We enjoyed a delicious Christmas Eve dinner and freshly baked pastry from the bakery in Gangtok, but already on December 25th our race against time towards the Myanmar border begins.
We cycle downhill for more than an hour. It gets warmer and everywhere people are celebrating Christmas in big groups having barbecue. On the way down monkeys attack us several times, which is pretty scary, because they scream with a very deep voice and show their sharp teeth. Usually they look like cute little pets.
Down in the valley the road leads through jungle. Big trees with big leafs. We almost make 100km that day. Even after dark we continue. We reach a police check post and ask if we can pitch the tent there. They don’t recommend it, since there are tigers and elephants in the jungle. So after a while one police officer leads us to a forest guesthouse. When the police officer hears about the high (tourist) price for the poor room, he invites us to eat at the police station. Dinner is great, we eat a lot and the officers are very friendly and interested in us.
The next day they offer us tea and breakfast. We continue through the jungle always looking for elephants.
Also a lot of tea gardens are alongside the road. We really like it. Not too much traffic and the scenery is simple and plain, but peaceful.
At dusk we arrive in Falakata and look for a hotel. In the city we of course get a lot of attention, so at first I ignore this guy who asks some questions. But he speaks pretty good English, so I ask him if he knows any good hotel. He recommends one and follows us to the hotel. We already checked in, but he insists to invite us for dinner. We agree. We spend a very interesting evening with Amit, Neeta and their two daughters. I personally like eating new things. Amit offers me a so called Cheekoo. Delicious. Chewing gum is also made from that tree, but not from the fruit.
After dinner we sit outside around a bonfire as so many people here do during the short and rather mild winter. We ask Amit, if he also gets asked „where are you going?“ all the time. He says he hears this question a hundred times a day. Apparently it is the Indian way of saying „how are you?“. And just like it is with „How are you?“, you just need to answer with a phrase like „to the market“ or „to work“ or „shopping“.
Before we leave we visit the theater, which is just around the corner. It is open for everyone. And even though we don’t understand a word we like it. Apparently theater is one way of bringing education to everybody. There is even a loudspeaker outside, so everybody on the street can hear what is going on inside the theater.
The next morning we have breakfast with Amit an Neeta and they accompany us with their scooter for the first 20km. Amit recommends taking the route via Dhubri and cross the Brahmaputra river with the steamer.
We arrive in Dhubri almost two hours after sunset after cycling 141km that day. A new record for us. With so much cycling we often eat 5 or 6 times a day. So after we have checked in we want to have dinner, but the guy at the reception tells us to go to the police station to register. He says just to be sure.
We decide to quickly go to the police station and then have dinner afterwards. The police station is just 5 minutes walk away. We want to enter the yard, but a dude says no. There is some sort of an open air meeting going on in the yard. So we have to wait 10 minutes. Then I ask if we can just pass and go to the office. „Oh, yes Sir!“ and he leads us into the office. Nobody there. We wait another 10 minutes. Then a dude with a red beret enters. He asks what the problem is. We tell him that there is no problem, but we were told to show up at the police. He leads us into another office.
On the left side sits a guy. Above him is a sign „first officer“. Behind him is a „crime map“. The legend has symbols for „cattle theft“ and „burglary“. The map itself is empty. The desk of the dude is also empty. He sits there as if he is waiting for a bell to ring, so he can stand up and walk home. There is another desk with another dude and another sign above him. I cannot remember what was written on it. Probably „second officer“. Yeah, I think that would make sense. He also sits there doing nothing, staring in the room. We take a seat at the third desk. A guy who speaks some English takes over. Three other dudes are standing besides us all very interested in us. Apparently nobody knows what to do. So one dude gets a piece of paper. He wants to start writing, but he doesn’t find the information he is looking for. We already know, what he is looking for: Germany.
On the German passport there is only „Deutschland“ written, but of course no Indian dude knows what that means. But a dude doesn’t admit that. So after a few minutes he says: „Country?!“. The next challenge is to find the Indian visa. They end up writing down the visa number of the Myanmar visa and our names. When they are finished we have to wait. Then we hear a strange sound. The chief dude is ready to talk to us. We step into his office. He is friendly and talkative at first. Then he turns the pages of my passport.
Chief dude: Expiry date is November 21st. It’s expired.
Me thinking: Are you serious?
Me saying: Uhm, that’s the Nepal visa. Look here, it says Nepal
Chief dude stares at the same passport page. after a minute or so
Chief dude: What’s that?!
Me: The visa extension
Another minute passes
Chief dude: Expiration date is December 12th. It is not valid!!!
Me thinking: Is this Zoolander or what?
Me saying: Uhm, it is the Nepal visa extension. Look here, it says Nepal
Chief dude: Where is Indian visa?
I show him.
