Saturday 12 November 2016

Day 11 - Senapati to Nungba

This post mostly describes my day in Manipur. Senapati, where I spent the night, was a relaxed place overall with no surprises or negative vibes of any sort (you would know what it means when you travel solo to odd places). Or at least that's how I felt in that hostel, where I had a proper rest. By the time I got up, I was offered a breakfast of bread toast, coffee, and an apple. Nice :) There was this dining table on the balcony next to the corridor. I was on the 2nd floor, so I could have a view of the town basked in the morning sunlight. There was this huge ground next to the building, where I had parked my motorcycle. When I leaned over the balcony to check my bike, I saw this huge crowd gathered and listening to an old man giving a sort of speech and every few minutes all were chanting some slogans. It was an interesting watch. Just to make sure it was not a protest or anything, I walked up to the owner and tried to enquire. It seems it was a healing center, and the old fellow was a practitioner (/healer). Not sure if it's an official setup of a privately run thing, but the number of customers they had said volumes about its popularity. 

Out of all people I came across, after entering Manipur, very few (including the hostel owner)  spoke Hindi. So I had to somehow manage my interactions with people, while I was riding through and also during the stay at Senapati. Having said that, I must still thank the accessibility of tv and the influence of Bollywood in the region, people there had enough familiarity with Hindi (mostly in the towns/cities) for me to understand them as well as to get my message across. 

During the hostel stay at Senapati, both when I arrived and also when I was checking out, the owner asked two girls in the hostel (probably sisters) to assist me with my luggage, despite my insistence, on them not to. Those girls were giggling all the time I was around and having a bit of fun goofing around a dusty outsider (i.e. me) dressed up in a funny suit (i.e. riding gear) with a motorcycle and who doesn't speak or understand Manipuri. They lifted the saddle bags and then their steps were kinda tipsy for the next 5-6 feet, which they took towards the building. This was due to the weight of the luggage. Lol. So I asked them to take the tank bag and helmet instead and I carried the saddlebags, both up and down the stairs during my stay. That's my daily routine during any trip, anyway. Here at Senapati, the only challenge was the room I got was on the 2nd floor. All in all, I got a good deal of weight training, to supplement my daily off-road cardio sessions I was getting already by riding the bike :D 

So I paid my dues, got my stuff down, and amid the slogans and the ever-increasing queue of people, outside the healer's clinic (if I may), I got my bull started with a few kicks and rolled off to my next destination. Imphal; is the capital city of Manipur.

Snack break :)

Imphal was alright. Nice big roads, a decent amount of traffic, and was a bit dusty I remember. Something that caught my attention there was the orange color flag (which turned out to be of the BJP party) all over the city. I mean ALL OVER IT. On further exploration, I found out that, Amit Shah was visiting Imphal that day and hence all this decoration. Certainly, there would be a conference and press meet, when he arrives and I would love to avoid that area, to save myself from frenzy traffic.

I had a place to visit near Imphal, so I decided to tank up and head to it straight. With all the dust floating around, I just thumped off the city and headed towards Loktak lake, the largest freshwater lake in northeast India.  On the way, had to eat something as my lunch may take some time.

I just stopped at a small shop on the roadside, just after getting away from the city boundary. By the time I finally stopped, I was so thirsty and hungry that I dropped my hesitation with cheap packaged food and just pounced on and ate (and drank) anything in that shop that I looked familiar with; cake, biscuits, chips, you name it. After this binging session, finally, when I was at peace and asked how much to pay, we were both finding each other incomprehensible :D She was an old lady (must be in her sixties) and I wasn't hoping she to understand anything other than her mother tongue anyway. Much to my surprise, a gentleman stopped on his moped, to speak to the lady and got to know about the situation we had at hand here. He spoke with me in fluent Hindi and explained to the lady that am not from around here and can't speak or understand Manipuri. So he told me how much to pay and I did exactly that. Now I was curious to find out, who the person was and the secret behind his fluency (rather the fact that he knows the language). He introduced himself as an ex-army man, who now has retired from Army and works on contracts to lay heavy power lines. What followed was an interesting conversation with him, which went on for an hour. Which included a formal welcome to Manipur and many informative bits about the place. Also got to hear about his experience in a few other parts of India when he was in service. After a long chat finally, we both wound up and I just walked back to say thanks to the lady at the shop. She was smiling and murmuring something which was beyond my vocabulary to understand at that point. She must be thinking "Crazy kid these days. I hope his mom knows that he is out riding his motorcycle this far", or something along those lines. LOL

As the traffic on the two-way reduced, I could relax a bit to stop on the way and take a few pictures. 

Paddy fields, mountains in the backdrop, and this tree :) This tree made it to another frame as well, just because it was so nice to me :D

Told ya!

First sight of Loktak lake

Lucky me, I found a good vantage point to see the phumdis from high up

I wonder who lives in that hut !?? And what does he do every day?

This was a coalesce of three different terrains; land, lake, and floating vegetation

Bull liked the place, but not the damp ground which made it not able to stand on its side stand for long.

