The road after Kohima was suddenly so good. If you have been reading through the blogs you know by now that I had been asking EVERYONE about the state of the roads 😛. We had not really gotten promising reviews of the road to Imphal. But the road was more than fine so far. It was beautiful ☺️.
Introduction to Manipur
The road to Imphal was going fine till we hit the Nagaland - Manipur border. Well border areas are always tricky so I had learnt not to worry about the roads at these junctions. They were in fact indicators that we were changing states.
We sat down at a dhaba for breakfast. While we were finishing we saw some trucks pass by. Then many of them did and by the time we had finished gearing up about 30 trucks had passed us(50 as per me, 20 as per Karan), like a convoy. Holy shit! What just happened. We could see more coming up. We looked at each other with a similar fright in our eyes and jumped on our bikes before more trucks could pass by. Thereafter started the ordeal of over taking these trucks in order to make a decent progress and not get frustrated. There were bits which were slushy as well. Slush and never ending row of trucks. My cursing had started.
We had begun riding full tango. Karan in lead and me in the follow signaling each other when it was clear to over take the trucks 😛. The drivers were getting progressively bad. But we endured like always. After a considerable time when we were sure we had created a good amount of distance from the trucks we halted for a break in the shade of trees. The landscape was beautiful.
I had already booked an Airbnb homestay. There weren’t many hostels or hotels available online or on booking.com. One thing that hinted maybe Manipur wasn’t that touristy yet. We reached our homestay fairly easily. It was a cosy setup with the family living in the house and one of the giant rooms available for Airbnb. The host was managing the operations from Chandigarh and was loaded with useful recommendations. We had a late lunch and decided to take it easy for the rest of the day.
The next day we decided to go to the Kangla fort. But first things first, we had to have breakfast. Surprisingly, everything was closed. Even at 10:30 AM cafés serving breakfast were closed! Anyway, we did not really know what we were looking for once we reached Kangla fort, so we ended up walking around in the fort and bitching about the place in general. The fort had multiple white structures which made for some good photos and fooling around which we do best 😝. Later we were told that we should have gone to Slim’s cottage 😞.
Our breakfast was usually at some bakery. Likla Bakery had become one of our favourite morning stops and Michelle’s sweet temptation my favourite cupcake destination.
That night the guy managing the homestay suggested we should go to Govindajee temple for a visit. It would require dressing up in the local attire and sitting for a mass meal. We were so game.
The next day started off eventfully. I had contracted a pretty serious UTI. We had to do a round to the another part of the city for tests and medicine. This was horrible. After initial battle and whining we decided to keep up the plan to go to the temple. The owner’s mother helped me get decked up in the beautiful Manipuri attire. She and I did the entire thing without either of us understanding a word of what the other person said. She spoke only Manipuri and I could speak only English and Hindi. But I like to believe language is a barrier only if you want it to be. We smiled and giggled at each other and the end result was something like this ❤️.
Karan, well, got only a kurta for the “traditional attire”. He was quite jealous but was loving every bit of my lovely dress 😄. We did a round of pictures with the family and then Sachikanta, the other son of the household, dropped us to the temple. It is said that in 1970s, the King of Manipur who was a follower of Lord Krishna received an epiphany to build a temple for Lord Krishna. And that is how the temple came to be. The temple was nice. There was a melodious music being played by ladies sitting in a circle wearing beautiful clothes. After the prayers it was time for lunch(the real reason we were at the temple) and we joined the line. We sat down on the floor with crossed legs with over a hundred people in a hall. And soon the food was served 😋
The meal was great and the entire atmosphere was wonderful. We were clearly tourists so people were telling us what to eat and how. The food was way more than what I could finish so I was being very selective about what I chose on my plate. The servers would serve tirelessly but one could politely say no. It was during one such time when I was politely declining an item that the girl next to me said I absolutely need to try it. I did and it was one of the most delicious things on the plate. I ended up befriending the girl (Julia) and we struck up a conversation. She asked where all we have been and insisted we go and stay at Loktak Aquamarine homestay in Loktak lake. She even made a few calls to get us a booking as she knew the owner 😄. We thanked Julia and Sachikanta drove us back to the homestay. We had an initial plan of staying in Imphal for 3 days but we had now extended it to 5 days.
After a nap we got ready for the Riverbank Music Festival. I had been looking for performances by a local band Sam Paa which we had seen at Ziro Music Festival 2018. We found out that they were performing at a certain Riverbank Music Festival. So while hopping one of the cafés we bought the tickets for the same. We reached the festival grounds soon. Due to some technical glitches the festival started really really late. It was beginning to get cold and I had fashionably just worn a sweater and a shawl I had acquired from Nagaland and Karan was casually in a jacket. As the name suggested the festival was at the banks of a river and the idea of the festival was to promote the need to keep the river clean.
