Friday, May 20, 2016

Day 6 – 18 May Maligaon (Guwahati) to Imphal

Last evening I had to change the room that had initially been allotted to me at the ORH in Maligaon since insects stole into the room in large numbers, the kind that heralds the rain. And it poured and poured for some time. I slept like a babe in the room into which I had changed. I was well rested by the time I got up an hour before my set departure time of 5 am. I felt a certain energy flow that comes with the body and mind in complete sync. This day I was to do about 500 km to reach Imphal. I had done the stretch in May 2015 comfortably and in good time.

The drive from Maligaon to Nagaon was a beauty. Thereafter the road to Dimapur, particularly the Karbi Anglong area was in poor condition. The congestion in Dimapur seems to be going up day by day. It was a struggle. A constable in one of the police check posts I was stopped at told me with a smile that the road in Nagaland is better than it is in Assam. When I negotiated it beyond Dimapur I wondered if the constable was having a laugh at me. It took me 9 hours to reach Mao Gate in Manipur, a distance of less than 400 km.

As I approached the Gate I was amazed to find a long queue of freight trucks and, after some time, cars. I gingerly approached the Gate barrier and I was promptly stopped by two young police constables. One of them politely told me that they would not be able to permit me to go through to Imphal just yet. The reason was that there was an agitation going on regarding the Inner Line Permit and a party had called for a bandh. One of the people waiting at the Gate told me that they had been stuck at the Gate for three days. The bandh was expected to be lifted at midnight. The policemen asked me to park the car to one side of the road and wait it out for the rest of the bandh. I had reached the Gate at 1400 hours and my wait would be about 10 hours! I asked the police guys if there was any chance for me, being an adventure traveler, to ‘bypass’ the bandh. They told me with smiles on their faces that it would not be worth the risk. This has been the curse of Manipur over the years – economic blockade and political fist fights. It has cost the state a great deal

The branded car did cause a lot of curiosity amongst the people at the Gate. I had to explain my ‘mission’ to many and most gaped in disbelief. More so when they heard that I was doing it all alone. After a while it started getting quite cold and a slight rain started falling, making it all the more cooler. I decided to stay in the car and update the documentation work. A kind policeman came up later in the evening and suggested that I have a hot meal in one of the restaurants that had opened to service the stranded people at the Gate. I chose to give the meal a skip and took a nap in the car. When I woke up it was 2300 hours and there was just another hour to go before the vehicles were permitted to move. I went to the police outpost and was told that the permission to move would be given at midnight.

I wandered around a bit and the cold drove me into the car once again. It was 16 degrees outside! And it is summer. Later I was told that it rained regularly in Mao and that kept the temperature low almost the year around. A group of locals came and knocked at the window, which I lowered. They expressed their ‘love’ for the car and was effusive in wishing me well for the ride to Myanmar. I suspect that they were returning from a party to warm their innards!
Exactly at midnight the cars were waved on their way to Imphal. I decided to stay in between two tourist tempos till I got a hang of the night driving. I expected the road to be congested with heavy traffic in both directions. The expectation was natural because transportation had been affected for the past 72 hours. To my surprise, after a short while I was the only one in the direction to Imphal and there was hardly any traffic coming in the opposite direction. However, I had to be wary about the road conditions that were in many places quite bad. In some places there was slush and rubbish heaped on the road. I put that down to the bandh till I was told that Manipur had received heavy rainfall over the past 48 hours and cloudbursts had destroyed crops.

I was stopped at many police check posts. At a couple of them my identity proof was asked for. At one the inspecting official got so excited to hear that I am driving to Russia that he did not let go of my hand for quite some time. He let it go only after saying that he is a driver in the Manipur Police! At another the man on watch wanted to know if the branding was sticker or paint. Despite all these I reached the Hotel Classic Grande at 2.30 am. The security had to wake up the receptionist, who allotted me a good room in good time. Before I left for the room I asked for a wakeup call at 6.30 am. I decided to leave for the border at 7.30 after breakfast. I did not have to struggle to sleep at all. The warm bed and the quilt did the trick, after a long 21 and half hours drive for nearly 500 km from Maligaon to Imphal.

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