See that boat (with the green top), it just went from where am standing right now, with few tourists to that island

Just stopped next to the airport on my return entry into the city of Imphal

I was loathing the thought of getting onto the crowded city roads and I ended up facing exactly that when I had to ride around looking for a place to eat. The language barrier was playing a strong role in my not being able to find what I was looking for. A nice and clean place with a parking space in the front, so that I can park my bike with luggage and it will be safe (and visible to me). A mouthful to ask when you don't speak the local language isn't it ?!! Well. Welcome to my world of traveling solo. lol. I got a few leads on places that supposedly serve chicken, as pork wasn't my thing yet. That's all I was seeing everywhere. If you like pork, man!! you are in for choices here (I presume). Did I tell you there was this narrow gully (lane) I got into while in search of a restaurant, which had a couple of meat shops in a row? And there was this set of Pig heads on display. Jeez, they were huge!! I have never seen that size of a pig before, not at least in the places I have lived so far. Strange experience it was. Anyway, I moved on skimming street after street to find *that* illusive restaurant that will serve me food and a momentary shelter for my bull. During this process, I bumped into these two guys on a scooter curious to assist me. Even they were looking for a restaurant and they insisted I follow them. It was a bit against my gut feeling at that point, as I was in Manipur and it wasn't really a good idea to follow some unknown guys, just for finding out about a restaurant. Thankfully this event leads to a pretty normal (thankfully!) and delectable outcome. So these two guys brought me over to a restaurant that was in the middle of a busy street and full of people. So safety or foul motives were out of my mind. They spoke to a security guard of a hotel nearby and asked him to keep a watch on the bike (and the luggage). We all got inside and had to wait for a good 10-15 minutes before we got a table. To suit my interest in food these poor fellows order chicken and rice and a few other stuff.

During this whole time, we got to know a bit about each other. The guy who helped me out, could speak and understand what I was saying. It turned out that he wanted to speak with me after seeing the number plate of my motorcycle, which is from Odisha (formerly Orissa). His sister used to live and work there and she always shared with him details about the place and her days there. He was curious to meet someone from there so that he could tell his sister about it. The interesting story it was. Upon inquiry got to know that she has now moved to the US and he is in touch through calls only. He had also worked for a construction company in Chennai for some time and also in a few other parts of India. So he knew Hindi. During our conversation, he was struggling to recall appropriate Hindi words to express himself and was saying sorry. I was a bit embarrassed with the effort he was putting to make himself understood, wherein I was the one who was supposed to struggle (and possibly ask to be excused for the same). His friend had no clue what we were talking about and this guy had to translate our conversation to him from time to time in Manipuri so that he too could laugh at something funny or interesting. The food was spicy but delicious and I was thankful to this bunch to help me with all this, especially for ensuring the safe parking of my bike on such a busy street. I couldn't have made it to that place without their help for sure. They were insisting I stay at Imphal for the day, but I had different plans and had a long way to go. So had to bid farewell to these two fellows and moved on to explore some more of Manipur and possibly find a safe place to crash (bad word on a motorcycling blog :P LOL But you know what I mean!) for the night. So I moved on.

After crossing Imphal, I left the planes behind (again), to meet the hilly terrain. As you can see in the following images, with the Sun starting its descent toward the western horizon, I was rolling through the hills and sort of away from civilization (or so to speak).

See those fields, that's where I was an hour or so ago.

A fresh incident and I arrived here just 5-10 minutes after.

Army is all over the place and to avoid a gathering they had to step in and investigate this accident. No wonder I too was asked about my identity, visit, plans of stay, etc. It seems it was the driver's lucky day (pun intended), as he was safe and could flee this spot after this incident and nobody got seriously hurt.

During this interaction with the army staff, I was told not to wander after dark and the tense expression of every army person I met along the way confirmed the fact that it wasn't a tourism patch by any means (actually it was very far from that!). Still, I had this urge to ride some more, before I would like to stop for the night. I continued, further on this route. Here are some of the beautiful views I came across as the sun was going down. 

That's the moon in this picture :) So beautiful!

So every single army person I met on this route was tensed, alert, and ready to fire. No kidding! That just kept my heart beating higher as I was riding through the almost deserted patch of 80-odd kilometers through the mountain and forests. Even locals don't really commute to that side so much unless they live there. And for an outsider on a jolly ride (just saying!), this should be the last place in north-eastern India, one would consider. Given the oddity of my presence in this part of the land, the army needed to get to know who I am. Armed men at the check posts, got on their toes when they saw a motorcycle and rider all geared up. Unfortunately riding gear highly resembles combat gear and their life and the safety of that area was at stake. Thankfully I was on their team (as a citizen of the country they are protecting) and not an enemy for them to worry about.

Ahh! How could I not travel, when this is what my heart (and eyes) desire.

