The last day of Myanmar was amazing, twisting backroads through gorgeous countryside overlooked by mountain ranges. We were also allowed to motor ahead of the van for most of the day giving us the freedom we all needed and are used to. The Myanmar/India border road takes us by surprise as no longer are there countless Buddha images but Christian Churches. Passing through on a Sunday morning, we are taken back by well dressed folk on their way to church with bibles in hand. As we work our way to the border we all become anxious about another dreaded border crossing taking hours with many people, pushing and spitting their way to the front of the line. We couldn’t believe we’d arrived at the border as there was literally no one else there – passports were stamped and I was even asked where I would like the stamp to be in my passport. I was offered some local fruit by the immigration official and most of the delay was our government official making chit chat with the border control.
We were waved good-bye as we crossed a metal bridge, moved back to the left side of the road and entered India with smiles across our faces; until the smell hit us!
I don’t know what came first, the smell, the dust or both?
“Welcome to India” the border control guards offered with AK47 riffles in hand, “passports please”
We were then sent in search of the Immigration office for official forms and stamps; we actually almost drove right through the town before locating it. A nice man with good english dressed in a Ralph Lauren t-shirt and jeans took our documents and we all had a lovely time in a gazebo whilst he happily stamped. Then it was off to Customs to have the bikes inspected and approved. We all crossed the border together so this process took some time. Having never been to India the first thing that hits you is the amount of people! I knew there were a lot but was taken back at the figure of 1.5 BILLION. There were simply people everywhere and the contrast from Myanmar was indescribable.
We finally stopped for lunch and were astounded by the attention!
“Excuse me sir, where do you come from? How much your bike worth?”
These 2 questions always come first, then how much fuel they consume, could they take a selfie with us or better still be their friend. At first I quite liked it, the Burmese are so shy they often retreated with conversation but the Indians are far from shy; Jimmy left his bike for 5 minutes to enquire about our first hotel room and came out to find a guy sitting on his bike!
The countryside however is absolutely stunning and we can feel how close we are to the the Himalaya’s – the road into Imphal was magnificent with little traffic and tight corners. We did however leave too late and ended up off the mountain range as the sun fell which left us with 2 options; stop in nowhere land or push on in the dark for Imphal. Now apart from Jimmy no one else had ridden in India before and the tales soon became reality as we were facing oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road, push bike riders carrying loads, cows and worse pedestrians that could only be seen at the last second.
In India you don’t need indicators, stop lamps or low beam head lamps. All you need is a fucking loud horn and high beam headlamps! The theory seems to be if you want to get around someone you hold your horn on and pull out into oncoming traffic, if there are vehicles coming towards you keep going but turn your high beams on – that way you blind the person coming towards you at speed, move on and let them jam the anchors on without being able to see and it’s all sorted! Thankfully we all made it to Imphal in one piece and all acknowledged that we won’t be travelling at night again.
We finally found a hotel most of us were ok with, checked in and went for a beer – until we realised that Manipur is a dry state! We laid our heads for the night.
We awoke late without a plan the following morning and between cursing the annoyingly slow wifi and trying to decide what to do for the day we decided at noon to part from our group of travellers and move on from Imphal; the town was more like a city and any appeal we had hoped for had worn off. We headed towards the Northern mountain ranges based upon distances and thought that Kohima would be a nice town in the mountains to stay. We were quickly realising that towns in India were actually more like cities.
We located a hotel that had a lock-up for our bikes and met a nice Australian- Matt from Sydney working in Nagaland as a researcher for Sydney University. Over a dinner at a fantastic traditional Nagaland restaurant we were educated by Matt about the conflict in the area since 1946 and made sense of the military presence we had come across.
India is going to be epic, we have 10 days to get to Nepal (Kathmandu) to meet James’ wife – let’s hope we get him there in one piece!