Cross Border Tourism: North East

Tripoto
2nd Dec 2017
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav

I decided to be in Nagaland, some time in life, but very soon, a little while ago, when I was on a trip to Diu with friends. That was about a year ago. I proposed this idea to a friend who seemed excited about it. But in my heart I knew that I was going solo.

Yet another time, I proposed the idea to my love interest. Though it appeared that I hadn't even whispered about it. Anyway, back in September 2017, I planned to book my flight tickets to Dimapur. I had exhausted 6/10 of the leaves that were left for the year, and was left with a modest number 4. Given that I have a 6 day working week, adding those 4 to a weekend was a matter to laugh on. Also, my job requires me to be an unfortunate location with limited transportation possibilities, which meant that travelling to the nearest airport would cost me almost a day.

But I planned it all. Train tickets from my work location Korba to Champa > Another train ticket from Champa to Kolkata > Flight to Dimapur.

But wait! There was only 2 hrs gap between my train arriving at Kolkata (Howrah) & my flight departing from Kolkata to Dimapur. It was a big risk, given that trains can never be relied upon with their punctuality. Next flight to Dimapur was only the next day, which meant losing 1 day of leave. And I booked the flight to Imphal on the same day, which had a gap of another 1.5 hrs.

But now, I would be in Manipur, right at the time when its Hornbill Festival in Kohima. But I had plans that I would travel to Kohima from Imphal itself. And hence, I booked a return flight from Dimapur to Kolkata.

But a domestic tourist needs an Inner Line Permit to visit Nagaland. I applied for ILP online. But to my dismay, the website just didn't seem to work out. I couldn't get an ILP by October, and kept wondering what to do. I called a travel agent in North East who said that they could arrange the same for 1000 bucks, but it was no point coming to Nagaland now, as all accommodations, tents, camps were booked, and I had missed the bus. I felt stupid, 2 months in advance, everything's booked?!

I dropped my plans for Nagaland, and focused on Manipur. I had a flight booked already, and hence, booked a return journey. I was pretty upset though, for not being able to see the Hornbill festival.

By the time it was the day of travel, I had cleared off all possibilities of Nagaland, and had Loktak lake & Moreh border on my mind.

Day 0: Reached back to my room at 6pm from work; ran to the Railway Station; Waited for an hour for the train; Got in; Got down; Waited for another 2 hours at another Railway Station; boarded the next one & slept. Next morning, I was in Kolkata.

Day 1

I took a Yellow Taxi for the airport. It took long, but when I reached at the airport, the security check for the Kohima flight was still on. I was like damn. Anyway, my flight got my landed to the bright lands of Manipur filled with Emerald hills. At 2.30 pm, the sun shone brightly on my face, as I came out of the plane. Soon enough, I had dropped the idea of staying in Imphal and took straight to get a cab to take me to Loktak. I bargained down the one-way price to 1200. I had hoped to find some other visitors to share my ride with, but no tourists were spotted.

I was a bit disappointed with the terrain & roads, as it was dusty all over, and the landscapes didn't charm me as much as Meghalaya or Sikkim had.

It took a little more than an hour for us to reach Loktak Lake. I was disappointed yet again with the place being too mainstream & commercialised. I had though of spending the night at Loktak itself, and moving to Moreh early in the morning next day, but it happened out to be that I would have to take a route back towards Imphal to reach Moreh. Hence, I dropped the plan and decided to move back to Imphal. The resort at Loktak, anyway, was priced at 2.5k per night, and seemed more suitable for a touristy couple. I took a boat ride across Loktak towards the sunset. Though it was only 4.15, the sky had turned crimson. I tried to jump down to a large phumdi, but as soon as the boatman set hus foot on it to check if it was safe, it submerged a little, and we decided not to do that. Before I got back to my cab, I caught a picture of the Supermoon over the Loktak Lake.