He smiles, shakes my hand and we can go. I’m close to hugging him and shouting „Das ist fantastisch!“
He presses a button for the strange sound and another dude appears. He leads us out of the office. Outside two dudes are discussing what to do next. They call another dude. Then they take us to their Jeep. Actually it is a Mahindra or as I call it: A Cheap!
We have to take a seat in the back. One dude is sitting next to us with a rifle. Then there is one dude driving the car and another dude telling him where to go. So that’s a pretty high dude rate of 60%. We drive for approximately 17 seconds, then we arrive at the hotel. All three dudes step out, go to the reception and tell them that everything is alright. Then they go back in their car and drive off. We look at each other, then walk back to the restaurant which is half way between the police station and the hotel. I tell you this in detail, because this process took almost an entire hour. So always have dinner before you show up at an Indian police station.
The next morning we go to the river. Brahmaputra, however, is not really what you expect from a river. It is India’s biggest river. That means it is a river as wide as lake Constance from north to south. We cross in a small wooden boat and it takes us almost two hours to reach the other side.
Then all men have to leave the ship, because Brahmaputra has little water right now. Only without the men the boat can continue in the shallow water of a small channel. So I have to walk a few kilometers. At the end of the sand island the boat appears again and the journey continues. After another hour we almost arrive at the other side of the river.
We push the bicycles a few meters on sand and two boys soon help us. They lead us to their boat. There is another small arm of the river to cross. Finally we stand on a paved road again.
We have saved a few kilometers by taking the boat, but still Myanmar is a few hundred kilometers away. We are in a hurry and pray to make it to the border in time. We are now in the Indian state of Meghalaya and away from the main highway. Only a few cars on the road. Not much people. Only small settlements with simple huts. The area is inhabited by tribes people, which are very different from the Indians we have met so far. We really enjoy this part of the route to Myanmar. It is getting evening and no village in sight, so we consider pitching the tent. Maybe you noticed, that we haven’t pitch the tent since we landed in Delhi 10 weeks ago.
Sun sets. In the dusk we look for a spot for the tent. Then we wait for a moment without cars passing. We look left and right. No one in sight. We run down a small track behind a small house which is probably part of a school. There we hide. As soon as it is completely dark, we pitch the tent.
We did it. We pitched the tent in India. Around us we hear a lot of unknown sounds of animals and in several villages someone is beating the drums until late at night – Culture Beat.
But sleeping in the tent feels just great. No cars, no people, no hassle of finding a hotel with ugly rooms and tourist prices. Instead fresh air, a clean tent and in touch with mother nature in a rural area. This is pure luxury.
The next day we continue. In this tribal area we also get a lot of attention, but in a different way. People are a bit shy. When we pitch the tent at noon, just to let it dry, because the night was very humid, some people gather, but around 50m away. They don’t approach us. Two boys on a motorcycle stop, then they move on. A few minutes later they return. They only look, then one guy asks: „Discovery channel?“.
Pferdermarkt (horse market) is a market taking place in Heilbronn (where I grew up) every year. However, there is not much horse trading any more. Instead kids can ride carrousels and shoot with air rifles. But I actually liked the sellers the most.
Pferdemarkt was always situated in front of my school. So I often went there after school and listened to them. As I said, they didn’t sell horses any more. In the 80s and 90s they sold „amazing window cleaner“ or „vanish oxy clean washing powder“ and these guys were real entertainers, so usually a lot of people were gathering around their little stalls. But my favorite one was the guy who sold „power glue“. I liked his show so much, that I watch it several times in a row. I think I stood there an hour and watched him repeat his show at least four times. The next day I watched it again. He took all kinds of materials, put a tiny drop of glue on them, pressed them together and voila: No chance to tear them apart. But for the grand finale he took a piece of rubber and glued it to a CocaCola can. Then everybody in the audience tried to tear it off, but nobody was able to do so. The glue was very expensive. But my 11 years old brain was convinced, that this is the greatest invention of all times. So I bought this little plastic bottle. I remember it was exactly 18ml of power glue. We couldn’t really use it, however, because usually there is not much you need to glue together. So the glue was just standing in our fridge as recommended by the seller until one day when I had this great fun fight with my best friend Dominic and one pillow missed him and hit one of my father’s loved ceramic lamps. But that’s another story…
I’m telling this, because in this tribal area, I feel exactly like the „power glue“ seller. One guy passes by and he is interested in the tent. So I let him take a look inside. He likes it. That’s the teaser. Now more and more people come, because they see something interesting is going on and they all gather around us. They look at the bicycles. I show them the foldable lock: „Awe!“. I turn on the GPS: One guy tells the others that the name of their village is on the display. Amazing! But the best is yet to come, ladies and gentlemen, the Grand Finale: I turn the light switch, then I lift the front wheel and tell one of the guys to spin it. The light turns on. They are excited. How does it work? Were is the power source? They have no clue.
