Around the North-East India in 30 days... Part-1/6

Tripoto
31st Mar 2019

How many times can one coincidentally get a full free month before joining a new firm? Rarely, I guess. I was not used to taking timeouts. So, it was a big deal then. I got 1 such chance, so planned to explore 6 north-eastern states of India. With no plan to follow, I roughly calculated to spend 5 days in each state and decided to accommodate all unknowns as and when required. The confounding variable in my trip was the difficulty in hopping from one state to other.

The first destination was Manipur. I took a flight from Delhi at ~9:30am and reached Imphal by ~12:30pm. You will find a lot of taxis and auto-rickshaws for your journey ahead, but don't forget to use your haggling skills as you surely will be overcharged. I took an auto to reach the airbnb. The driver was friendly enough to suggest a few places to visit during my stay there.

Day 1

Airbnb was impeccable and the host made sure that I had drinking water, fan and all other essentials.

Manipur or actually the whole north-eastern area wakes up early and by early I mean super early, i.e. by ~4am. They end their day early too, i.e. by ~6pm. So, by this logic, half of that day was already over for me.

Nevertheless, I went out for a few hours and explored Kangla Fort. You will need <1 hour to explore. I saw almost everything in the fort except the small temple inside it which was about to close for the day. I then walked down to Ema Keithel/Ima Keithel or the the Mother's Market (the literal translation). This market is primarily run by women. There are many parts in north-east India which show us the true meaning of women empowerment and this place indeed is one of them.

I ended my day by eating the home-cooked food packed by my mother who thinks I eat only junk food outside.

Kangla Fort, Imphal, Manipur

Photo of Kangla Fort, Kangla, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Photo of Kangla Fort, Kangla, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Photo of Kangla Fort, Kangla, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli

Ima Market, Imphal, Manipur

Photo of Ima Keithel, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Photo of Ima Keithel, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Photo of Ima Keithel, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Day 2

I planned to explore major tourist attractions on day-2, so I started my day very early. Woke up at ~5am and reached the bus station at Ima Market by ~6am. The plan was to go to Keibul Lamjao National Park first. Rather than waiting for buses, take shared autos or minivans. I luckily got a minivan that was about to hit the road. It dropped me off at Moirang and I took a shared auto to reach the park. It took me ~1.5hrs in total to reach the destination including all the waiting time.

The park opens at ~8:30am. As I was a little early, I had to wait outside. I bought the ticket but the staff to take tourists inside was a little late. In the meanwhile, a family of 3 came in their car and started waiting as well.

You are allowed to take your vehicle inside the park. It is a long walk, so walk down only if you have a lot of time to spare. I got the lift from that family and enjoyed the free ride. The park is vast but there is not much to explore other than the expanse and a short boat ride. You may get to see a few animals. We couldn't get a clear view but the boat ride was great.

I took a shared auto back for Moirang and then another one from Moirang to reach Loktak Lake. I had to wait again to share the boat ride. Taking the ride alone was coming out to be a bit much. The same family reached the lake after a few minutes. We bought tickets and went ahead for the ride. Hope either of us would have discussed about the next destination, but travelling locally has its own charm as well.

Loktak lake is one of the most serene areas you will ever see. Clear water, clean air, no buildings in sight, no noise and possibly no other human being (apart from people in our boat and the staff). They are a few things I look forward to while taking such rides and Loktak surely made its mark. Kindly don't spoil its serenity.

Took the auto back to Moirang. Had lunch and happy to say that I could finally find Indian bread to eat. As the bus was ready to depart for Ima Market, I boarded it and reached the destination in a little more than an hour.

Photo of Keibul Lamjao National Park, Keibul Lamjao Road, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli

Keibul Lamjao National Park, Imphal, Manipur

Photo of Keibul Lamjao National Park, Keibul Lamjao Road, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Photo of Loktak Lake, Manipur by Rinki Popli
Photo of Loktak Lake, Manipur by Rinki Popli
Photo of Loktak Lake, Manipur by Rinki Popli

The next place on the list was Moreh. I had to wake up at 5:30am to catch the bus for Moreh. The bus was supposed to start at 7am which didn't happen and the driver was nowhere to be seen for inquiries. So, I boarded the shared van/car. There were 4 other people including the driver. The one way charge was INR 300. We started the journey at ~7:30am and the bus had not moved even an inch by then.

It is a long drive but be sure that you will enjoy the scenic route throughout the journey. We stopped only once to get some local snacks and then reached the first checkpoint. We were just asked to show IDs and nothing much. People were amazed to see as to why a person from Delhi (a far away place with no business in Manipur) had come to visit Moreh. I was being seen a little crazy but that's not unusual the way I am seen in general.