The bands were local with SamPaa being the biggest of them all. The only thing we could understand was the sound of music as the lyrics were mostly Manipuri. We saw people singing and dancing and jumping to the songs, confessing their love to the vocalist of SamPaa. This felt so much like a college festival and yes we were enjoying it!
One of the most memorable things we remember from the festival was the people. During the few hours we spent at the festival we had gotten an interview taken, had been invited for a ride with the local Royal Enfield group, were free to join a camping festival later that month and a guy called Kennedy had invited us to stay in his house in the fields which by his description was really beautiful! The Meiteis were really friendly people. However it had really gotten cold and we decided to call it quits. We had already seen SamPaa perform to our hearts content and I was ready to get into a warm bed. We rode back to the homestay slowly to avoid the cold on a chilly night.
The next day we picked up on another suggestion from our hosts, to go and visit the RKCS art gallery. It is a private gallery maintained by Busho a 5th generation artist. The gallery is a collection of his grandfather’s and father’s work around Mythological and Cultural themes. Busho walked us through the paintings and explained their meaning and history. He also showed us some creative setups on the floor above which he had done. He was impressed by the fact that we were a biker couple and ended up taking a picture of us in the gallery with our helmets. He just couldn’t believe how amazing Karan’s phone camera’s wide angle lens was. While we were leaving we met his father who was painting. Busho proudly introduced us as two bikers from Delhi😄. After one last picture outside the gallery we said goodbyes.
Post the museum we headed out to the World war II memorial in Imphal. It was supposed to be similar to the one in Kohima. But we reached a bit too late and the gates were closing. Dejected, I had to pacify myself with some Pani Poori 😛. It was amazing!
That night we decided to have our long pending anniversary dinner at a nice rooftop restaurant. The food was nice and the conversations nicer. We talked of how happy and satisfied we were of doing what we were and how we loved doing it together ❤️.
Of course we did another round of Paani poori here. I had no idea when I was going to get the next one 😛.
We found Sid Expresso, a nice café with good food options and a good internet. It was Christmas eve and the festive cheer was all around the café. Too bad we found the café on the last of the 5 days we were in Imphal but we made the most of it and stayed on till it was closing time. It was time to say goodbye to this city. A city with super wide roads they didn’t need and bad drivers, which no one needs 😝.
Loktak lake, you beauty!
After five lovely days with our gracious hosts it was time to ride to our next destination. We did a photoshoot for our hosts in full gear, something we were used to by now 😄.
The ride to Moirang was short, 3 hours. We were heading to this town to see the Loktak lake which the biggest freshwater lake in North East India. We reached the town of Moirang and parked our bikes at the INA museum. I called up our contact at the Loktak Aquamarine homestay and got directions for the same. But first it was time to check out the museum. During World War II, Moirang was the headquarters of Azad Hind Fauj. The museum had a collection of photos and letters from the Indian National Army or the Azad Hind Fauj leader Netaji Subash Chandra Bose who also addressed himself as the Supreme leader. Karan and I discussed how different the fate of the country would have been had he been leading it.
We left shortly for the lake as we wanted to dump our luggage before we headed out to see anything else. Now the homestay was inside the lake, so clearly there was no way our bikes were going there. Ashok, the manager had given us a location at the shore where we could park our bikes and leave some luggage as well if we wanted. We picked up the important bags and took the taxi boat to the homestay. The lake looked beautiful.
The first view of the homestay was quite mesmerizing. We were going to stay here for a day. The lake is famous for the Phumdis (heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter at various stages of decomposition) floating over it. The local fishermen had tied these together in various formations to cultivate fish. The tied up structures look like big circles from a higher ground. The homestay was build on one such mass. We kept our luggage at the “dock” and could feel the base of the homestay move as we walked on it. We giggled, took a look around and decided to go to the viewpoint from where we could see the lake. Once again we were ferried to the shore. There really wasn’t any other way to go the shore and the boat ride was so calming. The staff of the homestay like in most other places of Manipur spoke Manipuri only but always had a big smile on their face.
We picked up one of the bikes and started for the viewpoint. It wasn’t close, it was about 20 odd kms from the homestay. Ruma Mausi had also mentioned that there is a certain Sangai Deer found in the only floating national park in the world, Kebul Lamjao National park in Moirang. So we had to go there as well. The viewpoint was an abandoned Assam Rifles camp and the view of the lake from here was breathtaking. There was a lot of haze from the sun here but we still managed to take some pictures.
