Manipur and Assam
25.02.2011 - 05.03.2011
6 hour and a mere 142 km after leaving Kohima I was in Imphal, the capital of Manipur state. Extremely uneven road services, hairpin bends and teetering drops provides the fear jackpot for the nervous passenger.
Ater being heavily sedated to erase the terror from my face, I found a decent room in a dingy hotel, dumped my stuff and had a look around. The military presence can be felt more here than other places in the North East, although things are hopefully going to change. The state had been the victim of much insurgency. There are now plans to start to attract the tourist rupee. I visited Lotak lake 50km south of town using surprisingly fast public transport and a chartered rickshaw. Such a tranquil place although there was not another tourist in site and there probably wont be until the planned resort is built. Just small fishing villages huddled around the lake, floating 'islands' of grass and the odd fishing canoe. Oh and of course a big military base.
Imphal is fairly lively and unlike Kohima actually has electricity during the day. One big section of a very large market is run entirely by women. I had a good look around, bribing a market trader with a banana purchase and a bit a flattery to get a photo. I discovered a nice little park near the market that onto the Polo Grounds. Indeed there was a match on that I was able to see quite clearly through the railings. Before the game was adopted by toffs with double barrel names it was indeed invented in Manipur. After visiting an old fort, cum park, cum military base it was time to plan the following days horrific journey. This was the nightmare road trip that I'd made a couple of days before but with an additional 2 - 3 hours to take me again to Dimapur, capital of Nagaland.
My departure the next day (4.30 am) was from Dimapur station, the site of 2004 terrorist activity. It was also the site of a half decent nights sleep after a kindly fellow passenger had sorted out a cosy station 'hotel room' for me. So 4 hours on the train and 2 hours on a bus (mainly following tea plantations) took me to Kaziranga wildlife reserve in Assam. Kaziranga has 2/3 of the worlds population (approx 2000) of one horned white Rhinos. It also is home to Buffalo, a variety of bird-life, wild boars, wild elephants, 50 tigers and hundreds of flashing cameras. I saw all these animals on an elephant, then jeep safari, including more rhinos than I would normally see dogs in my local park. I also saw plenty of birds from the balcony at the decent Government run tourist lodge. After the mornings tour an unofficial guide took me around the local villages, that had no proper roads, electricity, not even a McDonalds.
My next stop, Tezpur fortunately had another decent room with TV in another Government lodge. I got a quick glimpse of the Bramaputra and the remains of a 9th centre temple but I wasn't in a state to do much as my bowels had let me down. So a toilet and TV day for me!. Got to see lots of familiar British programmes on discovery, National Geographic and Fox History. Lots of David Attenborough and Bear Grylls. Surely whilst dining with mountain gorilla David has had one or two Dickie (sorry to his brother's name in vain) tummys. Surely Bear Grylls, whilst munching on owl snot and millipede scrotum, has needed to quickly knock up a bamboo toilet and then use straight away?
Fortunately everything was quickly patched up and my ravenous appetite returned. I devoured a whole tandoori chicken without pausing for breath. My next destination was Majuli (pronounced exactly like Ali G's girlfriend) island. This is a 100 km long and 45km wide sandbar island on the Bramaputra. It is the worlds biggest river island. It's sparsely populated, with the 'capital' amounting to not much more than a village. There are however 20 + monasteries. The road is incredibly bumpy. Most people seem to travel on bicycles and live in Bamboo huts. The place has amazing bird-life. I stayed in a bamboo hunt next to a small pond. I could see a kingfisher diving regularly for food. Also, as with Kaziranga, you can see storks the size of pterodactyls. On a tree above one of the Satras (monasteries) they had even made nests. Looking at them I was expecting the branches to break under their weights.
The cook at the cottage had a long face like the caretaker in any episode of Scooby Do. "I would of done it if it wasn't for you pesky kids". Anyway he spoke no English. He kept asking me in Assamese if I wanted this or that. I just said yes to everything. I wish I'd said no to the ant scrotum sorbet though. He was though a good cook and kind enough to lend me his bike for the day. Farmers cultivating fields, lakes, birds, remote villages flashed before me. Once again it is not a place used to foreign tourists. I proved quite a novelty to the local population, especially a local school party. The teachers wanted to photograph me as if I was a celebrity and the local kids wanted to practice a little English. "What is your name? Where are you from How are you?" I was tempted to answer "Theobald, Maximilian Fortescue Cuthbertson. A far and distant galaxy a million light-years from here. Well now you ask I have got a bit of Amoebic dysentery". No seriously the people of Assam are some of the friendliest in India.
I better sign out and say goodbye before a powercut comes my way.