Sunday, October 23, 2016

Day 10 - Dimapur to Senapati

My morning introduction to the city of Dimapur, messed up of my mental picture of Nagaland. The first appearance of this busy city with lot of shops and traffic around and no sight of greenery or hills, got me confused. "Well this doesn't look like the Nagaland I was hoping for", was what I thought. "Whats the deal here ?!?", I was mumbling standing at the hotel gate. The guy at the reception came for my rescue and enlightened me with the missing information. Dimapur is like the commercial capital of Nagaland and Kohima is the capital of the state. Dimapur shares the border with Assam (which I rode through yesterday) and its jut 3-4 kms away from the hotel. Once I move towards Kohima, I will be climbing up the mountains again and THAT is what I might have heard about :) He was originally from Manipur, so I got a good deal of information and did-you-know facts from him about Manipur (my next destination) as well. It was my first morning with so much of population in a proper city since I left Tezpur for Tawang, so I just wanted to walk around a bit observing people. 

The security at the hotel was more than happy to take a photograph of me, so got lucky :)

It wasn't long before, I said 'Hello' to my old friends..the mountains

City was still away, but the district border possibly started from here...

Some beautiful lush green fields with the mountains in the backdrop and this tree trunk to frame the picture.. 

First sight of the city and the houses..

During this journey you would have seen the pattern in which the houses were in Sikkim, here is a curve ball.. this was nothing like that, as you can see.. houses were scattered all over the mountain..

Introduction to the Kohima War Cemetery...

This cross in the center of the cemetery stands tall, as if the fallen are still on guard and watching over the people of Kohima..

Another part of the city, visible from the left side wall of the cemetery..

I spent almost an hour walking across these tomb stones..

The messages written on each with the name and age of the soldiers just makes this experience so real.. It just made me think so hard that people of our age fought and martyred right in this place... The level of challenges they saw and faced, in comparison puts the challenges to shame, which we could possibly come across in our lifetime in the free nation that we live in.

Zoom in to have a look at the names of many other soldiers, whose bodies couldn't be traced/recovered, hence only the names are marked for the record here..

With this quite time spent thinking about all these people from so many different countries (India, England, Australia), I finally said adios to the city of Kohima.. as well as to Nagaland.

During my ride-through, I could only scratch the surface of the diverse and culturally rich state of Nagaland. There are so much to see and experience here, that I could safely say that I would be back, may be backpacking. There are some challenges with regards to safety here but nothing too serious that I personally came across. The issues I learnt about are mostly among different tribes and with the increase in education we can safely assume, things will get better in the future. Only common pattern I saw across all these states so far is the amount of school going kids (especially girls), even in the remotest of villages, where there are hardly 9-10 houses around. That in my opinion is a good sign of development. I wish all the Naga people, working hard to make their state come up in economy and peaceful living, all the best. One thing I left behind is a wish to visit a head hunter's village and meet some of the warriors. During my travel I learnt that they stay deeper in the forests and their villages are close to our eastern border. Due to lack of time and information, I chose to skip that route. May be during my next visit :)

Whats in there ??

Before I realised, I was getting into the state of Manipur..clearly which shares the border with Nagaland.

Notice the stepping structure of the crop fields, I noticed this only after entering Manipur, took a picture to remind myself of this farming trait

With the riding across Nagaland, time was running short for me.. Still it was imperative that I took breaks and enjoyed the sights and views the place had to offer..

Not long after I entered Manipur, I was welcomed by this beautiful sight of sunset after hours of shower.. 

Another view of the evening shades of the sky..