Loktak Lake

Photo of Loktak Lake, Bishnupur, Manipur, India by Kanj Saurav

Loktak Lake

Photo of Loktak Lake, Bishnupur, Manipur, India by Kanj Saurav

Supermoon over Loktak Lake

Photo of Loktak Lake, Bishnupur, Manipur, India by Kanj Saurav

By 5.30, we were back in Imphal, it was dark by then, and I began the hunt for a cheap hotel along with the driver. After two tries, I found a hotel for 550 bucks for a day. It seemed bit shay, but I was fine. Having thrown my bag in the room, I decided to walk around the city. It was 6.30 pm, I was in the prime area of the city. But it appeared kind of dead, there were few people around, and most of them, armed men in uniform deployed everywhere. I took a 20 minute walk down to Rita's Cafe at The Classic Hotel. The place was cool, with a live performance on, and a young crowd. After the performance, I went on to have dinner in the restaurant at the Classic Hotel. I buffet for 480 bucks seemed a good deal. Meanwhile, I planned to not drop the idea of visiting Moreh, which I was thinking of, as the cab guy had asked for 6k if I were to hire him for an entire day. In an unseemingly situation to find a fellow traveler to share my cost with, I called him up and confirmed the plan.

Day 2

At 4.30 AM, I was up; ready by 5; and by 5.30, my cab guy had managed to get his tank full. Petrol is an issue in Imphal, and I had found women selling bottles of fuel at the roadside, much late in the night. The sun was up, bright, and people were out, jogging, taking strolls by then. But as we moved out of Imphal, dense fog covered the roads for the next 2 hours, until we were far deep in Manipur. At 8 am, the cab broke down in the middle of nowhere. And we spent a good 1.5 hrs in getting it fixed. Good that the driver knew almost all the drivers who passed by, and got a gang of them to help him out. Meanwhile, I munched on the dried fish snack that I had got at Loktak, enjoying clouds visiting the blue hills below. My phone started showing wrong time, picking up the local time of Myanmar, and I got confused if we had spent 2.5 hrs repairing the vehicle.

Photo of Imphal, Manipur, India by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Imphal, Manipur, India by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Imphal, Manipur, India by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Imphal, Manipur, India by Kanj Saurav

We moved ahead, and the checkings began, one by one. The driver had to get down and show all his papers; armed personnel would check my Id; ask me a lot of questions; and then let us go. we had 3 checks before entering Moreh.

As an Indian cab couldn't be taken across the border, the driver- Jeevan parked the vehicle at a hotel nearby, and we took an auto till the border. Moreh border was a sprawling market, with good options for an overnight stay. We crossed the border to register ourselves as visitors from India. Our Aadhaar Cards were submitted for a token allowing us to be in Myanmar until 4 pm.

There was a huge market on the border, with everything being sold- exotic fruits, clothes, tumblers, what not. I thought of my parents who could have easily spent a day here itself. But we just walked across to find a Tuk-Tuk who took us to Tamu, 5 kms ahead of the border. The Vaishnav Tilak on the Manipur side on the faces chnged to Thanaka applied by women on the face in Myanmar. It appeared sort of unusual to me to find women of all age, and class wearing it. However, I did realise that it was indeed a respite from the burning sun. The sun shone fiercely at this time of winter. We walked around Tamu, and Jeevan tried to make a conversation with the people in Manipuri. Unfortunately, nobody understood English, Maiti or Hindi, the languages we knew. But Jeevan managed to find directions to the Manipuri pilgrimage he was trying to visit. He too hadn't been on the other side ever before. We walked across a quaint little town, with wooden houses, mostly painted in charcoalish colors, with nice gardens with plant those were new to see. We found a beautiful monastery there with splendid architecture. However, we couldn't communicate with the people there. I clicked a few pictures, ensuring not to invite any trouble as a disclaimer at the border said that no photography was allowed in Tamu. I tried to make a conversation with the locals at a dhaba, but they failed to make me understand what they had to offer, and Jeevan was fixated on eating Manipuri cuisine. So, we decided to go back to India.

Tamu

Photo of Tamu, Sagaing Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Kanj Saurav

Monastery, Tamu

Photo of Tamu, Sagaing Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Kanj Saurav

Monastery, Tamu

Photo of Tamu, Sagaing Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Kanj Saurav

House, Tamu

Photo of Tamu, Sagaing Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Kanj Saurav

Taking a Tuk-Tuk back to Namphalong, the Myanmar side of the border, we got our Id's back and walked into India. Jeevan couldn't find his favourite joint at Moreh, but found another one that offered what he wanted to eat- Rice with Pork Curry, the staple Manipuri diet. We had a good meal, and moved on to Imphal. The check points got more strict this time, and we had to go through 4 checks, each one pretty long, with all vehicles parked and examined in and out.

