Woke up to someone khaakh-ing their lungs out outside my window (what’s with men retching and spitting early in the mornings?). It was freezing in the night and took me a long while to get to sleep and now warmly cocooned in a tangle of dust-mite infested blanket, my big shawl, my neck shawl, socks which must have come off at some point and a jacket, I would have liked to sleep in a little longer.
But today was the day. I got up with purpose and quickly made my way to find some breakfast. I wanted to be ready to go by 9.00am so I could cross the border as soon as they opened at 9.30am because I had a further long onward journey into India. I have never been to Imphal so didn’t want to arrive there late. Plus nobody hangs around Moreh after dark.
Found a small roadside place run by a Nepali family. Tamu like most border towns is a hybrid of occupants. You could hear other languages; Hindi, Nepali, Bangla, Manipuri etc. and food was very accommodating accordingly. But I still wanted one last Burmese breakfast so I had rice and fried eggs with vegetables. According to the Nepali owner, there is a considerable Nepali population (Burmese Gurkha) living in Tamu with no ties left with Nepal anymore.
Back at the guesthouse, found the manager guy behind the reception and the rest of the lot watching an Indian comedy with translations on TV. At 8.30 in the morning. With utmost effort, he dragged his eyes away from the TV to look at me. Yes? My Permit? Don’t have. What? Not arrive yet. I don’t understand. You have to waiting, not here yet. Goes back to watching TV.
Did I mention Mercury is in retrograde? Yes so he is like a little commission man in the middle. The agent sends him the permit and he takes it down to the immigration and sees that I get through without trouble etc. which is fine and that’s what my $100USD is for but my $100USD was for the permit to be ready on the 9th.
But couldn’t do much but wait. There was another guy crossing as well from New Zealand and he was waiting too. With nothing much to do in Tamu, I sat in the sun and cut my nails and painted them pink. Well might as well. Then caught up on the blog. By 12.00pm I decided to send an email to the agent (which didn’t go through). By 1.00pm, the NZ guy and I are both edgy. Every time the phone rang, we both jumped. Then at 2.00pm, the manager (who really was just a young bloke hooked on betel nuts) said okaayyy…is here. Let’s go! The NZ guy shot out the door. Waittttt I haven’t got my bags yet! and ran out the back to get my bags. They both stared back at me incredulously. It must have been the pink nail polish.
On a tuk-tuk and the driver decides to do a u-turn into town to get some more betel nuts. NZ guy is impatiently tapping his foot. 5 minutes later we were at the Burma immigration office. The manager guy was there before us and as we say in Fiji, must have done some settings. I sure as hell never got to see the permit document nor what it had on it. Nonetheless we sat in the training room cum meeting room cum office cum detention cell while the guy stamped our passports. Turned around, read a few signs on the wall, gulped and turned back again.
The document must have looked right because he gave our passports back and walked off. Manager guy said, the tuk-tuk would drop us off on the other side of the bridge at the Indian immigration office and come back, okay? NO. I want to walk across the bridge. I didn’t just hike 7 days across the country to ride a tuk-tuk out of it, did I?
So I walked. The rickshaw and NZ guy followed. Then I got back in and we rode off to the other side. That was it. I was in Moreh, INDIA!
Walked into the empty immigration building and NZ guy went to look for someone to stamp our books. We were taken into a small office where we filled out a customs form. Because their internet was down, it took about 30 minutes to scan our passports and seemed like the guy was new because he sure was more nervous than me. Walked back to where we came in from and ‘cleared customs’. They x-rayed our bags and sent us off. There are no vehicles allowed for a kilometer so we had to walk with our bags for a little while till we came to a checkpoint. A Manipuri rickshaw driver wearing a Jewish hat came right up to my side and said he’ll hook me up to Imphal. In we got. Got out again for another checkpoint. The checkpoint soldier asked about my ‘friend’. Told him he was not my ‘friend’ and to check him separately.
