It has been a while since my last update when I had just entered India. Since then I have crossed India’s north-eastern states and entered Nepal where I am currently spending a few days in Kathmandu. But for the sake of keeping my posts digestible, I will keep this post to my experiences from India and then put up a separate post about Nepal in a few days.
My route through the northeast part of India
In short, my first impression of India was very positive and nothing like what I had expected. Understanding the fact that India is a huge and exceptionally diverse country, my expectations were still that I would be faced with crowded streets, suffocating heat (even more so than before), strong smells and chaotic traffic. That wasn’t the case at all – instead I got cool mountain air, almost empty highways and laid back village life.
Traffic can be pretty slow on the Indian countryside
Day 71 & 72 – riding through the mountains of Manipur and Nagaland: The first thing that strikes you as you enter India at the (only) border crossing from Myanmar is that it’s not exactly as organised as you would expect. The first thing you do is pass through a military checkpoint (more about these in a minute) which is actually fairly organised, they note down your passport number and time of entry and then you are free to go. Now you are in the village of Moreh, which is in India.
Nobody has checked my Visa, stamped my passport or looked at the paperwork for the bike, but I am now in India. And I’m confused. But it turns out all you need to do is ask someone for directions to the immigration office, which is not at or even near the border checkpoint. No, the immigration office is “about two kilometres down the main street, then take a left, go up the hill past the football field and it’s just there to the left”. Once I find the immigration office, the process repeats itself to find the customs office and about an hour later I am still in the geographical spot but this time quite comfortable I am not in the country illegally.
Anyhow, after the honour system immigration process the second thing you notice is the military presence. There are checkpoints every few kilometres and every other vehicle on the road is military. Turns out the Manipur state has only recently opened up for foreigners after years of instability, and they’re being serious about keeping it stable. But the soldiers are all super friendly and frequently compete in giving me tips for the smartest shortcuts to my destination, so it’s no issue for me (although I can imagine it is quite a burden on the locals).
The view from my room in Kohima
The final thing that strikes you is the scenery. Beautiful mountains and valleys with pretty little hillside towns scattered throughout. Being up in the mountains means it’s also nice and cool for the first time in what felt like forever, around 20 degrees for the most part. Unfortunately I did dare taking many photos for the first couple of days as the was big “photography forbidden” signs around all military installations and there were military installations virtually everywhere.
Day 73 & 74 – crossing the lowlands and entering Nepal: After making it out of the mountains, I had two long days to cross the narrow corridor of India that sits between Bhutan and Bangladesh along the river Brahmaputra. And here I encountered something I hadn’t seen in over a month… rain! So much so that I had to cut one day short and retreat to a random guesthouse on the highway for the night.
Pulling up to a roadside guesthouse in India is very much a gamble. It was dark and pouring down rain when I arrived so I couldn’t make much of a judgement from the outside, but I went to check out the room before I decided to stay there (knowing of course that I had no other options given the weather). Anyway, positive surprise: the room they show me is simple but clean and very recently painted. As a result of some creative styling choices during the recent paint job it is also ridiculously pink, but I can live with that.
So I take the room, unpack all my things and get ready to go to bed. Toothbrush in mouth I open the bathroom door and notice what seems like yet another creative styling move. They seem to have chosen a polka dot design for the floor tiles, with brown cockroach-shaped polka dots – how very creative and ironic. Giggling in appreciation of their progressive sense of styling I search for the bathroom light switch, find it around the corner, flick it and after a brief rattle all the polka dots are gone. Wow, that’s probably the most high tech bathroom tiles I have ever seen or possibly possibly the most cockroach infested bathroom I have ever seen. I assume the former, do my thing and then carefully seal the bathroom door with a towel just in case. I then leave at first light and conveniently don’t feel like I have to go to the bathroom in the morning.
Otherwise, the journey is quite uneventful with perfect highways mixed in with some beautiful country roads. One fun feature of Indian highway traffic that I found though is that even though there are two lanes in each direction, usually separated with a big ditch, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect oncoming traffic. Because if you are stopped on one side of the road and your destination is behind you, rather than going all the way up to the next U-turn opening to turn back and then have to drive all the way to a U-turn opening that is past your destination so you can finally drive the last bit and get where you want to go, you could just get out on the road and go against traffic for a while… much faster. I’m astonished nobody has figured this out back home, it is really significantly faster.
A truck going the wrong direction on the highway, standard operating procedure in India
My final errand in India before crossing the border into Nepal was to find somewhere to change to the new tyres I had been carrying on the back of the bike for a few weeks. So with a combination of words and creative hand gestures I start asking for a tyre shop that can help me out. After a few failed attempts (tyre shops who said they didn’t have the right tools) I found a couple of guys in a dusty shed just an hour from the border. They also didn’t have any tools, but they had a solid attitude which gets you a long way! Also, it turned out that with some creative engineering I had all the tools we needed. We spent an hour getting the wheels off the bike one by one, changing the tyres completely by hand (and feet) and putting them back on, whilst at the same time becoming the main happening in the village and building up a solid audience.
This was my tyre shop – it doesn’t have to be fancy to get the job done
And we built up quite the audience