We had not really had anything to eat since morning so we sat down and had some lemongrass tea and pakodas in the shade of an umbrella that had been set for us. We discussed how humans can manage to live anywhere. We saw entire villages on the edge of the lake, fishermen out fishing and homes being made on the Phumdis. It was brilliant. Karan tapped his wrist suggesting we should make a move for the national park. We dashed to the park and reached there by 4 PM. There was still an hour before the park closed. We reached a viewpoint where the forest guards gave us a binocular to see the Sangai deer, which is an endangered species of brow-antlered deer found only in Manipur, India. The park was the last natural refuge of the endangered Sangai which was also the state animal of Manipur. And what do you know! We saw one and then two and then oh so many! We had been told they were shy animals but OMG, we saw so many of them. We tried taking some photos but our telephoto lens were not good enough.
We took a short boat ride in the Phumdis to see if we can get a closer look at the deer. The boatman even asked us to de-board at a point and Karan jumped on what seemed like land; only to realise it was Phumdis which moved as he jumped, this is also what gave a dancing effect to the Sangai when they run. Must be some sight!
It was dark by the time we reached the boat pick up point of our homestay. The happy staff took us back to the cottage which was now ready for us. The homestay had a room or a hut with mosquito net tents with a double bed mattress inside it. We had been provided with sleeping bags to beat the cold. There was a kitchen and dining hut and then there was a verandah sort of a place, a dock and the toilet and bathroom. Cozy enough. We settled in and came out to see the stars shining bright like diamonds. Soon the moon was out in it’s full glory and reflected beautifully on the lake. How I thanked Julia at that very moment for pushing us to come here. It was so so romantic!
It was Christmas and Ashok was away to celebrate it with friends and family. The staff of the homestay entertained us with delicious local food and some Karaoke. Yes! Karaoke. In the middle of the lake we were singing Manipuri and Hindi songs on a mic 😂. Karan even sang his current favorite song “Ankh maare”. All the while they kept pushing Karan to have more of the rice wine and the duck meat they had prepared. All this when there was nothing common between our language and that of the staff. It was such a fun night.
Language is a barrier only if you want it to be.
Eventually we retired to our cottage. It had gotten cold. The temperature was around 6 degrees but being on the lake it felt way way way colder than that. We spent a fairly uncomfortable night in the cold and waited for the sun to rise. You only miss the sun when it’s cold they say ☃️. Morning came soon and I was the first one out of bed. The moment I stepped out of the bed it felt like we were in clouds. I was awestruck and I screamed for Karan to come out.
We left for our morning boat ride to see fishermen with their morning catch and it was one of the most beautiful(and freezing) experiences of our lives ❤️. It seemed like we were floating in the clouds. Karan called it mist I was calling it heaven to his amusement 😛.
After floating in the clouds for over an hour we reached the homestay for some warm breakfast. I wished we could stay another day but the cold of the night still gave me jitters. We said our goodbyes to the staff one last time and after a memorable photo we picked up our luggage for a beautiful boat ride back to the shore. The greens of the Phumdis and the blues in the sky filled our hearts with joy.
Ashok escorted us to the parking area. When we reached the bike park he told us the family had a mushroom farm inside a house. Intrigued, I asked if we could see it. We had no idea that mushrooms could grow like this. The entire setup seemed like a set of a sci fi movie 😁.
We bid farewell to Ashok and started our journey to Moreh.
The road to Moreh was beyond beautiful. The empty well tarred and winding roads in the hills were so so scenic. We stopped a couple of times to admire the roads and of course the occasional landslide 😛.
The roads were fairly empty except a few vehicles from the other side full of weird stuff, plastic chairs, plastic containers etc. All of them. We even joked that maybe we can get a chair and tie it to the back of one of the bikes in case someone wants to sit there 😛. Also, we were on AH1, Asian Highway 1 and I was so proud about this. From state highway to national highway to Asian highway we had come a long way together ❤️. I could see a certain happiness on Karan’s face too. We had been on AH1 on and off but this was one time where we could see the board for it.
We came across the first army camp. This camp took our IDs and gave us a token which we were supposed to hand off to another camp before entering Moreh. We got the pass and thereafter we got into a chat with the army officers posted there. They mentioned that the pass system is an attempt to reduce human trafficking. As always we were asked where we are coming from and then the army officer asked Karan to take a picture of me with the board. It was apparently the highest point of that pass.
