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|22nd March 2015, 20:13||#1|
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Solo drive to the North East - All Seven Sisters
The BHPian community has gone everywhere in India and to most places in the world a million times. Even so, the North East of India is a somewhat less visited region. Some BHPians have followed the trail to Tawang, or to Kaziranga, but say Manipur, or Mizoram, remains "under travelogued". The less traveled path is always a magnet for the intrepid traveler and I could not resist going there and inflicting yet another travelogue on BHPians.
This is a drive to all the Seven Sisters in one go. To tease you into this travelogue, here’s a challenge for you. Identify the places in these two photos. And answer the question that follows
(Should be easy; watch the horizon especially)
(Maybe a touch more difficult; clue - notice the colour change and the two wheelers)
Now the question (easy peesy). Where is Barhi ? No cheating; OK ? Google maps are off bounds.
Find the answers in the course of the travelogue !
As is usual for me, the drive is a solo drive. Me, my car, and the long, winding and potholed road, it shall be.
Well, its strictly not solo, as there will always be the faithful companion.
Hyundai Xcent, Petrol, SX(O), AT. Why a small car; why a petrol car; why an AT – yeah I know the questions. Well, the answer is simple - that's the car I have and it has the heart of a warrior ! As it proved, it didn’t just have the heart of a warrior. It was veritably Hercules himself.
Prep was as usual. Kit out the car, get it serviced, and research like crazy for the trip. I was much handicapped on this one – there is really very little material on a drive to the North East in Team BHP. Mitchontheroad has long gone back to Miami or wherever else he is roaming ! Some places like Mizoram are veritable black holes, with no recent information at all. It is here that I owe a very big thank you to Senior BHPian Wanderernomad for some amazing help in planning the trip. He is a walking encyclopedia, is very well connected in the region and can dig you out of trouble literally and figuratively. Even by the high standards of BHPians, he is very special. I start my travelogue with a very big bow and salute to you mate. This is your travelogue, as much as mine.
I am structuring the travelogue as one post to a state. I’ll do the narrative and story first and then conclude with a separate post on road conditions in each of the stretches and some practical guidance and advice for travelers to the North East. The story first.
Its early morning. Dawn is breaking. There is a chill in the air. Perhaps a trace of mist. Off I go. Join me in the co passenger’s seat.
Days 1-6 : Bangalore-Vijayawada-Bhubaneswar-Haldia-Durgapur-Siliguri-Guwahati (3305 kms)
Its not often you can begin a travelogue like this, almost dismissively. So I will say it . After 3300 kms and 6 days, my trip really starts ! The detour to Haldia was simply a personal tour down memory lane.
What is there to add to the considerable information that is already there on these legs. I did add my two penny bit on road conditions in the respective threads though.
Days 7-10 were in Assam, which I will come to after covering Arunachal Pradesh
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:08.
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|22nd March 2015, 20:26||#2|
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Arunachal is a huge state and you have to pick and choose where to go. I chose central Arunachal – the districts of Subansiri and Siang for this trip.
Day 11 – Agoratoli to Itanagar (260 kms)
Itanagar wasn’t a destination for me, but I thought I would reach there to make the next leg, which I knew was going to be horrendous, just a bit easier. The town itself is completely featureless, not worth visiting as a tourist. First thing I noticed in the town was the amazing number of Car Wash places. There must be more Car Wash outfits in Itanagar alone than in the whole of Bangalore. Every place in Arunachal had a car wash. There may not be restaurant or a hotel, but there will surely be a car wash. Speaks volumes of the horrible condition of the roads in the state.
Day 12 – Freezing in Ziro
Itanagar to Ziro (176 kms)
For long I have wanted to visit Ziro. With a name like that, it is an irresistible attraction ! Arunachal Pradesh is full of places with interesting names - take your pick from Miao, Singing, ....... I chose Ziro.
There are two ways to go to Ziro from Itanagar. One direct and one by coming down to Assam near Lakhimpur and then going up. I took six opinions locally. Three said I should go direct and that I would be crazy and foolish to go back to Assam. Three said the exact opposite. Either way I was going to be crazy. I chose the Assam option. Big mistake as it turned out.
The first 20 kms after the Khimin border would be a leading candidate for the worst road in India. But road reports come later. I got to Ziro, one of the most beautiful places in Arunachal.
Ziro has been on the shortlist for UNESCO World Heritage Site status ; one of these days that is bound to happen. The scenery around Ziro is lovely. In early Feb, Ziro was bitingly cold. Pine clad hills, and rice fields all around makes for very pleasant surroundings. This is not the best time of the year to come here - during and post rains, the greenery is even more stunning. But this is good enough for me and I drank in the atmosphere suitably braced for the cold.
I stayed in a log cabin - wood being one of the best ways to keep out the cold. It's a charming place, away from the town itself.
The Ziro music festival, held in October each year, has become a cult event. It is apparently the largest outdoor music event of its kind in the country. The music is however rock, heavy metal and all modern stuff - no traditional music at all. Groups from all over the country and some from other countries come. Hordes of visitors land up. The meager accommodation around gets filled up and most visitors simply pitch tents around the venue. If you fancy this, come to Ziro in October.
Day 13 – The Apatani Tribe
The Ziro area is the home of the Apatani tribe. Day 13 was exclusively to visit Apatani villages with my friend Kago Obing
The Apatanis are a peaceful and largely agricultural tribe, with their interesting way of farming. Unlike other tribes, they are not nomadic, but have settled in this area for long. The Apatani have been more known to tourists because of the practice of nose plugging and facial tattooing amongst the women. The younger generation has abandoned this practice, but you can see this in many of the older women. The facial tattooing is very modest by today's standards of tattooing, but the nose plugs are quite a sight. The legend is that Apatani women are considered so beautiful in the region that they were frequently abducted by other tribes and by the British as well. Hence the women disfigured themselves as a defence against getting kidnapped! I have no idea if this legend is true or not, but I did notice that Apatani women are beautiful. Out of respect for their privacy, I did not photograph any of the women, but you can see tons of photos on the internet on face tattooing and nose plugging.
Apatanis practice the Donyi Polo religion although Christianity has made some inroads. They worship the Sun and Moon Gods. They have no temples, but there is a place reserved for prayers. Animal sacrifice is practiced.
Apatani houses consist of largely a single big room which is also the kitchen. Bamboo is much used in constructing the house. Cooking is done in the middle of the room in a wood fire. Smoked meat (mainly pork) occupies a prime place in the room – the house I visited had seven year old stuff, and apparently the longer it matures, the greater is the taste ! Because the houses are made of wood and are closely packed together, fires are common, frequently wiping out a large portion of the village.
Apatani cultivate mainly rice and bamboo. Rice cultivation is interesting – in the same rice fields where water is standing, they also grow fish. When the rice is to be harvested, they drain the water in channels and catch the fish by hand. Bamboo is grown in huge groves providing timber and food. They do not practice jhum cultivation. For firewood they cut branches of the trees and when a whole tree has to be felled, they replant more than one tree. It’s a nice self sustaining way of life.
They are of course hardcore meat and fish eaters, but the interesting thing in their cooking is that they seldom use oil. Dishes are mainly boiled, roasted or smoked. In the past they also had a problem with getting salt – there is no rock salt here and the sea is 1000 miles away. So they burn some grass, do some filtration with charcoal and get a salty fluid which is what is used to season dishes. They still use this process even though packed salt is of course available now.
Homestays are easily doable in an Apatani house, if you would like that. With my youth somewhat (?) behind me, I opted for the more conventional “hotel” .
Day 14 – Ziro – Daporijo ( 173 kms)
Another long tough hill drive through bad roads. There isn’t even 100 metres of a straight road. Twisting, turning, climbing, falling – all on terrible roads. But beautiful scenery to lessen the pain somewhat. That’s the story of Arunachal. Daporijo was only a night halt for going onwards. The home of the Tagin tribe, its an OK place but I didn’t tarry. Just moved on next day
Day 15 : Daporijo – Along (170 kms)
Another similar day of torturous hill driving. On to the town of Along. Yet another stopover town, the home of the Galo tribe. This was the first disappointing place I have come to. Unimpressive town. Again moving on the next day to my real destination
Day 16 &17 : The last Shangri la - Mechuka
Along – Mechuka (179 kms)
The fabled last Shangri La, as Mechuka is sometimes referred to . The road to Mechuka was constructed only 10 years ago. Until then this town was cut off from the outside world. Few places in India are likely to be more beautiful than Mechuka and the surrounding areas.
