Cooch Behar – on the rail and a changing reason to travel

There is no, or at least none that I know of (pardon me, oh the sisterhood-highness of Kolkata!) great reasons to visit Cooch Behar, the small city-town in West Bengal. No great reasons for a tourist or even the traveler who hates the ‘tourist’ tag to stop by and linger. Why then does this unassuming, unimportant town feature in my travel memory lane? That’s a difficult one. For one, I never actually traveled to this place as much as I traveled through it. Those railway tracks, the call for the afternoon ‘cha’, the hustle of the hawkers stood for different things in a time-line of my life uptill now. 

From a short break in a long ride that was the start of an imposed ‘vacation’ visit to ‘your own home’ as my parents liked to call Kolkata, to a place that heralded with a whiff of air, such massive waves of free-relief, Cooch Behar is perhaps the only place in my mind which stands for such diversifying travel meanings. 

Shadows  | Coochbehar

The time of the break from the monotonus journey

These are the earliest memories of this place. When the old folk built a house  in Kolkata, in an attempt to leave behind North East India, they perhaps did not realize what made a house a home. When I was growing up, a distinctly alive memory of Cooch Behar is the train stopping there for about half an hour on its way from Guwahati to Kolkata. It wasn’t long before my parents figured out that you needed to stay in a house to even begin making it your home. Solution? Let’s lug along to it every winter. Now I was never thrilled about it. Not even close. I loved the cold. Still do. Loved the stark cold silence of Shillong that came in at that time. 
Cooch Behar served as a break in the monotony that was the train ride. I would hop off the train, walk along the platform with my father, holding onto his hand. The lights would be dim, there would be a funny crowd wearing monkey-caps and shawls. I could not understand the reasons at that time, for it was pretty warm for a mountain dweller. 
winter night at the tea stall

The time of the awaiting greens

The next stop along memory lane comes with an opposite flavour. I had grown up and had moved to college. It was not a great experience. The place was different, the society moved from being a liberal haven to a close-minded hovel. I had moved from Shillong the Eden to Chennai, Dante’s Infrerno.  The life was sucked out of me and freedom was something I did not have an understanding of. The impact was lasting. The train journey home from there took four days. There were no one-nighters at that time. Money was an issue. That often meant sleeping by the toilet at the end of the train coaches. If you are from India, that is not a statement that will attract too much of sympathy. Maybe a little bit of empathy. 
At those time, Cooch Behar stood for something altogether different. Now the environs seen out of the train windows, if you travel down south, get progressively bleaker. On the way back, Cooch Behar would be the first herald which offered up a massive breath of fresh air. Allegorically speaking. The views were still not picturesque; there were naked kids giving you toothless grins. But behind these naked kids and under their feet would be soft grass.  

The time of the lost bells

Now is the time of the lost bells. The boredom is gone and so are the life-buoys. What remains now are the lost bells. There’s a paradox. 
I no longer travel along those lines. There are no four day long rides to momentary respite, there are no trips to make-home. There are no vacations to visit the charms of the eastern land either. Those were the bells of reminders. And those are now lost.

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