Gliding over Brahmaputra
India's first and longest river ropeway
Musings of a Madrasi on Assam – 2

S Balakrishnan *

 Umananda Island from the cabin
Umananda Island from the cabin

If, for a moment, you had thought that I was paragliding over River Brahmaputra then I am immensely happy. Because, even in my day dreams I would not dare paragliding over a river, especially across a mighty river like Brahmaputra.

I have, what is calledaqua phobia, the inborn fear for water. After actress Sridevitragically died in a bathtub, I am scared of even a bathtub. Of course, it is another thing that I cannot afford to have a bathtub in my house but when I do stay in hotels I avoid using the bathtub. So much for my aqua phobia, fear for water.

So, instead, I simply chose the ropeway to glide over Brahmaputra. To pacify my aqua phobia, I did check the safety & security of the system. I was immensely pleased to note that two of the trestles (towers) that stand in the middle of the river are constructed up on a 180-foot-deep foundation below the river bed! The other three towers, luckily, are on solid land.

I checked the other details also – the consultant for this ropeway project was RITES Ltd.; and it was executed by Samir Damodar Ropeways Pvt. Ltd. While the cabin has been designed and supplied by Gangloff Cabin, Switzerland, another Swiss company, Garaventa AG, had fixed the Carriage & Rescue System and as well issued the safety certificate. We believe more in foreign companies and I am no exception, especially when my own dear life is concerned.

So I boldly went ahead and purchased the two-way ticket for 100 rupees which is half the normal rate for senior citizens. I blessed the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority for this benevolent concession.

It took around 10 minutes to cross the 1.8 km distance between South Guwahati (the city) and North Guwahati. But the official claim is 436 seconds (7.27 minutes), while by road it takes about 1 hour (if there are no traffic jams, that is), by ferry it is some 30 minutes.

 Umananda Island from the cabin
View of a ferry from the ropeway

So, precious 50 minutes are saved by travelling in the ropeway but the one-way ticket price of 100 rupees puts off daily use by ordinary people. This was conceived mainly as a tourist attraction.

Now that I have safely crisscrossed Brahmaputra by the ropeway and am alive, I can proudly claim to have travelled byIndia’s first and longest river ropeway!The 1820 meter long ropeway was a challenge to execute but is now a marvel of engineering work across the mighty Brahmaputra.

The South Guwahati terminal is called the Lower Terminal and is located at Pan Bazaar area of the city; the North Guwahati terminal is called the Upper Terminal and is located at Rajadwar Village behind DolGovinda Temple.

Both these terminals have passenger handling area, ticket counter, parking facility (Upper Terminal -70 cars & 80 two-wheelers and Lower Terminal 100 & 80 respectively), and public convenience area. I used the public convenience facility just tocheck discreetly the status, and found it to be quite satisfactory, unlike most of the public convenience facilities in our country. The system can haul 250 passengers per hour.

The five trestles support two tracks, each hauling a single cabin to and fro. And it is said to have ‘Bi-Cable Double Reversible Jig Back System’, whatever the mumbo-jumbo means. I was herded into the cabin along with 29 other curious tourists plus an assistant, as it is remotely operated from the terminals.

Hiding my nervousness I enjoyed the scenery – of River Brahmaputra glistening gold by the setting sun, fishing boats, ferries going to & fro South and North Guwahati with loads of passengers and their two- and four-wheelers, the vast city of Guwahati and its environs, the hills and the islands.

Midway, the cabin provides a lovely aerial view of Umananda / Peacock Island, the smallest inhabited river island of the world! The islet has a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, known here as Umananda. One of the five trestles of the ropeway system is located in this islet, but the ropeway does not have a stoppage over here and it continues to glide away to the terminal across.

Only ferries take you to this little islet and I hope to enjoy (?) the ferry ride sooner than later. And, beware, I am sure to write about this smallest inhabited islet as well. After this adventure, the next ferry adventure for me would be from South to North Guwahati and back, in all a total of 60 minutes of scary adventure.

Near the North Guwahati Terminal are two temples – DolGovinda temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, and Dirgheswari Temple, dedicated to Maa Shakti in Sitachal Hill. This is claimed tobe one of the Shakthi Peethas.

Fearing that I would miss the last return trip and then forced to take the one-hour-long road trip, I avoided visiting these temples despite pestering taxi/tour operators. So another dangling trip by the ropeway is due for me for a leisurely trip to the North Terminal. The 100 rupees I saved as a senior citizen, I can use for the second to & fro trip!

Initiated in the year 2006, the ropeway project was completed in 2019 at a cost of Rs.56.08 crores. But protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) followed by the Covid-19 pandemic got it postponed to 2020. The ropeway service operates from 8.30 AM till 5.15 PM on all days excepting 2nd and 4th Thursdays with a lunch break from 1 to 1.30 PM. Pregnant women are not permitted to travel by the ropeway.

Rates differ for children, foreigners and physically challenged persons. With only two seats there could be pushing and pulling to capture them, as I witnessed a family indulge in such vulgar behavior. Tourists also compete to capture vantage position along the glass covered cabin.

I got smart on the return journey and captured such a position despite that family’s nudging efforts for the second time also. Yet the husband and wife duo failed to capture the two seats and I was only too pleased. Experiences make us smarter and I would be the smartest during the second trip. Why, I could even do a hattrick emboldened by the second gliding across Brahmaputra!

* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is from Chennai and can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on June 14 2024.

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