Back at Imphal, I had to decide what was to be done the next day. I could just spend the entire day visiting the local sites, and take my flight back to Kolkata the next day, or move to Kohima. I went to Ima Market and took pictures of the beautiful ladies one of whom gave me her address to send her the photograph.

Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav

Women of Ima Bazaar

Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav

Sitting at Rita's Cafe, I decided to get to Kohima. I didn't have an ILP and that was bothering me. But I asked a travel operator on my way back to the hotel, and they said that it was no issue at all. I got a ticket for a Winger to Kohima for the next day.

The winger took off for Kohima at 6am in the morning. 150 kms of the journey was covered in 5 hrs, given that there were barely any roads anywhere. The roads at most of the places are being widened, and the air was filled with dust. As we came close to Manipur Nagaland border, one could witness the beautiful town of Mao. The landscape was filled with terrace farms, with hills pink with cherry blossoms.

We entered Nagaland, and the entire vehicle was scanned. I was thinking of situations in mind when they would ask me for my ILP, and the way out. But despite my non-ethnic face, they ignored me, and the vehicle was allowed to move out after they had checked the luggage.

Day 3

Quite interestingly, the Winger stopped at a small restaurant at the exit point of Naga heritage Village at Kisama. I had planned it to directly go to the DC office at Kohima to get the ILP made to avoid any inconvenience later, but as the driver planned to take rest at the restaurant, before moving further, I got time to google it out that not having ILP for Nagaland wasn't much of an issue, specially during the Hornbill festival. So, I took my luggage off, and started walking towards the Naga heritage Village at Kisama, the location for Hornbill Festival.

Oh lord, the steep path, and the luggage, with no food in my belly, and the sun shining on my face. I had three layers of cloth on my upper body and it was hot. As soon as I checked in for the Hornbill festival, I ran to the first eatery that was in sight and ordered myself some chicken noodles. Having gained some energy, I started walking off to the amphitheater where the cultural events where taking place. I clicked a lot of pictures, met the Official Photographer for the Hornbill Festival, and moved on to have lunch. I met Prajwal here who was from Bangalore and had been travelling in the North-East for about a month now. He was staying at the camps below, and I too had to figure out about my stay. After the lunch, cultural performances resumed, and at 2.30, suddenly, all the heat was gone, the sun was almost lost, and cold winds started blowing. The lady photographer seated next to me was covered in jackets & gloves, and my hands were freezing while I was taking pictures. So, I had to go to the market and buy warm covers for myself. I pretty much ignored the craft & hosiery market, but had it been a shopaholic person, they could have easily been stripped off cash in the market. As the performance ended, I roamed around to figure out where the camps were. By 4.30, it had started getting dark, though I had found the way to the camps, and I had started moving towards it. The way to the camp was a trekking experience of its own because the camp was set atop a hill. And was about a km walk from the performance grounds. Mid-way, thankfully, I found someone from the camp who guided me to its direction.

Photo of Kisama Heritage Village, Kohima, Nagaland, India by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Kisama Heritage Village, Kohima, Nagaland, India by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Kisama Heritage Village, Kohima, Nagaland, India by Kanj Saurav

Hornbill Festival

Photo of Kisama Heritage Village, Kohima, Nagaland, India by Kanj Saurav

Reaching the camp, I found only one guy who was the owner. I was petrified because the only reason I wanted to camp was to chill with some interesting people. Manas, the camp owner told me that they were off to different treks around, to Dzukou, to Japhu etc. And the guys came back by 6. We had a bonfire set, and we began discussing about what we were up to, and a lot many other things. There was an Indo-Irish couple who were travelling in South-East Asia, and a guy from Kerala who had been to 80 countries by far. we had a good chat, and got our dinner, which was once again rice & pork, and I was kind of reluctant because I had it for lunch as well. Anyway, I got some chicken too mixed, and it did taste good. I wasn't keen on the rice, but as I was planning to trek to Dzukou the next day, having seen pictures and heard from them, they recommended getting some fuel. The sky was lit with stars like never before, and it was a good site for a star trek photography.

Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Day 4

Another early morning, I left for the trek at 6 in the morning, hoping to hitchhike to the starting point of the trek. Unfortunately, lift wasn't easy. Having walked for 1.5 km, post climbing down the campsite hill, I got my first lift. However, the couple who were in the car didn't have to go too far. The driver asked me 500 bucks for the starting point of the trek which sounded absurd to it, moreover, he asked for 100 bucks for the 3 km for which I was in his cab. I started walking again, having covered about another 2 kms, I reached this place which had a board showing way to Dzukou valley.