Although the road conditions were very bad, even by Arunachal standards, it was an amazing drive. The hills were taller and the scenery was even better than the previous drives through Ziro and Daporijo. And I had the Siyom for company right through – Siyom is one of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra. And in the distance, peeping through the clouds, were the snow clad mountains of the mighty Himalayas.
(The snow clad mountains peep at you)
(Gushing streams makes the road tolerable)
(A waterfall by the road)
(The mist is below you as you drive)
Up and down we went, seemingly endlessly, until I turned a corner after a descent and entered the barren valley, more in the Ladakh mould, of Mechuka. In a couple of kilometres, the green changes to brown. It's a beautiful, small town (a village I should say, but nicely developed). It is in the valley with hills all round and in the near distance, the snow capped mountains. What a sight.
The town of Mechuka itself is lovely. Its bitterly cold here in mid Feb. Houses are mainly wooden, and of course there’s no heating, But every home has a fireplace, where a wood fire is lit and you gather round it in the evening and have your meal there. At night you swathe yourself in a ton of blissfully warm and fluffy blankets and in the morning you wake up to see the mountains peeping at you through the window. Sheer magic.
I roamed around the town all day. Stood on the banks of a gentle Yargyapchu river and ruminated on the meaning and purpose of life ! Went up to the hanging bridge which sways with the wind and bucks alarmingly when you step on to it and, yes, crossed to the other side.
(The Yargyapchu river - ripe for pondering the meaning of life)
(Cross it if you dare - I did !)
(This is Buddhist land)
There’s a small airforce airstrip, which they are currently expanding. I waited to see if a plane would come in, but alas there wasn’t going to be one today. The strip is charming – people are crossing it all the time, and I suppose when a plane is due, the army would come and shoo everybody off and let the plane land !
Mechuka, is about 30 kms from the China border. The border is the McMahon line which China does not accept (it claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh). This line was accepted by the then independent Tibet, British India and China under the rule of the Manchus in 1914. The Communist Party of China has never recognised this on the grounds that neither the Tibetans nor the Manchu ruler had any right to bind China ! You can get army permissions and reach right up to the border but it’s a 2 day trek through bitter cold and I didn’t do it. Mechuka itself has a sad history from the Indo China war of 1962. Two battalions of the Indian army were simply overrun in the town. Their retreat was cut off by snow and they were vanquished. I went in search of a memorial, but sadly there isn't one.
I stayed in the home of Nana and Gebu Sona – they welcome visitors to do a homestay. They are Memba, the tribe of this area. Incredibly warm hospitality, the likes of which you will, rarely get anywhere. In literally two hours after arriving at their home, I was feeling as comfortable as in my own home - I put my feet up and warmed my toes and hands in the fireplace in their living room. They told me about their way of life and they suggested what I could do in Mechuka. We chatted and chatted. When it was time to retire, they plied me with three huge fluffy woolen blankets and I drifted off to sleep in the biting cold, but with a lot of warmth, both physically and in my heart.
Mechuka, or Menchuka means in Memba - "medicinal water of snow". Maybe it is the elixir of life. Come here if you can.
Day 18 : Mechuka to Along ( 180 kms)
Returned back the same way to Along (not an inviting thought to come back to Along, but there is simply no other way). The next day I leave Arunachal Pradesh, with some sadness, for it is a beautiful state having so much to offer to a visitor.
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:24.
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|22nd March 2015, 21:54||#3|
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Day 7 : Inner Line Permits
Day 7 was spent in getting the Inner Line permits required to go to three of the Seven Sisters. I will cover the procedure in the final post
Day 8 : Kamakhya Temple
Guwahati's famous Kamakhya temple is one of the oldest temples in the land. Although the current temple is dated to 1565, there are references to this deity and a temple at this place at the time of Alexander's foray into India. It is one of 51 Shakthi Peeths and a marvelous temple, but somewhat uncomfortable for me because of the practice of animal sacrifice.
Days 9 & 10 : Hello Mr Elephant and Mrs Rhino
Guwahati to Agoratoli (Kaziranga) : 245 kms
Kaziranga is the one place in the North East with many a BHP travelogue; the latest by Nandita Bayan (Experiencing Wildlife and Nature - Kaziranga National Park) is a gem. So I'll be brief. I went to the Agoratoli range, the easternmost range in Kaziranga.
On the game drive we ran smack into a huge bull elephant in mast. Not a great idea
The only sensible option is to retreat, but there is Mrs Elephant blocking the rear.
The tense standoff lasted all of 2 minutes and then they let us poor humans go
At the next turn Mr Rhino indulged in a staring match for another full 2 minutes
He then showed his utter disdain for us by mooning !
Later we saw Mrs Rhino teaching Junior how to cross the road
Sunrises and Sunsets are splendid here
Day 19: OMG, how do I get across
Along to Tinsukia : 264 kms
After the detour via Arunachal Pradesh, back to Assam. First I had to descend from Along to Likabali in the plains. The first 65 kms from Along past Basar is my nomination for the worst road in India, outside of mountain roads. The craters aren't even lunar or martian; they are from another universe. Even SUVs will scrape their bellies here. Rest of the drive is uneventful, crossing over from Arunachal into Silapathar and then I reached Bogibil with much trepidation.
There is still no bridge over the Brahmaputra at Bogibil. It is being built for the last 14 years and I am 99% certain that it will be completed in the year 2057. So it has to be a Ferry to cross, car and all.
When I reached Bogibil, I was in for a shock. This being the dry season, the Brahmaputra has receded a good 2-3 kms from her banks. The only option was to simply get down into the river bed and drive inside the river , first on caked mud and then on pure river sand ! Oh God.
(Now can you recognise my first teaser at the start ?)
(My companion looking stunned at being asked to do this)
Consequently the ferry ride is short and prices have come down. It is a standard Rs 1000 for a car on a scheduled ferry (which means you have to wait) or Rs 1500 if you want to jump the queue and get into a "reserved ferry". That's all fine, but first you have to get your car into the ferry.
(The car has to "walk that plank")
(Almost there; look at the squeeze)
(Another few inches and into the river it goes)
(Now have to do it all over again and get the car down)
(The monument to futility - the never to be completed Bogibil bridge)
I freely admit that I was scared to hell and gave over the car to the boatmen to load. Yeah, I know, this is no way for a BHPian to behave. GTO is probably going to dock me an infraction for this.
Phew. After all that, onwards to Tinsukia for the night halt.
Day 20: The Stilwell Road
(Tinsukia to Lekhapani & back : 152 kms)
Nearby, Tinsukia, from the town of Ledo starts the famous Stilwell Road. It was built during World War II as an alternative route to Kunming to ferry supplies to China. 15000 Americans and 30000 Indians joined hands to build the road under the command of General Joseph Stilwell of the US Army. They crossed Pangsau Pass (nicknamed Hell's Pass) and built it in 2 years during a War(and the Bogibil Bridge is being built for 14 years and counting). It is an amazing engineering feat even by today's standards. Every road enthusiast must do a pilgrimage to the Stilwell Road at least once. Of course, I only travelled the few kilometers inside Assam. Some day, when northern Myanmar opens up, a BHPian will go all the way to Kunming, I am sure.
Lekhapani is also the easternmost point of the Indian Railways.
(The eastern end of the Indian Railways and that's where the track ends)
(The plaque says it all)
Day 21 : The land of the Ahoms
Tinsukia to Jorhat (272 kms)
Passed by Sibsagar , the ancient capital of the Ahom kingdom. There are only a few reminders today of the majestic kingdom of the medieval times.
Shivdhol - the majestic Shiv temple)
(Devidhol adjacent to Shivdhol)
(Rang Ghar - the ancient stadium where the rulers witnessed animal fights and song and dance)
(Talathal Garh - all that is left of the palace)
Reached Jorhat for one of the highlights of the trip. I got to meet Senior BHPian Wanderernomad and thank him personally for the phenomenal help. He is a star.
That is really the end of the "seeing" of Assam. I'll keep coming in and out of Assam as I visit the other states, for that is the lie of the land in this region. But they'll just be commute points, not places I am really visiting.
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:26.
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|23rd March 2015, 07:52||#4|
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Day 22 : Jorhat to Mokokchung (114 kms)
Nagaland is another fascinating state with a distinct culture. There are many tribes that inhabit different parts of Nagaland. The Konyaks of Mon are the more well known because of their past history as headhunters. Scalping an enemy was once a ritual for coming into manhood. But Mon has absolutely awful roads and I decided to give it a miss. Instead I went towards Mokokchung, the home of the Ao Nagas.