Ashok had recommended Gaby’s as a place with a good view to stop for breakfast. We reached Gaby’s only to find it closed 😭. We reached the second checkpoint and had a same chat with the army officers there as well. Well there was a third checkpoint as well at the entry gate of Moreh. This is where the soldiers mentioned about the non taxed goods being sold at the border and how people buy it in bulk from here because it is dirt cheap. Oh well that made sense! This is what those people were doing in those overloaded pickups.
We reached Moreh soon only to realise everything was full because it was Christmas holiday. Karan looked around and searched for a long while and in the end we settled for a lodge. The beds were clean but the wall was an aftermath of a long war between humans and betel nut. The bathroom was shared but clean. I was not the best place but beggars can’t be choosers, plus I was dying of stomach cramps and we decided to stay here. We went to the border in the night for a walk. Moreh was a typical border town with very typical vibes, the same feeling of less regard for laws. With nothing much to do in the town we got beer and retired in our room.
Next day started early with a trip to Namphalong market. It was one side of the border with a giant market selling everything. EVERYTHING. Tamu was the town in Myanmar where we could go after getting a day pass made. But we were at the wrong gate. We reached the other gate and were handed a day pass in exchange of our passports. We were to take the passports on our way back. We crossed the border on foot 😎. A tuk tuk was arranged for our sightseeing from this point itself. We were quickly done with the few sights. There was the gold and the pagodas, but nothing compared to our trip to Myanmar in 2016. Tamu was not even close to the grandeur of the tourist towns Myanmar has to offer but sightseeing was not what we had crossed the border for.
The moment we were done with the sightseeing we started on our real agenda, a beer station, for amazing chilled beers and the delicious Burmese food. We sat there quietly, content and smiling at each other. There is a certain joy of coming to a country for the second time, when the pressure of sightseeing, figuring out what you like and taking pictures is gone. When you know exactly what you want and you know where it needs to be done. We started making happy plans to visit Myanmar again and kept confessing our love for the country.
Extremely satisfied with our lunch and happy on beers we left Myanmar to enter India one more time. It was as effortless as leaving it. It felt so good to have friendly neighbors.
Next morning we took out our bikes from the common parking and left for Imphal. Julia and her husband owned a hotel in Imphal and we were booked to stay in the same. We started off on the beautiful roads and stopped at Gaby’s which was open this time. It was at a beautiful location on the mountains. We had a hot breakfast in the cold weather and then geared up to head for Imphal.
Once on the plains the usual stupidity of drivers started. We were making good time when we spotted a large entrance gate. We halted to check and the map said it was Khongjam War memorial, in the memory of some war against the English. Of course we paid a short visit to this place.
We continued to Imphal and settled in the hotel. We met Julia again and this time her husband as well. There was a Wildernest Music festival going on, the same one we had been invited to when we were at Riverbank Music festival and Julia had invited us to join them. We considered, but we had to leave early the next day to reach Guwahati before the 31st of December. We would have loved to go out with them, there is nothing better than spending time with friendly denizens but unfortunately we were too time bound. Karan felt extremely bad given how helpful Julia had been. Maybe next time. We took one last suggestion from Julia about where to get the beautiful Manipuri shawls everyone wears. We went to “Ema Keithel” the largest market run completely by women in India.
Karan ended up buying shawls for all the ladies back home and of course one for me too ❤️. We couriered them home and sat at Sid expresso one last time. A weird feeling was settling in. A feeling that the trip was coming to an end. We were heading to Guwahati after this and then would slowly make way to Delhi. It was bittersweet. I wanted it to end but did not want it to end.
Over and Out?
We started early as decided. There were 2 possible routes to Guwahati, the shorter one via Nagaland and the longer one via Silchar. Even with the prospect of going via Nagaland brought tears to my eyes, so the choice of route was clear. Longer and better roads. Karan had not had a good sleep as he was watching Karate Kid for the nth time last night 😲. We had aimed to reach Silchar today, it was quite a distance, 250 km on hilly roads. We had done more in the past so we started confidently. We were making good time, the roads were well tarred and beautiful.
We had covered 100 kms in less than 3 hours which was very good for the hills. I had just mentioned that we are doing good when Karan asked me to check the rear tyre of Typhon and even before he finished his sentence I asked him to halt as he had a flat. Great! Thank you Murphy. We were in the middle of two towns and the next one was about 5 kms away. Karan found the culprit and once we pulled it out and were in utter shock. How did such a long blunt piece of iron pierce the tyre in the first place!!