Photo of Khuzama, Nagaland, India by Kanj Saurav

As I started walking, a guy who had been riding from Chennai met me. He paced on further while I began to take some pictures. Moving further, the steps started. At this point, I met two Germans, and I let them pass too, I was pretty slow trekking. I was stupid enough to lose my energy on walking down on the road earlier, and not having found any shops open, I could not build up some food stock for the way. I just had a packet of biscuits, a bottle of water and wafers to my rescue. I strolled along the frozen trails- the side that hadn't seen the sun was frosted, while the other side was glowing warm with the sun. The trail was overgrown with shrubs, and at places, the steps were slippery with the melting ice. And the steps just wouldn't end. I felt tired much easily. Not having breakfast had slowed me down. I had been climbing for more than 2 hrs now with multiple breaks to beat exhaution. Finally, I found two guys climbing down, who inquired me about the places they could visit around, and in Manipur. They told me that it would take an hour and a half until I could see the Dzukou Valley, and few hours more if I decide to romp in the valley. At 9.30, it seemed like a feasible idea to be in the valley by 11 or so, relax a bit, and finish climbing down before 4, as it would get dark after that. The trail had no stoppages or resting points or dhabas anywhere, so to be back early was crucial for me. Even though there is a dormitory in the Dzukou Valley, but I couldn't have had spent the night there because I had to reach Dimapur the next day to catch my flight.

15 minutes after I met the guys, the steps just ended at a point where there was a dried bed of a mountain cascade, almost 10 metres wide. I thought that I might have followed a wrong path and stepped down, but there were no other trails anywhere. I was in a fix, with nobody to guide me. I assumed that I would catch up with the trail, after climbing up a few steps on that huge waterfall. And that was when I made the blunder. I climbed up the big boulders of the dried waterfall, and got to the edges to find the trail. Unfortunately, I ended up jumping into the dense canopy of shrubs with slippery mud. No routes were found. I decided to come back. Something had come on me, I didn't go down looking for the trail on the other side, but just started climbing up on that extremely difficult steep bed of boulders, watching out loose rocks and debris from landslide. Lack of glucose had definitely made me go nuts. With food n water blown, I was left with my backpack to climb with, which was the worst scenario, as it made it far more difficult. Few 100 metres ahead, I hoped to find the trail, but no. I made up my mind now to just climb until the end of the waterfall bed, because may be I would be able to see where to go. With much toil, I managed to reach till the top, avoiding any injuries. If I had slipped on a gravel at any point, I would have been open to fatal injury, rolling down on a giant slope laden with rocks. But I made it. To my dismay, neither did I reach at a hill top nor did the dense thickness of the forest lead me to anywhere. There was the silence of the deep forest with the noise of my pulsating heart. Interestingly, I was getting network on my phone. Having tried to find out way in the unforgiving jungle, and now bitten by a spiny plant, I decided not to be stupid anymore. I texted my friends telling them the funny situation I was in. Comedy came as a respite to this tragedy where I was more sorrowful of having missed by chance to see the Dzukou Valley than of being in this misadventure. I searched Dzukou on map, I could see where I was, and where the Dzukou point was, but of course no path. Google maps cannot direct you in a jungle. I had to climb down, and climbing down the waterfall bed was extremely risky. But the forests wouldn't let me pass through, it was difficult to set a foot where grounds weren't even visible with the dense shrubs. I decided take the risk of climbing down the river bed. The first few steps were dangerous, rocks stumbled down where I landed, I slipped and rolled on the gravel for a few metres, ad then I learnt the technique. I climbed down like a baby, sitting on the rocks, setting my feet, and moving my upper body heavy with my own weight and my backpack's. Took some pictures; Lay on giant boulders watching the silent nature; made fun of myself through Insta stories; and carried on. Eventually at 1 pm, I was where I had lost my steps. During this entire ordeal, I had built enough energy to carry out a good long trek without food. Of course, survival! Wish I had the same energy when I had begun the trek, and I could have been with the fellow travelers. But anyway, the misadventure had taught me many lessons. And Dzukou was meant for another time. I could have tried to find the trail to Dzukou, but I didn't have time in hand anymore. I couldn't have been back before night, and climbing down alone could have been brutal to myself. I followed the steps back to from where I had started. My legs did shiver on my way back in dearth of glucose. I found a stream mid way, and filled my bottle with fresh natural water. As I was close to the end, the Chennai guy was speeding down. He reached Dzukou point at 11, and had began climbing down in half an hour. I felt the sense of loss. Maybe, Dzukou would want me to spend a good two days there with some nice folks of my own.

