Moreh is the only border crossing foreigners can use to enter India from Myanmar. It’s a sleepy little village crammed between a mountain range and a river. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you enter through gates into India! It being Sunday, it was unmanned with relaxed police waving us through. We eventually reached the high street which had the custom’s house. An official was inside enjoying chai and cricket (India vs Australia) and he chatted away to our Australian co-bikers about the game. Chuckling about wickets as he signed our carnets with a friendly smile. Simon stood guard with the bikes outside as people gathered around him to stare open mouthed at the bikes and ask him about his arrival in India.
There was only one small hotel in view and no visible ATMs so once we had all our stamps and papers in order we decided to ride the next 100km to a bigger town for a better chance at hotels with parking. Initial impressions of the road were how markedly different it was from Myanmar- tiny Tata cars were struggling up the winding mountain road and one point, 4 men were pushing theirs on the wrong side of the road, uphill, in the path of an on-coming truck! Occasional small trucks and minibuses snaked past us, clearly intent on being the first for everything in life, including the first around the corner, only to stop and brake suddenly when face with HUGE potholes. We’d not seen the likes of these, they were so deep and so established that trees grew from them. Welcome to AH-1 the cross Asia highway! Obviously, all the bikes wove neatly around the potholes, navigating easily over the washed out roads and craters. Eventually night fell and we were still in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere. We passed a police checkpoint in the dark and made out the glint of guns at the barrier so stopped when waved at. It ended up being the official registration post for Nagaland and we had to write our particulars in a huge ledger.
In the pitch black we followed each other out of the mountains, the road winding into tighter and tighter circles before spitting us out onto the plains just outside Imphal where we were hoping to stay for the night. After a quick snack of samosas and chai we drove around trying to find a place to sleep which had parking. We had our first taste of Indian driving when a tuk-tuk drove without lights on and almost headed straight into one of our biker buddies. A lot of the cars didn’t have lights on in fact, which made highway driving extra fun as no street lights were on either!
After finally finding a hotel which was both open and free of machine guns and with a parking area we settled down to rest, all pretty exhausted after breaking the rules on night driving, particularly through pitch black mountain roads. The next morning we headed off for Dimapur and were a little disheartened to see that most of the highway out of Imphal was mostly potholes and gravel occasionally joined together with short stretches of tarmac.
After an exhausting exit from the town (mostly trying to keep from being pushed off the road by cars who overtake and push in sideways level with you when there’s absolutely no distance to be gained- they’re just overtaking for the sake of being in front of motorbikes which they view as non-vehicles) we stopped for Chai and it was served by the tiniest and kindest eyed woman. Luckily we had Iyron with us who could speak to the locals being that he speaks so many languages himself. The village chief came out to join us and insisted we take his photo to send him later!
Sated, we carried on along the broken road. As it climbed through the mountains and past other villages, it became clear that the condition would be terrible all the way to our destination and that the drivers were not only just as aggressive and pointlessly selfish here but that there were so many more of them. Tiny suzukis and Tatas would rush to be right behind us and then swerve right and left making a point about wanting to overtake, wait until there was a truck coming in the opposite direction in order to launch themselves across into their path and then lurch left again into the bikes to establish a few metres extra. The worst were the Mahindra drivers who would do the same swerve and attack overtake but then emergency brake right in front of you when the road became cratered once again. It was mentally exhausting to deal with such egos and such irresponsible driving.
We stopped for a breakfast break in the mountains, for omelette and chapattis. A taxi driver stopped next to Alex as she parked her bike and they chatted about the journey. He kindly welcomed us to India and said it was great to see us riding through NE India. He was so kind that it was a total shock to recognise the car as one of the Death Taxis who’d tried to run us off the road earlier. We reasoned that as personal individuals, the local population were kind and mostly good but behind the wheel, totally mental.
Simon managed to convince the breakfast restaurant to let him boil up a coffee on his kitchen stove, little more than a roaring inferno covered in pots, the smoke filled kitchen doubling as a smokery for meats!
Riding as four people had its advantage (we’d lost one of our number who’d ridden on ahead to make up time as his suspension was playing up and he couldn’t go fast). We were definitely more of a challenge for all the crazy drivers. However, as we rode on, the temperature fell quite rapidly and the clouds seemed to fall around us. It got to the point where we were so shrouded in cloud that we couldn’t see more than a few metres ahead. Coupled with the twists and turns of the road, it was pretty much impossible to go over 2nd gear. To add insult to injury, of course cars kept trying to overtake! Worse yet, rain started, initially it was just a gentle drizzle but soon it was a penetrating and insistent rain which, on the plus side, cleared the cloud a little but on the downside, made us really cold and wet.
We reached Kohima, a tiny mountain city at the peak of a mountain and filled with multi level streets which interconnected with secret stairways and steep paths. It was the principle city of the area and by this point it was 3pm, foggy, raining and we were all cold so we decided to call it a day.
We found a guesthouse in the town (impossible to find parking for the bikes) which had simple rooms. Wide beds with blankets in a room painted a few different shades of green which came with its own en-suit squatty potty! All our clothes were saturated again, proof that the North Face waterproof duffel bags are disappointingly good at storing water.
After a fitful night’s sleep (we were worried for the fifth rider who’d gone on ahead to Dimapur as we were now truly separated) where we constantly checked on the bikes parked in the street, we left Kohima by 6am noting blue skies and little traffic.
Of course the road was still broken and now with the night’s rain, they were now also turned into deep mud. The potholes filled with clay-like mud from the run-off and every patch was treacherous either slipping or sucking at the tyre. Of course these new road conditions didn’t put off the tiny Suzukis or Tatas who merrily skidded and slipped as they overtook us. The more restrained drivers today were the four by fours who took each broken section seriously, like a carefully deconstructed puzzle. By lunchtime, we reached a beautiful highway which ran straight through tiny villages filled with school children on bicycles- all waving at us when we zipped past, and cows chewing carefully in the middle of the road!
By the evening, exhausted and hungry for sleep, we pulled into Guwahati and were surprised to suddenly find so much traffic. Particularly traffic going the wrong way. Right in front of the traffic police.
To be fair, the police were very busy taking selfies with us to have time to reprimand highly illegal dangerous driving.
Guwahati is a large town and is on the shores of the Brahmaputra river. A beautiful, wide river with white sandy shores and dotted with plenty of white sandy islands covered in light green grass. The light here is dreamy, lending everything a golden quality.
Through all this dreamy light, Alex had her first traffic collision. A minibus hit from behind, sending the pannier containing kitchenware flying across the road and breaking the mirror from its bolt. Soon a dozen helpful hands put the bike upright and fetched the pannier and Simon helped Alex to the side of the road. Obviously the minibus was nowhere to be seen by the time everything was back in order. But luckily Alex was OK and happier still at how helpful these strangers had been. We researched into how to fix the mirror and ended up at the Harley Davidson showroom where the technicians did a good temporary fix to get the mirror back on!
Our welcome into India was not without adventure, we looked forward to the rest with great anticipation.