Leaving Jorhat, it was back to hills and bad roads. Mokokchung is a small town, perched on a hill, with steep gradients. You travel through the town up and down, rather than length wise or breadth wise. Nagaland is a devoutly Christian state, with almost everybody converted into Christianity by American missionaries in the late 19th century/ early 20th century.
Naga, by the way, has nothing to do with serpents. Nobody seems to know how they came to be called as Nagas, but the best explanation I heard is that apparently Naga means covering of the ear in their dialects and Nagas are known to adorn flowers, rings, etc (even the males) around their ears
Day 23 : The Ao Nagas
I went to three Ao villages – Ungma, Longkhum and Mopungchuket. The villages are amazing. Firstly they are incredibly clean ; the Aos enforce cleanliness and are a very clean tribe. This is way different from villages we see in the Indian plains. Secondly, the Aos love flowers; so even the modest of houses has a small flower garden in front. It's a lovely sight. There’s always an imposing church in each village. It all makes for an impressive picture.
(Lovely flowers in Longkhum)
(Ungma traditional houses - even they have pretty flowers)
(The three stone ancestors in Ungma - The Aos believed they descended from stone)
(The church at Ungma is 100 years old)
In each village is a gigantic log drum. The beating of the drum was a signal to the entire village. If the enemy was spotted, there was a certain rhythm. If there was a birth or a death, a different rhythm. etc etc. Today, of course, it is just ceremonially kept – the mobile phone has taken its place ! But each village maintains its log drum and on some festivals it is sounded.
Mopungchuket village was a terrific surprise. There is a lovely amphitheater with great carvings in wood where apparently, a rock festival goes on in December. There is also a lovely museum in the village. Artifacts are clearly labelled, the museum is spotlessly clean despite few visitors. It took my breath away to see such a lovely museum in a village in a remote village. The Aos are proud of their history and want to keep memories of it. How many villages in India can claim something like that.
The Aos have their own version of Romeo and Juliet in their legend. Etiben was a rich girl and Jina was a poor boy. Yet they fell in love. Opposition by everybody else, their running away and then ending in tragedy - the story is familiar. There are monuments to Etiben and Jina in the villages I went to, the most impressive of them in Mopungchuket.
Day 24 : Onwards to Kohima
Mokokchung to Kohima (151 kms)
Kohima, the state capital is also the home of the Apatani tribes, although by now the tribes are much intermingled.
Nearby Kohima is the village of Kisama, the site of the famous Hornbill festival, which happens in early December. It is the most prominent festival in the North East and is meant to showcase Naga culture. But a whole host of events have been added on to it, including a motor rally - wonder how many BHPians have been in it .
Kisama has been developed as a heritage village. Every tribe's traditional morung (community building) is permanently erected there. During the festival, tribes in traditional costume showcase their culture, but at other times it is simply a deserted spot without anybody. Tourists still come to view the place. It has the potential to become something of a theme park, but I suppose since few tourists come to Nagaland, it is not economical for them to run the theme park all through the year. Come during the Hornbill festival if you can and the place will be pulsing with life.
Day 25 : Their name liveth for evermore
The Battle of Kohima is one of the most famous battles of World War II. It was where the Japanese invasion of India was turned back. The Japanese had swept through South East Asia, Singapore, Burma and it looked like India was the next target. They invaded India, and attacked what is now Manipur and Nagaland. But this was where the Japanese were defeated. The exact spot where the tide turned was the tennis court in the then Deputy Commissioner's bungalow. Today it is the site of a Commonwealth War Memorial, immaculately kept and one of the moving places of all. Any Indian with an interest in recent history must come here. You cannot help tearing up.
(Bow your head in salute)
(Rows and rows of immaculately maintained graves)
(They were all so young, sadly)
(Indian Muslim soldiers are buried here too)
(Alas, an unknown Indian)
(Hindus and Sikhs were cremated and this memorial erected)
(The tennis court where the battle actually turned)
(The story of the cherry tree)
(This was how it was on that fateful day)
(The story of the tank)
(The tank itself is actually there)
As I expected, Nagaland is a lovely state with lovely people. What took me by surprise is that the villages are so clean and so well maintained. The War Memorial was a place I wanted to come to on this trip. It was a profoundly moving experience. I'll leave you with the epitaph of the Second Division
"When you go home tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow, we gave our today"
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:36.
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|23rd March 2015, 08:13||#5|
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Day 26 : A horrible drive
Kohima to Imphal ( 138 kms)
One of the small advantages of driving around this region is that you practically see no trucks at all in the hills. Memories of Ichchapuram, Jalesar and Dhalkola were almost forgotten. But as I left Kohima for Imphal, I made an awful mistake. I miscalculated and left in the morning. The roads in the Nagaland side are bad and there was the abominable sight of 100 odd trucks in front of me labouring up the hills at 20 kmph on a virtual dirt track. Imagine having to overtake each one of them, while they are throwing up an almighty cloud of dust. My windshield looked like this - no point in cleaning it for in the next one minute it was back to the same.
But once I crossed Nagaland and entered Manipur, there were two immediate changes. Firstly, the roads became good. And secondly, the army is everywhere. Manipur is currently the most restive state and the army is out on the roads. There are numerous checkpoints where you stop and get your details entered in a register. The sight of heavily armed men from the Assam Rifles patrolling the roads is common.
Manipur is a predominantly Hindu state and very very different from Nagaland. An immediate difference you notice is that the women largely wear the traditional dress, the Phanek. In brilliant colours, they make the streets a virtual kaleidoscope.
Day 27 : Imphal
Imphal is a big place and city like in size and traffic. Dominating the centre of the city is the famous and beautiful Kangla palace and grounds. It was the seat of the erstwhile rulers of Manipur until the British appropriated it for themselves, and then subsequently so did the Assam Rifles. Only recently has it been restored and turned back into a public monument.
(The Uttra - ancient coronation hall)
(The manglen [memorial] of the last Manipuri King)
(Ibudhou Pakhangba Laishang - a temple inside the palace grounds)
(Nungjeng Pukhri - the sacred pond and a revered site for Manipuris)
(The polo grounds - the Manipuris claim to have invented the game)
Of the palace itself, almost nothing remains except a brief portion of the outer wall.
Another interesting sight is the Ima Keithel. Its a market, like any other in India, but the difference is that it is entirely run by Ima (mothers) - not just women, but mothers.
About 50 kms away from Imphal on the road to Churachandpur is the huge Loktak lake. Characteristic of this lake is that there are floating islands made up of grass and sea plants. Islands that float ! On the way is a low key Japanese War Memorial. Many Japanese died here in the World War as well and the Japanese government has erected a very low key memorial which is called the India Peace memorial.
Day 28 : Masala Dosa in Moreh and Coffee in Myanmar !
Imphal - Moreh - Tamu - Moreh - Imphal ( 255 kms)
On great roads but massively patrolled by the Indian Army, this was a day I had been looking forward to on this trip.
I went to the border town of Moreh and therein is an interesting relic of history.
In the pre war days, there was a big migration of Tamilians to Rangoon - Rangoon was a much richer place than Madras. But when the Japanese invaded Burma, those who could not catch the last steamer to Madras, were left behind. They then began the long walk back to Tamil Nadu. Crossed the border at Moreh and walked (yes walked) to Tamil Nadu. Imagine that. Many died on the way, but some made it. At the end of the war, many walked back again to get back to Rangoon. But when they reached Moreh, they found the border closed as Burma turned backwards. Later on, in General Ne Win's time many Tamilians living in Burma were expelled and they all congregated in Moreh. At its peak Moreh had a population of 4000 Tamils who outnumbered the locals.
Today only about 100 Tamilian families are left in Moreh. I went in search of their colony and went to the only eating joint run by them to have an authentic masala dosa. Only a quirk of history can enable a masala dosa to be had in Moreh speaking in Tamil to the people there !
(Masala Dosa in Moreh)
The Tamils have maintained their traditional culture. They speak Tamil fluently, although they also speak the native dialect. There is a temple that would not be out of place in Kumbakonam !
(Angaala Parameswari temple)
(The temple walls just as in Tamil Nadu)
The town on the other side of the border in Myanmar is Tamu. An interesting arrangement there is that Indians and Burmese are freely allowed to move between the towns as long as they return back to their country on the same day. Only these towns, mind you ; you can't go further. And you can take your car too ! So, off I went into Myanmar
(Now, can you recognise my second teaser at the start of the travelogue)
(Into Myanmar now)
The Friendship Bridge separates India from Myanmar. Even the colour of the bridge changes midway - silver is India and golden is Myanmar !
The first thing you do when you cross, is to shift to driving on the right side of the road. Myanmar, despite being a British colony, now drives on the right. Off I went to the town of Tamu and the market there.