I intended to ride all the way to Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, as it would be safer to be in the city for the night halt. However I was told not to ride that patch at night due to some known issues of mugging and worse. I ignored the first few times I heard this, but then couldn't proceed any further after the suggestion became a bit redundant with every person I enquired with. So I decided to call it a day, in a town named 'Senapati'. Yep, thats the name, even I first thought I misheard the name, but I hadn't. I found a hostel (sort of) there with huge corridors and big and spacious rooms. It was run by a lady and her brother. They were really nice people and were more than happy to accommodate me. She even allowed me a good discount, for a double occupancy room, cause thats all they had available for the night. They didn't had any provision for food, so her brother accompanied me to the nearest hotel, as they were about to close for the night. Mind you it was not a tourist town or anything, so I was like total outsider there. This became more obvious, when I walked into a random hotel, which I saw open. There was this bunch of guys (mostly drunk) were having a good time. With one of them in a cowboy hat was bit curious with my entry. He was loud and was trying to show his dominance around and I think I unintentionally miffed him, when I didn't look away, while he was staring. I was actually ready for a situation, given the circumstances, but thankfully the lady (yeah most of the shops and hotels are run by ladies in this part), intervened and shooed that guy away to his table. He was mumbling something looking back at me, but I decided to back down as it was not smart idea to get into tussle that too in Manipur, that too with a group (though rest of the guys were keeping it to themselves). To take my focus away, I started giving attention to the tv in front of me, which was running some bollywood movie of the 90s. Not bad really, way better than watching that buffoon in the cowboy hat anyway. lol. So my choices for dinner were limited (excluding beef and pork), and I ended up with this:

Clockwise from the bottom: Cucumber slices, some leafy vegetables (shaag of sorts), bamboo shoot soup, dal, fish fry, don't remember whats that one, chicken piece I guess and rice (big ones) in the middle :)

Honestly the food was so different than what I was ued to with my limited experiments so far. I didn't like the rice and bamboo shoot, not because it was bad, it just smelt and tasted different. May be I would have developed a taste in few more attempts, but first time wasn't that great. The lady saw my facial expressions while eating and could make out that am struggling :P She said come over tomorrow, I will make chicken for ya. Thats what you like right ?!! I was like yeah, thank you. I am not sure if I will be around here tomorrow but if I am, then I will drop by. It was kind of her make such a generous offer, considering pork and beef is the staple food there and chicken may not even sell, except for my meal. I ordered another slice of fish fry, just to help let the remaining items sink in. Either way I was thankful for the dinner tonight and the whole experience in the middle of Manipur. It was dark but my batteries still had enough charge (wanted to ride till Imphal, remember?!!). So I just sneaked past my hostel building and went a little ahead in the hill road, just to get a view of this town from the total darkness. Not a smart move, I know. I just had my phone on me, so took few snaps of the town of Senapati from a distance.

Bon fire and the city lights in the back drop..

A closer look..

It was getting cold outside and I didn't had a any warm clothes on that time, so decide to get back to room. Had to put the camera and other stuff to charge and riding gear to get some air. Cause tomorrow we have miles to cover and places to see :)

Until tomorrow..


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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Day 9 - Tenga to Dimapur

How interesting it is, to wake up and notice a river flowing at it's highest with all whooshing sound effects, right next to the hotel building. The night I could hear the sound of flowing water and it was really an interesting feeling. There are very few such opportunities I have gotten so far, where in I could spend a night next to a river. After midnight, when all other noises fade away, all one can hear is the sound of the flowing water. The feeling is kinda a mixed one. I feel peaceful to be present in the lap of nature and completely being a part of it, everything seems to be in harmony. But then having grown up in a concrete jungle, still not used to being totally out in the wild, the thoughts like "What if the water level rises in the river, when I am asleep?", "What if there is a flood... ", comes to mind. Glad the worries takes very little space/time in my mind and I do my homework of enquiring and understanding the surrounding to a reasonable level and then drop all worries and just chill. Thats the best way that I could think of living actually. So anyway, as you can see, the hotel boy (a talkative lad named Raju) has indeed done what I had told him to, last night, i.e. he gave my bike a good scrub and its looking clean and ready:) 

Parking spot for the night in Tenga, the river is from which this town gets its name..