There was another checkpoint where people got down, formed queues and were thoroughly searched. After this checkpoint, our last stop was Moreh. The total journey took ~5.5hrs. Vehicles are only allowed a few hundred meters before the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate. We walked down to the last local market of India and devoured the food. We were served the staple, rice and chicken/fish, and it was pretty cheap. After lunch, we explored the local market.

Day 3
Photo of Indo-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, Indo Mayanmar Border Trail, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli

The driver told me that I could go to Tamu village in Myanmar and can explore that area in a few hours. One can cross the India-Myanmar border without a passport or visa and come back to India by 4pm IST. I took the advantage of the opportunity and decided to see that nearby village. I showed my Aadhaar card (ID) and paid INR 20 to cross the border.

I booked an auto-rickshaw to make a round trip. Explored a few pagodas, monasteries and local market in approx. 2 hours. The place was quiet, clean and serene. Sadly, I don't remember names of any of these tourist spots.

Photo of Tamu, Myanmar (Burma) by Rinki Popli
Photo of Tamu, Myanmar (Burma) by Rinki Popli
Photo of Tamu, Myanmar (Burma) by Rinki Popli
Photo of Tamu, Myanmar (Burma) by Rinki Popli
Photo of Tamu, Myanmar (Burma) by Rinki Popli

After crossing the border, I came back to Moreh and explored local market. It is a vast market in which you can find cheap stuff. Try local food, buy cheap clothes, accessories and talk to locals.

It started raining cats and dogs when we were about to head back. Other passengers came extensively for shopping and bought a lot of stuff. So, the car was loaded - back and top - with all the shopping stuff. Driver really did a good job tying all things up safely.

We headed back and got stuck in traffic for more than an hour. I reached back by ~11pm. Though the total was supposed to be INR 600, he asked me to pay extra INR 200 because supposedly the return journey got a little more expensive after reaching the destination.

A local theatrical play was happening just outside our street, but I was too tired to see that, so I went to my room and slept like a baby.

Next day, I woke up a little late. The host suggested me to explore local areas and offered to drop me off at Shri Govandajee Temple. She had arranged a pre-booked coupon for prasad (lunch) there. It is a clean temple where I could see people following rules, walking in queues, etc. It was almost the time for prasad after that little exploration. You will get a flavorsome meal and you can eat as much as you want to.

North-eastern side is famous for eating rice with almost everything. People like me who like Indian breads can't survive on rice for long and I reached my saturation point that day.

Further, I explored museum, their sports ground and war cemetery. There is not much to see locally in Imphal, so one may skip such places. I ended up eating a little junk food in the evening, so you can see my mother's concerns were not baseless after all.

Day 4
Photo of Shri Shri Govindaji Temple, Wangkhei, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Photo of Shri Shri Govindaji Temple, Wangkhei, Imphal, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli
Day 5

The last destination was Andro village. I reached the bus stop at Ima market very early and boarded the shared auto-rickshaw for Andro. I had to take a connecting auto to reach the village. I was wandering without any particular thing do. I was approached by a lady but we couldn't communicate because of language barriers. So, she called a guy who understood Manipuri and Hindi and asked me if I needed any help. The lady was worried that I might not know things there or could get lost. They both took me to a park and then to a local food shop where we all ate some snacks. They told me that there was nothing to see in Andro apart from that park, so I should go back to Imphal.

Photo of Andro, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli

Panam Ningthou Garden, Andro

Photo of Andro, Manipur, India by Rinki Popli

As shared auto-rickshaws ply rarely there, the lady took me to her home and asked me to rest for a while. She kept on offering water, tea, etc. and kept on checking if I was hungry. After an hour or so, she told me that I could find an auto for Ima Market, took me to the auto-stand and saw me off.

I went into a random cafe and had some delicious sandwiches.

After reaching back my room, I packed all my stuff to leave from Imphal the next day for the second destination, Meghalaya. All in all, Manipur was a great experience.

A few tips:

1. Their staple is rice and chicken/fish and they don't use spoon. Carry your own spoon or eat with your hands as they do.

2. You will be overcharged by auto-rickshaws even by those that offer shared services.

3. There are many great cafes in Imphal. You can also find north-Indian food in a few areas.

4. Language is a problem, but you will get through it.

5. One of the places in India where women are considered equal or actually more empowered than men, so treat them nicely. (Actually, treat everyone everywhere nicely.)

6. I guess Airbnbs are better than hotels in this state, so check them out once while booking your stays.

7. Manipur is not a commercialized tourist location. So, a good thing that you won't find any tourist crowd.