Karan rode off on Ifrit(my bike) to scan the area for a puncture repair shop. We were in a small village which was no network zone. So there was no way to contact each other. He came back soon saying there is a shop but we will need to take the tyre to him. He also came back with a rusty wrench. So started the ordeal of taking the tyre off. I had struck a conversation with the people who lived in the hut we were parked outside of. Well it was more of a sign language as they spoke Manipuri and I didn’t. But I could sense they felt sorry for us. I had befriended the kids of the house who played around us while we struggled with the tyre. We had never done it before but how hard could it be!! Once the tyre was off I asked the old man of the house if we could leave our luggage there as it would need 2 people to take the tyre for repair. He nodded. We reached the repair shop soon.
The repair was an ordeal of it’s own. First there was another nail in the tyre which got missed and ended up puncturing the tube a total of 5 times. Forget about the time it took to discover and repair them. We heard the repair guy’s life story. How he had failed at every venture in his life and now he was being forced to close down this shop as well. The place we were getting this done was also a place for trucks to halt and repair and for drivers to eat. We met one such middle aged driver from Punjab. This guy insisted we stay at his brother’s place in Jiribam. He even made Karan talk to his brother on phone and paid for our food, saying we are like his kids and we would need the money on the road 😄. Eventually(after 2 hours or so) the tyre was repaired ✌️.
Well even after all this we had time to aim for Silchar. All we had to do was put the tyre back in place. We reached where the bike was parked and the old man was now sitting on a chair guarding our luggage ❤️. We concluded with all the love in our heart that it’s not the poor man who is the thief but the rich and the greedy.
Here is when shit started hitting the roof. Somehow instead of putting pieces together we were taking them apart. We had somehow dismantled the disk brake and after almost an hour of being at it, we did not have much luck. There was no internet to see any videos as to how to put this back. We took a break. Karan started reverse engineering all the scattered parts and suddenly we heard the sound of a click, this is what we had been looking for. This was progress, now we had to repeat this with all the parts and with the tyre in place. We had lost 4 hours by now. We took a deep breath, looked at each other and started again. This time we did it!!! The old man next to us also felt kind of victorious ✌️. Karan took a few rounds to feel if the tyre felt out of place. We loaded up soon, thanked the old man and were on our way.
We were speeding now, we had to reach Silchar which was 150 kms away. We were still in the hills which meant complete darkness by 5:15 PM. It was not really a realistic target anymore but none of us said it out loud. We were about 50 Kms away from Silchar when sun started to set. We continued riding in the dark for about 25 kms more. The road had muddy and slushy patches and there were trucks all around. It was getting really hard to see and locate these patches. After one such spot where I almost took my bike head on in a big pothole I decided we had to stop. Karan insisted that in an hour we would be at Silchar but I just refused to go ahead. We reached Jiribam and settled in a clean lodge for the night.
Back to the Base
Next morning we started early for Guwahati. It was going to be a push again today, 360 kms. We reached Silchar in about 40 mins and stopped right outside the town for some tea, it was cold. Here again there were two possible routes to Guwahati. One via a highway we had heard dreadful stories about and one via Meghalaya, which guaranteed good roads. The latter would end up being a longer distance but a tempo guy we met over tea swore off the shorter highway, saying that once was enough for him. OKAY! It was decided. We sped away. We stopped a little before hitting the Shillong bypass for food. We ended up eating delicious paranthas at a restaurant run by a couple from Maharashtra to our surprise.
We soon entered Meghalaya and the usual convoy of trucks started, with all the quarries around this was not surprising. Meghalaya had the best roads in India I think. Perfectly curvy, absolutely no potholes and so very wide. Even with the insane amount of rainfall the state received and all the trucks that used those roads, nothing seemed to hamper them at all. I was glad we took this route as last time we were in Meghalaya I was in a car with my friends so I had not ridden on these roads. Meghalaya’s emerald green waters were a sight as always.
We did not halt a lot in the fear of the trucks over taking us again. We soon crossed Shillong via the bypass which made us exit directly at the Umaim Lake. We took a break for one last picture of the beautiful Meghalaya.
The sun was still up! We had done really well. The Meghalayan roads had helped us a lot in this quest. We entered Jorabat at around 5 PM. From here, mausi’s place was just 10 kms away. But it was also one of the most horrible roads to end our trip on. Entering Guwahati has always been painful, no matter what side it was from. It took us a whole hour to slowly crawl through the 10 Kms of traffic. We reached home tired to finally meet Ruma Mausi and Gautam da. Of all the times we had come to their house this was the first time we had met them. Roopali and Ajay had hosted us like family members while Mausi was away.
Over the next few days, we shared travel stories and experiences. This was it! This was the end of our trip to the North East. From here we were to head back to Delhi eventually. We were sure of one thing, we were coming back 😄.
Here is a complete album from our time in Manipur. Pictures are credited to Karan and me.