The immediate thing you notice is that the men mostly wear the Paso and the women, the Htamein (both a sort of a lungi). But the most distinctive feature is that most women smear Thanaka on their faces. It is a tree paste similar to sandalwood paste and is a sort of a cosmetic there.
(Almost everybody wears the Htamein)
(Every woman adorns herself with the Thanaka)
(That's Myanmar for you)
There is no Hindi or English spoken, so communication is an issue. But there are a fair number of people of Indian origin who speak Hindi. Because the borders had been closed for a long time, they have become fully Burmese adopting their dresses and speaking their language.
The roads in Myanmar , upto Kalay have been built by the Indian BRO. Beyond that roads are a mess.
It is possible to get permissions and drive to Mandalay, and Rangoon and beyond, but it is horribly expensive. I tired a heck of a lot, but finally abandoned it purely on cost grounds - USD 2000 just to get permissions to drive on nightmarish roads is not worth it. I am posting separately in the India-Myanmar-Thailand thread on the procedure, costs and contacts, should any BHPian of far better financial means (and with a monstrous 4WD) wish to undertake that journey
I spent whatever time I could but had to return back that afternoon as you are only allowed day trips.
(Back to India)
(For pedestrians, there is another Bridge - you can just walk across)
Back in Imphal in the evening, I treated myself to a very traditional Manipuri Thali. Manipur cuisine has a big vegetarian component and here was the only state where I could really sample the local cuisine.
(A delicious thali - all vegetarian)
It has been an interesting and a different visit to Manipur. I didn't visit villages and understand the local culture much - instead my big aim was to reach Moreh and cross into Myanmar. Manipuri culture is rich and very beautiful. It is a real pity that is a bit restive these days, although much less than before. I would have loved to spend a lot more time here, but I had to move on to the next state.
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:43.
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|23rd March 2015, 18:56||#6|
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Mizoram is truly a outstanding state to visit - very beautiful, very peaceful now and the Mizos are a wonderful people. I timed it to coincide with Chapchar Kut, their most popular festival. Unfortunately this was the state I did least justice to. Read on
Day 29 : Imphal - Silchar (274 kms)
This was a drive I was dreading. Every report on the Net terms this as a torturous, horrible drive, best not undertaken. Years ago, the well known journeyer from western India reported only half jokingly, that at places he had to virtually get down and carry his car (It was a Matiz then I believe). So I feared for what lay in store.
Actually not bad at all. Except for a small stretch which was sheer hell, the rest of the road has been done up and it was a lovely hill drive. See roads section coming up for a detailed report on the road.
Day 30 & 31 : Laid low in Silchar feeling a bit unwell. Consequently, missed the Chapchar Kut in Mizoram.
Day 32 : Silchar To Aizawl : 239 kms
What should have been a good drive turned bad because I took a wrong turning and travelled 60 kms more than necessary and instead of good roads, faced awful ones. Sometimes you just aren't lucky.
Day 33 : An amazing town : Aizawl
What an amazing town Aizawl is. It is a steep steep city overgrown like crazy on a hill. All roads have a gradient of 30 deg, some 45 and more ! It must be one of the steepest towns in the land. And instead of the sleepy, laid back, town I had expected, I found a throbbing one. I came at the fag end of Chapchar Kut, but still the streets were full of people gaily dressed, music was throbbing in the air, there were tons of celebrations and it felt like the most happening place in the region. Unfortunately, I came too late to see the celebrations,. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous Cheraw (remember the bamboo dance with girls daintily stepping in and out of clashing bamboo poles). No luck, for I was too late.
(A distant view of Aizawl)
(Impossible gradients - the photo deceives but that was a 45 deg gradient)
(Aizawl is a very clean city. Hardly anybody litters)
(Street parking Aizawl style)
(You go from one street to another like this)
(They have their own NBA league !)
(BMX on the roof top - and this is a laid back city ??)
(Surely that must be the most picturesque football ground in the country)
Aizawl has its own Taj Mahal - called the KV Paradise Monument. Khawlhring and Varte were a happily married middle aged couple when suddenly, in a tragic road accident, Varte died. Khawlhring has since then spent his entire savings and time in constructing a memorial for his beloved wife. Its a moving tale of love.
(The KV Paradise Monument)
(Steps leading to the monument - everywhere it is a climb)
(In memory of Varte)
Mizoram is a devoutly Christian state. Everything shuts down on a Sunday, and I mean literally everything. Even petrol pumps are closed and I had to hunt for the only one that was open.
My original plan was to go to Champhai, the most beautiful region of Mizoram bordering Myanmar. The Murlen National Park, the home of the hoolock gibbon is there as are the Blue Mountains. Zokhawtar is the border town here, as Moreh is in Manipur. Again you can cross the border and go freely into Myanmar up to the Rih Dil. This is a lake considered holy by all Mizos which they believe souls of ancestors visit. But when the national boundaries were drawn, this fell into Myanmar. The Mizos in India were cut off from their holy place for a while. With the easing of border restrictions now, all Indians can freely travel to the lake and come back on the same day. Champhai is also starting to become a wine growing region. Interesting, for Mizoram is a dry state ! Unfortunately I was still feeling down and cancelled going there. Please go there and report on your travelogue !
So I just touched Aizawl and returned back. What a pity.
Day 34 : Aizawl to Silchar (178 kms)
This time I took the right roads and it was a lovely smooth drive.
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:47.
|23rd March 2015, 20:20||#7|
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SCOTLAND OF THE EAST
As I eased out of Silchar, I faced a fork in the road. Do I turn South and go to Tripura ? Or do I turn North and head to Meghalaya. My original plan was of course to turn South. But the tragic events in Dimapur in early March intervened. Dimapur is far away, but the unfortunate person who was dragged out of jail and lynched to death came from Karimganj and his body was brought to be buried here. The place was tense and it was a risk not worth taking. I therefore headed north to Meghalaya.
Day 35 : Silchar to Shillong (230 kms)
A smooth drive. Even as recent as 7 months ago, this was a horrible stretch of road. But it has been newly laid and is now a fine drive.
The beautiful state of Meghalaya is the land of the Khasis, the Garos and the Jaintias. This state is more familiar to Indians from elsewhere than the other states in the region. This is a majority Christian state (but not near 100% Christian like Nagaland and Mizoram) and shares similar characteristics of high education and cleanliness. Apparently this was the early domain of the Welsh missionaries ( I don't know how the sobriquet of Scotland of the East came - no self respecting Welshman would dignify the Scot !) With English being the official language of the state, communication, even for foreigners, is hardly a problem. An interesting feature of Khasi society is that it is matrilinear - property flows through the women, especially to the youngest daughter.
Meghalaya, as is well known, is one of the wettest places on earth. But I have carefully chosen the time of my visit. There isn't a cloud in the sky and the sun is shining brightly. Days are warm, but nights are chilly enough to warrant light woolens.
Day 36 : Shillong
Shillong, is a British city, dating back more than 100 years and was an incredibly charming town - I remember coming here 25 years ago and being utterly charmed. Today it is a bit like Bangalore. The charm has faded, it has become hugely congested and traffic inches at 5 kmph. But it still retains some magic and is a wonderful town to come to.
This is a hill town, but not with steep gradients like in Aizawl or Mokokchung. So I walked around sinking in the atmosphere. To the lovely Ward's lake in the centre of Shillong, still impeccably clean and beautiful. Past the Pinewood Hotel, a more than 100 year old hotel. Today its a tad faded and still pricey, but it oozes history. Strolled past the Shillong club where the sahibs came for R&R. The superb boarding schools, which still are a magnet for children of the wealthy. The famous cathedral. Reminders of the Raj everywhere.
(The iconic 100 year plus old hotel)
(The equally iconic Ward's Lake)
(Beautiful flowers in Ward's lake)
(Can you see the Sahibs in Shillong Club ?)
(The cathedral in the night)
I stayed in a delightful B&B called The Pear Tree.
Day 37 : The Cleanest Village in Asia
Shillong - Mawlynnong - Dawki - Shillong (195 kms)
You have to credit the villagers of Mawlynnong. This is a small village near the Bangladesh border. They have made a fetish of cleanliness. They entered a contest and were awarded the title of the Cleanest Village in Asia by Discovery magazine in 2003. They have used it to create a tourist attraction out of nothing. Brilliant.