While leaving Tawang, one thing I noticed that my bike's front brake had started squeaking, every time I pressed the lever. That my friend, wasn't a good sign! There was hardly any workshops/garages around, let alone one for the bullet. Front disc pads I never really carried as spare till now as they usually last the 10-15 days riding. This time something was different, because of which my disc pads (although it was used well before the trip), got completely worn out in 1500 Kms. Well couldn't see the black magic, until I reached Bhalukpong. So basically I rode (slowly, carefully and responsibly) for two days covering a distance of roughly 300 kms, with a set of worn out front disc pads. I was actually praying for the disc brake not to give up completely, as that would be disastrous. Touch wood I made it safely to the the place called Bhalukpong, which is basically the entrance to (and for me exit from) Tawang. Its a small town where you can find all amenities; like food, workshops, ATMs, you name it. I looked around for a shop which has a pair of disc pads to fit my bike and as luck would have it, I found a set. The guy at the shop also runs a garage.  So he did the fitting. From him I got to know about the magic sauce behind the worn-out-disc-pad recipe :P It was the mud. I had ridden through bucket loads of mud while riding to Sikkim and back, and then some more on the way to Tawang. So basically the mud sticks to the disc and pads (I suppose) and keeps scrubbing the pads all the time, even when the brakes are not engaged. Drum brake doesn't have this issue. It may squeak if moisture sneaks into the drum assembly, but I don't think they would wear out like the disc. At least in my case they were A-Ok. So with a new set of disc pads installed and we being on the planes again, I was a happy camper :)

Such a relief to know the disc was still in good/useable condition..

With the bike's needs taken care, it was my turn:) I popped right into the first hotel that caught my eye..Bang opposite to the garage and ordered Veg Momos (dumplings). Bike and garage is visible in the background here.

Sight of planes across the hills.. 

Some houses and a warehouse (I guess) on the way back from Bhalukpong

Approach towards the flatlands were getting obvious with every passing turn in the mountains

Irony of my day... Now am in planes and looking at the mountains and reminiscing how it was to wake up there just this morning:) This amazing feeling of contrast is one of the reasons I love travelling.

Initial plan was to catch up with an acquaintance in Tezpur, who had been of great help in reviewing my itinerary and giving some points from his own experience of this belt. Which was of great help. But when I reached Tezpur, I got to know that he was in a conference. What a bummer. As there was no certainty of the seminar getting over anytime soon, I decided to move on to my next planned destination; Kaziranga National Park. 

All people I met on the way confirmed the fact that the park is open to visitors and the flood effects have subsided. After riding for a while, I reached the national part IBs and met few staff from the national park just to find out otherwise. I had already ridden through the road (from Tezpur), which goes inside the national park for 30-40 kms and nothing was really catching my attention. Add to it, the swarm of trucks on that route had kept the stretch so polluted, it was hard to see with the visor up and keeping it down was no good either, as it was getting dusty quickly or the humidity would start troubling. One thing I must give it, is the sense of vastness this part has. Due to the recent rains, both side of the road was green, yet the grass lands on either side were still filled with water, and there were bunch of cattle grazing in those grasslands. It was too much of me to expect to see rhinos on the road side :P Anyway, as it was getting dark, I had to look for a shelter and would love to camp if I get a chance inside the national park. But fate had it other way. After speaking with the staff (who were very kind and cordial by the way), go to know that the park closes for the monsoon season and re-opens for public in November. However, this year it might just open in the first week of October. It all depends on the condition of the park and other maintenance work to complete before the visitors arrive. They also confirmed the fact that there is camping option from Government, as it is not safe due to the wild animals. People may prefer to tent inside the fenced/bounded premises of the private resorts, but there no designated camping sites as such. Well... things were clear as they could be, and I had no more plan to stay in a resort near the park at a time, when I can't explore it. By this time it was already 5:30 PM and I was yet to have my lunch. So I decided to first fill myself up (as the bike was already tanked up for any possible destination I may choose) and then decide what to do. Found a small dhaba on the left side with hardly any people (just what I needed to relax actually) and pulled over. 

Well it was a much needed break and a decision made by us (me and the bike) to head on to Nagaland :) The name brought some fears and twisted perceptions, which I grew up hearing from a variety of sources. But then I was never a person to take someone's word for it, rather explore and understand what a place is like, possibly through my first hand experience. But all this after the dark ?!! As I was doing this brainstorming, I started walking towards the hotel staff (2 guys and an old fellow) to have a chat. Bit of discussion lead me to understand, the road from Kaziranga till Numaligad, the 64 kms stretch is a two way road in good condition (same on l rode through Kaziranga), so not much issues there. But after that I need to turn right, and its an overall deserted stretch till Dimapur, the first city of Nagaland. Which will be going through forest and hardly any people around. I was listening for clues I need to focus on and '100 kms', 'deserted stretch' and 'forest' is what stuck. Considering I the bike was tanked up and seemed to be in good shape, I had no logistical issues that I could think of. Only challenge was with regard to safety. Well hell with it, I am gonna ride the night and try and make it to Nagaland. Total of 223 kms (estimated by map) or night riding on tar (possibly) road. Awesome! I love the night rides and especially having a sense of fear (lets call it challenge) is just what gets me going! 

