslides.  The road-menders and security forces spend lots of their time clearing the obstacles and restore traffic as early as possible.

A huge convoy of supplies
awaiting clearance on the NH39
One such road is NH39. This is a beaten path - many a feet and wheels have tread here before.  But what makes this one special?   This is the lifeline of two landlocked states - Manipur and Nagaland.  

This road starts from Numaligarh, and then goes on till Tamu, beyond Imphal.  It traverses through Dimapur and Kohima in the way.   This road is maintained by Border Roads Organization ( BRO) under the name of 'Project Sewak'. 

This region has been strife prone.   One is a version of autonomy vs separatism from the Indian Union of the Nagas.   The NSCN, UNC and other splinter groups which have acted to protect the Naga identity vs the other tribes have used violence and peace as alternate tactics.  Stability is still a far cry in this region, but violence has long since been dropped as a strong-arm tactic.  Economic blockades are the in-thing here.
A queue for fuel - which is 100
times costly these days

Imagine if one has to live the rest of your life with pulmanory artery cut off.   From anywhere, one could feel the pain of being denied, basic stuff - food, fuel and medicine, of those Manipuris.   For the past couple of years, this elongated road blockade of NH 39, has made the Manipur economy bleed.  Petrol is being sold at few thousand rupees, LPG cylinders cost more than a kilogram of gold,  food costs a bomb, and finally most hospitals have run out of medical supplies.

For both the land locked states of Nagaland and Manipur, NH 39 is the lifeline and hope, as is evident. As I stare at my laptop screen, a small ode, pops out to the brave locales who are fighting to survive such blockades.

Highway NH -39 in happier times

I recollect, in the famous poem, 'Road not taken',
Frost says that he chose the road less tread,
But disagree would those who are stirred and shaken,
Because of the blockade, who lost their daily bread,

Harder to reach, and away seems the shore,
For the bread and gasoline, they have to pay more,
What costs one, now costs thousand and times four,
Hospitals have medicines no more.

They fight against the armed forces act,
In Delhi, it seems to make no impact,
May be it needs lot more guile and tact,
To dispense away honor and make the pact.

NH 39 - Highway of Hope
For those who have shunned violence,
The powers-that-be reply with inaction and silence,
The stream falls like tears of pain across the slopes,
But like the mountain, they stay solid with bravery and hope.

And this dark-grey road named 'NH- thirty nine',
Is more than a ladder, 'tis a lifeline,
A testimony to many a trial, tryst and travesty,
And one day, these peoples, happy, let them be!

The trip to these lands was an eye opener.  Before I share this story, let us understand the Nagaland- Manipur region a little more in the next couple of articles.

- The One

( Pics courtesy the Internet)


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