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Lodging in Jorhat

16 July 2013

Jorhat is a small town of a bit more than 100,000 residents. The word “small” and the number 100,000 might sound discordant to our Western ears, but by Indian population numbers, 100,000 isn’t that much. In fact, 100,000 wouldn’t even be called “one hundred thousand.” Here, that number would be called “1 lakh” and written 1,00,000 (learn more about the south Asian numbering system here). So even counting is done differently here in India.

Jorhat is primarily an agricultural area, with tea and rice the major crops. I am staying, in fact, at the Guest House of the Tocklai Tea Research Institute. It’s not the Hilton or the Taj, but it’s probably the best place to stay in Jorhat. The building is an old colonial house, built in 1929; the electricity seems to be a mixture of original construction, retrofitting and jerry-rigging (I’m no construction expert, but the latter seems to me a poor man’s version of the former). I’ll admit that when I first walked in I didn’t want to come to grips with the reality that this would be my home for the following 11 days. The light in the bathroom does come on when I flip the switch down (yes, down is on and up is off)—after a noisy flickering of several seconds that I haven’t seen elsewhere beyond the laboratories of black-and-white movie villains. There is a very cool room air conditioner—which works after correctly turning on what seems to be a series of breaker boxes in a specific pattern (I’m glad to know so little about electronics because I feel like if I knew more, I wouldn’t want to turn on anything). There is hot water for the shower—as long as I remember to flick the switch on the hot water heater, the tank of which is in the bathroom, one hour before my desired shower (although no posted directions indicate it, I’m assuming it’s good to turn off the water heater after the shower). All this assumes the electricity is on, and, as I found out my first night, it is not always so. Electricity will shut off at various times throughout the night, making the air conditioner breaker sound a disturbing clank, before service is restored usually after a minute. But I must admit that my second night here—which is the night prior to my writing this—was my best night of sleep so far in India. Maybe it’s because the house is short road away from the guarded gate that leads to the two-lane road to town, and the night is very quiet except for the peaceful sounds of insects outside (and the occasional clank of a power outage). Or maybe I have made peace with the fact that—maybe not how I expect it would, maybe not looking like how I thought it would—things do work here. I look forward to coming up to my very cool room and sitting under the fan. I’m careful not to turn things on willy-nilly and thoughtful about what I do turn on and when (I even excused myself for a moment from dinner downstairs last night by saying, “I need to turn on my water heater for my shower after dinner; I’ll be right back”). If the power goes out and I am in, oh, let’s call it a compromising position in the bathroom, I know I need just sit there calmly and wait a bit in the naked darkness for the lights to come back on, which they eventually do, and it’s not like I was in a rush anyway.

Forgive me for the travel writing cliché of seeing every trivial matter as a microcosm of the larger culture, but this is India. It works (it really does, well, sort of, eventually, yeah, it does, for the most part), just not how you expect it would, even while looking like it won’t.

Does this tempt you to make a reservation? Well, if you figure out how to do that, let me know. I Googled (and Bing-ed, and Yahoo-ed) furiously for months to find information on the place. I think I found four images total and maybe a phone number. The Tea Research Institute has a fascinating website, but scant discussion of the guest house. This place is off the grid. Reservations were handled by our enthusiastic host teacher, Rathindra. The booking system seems to be, well, a book, into which we wrote our names in pen, and into which the number of nights, breakfasts, and dinners will be tallied for a final bill to be paid in cash. One caretaker seems to be here all day long, assisted by one man in the morning and a different man in the evening. One night there were two other guests here, but for the most part we are quite well looked over. The all-day caretaker has an extensive knowledge of the names in English of things at the guest house, and from the context we easily figure out whether “vegetable soup” means “This is a bowl of vegetable soup” or “Would you like some more vegetable soup?” or “We’re all out of vegetable soup” (this latter statement hasn’t happened yet, but I doubt the supply can be as endless as it seems). For breakfast, we are well nourished with cereal, milk, boiled or fried eggs per our request, toast with butter and jam, and—of course—tea. (I’m sure we could get coffee if we asked, but why go to the tea capital of India to drink coffee?)

There is also tea available in our rooms, with sugar, and as of yesterday what the all-day caretaker described as “biscuit” when he brought it up, unannounced and unsolicited, and what I would describe as “Ritz crackers with cheese.” The caretakers keep the rooms constantly resupplied with liter bottles of mineral water, which I can pour when I want tea into a little electric water boiler—which I got to work eventually after plugging it into the right plug at my desk rather than the left, even though the two look like they’d work exactly the same.

We now double the Guest House’s virtual footprint of web images:


My room, with some of my stuff untidily organized on the right bed.


View from my window.


Another view from my window.


View from the front portico, looking toward the road that leads to the guard gate.

In the interests of full disclosure of research, here are other photos I’ve found:

Side view of Guest House

Front view of Guest House

This image shows the little side road that leads to the front of the Guest House.

This blog has two images of the inside of the Guest House–scroll down near the end.

Laura is our designated photographer. She hasn’t put photos up yet, but stay tuned to her blog here.

Finally, some important work is being done at the Tea Research Institute. Here is a story that appeared in Monday’s The Telegraph (from Calcutta) about the institute’s research into climate change.

ADDED July 17: My mother has found a link to a story describing the issues Assam is facing in the growing demand for electricity. I’m getting much more than 8 or 9 hours a day (and much much more than the 1-2 hours per day the source describes getting in 2000), so I can’t complain!

ADDED July 31: More photos. I hereby declare this website as providing the largest web presence for the Guest House at the Tocklai Tea Research Institute!



Finally, the caretakers of the Guest House asked me to take photos of them with me. So here they are:



From → India travel log

  1. Lori Carlson permalink

    Mr. Thomas and I are enjoying reading your blog. Keep up the good work. We look forward to your return and hearing about the things you can’t mention in the blog…

  2. Dr. Shipe permalink

    Thanks! Tell Mr. Thomas we have lunch in the principal’s office each day we visit the school. Some of the women teachers make a variety of dishes and then bring them in in Tupperware-like containers. I am always very happy to be in the principal’s office because it’s the only room in the school that has an air conditioner. I asked the principal what his biggest challenge is, and he said being overwhelmed with paperwork and bureaucratic requirements. They are constantly collecting data and giving assessments to report to the central schools department. Sound familiar?! Our host school in Jorhat is a federal government school, designed for employees of the federal government. Most of the students’ parents are in the military or some other aspect of the Indian defense department. Because the parents could be transferred anywhere around the country, the federal government set up central schools with a standard curriculum so that students who move can pick up where they let off. The schools are seen as better than state schools because instruction in all subjects is done in English or Hindi, while in the state schools instruction is usually in the state language.

    The teacher hosting us does have his own classroom–very unusual here–because he’s set up a projector from his computer. I was able to show the students and; they were very interested in the homecoming photos, the graduation photos, and the photos of students and staff. They said Mr. Thomas looked like President Obama, but I assured them Mr. Thomas is much shorter. I told them Mr. Thomas was born in Haiti and learned English as a second language, just as they were. They also recognized Indian names like Aggarwal, Maharaj, and Majumdar from the websites and the print newspapers I passed out. I told them many of our students and/or their parents came to America from the Caribbean and Latin America, and I gave them the statistic that Broward County Public Schools serve students who speak something like 50 different languages at home. They were surprised to hear the U. S. is so diverse.

  3. Janice permalink

    Looks very nice, trust me. Hey, if they have good tea at the tea plantation, could you bring me a box? I have been drinking coffee everyday in my region. thanks!

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