So I rode! Switched on the fog lamps, which broadened my road present two feet on each side of the bike, warning vehicles to keep distance. An average speed of 70-80 kms/hour makes sure, any typical miscreants won't dare to break the streak of this bike. First 60-70 kms was straight from Kaziranga and I had the company of few other vehicles, mostly trucks. Continuing straight for 100 kms would take you to Jorhat, another city with an airport. But I had to turn right after 60 KMs to catch the road towards Dimapur and so I did. As a solo traveller, I must confess, the real threat while travelling through forests or non-populated areas is not from wildlife really, its from our own kind; people. Yet some of us (including myself) has a positive point of view on life and that supports me in dealing with such moments in an empowered way than, a pessimist (or so called realist) would.

So the road from Numaligad to Dimapur was an awesome road with tons of twisties, only catch was, it was night! So my visibility was only upto the 6-10 feet in the front and while cornering, I could see the bend progressively as my headlights turn. So I had to be on the toes (literally pressing against the brake pedal), while maintaining a good speed on those roads. All said and done, I enjoyed the stretch like anything and had fun getting the knee down (not like the motogp though :P ). Here is a short clip I made for my instagram feed, which gives an idea of the road..

Warning : Loud music! So you may need to reduce the volume, if have the headset/earphones on!

So it was a great road, except those bits of cracks which at one point came so suddenly that I was almost certain, my front wheel is gonna bend or worse, the bike will dismantle. But thankfully nothing of that sort happened (except the front rim bent, which I noticed after I completed my trip). So as I got closer to Dimapur, I had a good data signal on my phone, so I booked a hotel (The Tragopan) and found my way there once there. It was a cheek hotel and I loved the ambience. I was the dirtiest thing in that otherwise nicely maintained hotel. LOL 

I had to book a two bed room, as there was nothing else available. Well.. my gear got an extra bed to spread out for the night, again! I wasn't complaining either. I didn't realise that this hotel would become my favourite of this trip. Rooms were big and so was the bathroom. So today's ride spanned for 350 odd kms, started from Tenga (Arunachal Pradesh), rolled through Assam (Tezpur, Kaziranga) and finally made it to Dimapur (Nagaland). You would understand why I appreciated a relaxing shower in a spacious bathroom so much, once you see my condition below.

Enuf said!! That ain't dust bruv! Thats grime :D lol

It wasn't physically that tiring for me, I was more bugged with all the pollution and dust that was blown from the trucks that I had a hard time with. Anyway, here I was in Dimapur before 10pm, safe and sound, in a safe and comfy accommodation, what more a traveller could ask for ?!! Tomorrow I will get to see the true Nagaland in the mountains, as I will be visiting Kohima. So let me rest well for the night.

Until tomorrow..


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Monday, October 10, 2016

Day 8 - Tawang to Tenga

A comfortable and warm accommodation had ensured that I had the best possible rest I needed. After I got up, I had to follow up with the manager at the hotel and with my uncle (an ex-army personnel) about the possibility of a permit to Bum-La border and if at all there is anything worth a visit. After few calls back and forth realised, it wasn't an interesting deal either way. That means, firstly it should take me a day at least to get the permit process completed there (unless am travelling with an army personnel) and secondly there is nothing to see there, other than the vast no man's land and our troops guarding the border. I chose to give it a pass and start my return from Tawang. So around 9 I was ready and luggage was all set on the motorcycle. Needed to carry cash for fuel on the way and also for any check-ups for the bike. The manager came over to see me off and we had a bit of chat about the place and his experience so far. He offered me a good service, if I happen to visit again, to which I (sort of) gave an assurance that, he may see me again, with friends and may be without my motorcycle the on my next visit. So guys, if you happen to be visiting Tawang, do check out Hotel Zax and you can mention my name to avail some great hospitality ;). Well after a short chat it was time for me to be on the road again, and I was somewhat eager to meet Se-La (pass)  again, this time hopefully better prepared than I was yesterday. How? I had picked up a pair of waterproof gloves with a warm thermal liner from the army store. So this time, I was more confident and ready for the challenge ahead. With this thought in mind, my bull roared on the streets of Tawang and header south of the mountains.