Having climbed down by 3 pm, I was dragging myself till the road to get a lift. I just sat on the road, until a shared vehicle going to Kohima, found me.

Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav
Photo of Cross Border Tourism: North East by Kanj Saurav

I changed my plans mid way, and chose to go to Kohima rather than go back to Kisama. The two students in the shared jeep guided me to a restaurant. It wasn't fancy though, and I was too hungry to wait. I just had two nice cups of lemon tea and pork momos. I walked around in Kohima looking for a better eatery, but none to avail. I found some bakeries where I got some sugared drinks and muffins. And now, I had to find my way back to Kisama. No local transport plied to Kisama, it being on the outskirts, though a bare 9 km from the city centre. I refused to agree to take cabs who wanted 300 bucks for the distance. I just kept walking in the direction with my sore legs. I kept on asking for lifts, but people weren't too entertaining. I had walked down for about 1.1 km, as I saw it on Google Maps, when a bus which belonged to some institute gave me a lift. It wasn't going to Kisama though. I asked them to drop me till any further point. Sadly, that meant only 1.5 kms more. I began walking again. I had covered a few hundred metres when I asked a guy on the bike to drop me till Kisama. I told him that I wasn't unable to find a taxi. He looked around for some time, and then agreed to drop me until we found a taxi. On the way, he kept asking me the same question over and over, if I was going to Hornbill. He was as much zoned out as I was. But I had a nice lift for the next 3 kms after which we found a taxi. I was happy with testing my abilities on hitchhiking for the day and decided to calm down. The taxi guy agreed to take me to Hornbill grounds, rather hills, for 100 bucks. The good part of it was, I was spared climbing the initial bit of reaching till the Naga Heritage Village. The driver asked me which country I was from. It was funny, I told him that I was from Israel. He didn't seem to doubt.

Back at the Hornbill festival, few people were at the performance ground witnessing the Rock Band competition. I found the Official photographer there. He invited me to chat. Ashish gave me the quintessential Delhi vibes that I had been missing from my life since long, in those 15 minutes. I trekked up back to my campsite, having clicked some nice pictures from the hilltop. Yeah, this time I was lucky enough to find lift in a SUV from a Kisama native who told me that it was Kuh-Sama and not Key-Sama.

The bonfire was lit, there were more people around it as compared to the last night. All the trekkers were back. They wondered how I lost my way, until Oughen cleared out the mystery of the trail that I wa following. I had to begin my trek from Vishama, unfortunately I started off at Zukhama. And the trek with the starting point from Vishama was much simpler. Anyway, my disappointment was released with a chilling session with the campsite folks. The camp owners entertained us with impromptu songs and some nice light humour. Having paid off Manas for the hospitality, I got into my bed rolls inside my tent. The next day was all about travelling in vehicles.

Day 5

Another day, ready at 6 am, I bid goodbye to Abhi who was the only one to wake up so early. I managed to find a lift down to the exit of the Heritage Village, and quickly enough, a cab which dropped me till the bus stop. I got a ticket to Dimapur, and waited in the bus for an hour until it took off. The next 80 kms till Dimapur were covered in 3 hrs. I hope they do some good to the roads in the coming times. Dimapur Airport appears to be a toy of airports. My flight flew past some good views of some snow capped mountains and the flat lands of Assam.

Kolkata. I wanted to try the Metro. I did. It made me sweat badly. After some running around like a headless chicken at Esplanade, I found my way to Park street, and there it was- Subway. Thankfully nobody saw me eating that thing, or if they did I was too starved to be caring. I had pasta later at a good place close by. And then I proceeded on my journey back to Howrah Railway Station, clicking some interesting pictures in Bada Bazaar & on the Howrah Bridge. Boarded my train to Chhattisgarh. Next morning was office.

Howrah Bridge

Photo of Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Kanj Saurav
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