I rode well into the evening and got stopped a few times on the way by the army staff/soldiers. It was their utter disbelief and fear of the possible threat in that area, that made them stop me and have a chat. There was this one encounter I still remember. There were these 4 army jawans, who once were Sikh (wearing pagdi) and were guarding a check post. I was going a bit fast on that bend and suddenly came across this checkpost just after a turn. To engine brake, I rolled the throttle all the way down, along with hitting the rear brakes. My bike makes this crazy thunderous sound when I close the throttle while riding fast. That my friend almost got me killed (well not really but it was close!). These guys got into a defensive stance with their fingers on the trigger and were ready to shoot. I was like.. "what the.....!!". I stopped right there and my right hand showed an empty palm (my left hand was grabbing the clutch as the bike was still in second gear). It was like "hey don't shoot! I am just a traveler passing through!". Glad they didn't. But man they were pissed. I voluntarily rolled over to the side to park the bike and took off my helmet. Thankfully I have a friendly appearance and that put them at ease. What followed was a usual set of questions except for this one by a Sikh guy (looking gravely into my eyes).." shaadi hogayi ?"(are you married). My reply was also a bit on the face, "agar shaadi shuda hota toh kya bike leke yahan aata?" (had I been married, would I be riding around on a motorcycle on this route?). This cracked him up and there was this big wave of laughter spread through that army post that evening. I got a few high-fives from that bunch. lol, They told me the name of a few villages ahead which are safer spots, and where I should stop for the night. With that, I moved on to looking for those villages. I crossed many more soldiers on the way and thankfully didn't get stopped again until I approached them to enquire about this village named 'Nungba', where I had planned to stay for the night. When I say village, all I saw at night was 10-12 houses with a dimly glowing light bulb (or lantern) on the porch, and connecting these small patches of villages was this twisty road and nothing but forest all along. I was seriously doubting finding a place to stay, as an accommodation felt like a very strange thing to ask for in a place so disconnected from the modern world. But one important thing I forgot, was that I was not the only traveler on that route. Nope, there were no other bikes or tourists on that patch (and I doubt there will be any for at least a few more years to come). Trucks are the only visitors to that area and they too stop for the night. So some locals have a separate room (made up of tin sheets) with few beds thrown in, which are given for rent. I was lucky to get one such bed. There was this kid (who turned out to be a truck driver, duh!) who was already staying in the room. He spoke Hindi and gave me all he knew about the place. Nope, he didn't know Manipuri either but being a regular driver on that route, he knew enough to stay safe and get his job done. I learned quite a bit about the challenges these guys face while driving on this route. Language is the smallest of their worries actually. There are a bunch of other issues the state is plagued with and the sense of uncertainty I saw on the faces of our army men, was evidence of it.

At Nungba, unintentionally though, I was drawing the attention of a group of guys there, who were possibly drunk and a bit mischievous in their behavior. My roommate (the kid), also whispered that they are indeed something to watch out for. Honestly, I can deal with my fear, else I wouldn't be doing what I do. And at that moment, I was more concerned about the safety of my bike than me. So I decided to find a safe house for my motorcycle for the night. After I kept my luggage in the tin can (let's call it lodge for ease of reference!), me and the kid rode 100-200 meters to a police check-post. I approached the men in uniform and introduced myself and made a request if I could park my bike in their vicinity so that it stays safe for the night. They were a friendly bunch and the senior inspector, suggested I park the bike right at their check post door. It was such a relief. I assured them, that I will move it early in the morning, to avoid any inconvenience. They too lived in a tin shed after all, with 2-3 beds inside and a small counter facing the road, and the wooden boom pole. Basically, they keep track of the trucks that pass through and possibly collect some entry tax. With the bike in a safe place, I was now totally relaxed to observe the people and life around me. 

That day I was served rice, daal (it was close to what I eat at home), and a little bit of chicken curry for dinner. Just like every other place, they had pork curry but I was not in the mood to try that. The kid was watching me (along with the family) very curiously, to see how I eat, and if I liked the food there or not. I am not a fussy person and am always thankful for the smallest gesture I receive, and here the food was actually of my liking. As a humble gesture, I asked the lady in the house to give me the rice I initially had taken off my plate. I have a very small appetite and rice at night is a bit too much for me. Still, I tried to live up to their perception of my appetite, to avoid being teased for how less I eat. Yeah, believe it or not, that's a common issue I face everywhere I go. 

After the grand dinner (it was considering the place I was in that night), I went to the lodge (eh...tin can! maybe that's what I should stick to calling it!), for which I had to climb a rickety wooden staircase, as my tin room was on the first floor of the wooden building. Everything shook when I stepped on it and I was wondering if I should just lie down on the ground for the night and be safe or climb that crackling staircase to the tin can which I felt can collapse anytime. Jeez!!! Keeping up with the kid, I got into the room somehow. The bed was comfy and warm. Ahh!! I was so thankful for the warm bed and the food I got that night. Really I was. The kid was telling me about his family and how he got into driving trucks and all the experiences he had in the northeast until we both fell asleep. Before which I had to blow off the candle (yes, there was no electricity in that tin can). It was such a peaceful night, in a place where I least expected it. But then that is the irony of life and travel, we get to experience things that sometimes are least expected.

Until tomorrow.


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