Before we arrived the most often told story we had of India were warnings of being hassled constantly and for the female members of our group to expect a lot of uncomfortable attention and wandering male hands. Our experience to date could not be further away.
Starting out in the far north east of India, in the state of Mehgalaya, we have had unfailing assistance and offers of help from total strangers. If we break down, people passing stop to check we are alright. For sure we get mobbed whenever we stop, but it is excitement and curiosity at the what for the locals is a bizarre sight – a bunch of westerners driving a tuk tuk in parts of India no tourists reach.
People’s faces as we pass by range from big smiles and waves, bemusement to outright jaw dropping shock, some turning their heads so fast it must result in whiplash.
In Halo, Assam we pull over for a quick rest stop, within seconds we have a crowd so dense surrounding us that it is almost impossible to step out of the tuk tuks. Turning 360 degrees we face with a sea of mobile phones taking pictures of us.
Pretty much the entire place stops to gawp at us. Carmen and I go in search of a toilet, spotting the police station we reckon its our best bet and head on in. We ask the first person we meet inside and soon the entire police is mobilized, leading us one officer by one up the ranks until we reach the Head of Police Chief, before we are able to get permission to use the toilets, at which point we are led to the women’s cells to use the facilities.
We get to Barpeta in the evening and Tuktanic’s engine is about to fall out and in need of a bracket. Before we know it, help is on hand in the form of the Chairman of the Assam Cricket Association, who appears out of nowhere and finds us a mechanic. He invites us to visit Barpeta Cricket Club. By the time we get there, he has sent out the call for the entire cricket team so that a group photo can be taken. Next a speech that in Assam honoured guests are treated as Gods, and it is with apologies, but they had they known we were coming or they would have put on more of a celebration. The chairman presents to me as ‘leader’, a traditional handwoven red and white Assam scarve as a gift. In the middle of the speeches our interview comes up on the news channel DY 365 and we may have given our hosts an inkling of our true nature when we all rush excitedly to the TV. Leaving we go down a long receiving line to shake hands goodbye.
We are fast achieving celebrity status.