(Colourful gardens dot the village)
(Even simple houses have pretty surroundings)
(That's a homestay ; they are really exploiting their tourist potential)
(All village roads are concreted and squeaky clean of course)
A neighbouring village has further taken advantage of the visiting tourist. Nearby is another one of the famous living root bridges - a specialty of Meghalaya. In these parts there are many swift flowing streams. The Indian rubber tree perches itself on high boulders and sends its roots to the river bed to anchor, thus combating soil erosion. The Khasis noticing this, started to use this as a means of building bridges across streams. Using hollowed out betel nut tree trunks, and sometimes intertwining roots of two trees, they started directing the roots to the opposing bank. When it took root there, a natural bridge was formed. With stones to fill in the gaps, they now had a perfect strong bridge. It is a living bridge, as it is the roots of the tree that is the bridge. It's a sight to see.
(The living root bridge)
(And that's how it looks when you are on it)
As this place is very close to the Bangladesh border, it is inevitable that I went there too. The village of Dawki is the last village on the Indian side. The road to Dawki is a lovely drive, for you drive with India on the left and Bangladesh on the right. Airtel cheekily switches you to international roaming - so beware of making calls from here ! Just past Dawki is the border crossing of Tamabil - a peaceful, quiet border crossing. Indians aren't allowed to cross, without passports and visas, but you can go up to the border stone and take as many photos as you want. Similar is the case with Bangladeshis. If you wish you can stand at the marking stone, the Bangladeshi can do likewise and you can shake hands !!
(The strip that separates India and Bangladesh at Tamabil. Two Indians are talking to a Bangladeshi)
(The actual marker - here is India; there is Bangladesh)
(When you turn back from the middle, there is a cheery welcome)
Day 38 : The driest wettest place in the world
Shillong - Cherrapunjee - Mawphlang - Shillong (161 kms)
Every Indian schoolboy knows that Cherrapunjee is the wettest place in the world. But in the off season, it is also bone dry. Which is when I went. Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes ........, picture that immortal song.
Cherrapunjee town itself is not particularly special and is surprisingly the turf of the Ramakrishna Mission, instead of one or the other of the churches. But it is the areas around it that are special.
Nohkhalikai falls is a lovely waterfall, but in the off season it is a mere trickle. Nevertheless a charming "rainbow" in the falls made it a nice sight. Legend has it that there was a woman named Li Kai who was very devoted to her son. Her second husband not liking this killed the child, dismembered it and mixed it with the food. Li Kai , when she learnt that she had unwittingly eaten her child, jumped of the cliff (Noh in Khasi means jump off the cliff) and hence the name Nohkalikai. There are legends for everything - who knows if they are true or not.
Nearby are the Mawsmai caves. Enter if you dare !
(Entrance to the caves - don't worry it is well lit)
(Squeeze through - BHPians of healthy proportions beware !)
On the way, I stopped by at the Sacred Grove in Mawphlang. The Khasis believe that a deity called Labasa resides in the Sacred Grove, which is about 30 kms away from Shillong in the village of Mawphlang. It is a forest of some 75 hectares with a bio diversity of some 400 species of trees. Khasis rever this grove and the blessings of the deity is taken before important events, or if there are calamities in the community. They believe that if the deity is pleased, it manifests in the form of a leopard and if it is annoyed, it comes as a snake. There are legends galore of such sightings.
The grove is sacred and the Khasis and visitors visit it with respect. Absolutely nothing is allowed to be taken out of the grove, not even a leaf. There are many flowering and fruit plants, but they are never taken out. You can eat a fruit inside the grove but not bring it out. If a tree falls, it is left there. Such is the respect.
(It is beautiful, calm and quiet inside)
Day 39 : Shillong to Guwahati (103 kms)
As I left Shillong, I mused on how much I enjoyed Meghalaya even though I came in the wrong season. During or just after the rains, it will be much greener and much prettier. I came when there was not a Megh in Meghalaya. And yet, the state is so charming that, justifiably, more visitors come here than to any other North Eastern State. As I drove out, here are a few parting shots
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:53.
|23rd March 2015, 21:12||#8|
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The Seventh Sister - A duckling turns into a swan
You may recall from the previous post that I tuned north from Silchar rather than turning south. And yet, there was no way I was going to see six of the seven sisters and miss out on the last one. I parked my car in Guwahati, giving my faithful companion a rest, and caught a flight to Agartala the capital of Tripura.
Day 40 : Guwahati - Agartala (Flight)
I did not know what to expect, but Tripura sprang me yet another surprise. It felt like going back to the India of some years ago. Life is slow, unhurried and surprisingly, not insanely crowded. Traffic is not outrageous either. People are friendly, almost innocent, in a delightful way. Surprisingly, there are few dilapidated or dirty buildings. Everything seems to have had a fresh coat of paint and even simple houses look positively new. Charming in its own way.
Tripura is a completely different state to the rest of the North East. If you assume that this is just Bengal, you would be wrong. There is a strong Bengali influence, of course, but this is not Bengal. It is an amalgam of a whole variety of tribes, some Tibetan Burmese and some Indo Aryan. To me this appears to be the boundary between the domains of the Mongoloid race and the Indo Aryan / Dravidian race.
(A lovely temple in Agartala with not a soul around)
(An old world charm in the house, but see the fresh paint)
Tripura is a small state. While the Bengali speakers are in the majority, a substantial number of the native Tripuris speak Kokborok, the local tribal language. The Manikya dynasty ruled Tripura since about 1200 AD until it became a part of British India sometime late in the 19th century. Tripura suffered from the partition as well, Just like Bengal, the old Tripura was also partitioned, but more importantly it became cut off from its economic roots. Calcutta , which was just 350 kms away, suddenly became 1700 kms away. The state also faced massive migration of Hindus from East Pakistan when partition happened.
Agartala sits right on the border with Bangladesh. Airtel does it usual sneaky revenue enhancement strategy by switching you on to the Bangladesh network ! At the heart of Agartala is the magnificent Ujjayanta Palace. There is a wonderful museum inside, opened just a year and a half ago, on Tripura's history and culture. Brilliantly done, its one of the best museums I have seen in the country.
(Ujjayanta Palace lit up in the night)
(By day it is equally impressive)
Of course I went to the Akhaura border. There is a simple flag lowering ceremony at dusk - reminiscent of the Wagah ceremony, but without the chest beating and the testosterone display. There is a crowd of onlookers on both sides and at the end, in a delightful touch, both are allowed to come within a foot of each other. Much smiling, clicking and shaking of hands !!
(The Akhaura crossing)
(The Indian parade team gets ready)
(The Indian flag goes down)
(And then its all smiles and friendly banter a foot from each other)
Day 41 : Udaipur (by bus)
The next day I caught a bus to go to the Tripura Sundari temple in Udaipur. This is one of the 51 Shakthi Peeths and is a nice simple temple. This is believed to be the site where Shakti's right leg fell. No crowds, no harassment and if you time the visit not to be when animal sacrifices are done as I did, nothing to offend your sensibilities. There is a clean big lake next to the temple full of fishes and tortoises.
(The Tripura Sundari temple)
(The Goddess Shakti - this is one of the few temples where photography is allowed)
(The Kalyan Sagar Lake)
Day 42 : Agartala to Guwahati (Flight)
Caught the flight back to be reunited with my faithful companion.
It was a bright sunny day in Guwahati, as the Indian summer has started in the plains. T shirts are out and everybody is in summer wear. People are hurrying back home from work. The cars are all honking. Traffic is piling up. Just another day. But, for me, it is not just another day.
It is evening. I walked up to the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. The air is still and the mighty river is calm. The waters are low and flowing gently. I gaze into the distance. My thoughts are far away . It has been twenty five years since I last came here. I was a callow young buck then with stars in my eyes. It is a completely different place now and I myself am a different man. But the Brahmaputra is just the same, as it has been for time immemorial. The one fixed beacon in an ever changing world.
I reflected on my month and a half's journey. I had been blessed with incredible luck. For that I thanked Mother Nature, symbolised by its finest manifestation - the lovely river.
The sun had started to flirt with the horizon. The air is pleasantly cool. I let myself sigh in a mix of emotions. Out came my mobile for one last photograph on this trip.
The sun goes down. I stand still for a moment. I don't know if I will come this way again. Maybe somebody dear to me will come and gaze into the waters some day. May the Brahmaputra smile kindly , as he has done for me.
I give one last lingering look. Then I turn back. It is time to go home.
Days 43 to 47 : Guwahati-Siliguri-Durgapur-Bhubaneswar - Vijayawada - Bangalore ( 3067 kms)
Well, 11,000 kms and 47 days later, I came back ! What else is there to say. With a rush of emotions, I tuned the key in my front door and re entered a very different world to what I had been living for the last month and a half.
Thank you for reading this travelogue and I hope you enjoyed being in the co passenger seat with me. Wish you safe travels on your own journeys.
