Our three-month motorcycle road trip through the Seven-sister states of India started in Assam. After our journey through Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram we arrived in state #5. Our Manipur road trip is the shortest in the Northeast and simply requires us to return, one day.
It’s winter, women are wearing woolen sweaters over their saris and many people have wrapped a warm piece of cloth around their heads. In Aizawl, we already bought a fleece vest and we are now considering buying a pair of extra pants that we can wear over our regular pants for some extra warmth. To be honest, I underestimated how cold it can be when driving a motorcycle.
At Bishunpur we briefly stop to check out a small, old Vishnu temple built with red clay, reminiscent of the ones we saw in Udaipur (Tripura). This one is not as richly decorated, but it is the only one in Manipur and has been designated as a national / historical monument.
The kind caretaker proudly tells us about this monument (always nice, to see how a caretaker actually cares for the place he takes care off). He opens the door to temple’s inner space but since it’s no longer used as a temple it’s empty.
Rather than taking the main road from Moirang to the capital of Imphal, we make a short detour and turn east. Narrow roads meander through the countryside. Imphal and its surroundings are situated in a valley, which is refreshing and easy driving after all those mountains with serpentine roads of Mizoram.
The road cuts through rice fields. We saw a lot of harvesting being done when driving through Assam but meanwhile the work has completely been finished. The fields are bare and brown. It looks a bit sad. The landscape must be incredibly beautiful when young rice plants color the valley in soft green tones.
In addition to rice fields, there are many fish ponds, the water stagnant and murky. The dozen crematoria platforms along the river are striking, I can’t remember ever having seeing so many anywhere else.
The second we left the super-clean state of Mizoram two days earlier, we returned to driving through a scenery with rubbish all over the place. The government tries to raise awareness through signs and murals, urging people to stop using plastic and littering. Other awareness campaigns are about malaria and HIV/AIDS.
We are also back in a world where drivers love honking and crazy overtaking. Coen does his bit of swearing about drivers not sticking their lane.
Google is confusing and after having searched for ways to meander through a number of villages, we suddenly end up on a double-lane highway. It was built ‘the Istanbul way’, as we call it because that’s where we saw this for the first time: if a house was in the way of the highway’s construction, they simply cut off the necessary part of that building and sometimes people continue to live in the back of that building!
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Khongjom War Memorial
A few kilometers off the main road rises the Khongjom War Memorial from the top of a hill. From afar we spot the three tall, arched pillars covered with copper plates. The surrounding grounds serve as a picnic area for which you pay a minimal entrance fee.
At the only, small, restaurant I order a veg rice with plain omelette, Coen wants a ‘chow’ (chow mein). The owner returns and says this will take a long time and he suggest macaroni, which is fine with Coen. Macaroni in India? Must be interesting. It is, if not a bit strange. He is served macaroni topped with nothing but soy sauce. To make it somewhat edible, Coen adds a load of ketchup to it.
We climb the hill and on top are the imposing arches in an unmaintained pond full of sludge. It’s always painful to see monument and effort spent on building something like this but not maintain it. Even more so because the monument represents such a significant moment in Manipur’s history.
The Meitei people resisted the British for as long as they could but at last, in the 1891 war, Manipur lost its independence in the Anglo-Manipuri war. For centuries, the Meitei were one of the three major kingdoms in Northeast India. They were, and are, a proud people and this loss of independence has left a deep scar.
From here we bee-line it to Imphal, Manipur’s capital, it’s a lively city with a couple of historic sites and we are expected: we have an invitation from a Couchsurfer.
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