Then we rode to the Police Station where we had to register as foreigners entering the state of Manipur. I must say I felt quite savvy in with dealing everything. Last time I here taught me well. The NZ guy was still getting used to the chaos and the 10 people talking at once and the cow shit. Police told me to go to the District Officer’s office across the road. DO’s door was closed.
Then a guy wearing jeans and a checked shirt with all-buttons-opened over a t-shirt comes by and says did we get the D-Card? No. You have to go back and tell the immigration to give you D-card. Who are you? I also immigration. Right. More talking. More people. Getting more late. The NZ guy getting more redder by the minute. Ok. Let’s go back. The checked shirt guy jumps in as well. We go back. Security wouldn’t let us through. More talking by taxi driver and guy in checked shirt. Get to the immigration building and everyone is gone. The NZ guy runs around, finds someone who says its all good no need. Go back again. Past security checkpoint. Back to DO’s office. The checked shirt guy, who by now we all are convinced, is a conman. He then says wait here. He disappears and comes back again with a stamp and ink pad. THE official arrival stamp. The young new bloke who had done the initial clearance in tow sheepishly behind him. He was in his track pants and flip flops. By now its getting cold. The checked shirt guy stamps our passports again and makes the new guy sign. He also gets us to fill out arrival cards which should have been done initially as well. Please bear in mind this is all happening on the road just before Moreh market. The NZ guy fills his form using the top of the rickshaw as a table and I am sitting half-arse outside, filling it on the rickshaw back seat. The checked shirt guy explained that the new guy had put the wrong stamp. It would have caused us trouble when we tried to leave India. In departing the new guy meekly said ‘so sorry for the honest mistake’. To the NZ guy. Not to me. They don’t say sorry to desis.
Now let us all bow down to the guy in opened-checked-shirt-over-a-tshirt who really did work for the immigration department of India!
In the meantime a minivan had materialized and it’s driver was bolting up the back seats. Then it came down to negotiating the price. So me, the rickshaw driver and the minivan-driver. Kaisa karega foreigner ka? (what to do about the foreigner?) 1500INR. Too much. Nai nai aap ka 500INR uska 1000INR, aap samhal lo? (you 500 him 1000. You talk to him.) That’s how it goes in India and if there is anywhere in the world I can cash in on looking Indian well why not? Unfortunately the NZ guy heard the 1500INR in English so I went halves. Later I told him as well. Because he was going to travel alone in India and it was just bad karma.
Left Moreh at about 4.30pm for Imphal. Half an hour later, we meet a traffic holdup. It was the Assam Rifles (military) checkpoint. The Tamu-Moreh border is notorious for smuggling; guns, opium whatever. And despite heavy army presence, large number of illegal things still get past everyday. By now it was dark and teeth-clattering cold in the mountain air. They made me and the NZ guy get off and go through an interrogation. Well more of him than me.
Me? Ok. Ever since the beginning of this blog have you read anything about me flirting? No. You know why? Because I don’t flirt. Never. I don’t know how to. I did it once or twice and made such an ass out of me that I never ever did again. But I don’t know what happened tonight! Words were played, smiles were awarded…I believe my cheeks were flaming (could be the cold too, though). Not only did the single, available officer from Mumbai write out his number and told me to get him on whatsapp but called the driver up and told him to make sure he dropped me at a good place and to report back to him tomorrow. And then he walked me all the way out. I’m telling you man, it must be this bloody pink nail polish! The NZ guy just couldn’t believe it.
(ps. don’t pop my bubble by saying army men get lonely for female company)
Either way, getting into India couldn’t have been sweeter. A good start. In Suruj’s words, it’s all shubh shubh!
We got into Imphal around 9.30pm. Hotel is directly opposite the bus stand. Tomorrow I leave for Kohima up in the mountains of Nagaland where I plan to put down my bags for a few days and put up my feet.
Till then. x