Time is still against us, so we continue to hurry towards Myanmar. We pass Guwahati and climb up to Shilong on December 31st. Again we arrive at night and cannot find a hotel. Ashish just arrived in Shillong the same day to visit his aunt for the first time in 25 years. He speaks perfectly English and they both invite us home. We eat and go to bed. Sleep was more important than champagner and fireworks that day.
We continue still making more than 100 km every day. One night we stay in Badarpur. Unfortunately. I have to register at the dude office. I’m tired of writing down the whole 30 minutes of interrogation by total idiots in detail. Let me just explain, that it is scary when people are dumb and get aggressive, when you help them to realize this by just telling the truth. They have never seen any visa, so they write down Cora’s Turkmen visa number and my Uzbek visa number. I give up to tell them that it doesn’t make any sense. One dude asks me if Myanmar was the province in Germany where I live. I tell him, it’s their neighboring country. He gets aggressive and continues to push me, since he thinks I’m trying to fool him, because there is no address written in my passport. He also doesn’t know what a ZIP code is. He constantly asks for the name of my village. I tell him that it is the city of Mannheim. He doesn’t believe, because Mannheim is mentioned as the issuing authority on the passport. He also writes down „Deutsch“ on his paper as my father’s name, because I don’t disagree. Then he wants to know the address of my police office. I tell him something, because I am afraid to tell him, that I have no idea. He writes everything down, because that’s important. That’s his fu**ing dudy! And so once again two cyclists from „Jermuny“ living in Musterstraße 111b, 65433 Deutschland have been registered.
We arrive in Silchar on January 3rd and want to take a 4WD to Imphal. Unfortunately they already left at 6am so we have to stay a night in Silchar.
The next day we get up at 4 am. At 4:40 am I am brushing my teeth when a big truck is passing in front of the hotel. I think: That’s one hell of a heavy truck. I feel the vibration in our room on the second floor. It doesn’t stop. Then the lights go out, everything starts to shake heavily, we hear some windows break and then dead silence. We move out of the room. All people in the hotel move downstairs.
We have to leave anyway, put the panniers on the bikes and move to the taxi stand. We have just witnessed one of the strongest earthquakes in this regions for decades. In Imphal – our final destination for today – 10 people died.
After 3 hours we reach the border to Manipur at Jiribam. At the check post some police men want to see our passports. Then they ask for a permit. We don’t have a permit. There is no need for a permit. Well, it is 2016 now and from January 1st you apparently need a permit for Manipur. Of course nobody told us. They were all busy writing down Turkmen visa numbers and silly addresses. So the 4WD continues without us. We are standing again at an Indian state border. This time only a few hundred kilometers from Myanmar. They don’t let us in. No chance. We need the permit and we can only get it in Delhi. That means we won’t make it to the Myanmar border on the 8th of January. That means we cannot cross to Myanmar. That means we have to take a plane, pay lots of money, lose lots of time. All plans for South East Asia are shattered. But wait, there is hope.
We mentioned Manipur when we applied for our Indian visa in Kazakhstan and back then the embassy in Almaty apparently didn’t know about the new permit either. So the fault is actually on Indian side. With the great help of the German consulate in Kolkatta (you guys are amazing!) and after 7 hours of telephone calls, we finally get the permission to enter Manipur without the actual permit on our visa. The consulate had written a personal email-letter to the government in Delhi. They told Imphal and Imphal told the check post in Jiribam. Just in time, minutes before all offices close, we get the good news.
The next day we arrive in Imphal, where we want to meet Patrik, Fritz and Karin. Three cyclists from Switzerland and Germany, who we have met in Darjeeling last time. We stay at Gomi, a warmshower host. He offers a very unusual place to pitch the tent: In the second floor of his new home which is still a construction side.
We had to hurry a lot from Gangtok through the North-Eastern states towards Myanmar. We cycled through West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur. We loved Meghalaya with its tribal people and beautiful nature. The possibility to spend a night outside in the tent has built a necessary connection and a special trust. It makes us feel comfortable, when we know we can sleep anywhere. Manipur also left a positive impression. The people at the border check post were very friendly. After all they don’t make the rules. A lot of heavily armed soldiers with bullet proof vests and fully automatic rifles are standing around in Manipur, though. But the villages are small and peaceful, usually only a few bamboo huts. That makes it even more difficult to understand why there are all the soldiers.
Even though we didn’t have the time to pitch the tent in Manipur, we felt like it was possible.
We are still waiting for our permit for Myanmar, but should receive it this week so we can cross into Myanmar on Friday, January 8th as planned. So that’s already it. That was India. We have only seen a small part of it, but also very different faces of this diverse country. The North-Eastern states were a good end for our time in India and Nepal, because we slowly calmed down and loved these last days even though we were always a bit in a hurry.
By leaving India we will also complete the third part of our journey: India and Nepal.
It was an exhausting one in many different ways.