A forest sometimes shows up in two conflicting images. It could be a king-size portrait in high-definition jade—almost surreal, a place where gods descend to update their screensaver. Or a gothic single-tone of what it could become: bedeviled, stark, a dark hole swallowing space and time. Dehing Patkai is one such. It’s a wildlife sanctuary in eastern Assam bordering Arunachal Pradesh, one huge jungle in a cluster standing cheek by jowl to form a mega green belt. A carbon sink; the lungs of our land. It is the last remaining dipterocarp-dominated lowland rainforest. Dipterocarp? Those tall trees found mainly in SE Asia, harvested for resin and timber indiscriminately to near-extinction.
It is also a place where miners come for coal. Trucks move like a cohort of ants; heavy excavators and muddy and often barefoot miners, who work in slave-like conditions, grind away all day, all night. This is the colliery belt—close to the mining towns of Margherita (after an Italian queen) and Ledo (Stilwell Road to China starts here). Here the British drove the mattock into the soft soil to prise out the ‘black gold’ for their steam engines, power plants and tea factories. This is tea county too. The original chaiwallahs, the Singphos, live here. The British came to this “heathen land of mosquitoes and leeches” for Singpho tea, and break the Chinese monopoly.