Leaving the City of Tawang

This morning when I was speaking with my uncle who was posted in this area during his service days, suggested me few places which he recalled were good. One among them was a beautiful and big waterfall at Jang, which was roughly 25 KMs and comes on the way. Yesterday before entering Tawang, I remembered seeing a sign board giving direction to a waterfall. So after getting a recommendation from someone who has lived and seen almost all parts of India (including the remotest locations, where only army has access to), I decided to give this place a visit. And man, I was not disappointed. Despite my over exposure to beautiful waterfalls all across Sikkim, this one had its own charm and beauty. Have a look.

Jang Waterfall, just after the rains and in its full bloom

After a break at the waterfall, I had a chilled out ride all through and I started taking breaks, as I got closer to the Se-La.

This time I was warm enough to stop and enjoy the view at this fall, which was beautiful with the equally breathtaking view around.

I came from that side...(waterfall/stream is to the left of the motorcycle)

So this is the hotel which had saved my life (and this trip) by making some hot tea available, right when I needed.. See the constant rain that was going on, just before the climb to the high pass

Fluffy.. a cute and chubby Tibetan mastiff.. I got to play with it this time..

Wanna see this dog up close ?? I heard you.. ;)

When the rain stops..

Near Bomdi-La, when I took the camera out, the lens and view-finder immediately got condensation inside... scary :/ This shot is due to the moisture on the lens from inside. This was due to the drastic change in temperature and the camera gear didn't get acclimatised inside the tank bag..

Well, I decided to ride further, instead of staying at Bomdi-La for the night again. Though I loved my last stay here, I just prefer to possibly try out some new place, when there is a chance. So I rolled further down for another 20 odd kms to a place named 'Tenga'. It is a small town next to a big military base. Found a budget hotel and parking spot just outside my room window. Hotel had a restaurant downstairs who served to room as well. So I was well taken care of. Evening after getting fresh, I just took a stroll around hotel area and the temperature was alright. I had a tea and shopped for a chocolate bar for tomorrow, as I had a feeling, am gonna be munching miles, once the bull meets the planes. Lol. So may need bit of sugar to keep going ;) 

Until tomorrow..


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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Day 7 - Bomdi-La to Tawang

The morning in Bomdi-La had a lot of peace and freshness to it. My mind was free from much thoughts, as there was only one way to go, from here. Unlike all other night halts so far, I had to pick a direction to head and decided on places to visit. Today's agenda was clear, it was to head north. So without much further ado, let me allow the images to take you through my day..

Morning view from my room window :)

I had to give the photographer her freedom of expression when I am the one requesting to be photographed! Hence the flowers in frame :P Still way better than a selfie I guess...

Dining/Breakfast Hall

Didn't know its been so many years... Amazing how Tibetans could create an ecosystem of their own, be self sustained, in every part of this country they have settled. There is so much to learn from them really!

A break on the way to relax and cool down the bike..

Today's distance to cover wasn't much, so I decided to take more breaks and enjoy the view on the way..

The road ahead is visible for next 10-15 KMs..

Reminded me of Ladakh, with the exception of the thick green cover..

Interesting how people live in the mountains.. Every single time I get to visit the mountains, it baffles me..

A closer look at the village..

Valleys seems to have few big structures (like the one seen here), most commonly these are monasteries or schools..

Army shares half or more of the space, especially if the area is closer to the border

Some photographs don't do justice to the real sight, that I witnessed while travelling. For instance this one..

It appeared much more beautiful to my eyes, than (I guess) got captured in the image here.. 

Thick clouds and dense green cover on the mountains.. 

Simply beautiful!

Some colourful flags and a stupa on the way... Mountain breeze brings life to these otherwise barren stretches, in the form of the fluttering prayer flags... An important and common practice, in Tibetan culture..

