We’re travelling further east in Assam, towards Digboi on an old road that has a curious tale about it.

Dhodar Ali means the Road of the Dhods, or the lazy men, the slobs, the good-for-nothings. In modern day, an Assamese woman might berate her husband using this moniker if he forgets to put the rubbish out or buy the shopping.

The road goes through typical picturesque scenes of the Assamese countryside; there are undulating tea gardens; water buffaloes grazing half-sunk in water hyacinth; little ponds with bamboo cane fences skirting them; groves of swaying areca and coconut palms; tiny thatched houses with satellite dishes atop and beside them, huge muffin-shaped haystacks; dusty paths crossed by lines of brown cows that graze with with their tails flapping; villagers cycling home across raised paths in wide open paddy fields. There’s a hint of south east Asia in north east India.

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The story of Gadadhar and Joymati

Now that you get an idea of the road’s views it’s also necessary to know a little about Assamese history to understand about the road …

From the 1200s till the 1800s Assam was ruled by the Ahoms a tribe who came from Thailand to Assam across the Patkoi Hills next to Burma.

The Ahoms introduced discipline and stability in to the region, buildings roads, ponds, huge temples with domes and solid golden tips, forts and embankments; they embraced Hinduism and raised a superb army and navy who protected the independent kingdom of Assam for 600 years and defeated the Mughals 18 times.

Ahom stories of heroism are told time and time again in Assam, and have became both folklore, history and legend.

Unfortunately, some of the Ahom kings were terribly cruel especially when it came to eliminating rival heirs to the throne. Torture, throwing babies in to grinding millstones and mutilation were the violent acts of choice.

Tradition had it that if a prince had any form of physical imperfection, a mutilation or even a scar, he would not be eligible for kingship. I bet the princes took their time shaving.

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One Ahom prince called Gadadhar Singha, became aware that he was about to be mutilated by the king because he wasn’t the favoured heir, so he fled to exile in the Naga hills.

The king apprehended Gadadhar’s beautiful wife, Joymati, and had her tortured so that she might confess her husband’s location. She didn’t and was tortured to death. (Today Joymati is held as an exemplar character, a heroine in Assamese history).

Thus Gadadhar survived his two year exile, returned to take the throne and began one of the most illustrious reigns in Assamese history, pushing the Mughals back from Guwahati to the Manas river, doing public works, building lakes and highways, temples and palaces, till his death in 1696.

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In the area east of the Ahom capital Sivasagar, there lived these lazy men called Dhods who spent their time sleeping, eating and smoking opium.

When the country was at war, all men were required to fight for Assam but what use would be an opium-addicted slob against the might of the superb Mughals?

So to make sure they could do something useful King Gadadhar ordered that the Dhods pick up tools and build a road and in 1687 it was completed: a splendid 211km road from Kamargaon to Joypur.

‘Pi poo, hi hu’

The Dhods took a lot of supervision. They were inclined to make short-cuts like building the road around a tree instead of uprooting it.

An anecdote of the times says that to make sure the Dhods were not sleeping in their thatch houses in the day the king’s men set some of them alight. Some Dhods came out of their houses with their backs burning and instead of saying ‘pithi poorise, he huise‘ which means, ‘my back is burning, he’s asleep’, they could in their slumber only just must the very first syllables

‘pi poo, hi hu.’

The road’s tale is a didactic to the greatness of Ahom public works and management … and as for opium… just say no kids.

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On the lazy man’s road: the story of ‘Dhodar Ali’ first appeared on the blog http://www.heyloons.com

This post is part of the blog series

’90 Days in South East Asia’

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