We were sad to leave Monywa since we had such a great time there. We also were not looking forward to the night bus to the border. We had tickets to a minivan leaving at 5pm. We went to the bus station and watched our luggage get loaded and strapped to the roof.
The kids were again an attraction at the bus station. Some of the vendors there made flower garlands for their hair and took pictures with them. It was quite a send-off and we were not so happy to leave, but eventually it was time. We crowded into the minivan.
It was a long night with many stops, perhaps every two hours. One memorable stop was at the top of a hill where some drivers prayed at a small shrine under a sky full of stars. We slept on and off. There was a man who spoke excellent English on board with his wife and son. He was friendly and helped us order food at a restaurant stop and later helped explain what was going on sometime around dawn when the minivan broke down and we had to wait for another. At the end of it all, after all the stops and strange wakeful dreams and bumpy roads and the change in vehicle, we were deposited at the border office at Tamu.
The soldiers there were mostly playful, drawing pictures and taking photos with the kids. There was a mildly disturbing poem (note the last three words) on the wall that may or may not be Myanmar’s national anthem.
A more serious and likely more senior officer looked at our paperwork and we were allowed to leave Myanmar and enter India across a yellow and silver bridge. We were sad to say goodbye to a place with such gentle, welcoming people (except the motorbike thief- good riddance to him!) and many golden temples, and quirky hotels, and thanaka-faced individuals, and men in longyi skirts. We looked at Moreh, India and off we went.
I wrote about the beaurocratic details of this border crossing here. It is a tricky and ever-changing process but went fairly smoothly for us.
From the Thai/India border, we took a taxi to Imphal, capital of the Indian state of Manipur. We passed through multiple check points, during one of which we had to unpack the car so our luggage could be examined. At that checkpoint, we saw a soldier poke a sharp metal rod into the large produce bags in another vehicle. We guessed he was looking for drugs, weapons, general contraband. It turns out that there are some problems in Imphal, and Manipur in general. More on that soon.
First, the ride from Moreh to Imphal. I can sum it up in a word- rollercoaster! Our driver seemed to be in a big hurry as we careened over the mountain roads. He threw the steering wheel right then left, following hairpin turn after hairpin turn. We went up and down in elevation. At times I had to look away from the steep cliffs and certain death that awaited me and my poor family that I had dragged halfway around the world. Gravel roads still under construction, an almost total lack of barriers, dirt roads, boulders that had fallen from above, and also- so much green!
We were in amazing, endless green mountains and the views, even when I forgot to be afraid, were breathtaking. It brought to mind driving in California back on early September with the undulating forested landscape. And we were in India! The whole thing was really unbelievable. This went on for over two hours until the road flattened out into a valley and went through several towns and eventually into Imphal.
Imphal has a curfew and most things close by 9pm. There have been riots and protests over allowing migrants to the area since July 2015 and tragically, a young boy (with the curious name of Robin Hood) was killed by a tear gas bomb early on. When we arrived, the sun was just setting and we had to find a hotel. After that, we went looking to eat and we were surprised at how many places were closed. We found a small open restaurant with about five tables and, considering this was our first meal in India, had some rather disappointing food. I remember trying the lassi (which was warm and salty), a strange gelatinous soup, and a vegetable sandwich that was more like mayonnaise and chopped vegetables on white bread. The town felt kind of tense and unfriendly, understandable with the political tension, which was a striking contrast to Myanmar.We stayed two nights.
During the day, we visited Kangla, an important Manipur site going back almost 2,000 years which housed a palace, and more recently the military. The big white horned lions are an emblem of Manipur and are seen all over Kangla.
Kangla was a central Manipur establishment from the year 33 until the British took over in 1891. It became a tourist spot in the 1990’s but in our experience was a rather underdeveloped one with few visitors. It made it that much more interesting to me, and the museum on the grounds was nice as well.
We also went to the women’s market in town. This is a lively and colorful place with a notable women-centric history. We didn’t stay long, but rather ventured to the downtown polo field- yes, Manipur is proud to tell you they gave this sport to the world! Several bystanders told us about the regional popularity of polo and about the home team but unfortunately no one was using the field that day. Mr. Fantastic found a chess club and, despite his efforts to the contrary, furthered Manipur pride by losing a game to the locals.
We left town on a bus, no train station here. On board was a couple from France who we had met during the border crossing when our minivan broke down. We learned there were protests planned the following day, so we were leaving none too soon. We had planned to bus to Dimapur, but rather than arrive there after dark we withstood another night bus and continued to Schillong, Meghalaya state.