I will conclude the travelogue with a final post on some practical considerations and a detailed road report, perhaps only of interest to you if you are actually planning to go to the North East.
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 17:58.
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|23rd March 2015, 22:43||#9|
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North East India
Practical Considerations for travel to the North East
These are purely my thoughts and observations and are hopefully of some help to travellers who may come this way.
Season to Visit : One of the big decisions is to choose the timing of the trip. Each season has its advantages and disadvantages and choosing carefully based on what is most important to you will enrich the experience substantially. The rainy season here is between April/May and October. That is when the region is at its prettiest best. But it is also the time when it is most difficult to travel, especially by road. Landslides are common, and even through the probability of you being in danger is infinitesimally low and can be ignored, road blockages and disruptions to your schedule are very likely. If you are driving yourself, it will be a torture and if you are driving anything other than a SUV, the chances of getting stuck and needing to be towed out at least once is high. It is also to be noted that Kaziranga is closed during the rainy season. Winter time (Nov - Jan) will see lower likelihood of rains, the scenery may still be pretty enough, but it will be brutally cold. Remember, there is no heating in these parts. Feb - mid Apr there is little rain, and the frigid cold has gone, but it is not the prettiest time of the year to visit. Take your pick.
I chose February/March because, for me, the best possible driving conditions was paramount.
Safety : Don't worry. This region is perfectly safe to visit. I did not feel even remotely unsafe for even one moment. However some sensible precautions would help. Do not travel at night. Do not sport any bling. Check everyday with the locals if there are any disturbances in the local area. If there is a bandh or disturbance, simply do not venture there. At the moment, Arunachal, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya outside of the Garo hills are perfectly safe. Assam and Nagaland are largely safe except for certain pockets (Bodo areas in Assam and the border with Myanmar in Nagaland). It is Manipur that is most unsettled, but even here there is little reason to worry unless there is a specific disturbance at the time of your visit. In general tourists are not targeted anywhere in the region. Go with confidence and if you just take the normal sensible precautions, you will be fine.
Innerline Permits :
Indians need an innerline permit to visit three of the states in the North East - Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. To the other states, you can travel freely.
You can theoretically get an innerline permit online at http://www.arunachalilp.com/ . However this is currently available only for the district of Papum Pare which is where Itanagar is. This isn't very useful as Itanagar is not a tourist destination. So essentially the online option is a waste of time.
If you want to go to the tourist areas, you have to apply in person at the Resident Commisioner's office at Delhi, or Kolkata or Guwahati. You can get it in other places in Assam too, but this is the most troublesome state for permits and it is best to get from one of the above three cities. You have to fill a form , provide ID/address proof , two photos and pay Rs 30 in all. They also don't give permits on the same day. It varies from next day in Guwahati to 2 days later in Kolkata. You have to go in person to collect it too. Addresses of the place to get the permits from can be found here - http://arunachalipr.gov.in/ILPEntry.htm
Subsequently, I learnt that BHPian J Ravi had obtained the permit by mailing the Resident Commissioner in New Delhi. He reports that he got his permit in double quick time. This is then similar to the Mizoram procedure described below and could be followed.
You have to apply in person again - going physically to the Nagaland Resident Commisioner's Office. I asked the Delhi office for sending it by post and they refused. File a form, give ID/address proof and one photo. Pay Rs 50. The nice thing is that you can get the permit in 10 minutes (more if there is a crowd, less if you smile at the pretty lady "womanning" the counter !). The addresses of the place to get this can be found at http://mokokchung.nic.in/files/torpage.html
Mizoram is the easiest. If you fly in to Aizawl, you can get the permit on arrival. If you enter by road, you have to get the permit in advance. But you don't have to go in person. Send the documents to the office in Delhi by post (ID proof, form, two photos and Rs 120 in cash !!) along with a self addressed stamped envelope and the permit comes back to you in 20 days time. The address and the form/fee details are at http://mizoram.nic.in/more/ilp.htm
If you live in Delhi or Kolkata, it is easy to get it in advance of your travel there. If you are coming from elsewhere, like I was, I suggest the best place to get them is Guwahati. The offices of the three states are not far from each other, there aren't big crowds for the permits and you can get it on the same day if you really want to (polite request to the Arunachal Resident Commssioner and he will give it at 4 PM on the same day).
Flights and Airports : Currently the only states without an airport are Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland (well, Dimapur technically has an airport, but its not really useful). Every other state capital is easily accessed and in Assam, virtually every place other than Silchar is accessible by air. All flights are by India's premier airlines with Indigo having the most flights in the region.
Public Transport : Public Transport is available everywhere and is by SUV, not a bus. It is universally called the Sumo here (the vehicle of choice being the Tata Sumo). Every town, big or small has a Sumo stand from where you catch the Sumos which run on a timetable. Advance bookings are possible but not strictly necessary. Be forewarned however that they squeeze 10 people into a Sumo (sometimes more) and only a limited amount of luggage (loaded on the roof rack) is accepted. On terrible roads it is an ordeal to be tossed around. There is of course no air conditioning, therefore the drive is with all windows open. At the end of a Sumo drive you would have turned whitish brown with all that dust.
Shared Sumos, like the one described above are reasonably cheap. If you want to hire a Sumo for yourself, you must have made your fortune in an investment bank.
Hotels : Surprisingly acceptable and even good in most places. Of the places I went to, the only disappointing place was Along. Rest were fine. Homestays are possible in many places. Tripadvisor reviews are very reliable for all places. Hotel rooms are slightly expensive for the quality - somewhere in the Rs 2000-Rs 3000 per night range. Real budget travel will mean you stay in a dump.
Food : No problem anywhere. No problem being a vegetarian . Even in the most remote roadside dhaba with the chow/momo/rice/tea menu, you will get vegetarian stuff. Fine for vegans too except that you will have to be OK with black tea or black coffee.
Health : Outside of Tawang/Bomdilla in Arunachal Pradesh, nowhere is it high mountains. So there is no worry of altitude sickness. Absolutely no need for any special health precautions. Two factors to consider however. Firstly, if you suffer from motion sickness and can't handle twisty hill drives, don't come here at all. Even if you fly in, from the airport to the hotel will be a twisty hill drive ! Secondly, in the dry season, the entire region is incredibly dusty. If you suffer from dust allergy or have difficulties with a very dusty atmosphere, come only in the wet season.
Clothes : Anything is fine; just no bling. Carry warm clothes based on where you are going. Even in summer, in parts of the region, you might need woolens. Heavy duty winter wear ( and I mean really heavy) is essential between Nov - Feb. You will freeze even in Kaziranga. Rain gear is essential anytime other than Jan-Mar.
Mobile Connectivity : Most major telecom carriers will work in all states except Arunachal Pradesh. At least Airtel does. In most parts of Arunachal only BSNL works. It is easy to get a BSNL Sim card anywhere in Arunachal (petty formalities are widely ignored). However mobile connectivity on the road between towns is unlikely anywhere in this region.
Internet : Surprisingly good. In every town I went to (even Mechuka), there is an Internet Cafe (no coffee, only Internet !!). Outside of Arunachal speeds are fine and even good enough to load photos. In Arunachal you are lucky if you can open your email.
Travel Guides : With all due respect, Lonely Planet is useless for travel to this region. TripAdvisor is far better, Best is travelogues of past travellers and a useful site to access them is BCM Touring . If stalwarts like Jay, Wanderernomad and the others who have been here sit down to write travelogues, then Team-BHP will be the site to go to !
Now on to the road reports
Road reports on this region are of questionable value as as they are valid only till the next monsoon which is round the corner. But then given the complete dearth of reports on this entire region in this forum, I thought I will catalog my experience to serve at least as a general guide for future travellers.
I will comment only on the roads in the North East. There is enough and more information on reaching Guwahati. In each section, distances and travel times are mine, just to give you an idea. My driving style was very sedate - remember I am nursing a sedan over bad roads and I am doing a marathon ; so no dashing around. If you put your mind to it, and if you have a high GC vehicle, every sector can be done in 20-25% quicker time.
Some common themes during the hill sectors
Extremely twisty and turning roads with not even 100 metres of a straight line. No mobile connectivity between start point and end point. Absolute desolation in between - you might see an oncoming vehicle only once in 15 minutes. A pothole is certain as you round a hair pin bend. Great scenery all around but you are flirting with disaster if you take your eyes off the road for even one second. Better to stop and admire. Max average speed you can hope for is 30-35 but that is with aggressive driving. I was happy with 20. Plan for not more than 200 kms in a day - the combination of bad roads and twisty hill drives makes it a tiring proposition. Nobody honks at blind corners which come every 100 metres, so beware.
