Sunday 23 October 2016

Day 10 - Dimapur to Senapati

My morning introduction to the city of Dimapur, got me all confused, given that the image I had of Nagaland in my mind. The first appearance of this busy city with a lot of shops and traffic around and no sight of greenery or hills, got me thinking, where am I exactly. "Well this doesn't look like the Nagaland I was hoping for", was what I thought to myself. "What's the deal here ?!?", I was mumbling standing in the hotel lobby area, looking outside the glass walls. The guy at the reception came to my rescue and enlightened me about 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 it's just 3-4 km 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 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

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

Some beautiful lush green fields with mountains in the backdrop and this tree trunk 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 is visible from the left side wall of the cemetery.

I spent almost an hour walking across these tombstones.

The messages written on each with the name and age of the soldiers just make 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 quiet 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 is so much to see and experience here, that I could safely say that I would be back, maybe backpacking. There are some challenges about safety here but nothing too serious that I personally came across. The issues I learned about are mostly among different tribes and with the increase in education we can safely assume, things will get better in the future. The 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 the economy and peaceful living, all the best. I left behind a wish to visit a head hunter's village and meet some of the warriors. During my travel, I learned that they stay deeper in the forests and their villages are close to our eastern border. Due to a lack of time and information, I chose to skip that route. Maybe during my next visit :)

What's in there ??

Before I realized it, 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 and took a picture to remind myself of this farming trait

With the ride 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, that's 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 that's all they had available for the night. They didn't have 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 a 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) who were having a good time. One of them in a cowboy hat was a bit curious about 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 a smart idea to get into a tussle that too in Manipur, that too with a group (though the 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 what that one, chicken piece I guess, and rice (big ones) in the middle :)

Honestly, the food was so different than what I was used 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. Maybe I would have developed a taste in a few more attempts, but the 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. That's 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 to 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 on 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 a few snaps of the town of Senapati from a distance.

Bonfire and the city lights in the backdrop.

A closer look.

It was getting cold outside and I didn't have any warm clothes at that time, so decide to get back to the 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 16 October 2016

Day 9 - Tenga to Dimapur

How interesting it is, to wake up and notice a river flowing at its 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 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 take very little space/time in my mind and I do my homework of enquiring and understanding the surroundings to a reasonable level and then drop all worries and just chill. That's 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 it looking clean and ready:) 

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

While leaving Tawang, one thing I noticed was that my bike's front brake had started squeaking, every time I pressed the lever. That my friend wasn't a good sign! There were 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 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 at 1500 Km. 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 km, 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 place called Bhalukpong, which is basically the entrance to (and for my exit from) Tawang. It's a small town where you can find all amenities; like food, workshops, ATMs, you name it. I looked around for a shop that 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. The 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 of, it was my turn:) I popped right into the first hotel that caught my eye. Bang opposite the garage and ordered Veg Momos (dumplings). The bike and garage are visible in the background here.

The sight of planes across the hills. 

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

The approach towards the flatlands was getting obvious with every passing turn in the mountains

The 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 traveling.

The 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 at 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.

This signpost was the only opportunity at this point to capture the location in the picture.

All people I met on the way confirmed 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 a 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 km 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 sides of the road were green, yet the grasslands on either side were still filled with water, and there were a bunch of cattle grazing in those grasslands. It was too much of me to expect to see rhinos on the roadside :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 another 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 the 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 a 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 they're no designated camping sites as such. Well... things were clear as they could be, and I had no more plans 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. A bit of discussion lead me to understand, the road from Kaziranga to Numaligad, the 64 km stretch is a two-way road in good condition (same on l rode through Kaziranga), so not many issues there. But after that, I need to turn right, and it's an overall deserted stretch till Dimapur, the first city of Nagaland. Which will be going through the forest and hardly any people around. I was listening for clues I need to focus on and 100 km', 'deserted stretch', and 'forest' is what stuck. Considering the bike was tanked up and seemed to be in good shape, I had no logistical issues that I could think of. The only challenge was safety. Well hell with it, I am gonna ride the night and try and make it to Nagaland. Total of 223 km (estimated by map) or night riding on tar (possibly) road. Awesome! I love the night rides and especially having a sense of fear (let's call it a 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 their distance. An average speed of 70-80 km/hour makes sure, any typical miscreants won't dare to break the streak of this bike. The first 60-70 km was straight from Kaziranga and I had the company of a few other vehicles, mostly trucks. Continuing straight for 100 km 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 traveler, I must confess, the real threat while traveling through forests or non-populated areas is not from wildlife really, it's from our own kind; people. Yet some of us (including myself) have 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, the only catch was, it was the night! So my visibility was only up to 6-10 feet in the front and while cornering, I could see the bend progressively as my headlights turned. 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 you have the headset/earphones on!

So it was a great road, except for 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 ambiance. 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 realize that this hotel would become my favorite on this trip. The rooms were big and so was the bathroom. So today's ride spanned 350 odd km, 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 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 10 October 2016

Day 8 - Tawang to Tenga

A comfortable and warm accommodation 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 later with my uncle (ex-army personnel) about the possibility of a permit to the Bum-La border and if there is anything there, which is worth a visit. After a few calls back and forth I realized, that it wasn't an interesting deal either way. Meaning, firstly it would have taken me a full day at least to get the civilian visitor permit (unless am traveling with army personnel) 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 am, I was ready and the 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 assured me of a good service if I happen to visit again, to which I (sort of) gave a nod that, he may see me again, possibly with friends. And maybe without my motorcycle;) 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 this 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 day hopefully I was better prepared than I was the day before. "How?", you may ask. I picked up a pair of waterproof gloves with a warm thermal liner from the army store in Tawang market last night. 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 headed 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 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 directions 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 the only army has access), I decided to give this place a visit. And man, I was not disappointed. Despite my overexposure 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 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 it. 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 the inside. This was due to the drastic change in temperature and the camera gear didn't get acclimatized 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 km 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 that served the room as well. So I was well taken care of. The evening after getting fresh, I just took a stroll around the hotel area and the temperature was alright. I had 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 a bit of sugar to keep going ;) 

Until tomorrow.