The border crossing at Jaflong/Meghalaya
In the morning, Pulak and I rent a car for a two-hour drive to Jaflong from Sylhet to reach the border. As we reach closer to India, tea gardens are replaced by stone quarries where men and women collect stones, which bull-dozers pile into high mounds; Pulak tells me there used to be more hills and trees in this region, but over recent years, trees have been cut and hills broken down because of the high demand for stone.
Indian trucks move past us, dumping heaps of coal—a shortage in the region—and then turn back to re-enter India from the Jaflong/Meghalaya border, a checkpoint with two border huts located within a few hundred yards of open space, “no-man’s land.” From where we stand, we can see gun-toting sentries posted on the Indian side; currently, India is in the process of fencing its 2,000 kilometer border between India and Bangladesh, which will make crossings even more difficult for family members who wish to see each other.
Our driver returns to the main road and takes a gravel drive up the hill. Again, we cross many stone quarries. He parks at the edge of the Jarbamom river, and we take a boat across the water to the rock that marks the India-Bangladesh border. On the Bangladesh side, men and women sit in boats, scooping up stone from the river bottom, which they load into their boats and take back to land. Up on the hill, Indian guards perch in wooden decks, their guns pointed toward the border.
We cross the river and walk toward the Khasi indigenous community’s village where the community members grow paan and supari, but Pulak’s friend has crossed over to India for the day. “Since they are indigenous to the region, for now they have free access to move between the border,” Pulak tells me.
A Bangladeshi couple gathers stones for the quarry