Friday, 13 November 2015

CYCLING INDIA - MYANMAR TO GUWAHATI

INDIA





7 November Tamu, Myanmar – Moreh, Manipur, India

There was no rush, as I was told that the Indian immigration office only opens at midday.  Around midday, I cycled to the border and crossed the river into the state of Manipur, India.  The immigration office was about 1 km from the border, but there was still no one there.  I was told to go to the police station in the town, so off I went.  The immigration office was completely different from anywhere else.  It reminded me more of Africa than India, as it was stuck up a stony hill along a dirt path.  Soon I was stamped in and cycled the short distance to Sangai Lodge, a rather basic place where all cyclists seem to overnight. I did the usual -- changed money, got a new SIM card, etc., etc.  The owner of the Sangai Lodge is an extremely friendly and helpful guy, and he told me all I needed to know.
 I read somewhere that the state of Manipur is considered one of the most dangerous, as it is not only home to a very mountainous region, but also drug traffickers and guerrilla armies.  I'm sure it is not like that all, but chaotic it sure is! In a haze of dust, buses and tuk-tuks competed with cows and pedestrians, and I was getting ready for the long taxi/bus/train ride to Delhi.  The plan was to get myself to Delhi ASAP and then cycle to Pushkar in time for the famous Pushkar Camel Fair.  Normally I'm not all that keen on taking public transport, but this was an event that I did not want to miss.  I will decide on my route from there on at a later stage.

8 November, Moreh – Imphal by Taxi

I don't have words to describe India.  It is such a large and varied country, and the state of Manipur (where I am now) is so uniquely different from the rest of the country that the people do not even look like Indians.  It is a very tribal region, and some of the people look distinctly Mongolian.
Nothing in India happens instantly, and although my host at the Sangai Lodge arranged a "taxi" to take me to Imphal, nothing happened until around midday.  No sooner were the bicycle and I in the van that I regretted not cycling.  The state of Manipur is a fascinating place, but I had to choose between cycling and the Camel fair! It is no secret that I love India.  Countries to me are like people.  They have personalities of their own, and I (for no rhyme or reason) get on with some and not with others. They all have faults; it's just that I can live with some faults better than with others. India is chaotic, dirty, dusty, busy, etc., etc., but it has such a huge personality that I could easily live here. I would rather not discuss the driving, which is nothing short of madness!  We did, however, arrive in Imphal in one piece!

9/10 November Imphal – Guwahati by Bus

Leg two consisted of a bus ride to Guwahati.  The Guwahati bus was supposed to leave at 10h30, but it was 11h30 by the time we left.  Once again, the road over the mountains was in such poor conditions that I was sure I was going to be black and blue from all the bumping.  It was a rather old bus, and I was pleased that it was winter and not summer.  It was a dusty affair as the road was partly dirt and partly paved.  The driver drove hour after hour, stopping only when someone wanted to have a pee and twice to replace a flat tire. It was slow going, and the signboards indicated the speed limit was 20 km p/h!  I tried to play a game on the computer, but it was impossible with the bouncing around.  I was again amazed at how tribal the people in the mountains regions were.  They did not only look Mongolian with their road faces and rosy cheeks, but they also dressed in a red blanket-like shawls and carried their wares in woven baskets on their backs with straps around the forehead. Every now and again, I had the urge to tell the driver to let me off, but I had made my decision, and I was going to stick to it.  I was dreadfully sorry that I was missing out on cycling this fascinating section.   In the bus, one is so far removed from the land and its people.  Travelling by bicycled spoiled me for life.  Eventually, I managed to doze off a bit, and it was 6h00 by the time we eventually arrived in Guwahati.  I was tired and, as always, a bit disoriented when I got off the bus.  I loaded the bicycle and cycled into the city looking for a hotel.  I cycled straight to a hotel recommended by Lonely Planet and was rather disappointed at the price and what I got for it.  
I had a shower and then took a walk to the train station to buy a ticket to Deli for the following day.  I was told to book the bicycle and panniers in separately, so later I did that (all forms filled in in triplicate! Must be a left over from the colonial times!).  The luggage costed more than the ticket but, all in all, it was still a bargain at the price.  As I walked around, I once again marveled at all that India is.  A place where Milk-tea is brewed on street corners; where kids played cricket on each and every grassy patch; proper cricket matches were being cheered loudly by onlookers (one can even have a haircut while watching the game); and a place where friendly homeless occupy the sidewalks.  I sat down to have a roti and curry sauce and felt 100% at home!  The final leg of my public transport was now in sight.  The train was at 6.15 the following day, and I hoped that I would not oversleep.  I did ask the reception desk to wake me at 5h00, but that did not mean it was going to happen.  This is, after all, India!

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