Fr. Johnny told me that the Sunday service would be at 8.30 am. I had to miss the service since I was to leave by 6 am. Therefore, last evening I had taken leave of the Bishop and all the priests. Rev Fr James Thoppil, the Bishop, mistook me to be an ex-serviceman when he first saw me at his door! In a short while, they had all become good friends. When I told them that I would, most likely, be there again on 7 May, they welcomed me to stay once again in the Bishop’s House. I was told that they had played host to two ladies who had come to Kohima on bikes from Kerala during the Hornbill festival.
I was not prepared for the cold in Kohima. I did not change to night clothes last night since the room was also cold. However, the geyser worked and I bathed in piping hot water to get my limbs moving; fingers and toes were almost frozen. By 5.30 am it was bright and hence, I left earlier than I had scheduled to. When I travelled from Kohima to Imphal in November 2010 I was warned not to do the surface crossing as the situation was very tense. Underground units were having a free run and the states were recovering from a prolonged economic ban. However, the situation currently is quite different. I motored along quite freely on the 135 km Kohima-Imphal road, slowing down at bad stretches of road that were frequent. A journey that should be done in two hours took nearly four hours. There are markers at many locations of the road, closer to Kohima reminding one of the heavy action that the area witnessed during WWII. Casualties were heavy too and the Kohima war cemetery is testimony to that. I passed the Mao gate, the border of Manipur, in an hour. Closer to Imphal I found ladies and children holding ropes across the road for passing vehicles to give them some money. Apparently the Yausang festival, akin to Holi, was being celebrated where local groups hold sports meets and community functions.
I had programmed to spend some time in Imphal for two reasons; one, to meet up with Kunj Behari Singh, a friend and course mate for graduation in Loyola College, Chennai between 1975 and 1978 and two, greet Fr CM Joseph, who had been the parish priest of the Imphal cathedral church when I visited in November 2010. KB Singh gave me clear directions about the meeting point in Imphal. As is my wont, I missed it and had to return to another reset patiently by KB Singh. After working many years outside the state he had returned to Manipur to start his own venture. By 2010 he closed down his hatchery in frustration, plagued by infrastructural bottlenecks. I was glad to know that he had restarted his venture and is doing well. His wife works for the government and his children are pursuing their own dreams.
KB Singh took me to the Imphal cathedral, where we were told that Fr CM Joseph has shifted to the St. Thomas Seminary as its spiritual director. I then remembered that I had met in 2010 Rev Fr Joseph Mittathany, who had established the diocese in 1980. I took a chance and went to the residence just behind the cathedral. The former Archbishop was there and was meeting few nuns who had gone there to greet him. He remembered our last meeting and even recollected that I stayed in Thevara, where I was at the time. He took us back to the time when he had come over to Manipur in 1980 and the efforts that he had taken to establish the cathedral and the formations throughout Manipur. The church had lost six of its priests to bullets over the years. That was how difficult the times were.
Attached to the seminary is a residence for retired priests. I met Fr. CM Joseph there along with four of the older priests, all Keralites. One of them, aged 90, was the first missionary in Manipur. The experiences of each one of them are a saga in itself. The selflessness and the yeoman service have helped transform society over the years. It was a touching meeting and I found it difficult to tear myself away. I wanted to spend more time to flesh out their experiences, invaluable in understanding the changes that have come about in the societies. However, two hours had gone by and I had to leave. I was also told that the movement between Imphal and Moreh is best done between 8 am and 5 pm when the army conducts patrols; the area is still sensitive. -
I wanted to head for Moreh only after fuelling. This was another new experience. In 2010 I was told that I would not be able to get fuel in Imphal and hence, had to depend on the transport provided by a contact in the Intelligence Bureau for local visits. This time KB Singh took me to an NRL outlet, marketed by BPCL, and I tanked up. Before taking leave of KB Singh he gave me the contact number of Bobby who had arranged accommodation for me in the Trade Centre, under the aegis of the Ministry of Commerce.
The 110 km route to Moreh was is good condition but is studded with checks points, all manned by Assam Rifles. I had to make entries in a few points. At the Tengnouphal check point I had not noticed the check point and was waved down some distance away at a picket and asked to return to make the entry. When I was supplying information for the entries one of the guys there provocatively told me that I should not have overshot the check point as I was educated! The check point was a small tented enclosure that could barely accommodate two and had no sign boards indicating that it is one. At another I was told by one of the sentries that I should not do the trip alone since it is a ‘disturbed’ area.
I checked into the VIP room of the Trade Centre in Moreh by 2 pm. With time on my hands I decided to do a reconnaissance survey of the Customs and border controls. They were less than 2 kms away from my place of stay. At the Land Customs Station, which was closed, I was told that I must make arrangements for the personnel to be available at the time I wanted! Bobby, who had made the arrangements at the Trade Centre, told me that he had already reuested the officials to be available by 8 am. Then I went up to the Friendship Bridge, from where I could see the Myanmar border control.
As I was returning to the guest house I felt hungry and stopped at a small shop where a lady was washing plates. She gave me a bowlful of chow mein. I do not what it had but was tasty. It cost me Rs. 20. I returned to the room to do the laundry and complete updates on Facebook. By 5 pm the sun was more benign and I took a short walk in the Moreh market, which is known for its large business in foreign goods. Business was brisk even on a Sunday. Later I went to a small eatery and had rice, dal and chicken for dinner.
From Cochin to the border town of Moreh I have driven nearly 4170 kms in 9 days. Diesel fuel has been the cheapest in Nagaland at 49.14 and costliest in Andhra Pradesh at 58.84. Tomorrow I expect to cross over to Myanmar and will return only after two months.