Assume no fuel pumps enroute, and if there are, they are likely to be dodgy. Discipline of tanking up before starting is essential (tank up the previous evening as fuel pumps even in towns open late). Remember many fuel pumps in Nagaland and Mizoram are closed on a Sunday. You can usually find a chow/momo/tea/rice shack enroute, with probably questionable hygiene, but with hot food.
Guwahati - Agoratoli (Kaziranga) :
245 kms done in 5 hours elapsed time including breaks
Excellent roads. Concrete dual carriageway up to Nagaon. Bumpy single carriageway thereafter until the Tezpur turn off. Excellent single carriageway thereon upto Kaziranga. Beware of numerous rumblers in the Kaziranga area.
Agoratoli - Itanagar :
260 kms done in 6 hours elapsed time, 5 hrs 30 mins driving time and an average speed of 47 kmph
Kaziranga to Tezpur has excellent roads and no problems even on the Kaliabhomora Setu across the Brahmaputra. No traffic jams. Tezpur to Arunachal border is also very good. There are two routes to Itanagar. One is a "short cut" that saves about 30-40 kms as opposed to the regular route through Banderdawa. There is a signpost indicating this and I was tempted and took it. Bad choice. No roads at all and it is pure off roading. In rains, you are sure to be stuck. Take the Banderdawa road which is better, even though it is longer.
Itanagar - Ziro :
176 kms done in 6 hrs 45 mins elapsed time, 6 hrs 15 mins driving time and an average speed of 27 kmph
There are two routes . One is a direct route from Itanagar. The second is coming back through Banderdawa to Assam and going almost upto Lakhimpur and turning off into Khimin a few kms before Lakhimpur. I asked 6 people and three vehemently said go direct and three vehemently said not to do it and go via Assam. Ultimately I went via Assam.
Itanagar to Khimin is no real problem, although the Arunachal side is not great. From Khimin, first 20 kms is sheer horror, crawling at 10 kmph over monstrous potholes and no roads. Then mix of good and tolerable bad roads. After meeting the Itanagar direct road, horror again for 15 kms. Then mixture again, ending with bad roads for the last 10 kms to Ziro. Overall a pain.
Ziro - Daporijo :
173 kms done in 8 hours 40 mins elapsed time, 8 hours driving time at an average speed of 21 kmph
Another tough drive. First 50 kms are decent. Then the usual mix of fair and bad roads for the next 50 kms. Of this about 25 kms are terrible. After the village of Laa, the last 50 kms are better and not a problem. Interestingly named villages en route - Saddle, Raga, Gigi, Laa ! Nothing for food en route - must pack.
(The good stretches)
(Not so bad - I left the dashboard part of the shot to show you the angle I was coming out of a pothole !)
(The bad stretches)
Daporijo - Along :
170 kms done in 8 hours 35 mins elapsed time, 7 hours 50 mins driving time at an average speed of 22 kmph
First 20 kms very bad. Then 35 kms good. Then 20 kms bad. Then the mix of good and bad until you reach Bame where the road joins with the Along -Likabali/Silapathar road. The rest of the road all the way up to Along is sheer torture. No food joints - only tea.
Along - Mechuka
180 kms done in 9 hours elapsed time, 8 hours driving time at an average speed of 23 kmph.
Beautiful drive on awful roads. Brilliant scenery. First 15 kms very bad. Then good with some bad stretches until the 110 km mark. Next 20 kms to Tato is bad , especially around the waterfall. Post Tato the road is generally bad with torture upto the 155 kms mark. Thankfully, the last 15 kms into Mechuka is good. Please note there are no fuel pumps on the way (the one at Kaying is usually closed) and there are no pumps in Mechuka either. So you will need to stock up for the up and down journey. You can buy fuel loose from shops in Mechuka, but you can guess the risk. Eating joints are at Kaying, Pene and Tato, so don't have to absolutely pack food.
(Starts off good like this after first 15 kms)
(A few bad stretches upto the 110 km mark)
(Post Tato tough road)
Along to Tinsukia via Likabali/Silapathar
264 kms - timing completely dependent on the Ferry.
This is a real problem stretch. First 65 kms till beyond Basar is sheer torture. Even SUVs have to be careful with scraping their underbellies. I am voting for this as the worst non high mountain road in India (these are only hills; not mountains). After that the rest of the way up to Likabali is great and therefore fun to drive in the twisty hilly, great scenery atmosphere. What a contrast between the two stretches.
After coming down to Assam, the way to Bogibil is not signposted, not on GPS and therefore you have to ask, ask and keep asking. The ferry crossing has been described in my earlier post on Assam and post crossing, the road out is also a mystery. Very different in doing the crossing during peak water time and low water season (as I did). When waters are low, you have to drive 3-4 kms on the river bed !
There is really no alternative other than to suffer the torture of 65kms to get to Along - the gateway to both Mechuka and Tuting. The route via Passighat is reputed to be even worse and when I went, the Passighat route was being closed at 9.00 AM every day for road works. Maybe when they do up that road it might be the better route (don't hold your breath).
Samples of the infamous Along - Basar stretch . These were when I wasn't worried about scraping the belly. No photos of course when I was terrified.
Tinsukia - Lekhapani- Tinsukia
One word. Brilliant
Tinsukia - Jorhat
272 kms . Not giving timings as I made a big stop at Sibsagar and generally drove slowly to see the sights. Avg speed of 45 kmph is likely if you just drive
Tinsukia to Dibrugarh is a very good road but running parallel to the railway tracks makes it a pain as it narrows the road and there are all sorts of slow /stopped traffic to be overtaken. Dibrugarh to Sibsagar is good but the top is starting to erode. Sibsagar to Jorhat the top has peeled off but no major issue other than bumpiness. Easy drive overall.
Jorhat - Mokokchung
114 kms done in 6 hours elapsed time, 5 hours 15 mins driving time at an average speed of 22 kmph
There are two routes. I took the direct route from Jorhat. Decent roads in the plains up to the Nagaland border. Then the hills start and the roads are bad with a million potholes. Changki to New Camp 5 kms is particularly horrible. Bad all the way thereafter to Mokokchung. Truck traffic exists and they don't honk, so be particularly careful. Food en route is heavily non vegetarian; if you are a veggie, pack.
The alternate route is the National Highway which turns off somewhere in between Jorhat and Sibsagar. It is better and is the recommended route even if longer. Take that and not the one I took.
Mokokchung - Kohima
151 kms done in 7 hrs 40 mins elapsed time, 7 hrs driving time at an average speed of 21 kmph
Another section of wild contrasts. First 40 km is a brilliant road with not a pothole in sight. No traffic and a great drive. Then the potholes start to appear. but still good road up to Wakho. Then the bad roads start. Bad till 85 km mark and then sheer torture until the 110 kms mark. Becomes bad again, instead of torturous, all the way upto Kohima. There's a decent fuel pump as you exit Wakho. Decent eating joint called Tizhu resturant at the 85 kms mark.
Kohima - Imphal
138 kms done in 4 hours elapsed and driving time at an average speed of 33 kmph
Oh boy, what a drive. Logically it should be a fine drive , but the whole issue is one of timing to avoid the trucks. Trucks are not allowed inside Kohima in the day time and so I thought they would all travel during the night and I would have a clear road in the morning. Completely wrong. It looks like the trucks time it to just cross Kohima in the morning before the curfew starts. So the usual morning start saw me behind hundreds of trucks having to overtake each one of them on twisty narrow roads.
Roads starts off good, but there are a lot of broken patches on the Nagaland side where the trucks throw up a huge volume of dust. It is like driving in blinding fog. Sheer hell. Once you cross into Manipur, the roads are great and it is flat plains, so an easy drive.
Check locally, but I think the right time to start the drive is around noon time from Kohima and early morning from Imphal.
Imphal - Moreh - Tamu - Moreh - Imphal
255 kms done in a driving time of 7 hrs 43 mins at an average speed of 33 kmph.
Roads are brilliant all the way through. First 50 kms is flat from Imphal and then the hills start. But lovely roads.
The problem really is army checking. There are multiple check points on the way and the checking is vigorous . The biggest check, and therefore the longest wait, is at Khudengthabi. Prepare for a long wait. They check the car thoroughly. Real thorough. They open the bonnet and check everything - they even opened my fuse box to see if any drugs were stashed - it is that thorough. But once you cross Khudengthabi, there are no more checks - not even when you cross the Indian Myanmar border.