Some of the crazy antics of nature, one can only witness on the highest of mountains.. 

After seeing the scary rain and challenging roads, this view ahead could only make a solo traveler more anxious, as in what to expect, once inside the blanket of fog

One of the many army bases on the way and this one had a helipad at the end of the road visible here..

First sign that I was climbing beyond average altitude.. Fog around got thicker and thicker and fingers started to feel numb in cold..

My first sight of something interesting ahead.. 

Ahh!! the famous Se-La (Pass)... 

Officially we (me and the bike) made it to 13,700 ft.. Yay!! Damn it was freezing in there and I couldn't feel my fingers. Just for a comparison, Bangalore is at an altitude of 3,000 ft (from sea level).

I must admit, Se-La (Pass) had gotten me by surprise. Having ridden through Khardung-La (at 18,380 ft), I underestimated Se-La, and by the time I realized, I was already soaked in the constant drizzle till there and temperature must have been around 1 or 2 degrees (or may be less). I stopped for taking pictures and when I decided to move, I couldn't flex my fingers. It was a crazy experience. I had a pair of thick waterproof riding gloves, but because my fingers had become so stiff, it was not possible to put those on. So I had to keep flexing and relaxing the fingers many times to get some blood flow going and then immediately started riding down from the pass to the other side, with those stiff fingers. It was challenging, as down hill control was only through brake and clutch, and that was most difficult to operate, given fingers are stiff. Somehow as I descended from the pass, oxygen level started to increase (i.e. I could breathe normally without putting much effort), with drop in altitude. Also the temperature was returning to a more bearable/safer level. Somehow I managed to come down the pass and find a small shop, which was selling tea and few other packed snacks. I just wanted to hold something hot, and that plastic disposable cup did the trick. Ah what a relief. I will live another day. Thanked the mountains (all riders do!) for letting me pass through safely and hoped for safer journey ahead. There is photograph of this shop/hotel, which I shot during my return this way. But for today, it was a life saver, I was thanking my stars for.

And the descent from the Se-La (Pass) brought back life into me.. the numb hands were feeling much relieved now and views were soothing away the pain.. 

Among the clouds, every moment feels amazing..

Am sure, the bull was also enjoying the views here.. After all not every bike sees such moments in its usable life..

Toy villages:) "Do the people who live here, get excited to see the mountains, every morning they wake up?", I just wondered..

As I was getting closer to the civilization in the lower lands..

Notice the amount and variety of flowers in each house... My mom would go ecstatic if she gets to see these :) May be through this photographs she will get to see these places..

Bum-La is the Indo-China border... Tawang is another 37 KMs as the sign says..

I guess the clouds were following us all along..

It looked so cool!! Clouds looked like white smoke initially, but they were certainly not. They are below the ground level here. How cool is that ?!!

I made it to Tawang by late afternoon and found a room in Hotel Zax Star.. It was under renovation, so they offered me a good discount and an excellent room. I had time in hand, so I just changed into something more *normal* and headed for the market area for tea and bit of riding around town. Thankfully the hotel had wooden flooring and a room heater, so I could have a comfortable night in Tawang. After reaching Tawang, the border Bum-La was close by, but required a separate permit, which upon enquiring got to know that has nothing worth seeing actually. As there is a big patch of no man's land between our border and that of China. This was unlike Nathu-La pass in east Sikkim, where one can see the soldiers of both countries guarding the borders. So I decided to give it a pass and definitely not worth a day of paper work. So I had a relaxed evening in Tawang. Found a shop which made amazing (*not sure, but it was my dead taste buds also) tea, I had at least 3 cups. Manager at the hotel, who was originally from Bihar but has lived all around the country told me few interesting facts about the place, which were hard to believe. For instance, the chickens are brought from lower altitude places, so mostly they die by the time they reach Tawang. Psssk Se-La (Pass) remember?!! Imagine what it can do to those tiny and meek birds! So it was difficult to get fresh chicken there. After hearing this, I insisted on a veg meal for the night. Lol. So tonight I was blessed with a heated room, wooden flooring, double blanket and decent amount of time in hand, to rest well and have great sleep.

Dressed down to some non-riding gear, to head for a night in town, in Tawang

Until tomorrow...


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