One big tip. Keep all your luggage and everything possible back in your hotel at Imphal and travel with nothing in your car. Speeds up the process. When I tell you they opened my stock of engine oil and coolant, poured out a little and smelt it, you know what I mean. Hell they even waved my Jopasu duster around. Come with zero things in your car and it will be faster.
When you reach Moreh, opposite the police station is a small office (ask the locals). Here you get a day permit to take your car into Tamu. You pay Rs 100 fees and fill a small form. It takes 5 minutes. Then at the Myanmar checkpost you pay Rs 120 fees (Indian rupees accepted). That's all to get into Tamu. No problem at all.
Two things to remember. Drive on the right of the road in Tamu. And return back well before 4 PM India time (5 PM Myanmar time - there is a one hour time difference). Borders close then and you are in serious trouble if you overstay.
Imphal - Silchar
274 kms done in 12 hrs 20 mins elapsed time - had a flat tyre, which happened to be a sidewall tear and then spent ages trying to buy a new tyre
This was a dreaded route, but is now surprisingly not so bad. It is a hill road through and through. First 50 kms to Tupur is fantastic roads. 50-80 kms OK with small potholes. 80-95 kms bad but still tolerable. Then alternate 10 km stretches of good and bad till 135 kms mark. Road turns brilliant then till the 185 kms mark. So far way better than expectations.
185km - 195 km is sheer torture and has been left like that to remind drivers of how bad the entire road was in the past. No way of escaping scraping in a sedan - there are virtually ridges to climb and there is no asphalt at all. Once you cross this (whew), its OK all the way into Silchar.
Roads are being done up except that awful 10 kms stretch and will likely be completed before the monsoon. This has the potential for being one of the best drives anywhere with great roads, twisty hill drive and no traffic. But that 10 kms horror doesn't look like it will be done up anytime.
Remember there are many many army checkpoints, at each of which you have to stop, get down, go to an office and enter details in a register.
(The great sections are like this)
(Start of the horror at 185 kms)
(The best part of the horror - at its worst I was too busy trying to save myself to click !)
Silchar - Aizawl
178 kms done in 6 hours elapsed time, 5 hrs 30 mins driving time at an average speed of 31 kmph
Fine roads overall (another surprise because this was also a famous horror section in the past). First 50 kms good. Then brilliant roads from Vairengte to Kolasib ( watch out for overspeeding; these are hills remember). Kolasib to Kaunpui has potholes, but nothing to really worry except slowing down. 2 kms after Kolasib, there is a fork - one road goes up and the other goes down. Both go to Aizawl and both are good. The up road is wider, newly laid and an easier drive, but longer. The "down road" is the older road - shorter, but twistier and still a good road.
The real problem is catching the right road out of Silchar As you leave Silchar there is a very confusing fork - the broader highway goes to Hailakandi which is not where you want to go. The left turnoff towards the Aizawl highway is well hidden and not signposted at all. In my Silchar - Aizawl drive I missed this and landed up in Hailakandi. You can still get to Aizawl from there but those roads are a complete nightmare and only a sadist will take it. Ask a million times as you come out of Silchar if you are on the right Aizawl road.
Silchar to Shillong
230 kms done in 7 hours 10 mins elapsed time, 6 hours 45 mts driving time with an average speed of 33 kmph
Another surprisingly good section which was horrible as recent as 7 months ago. First 50 kms are in the plains in Assam and bumpy with potholes, but no issues. At 55 kms you enter Meghalaya and into the hills, but these are gentler hills and not like the other states. 55-85 kms is a brilliant newly laid road. 85-100 kms has broken stretches which will slow you down but tolerable. Post 100 kms the roads are fine all the way into Shillong. No issues on this drive other than increased volume of trucks. Lots of fuel pumps and eateries on the way
195 kms done in 6 hours
Lovely roads. Only the section near Dawki and upto Tamabil border has potholes.
Shillong - Cherrapunjee-Mawphlang -Shillong
161 kms done in 5 hours 45 mins
Great roads. Full stop.
Shillong - Guwahati
103 kms done in 3 hrs 30 mins at an average speed of 31 kmph
Four laning going on but it looks like it won't be completed anytime soon - in some stretches even land acquisition doesn't seem to have been done. Overall easy drive and no issues. I started at 9.00 AM from Shillong and didn't encounter any serious truck traffic.
Some overall driving impressions
This entire region can be done in any car in the dry season. A few scrapes of the bottom in a low GC car is inevitable (I took 7 or 8 in the entire trip), but if you are going very slowly and carefully, these are only scratches and not an issue. The real dilemma is coming in the wet season when this region is at its beautiful best.
There are every sort of craters you will encounter including virtual ridges. If visibility is a problem and water has filled the craters , then it is a real problem to drive. Frequently, I tried an approach, felt midway that my belly would scrape, backed off and tried a different way out. In the rains you can hardly do that. I think a low GC car is driveable in the wet season, but the probability of damage is much higher. Your choice.
The other problem in the wet season is getting stuck. In a non 4WD, on a lengthy trip like I did, it is almost certain that you will get stuck at least once and will have to be towed out. Carry a towing rope or bar and some passing SUV will help out. The issue of landslides blocking roads is ever present (your getting caught in one physically is very very remote). Therefore be prepared for flexible schedules.
Finally, I still have to cover the third teaser I posed at the start of my travelogue. Where is Barhi ? When I started out from Guwahati, on my return journey, the signposts started with mentioning 1000 odd kms to Barhi. I had no clue where on earth is Barhi. You are trying to find Goalpara, Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, Siliguri and there is not a squeak of any of them, Instead there is a continuous run down of the kms to Barhi. When I left Siliguri for Bhagalpur and beyond the next day, the same thing happened. Only countdown to Barhi. This is just a symptom of how there are no signposts anywhere and even where they are they are completely useless.
I later learnt that Barhi in Jharkhand is where the NH31 and NH 33 meet the NH 2. Seriously, from Guwahati, the most helpful signboard is to Barhi ??
Well, more than enough has been said in this travelogue. If you have been reading all this painstakingly, then you are surely planning a trip here. Good luck with your drive and you are in for a trip of a lifetime.
Thanks for reading the travelogue and safe travels.
Last edited by Secretariat : 24th March 2015 at 18:22.
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|24th March 2015, 19:13||#11|
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|24th March 2015, 20:41||#12|
Join Date: May 2012
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Re: Solo drive to the North East - All Seven Sisters
That was a detailed and very well written travelogue - Bravo !
This took me back in time when I spent a few years in Assam and visited Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur. In Assam specifically, I walked a fair bit in North Cachar Hills (what is now known as Dima Hasao) - the only hilly portion of Assam. I visited remote villages and had a chance to witness their way of life at close quarters. Life is really difficult in the tribal areas in the back of beyond, especially in villages in the deep interiors where things that we take for granted , like roads, piped water and electricity are foreign words ! Even then, through all the hardships and toil, the locals are ever smiling and helpful, and petty crime is almost unheard of. Though the big cities are fairly OK in terms of amenities. In Aizawl, one thing I admired was the patience and the discipline with which the locals drive. Even if there is a traffic jam (and there are a few), the drivers wait patiently, one behind the other, never stepping out of their lanes.
North East is the least explored and one of the most beautiful regions of the country. It is a beautiful kaleidoscope of cultures, languages and vistas... and many readers will be surprised to know that though they all may look similar to us, there's a great diversity in between regions, and within regions too there are diverse tribes and cultures! This great diversity of culture, language and landscape is what makes it so interesting. Though the common thread running through all of Northeast is the locals' simple take on life and their happy go lucky attitude. They are hard working, simple people with warm smiles and open hearts.
What the government needs to do is to make the region more accessible to the rest of India and improve the infrastructure, especially roads. This will bring in more amenities, job opportunities and foster a sense of belonging and inclusiveness, as well as educating the rest of us who visit about the great place that the North East is.
Once again - great travelogue !
Last edited by Ironhide : 24th March 2015 at 20:57.
|24th March 2015, 21:40||#13|
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Re: Solo drive to the North East - All Seven Sisters
That was some ride! Especially when you say, your drive really starts after 6 days and 3300km! It took me some time to just scroll through! Wow!
5-Stars from my side.
Last edited by ampere : 24th March 2015 at 21:48.
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|25th March 2015, 07:50||#14|
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Re: Solo drive to the North East - All Seven Sisters
|25th March 2015, 09:48||#15|
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Re: Solo drive to the North East - All Seven Sisters
Refreshing Read. Lots of information.
This is one dream drive for me and thanks to you I practically played the same in my mind now.
Kudos to the drive, plan and execution
And taking your car to the ferry using that two planks, my mind skipped a beat.
And 5 stars.
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