We never really planned to visit India. We did not consider it as a good destination for a cycle touring experience. When we took the spontaneous decision to leave Bangkok and hide in the Himalayas from the Monsoon, we thought that we would be back to South East Asia soon. We really wanted to ride back to Thailand overland, via Myanmar – a country closed to the foreigners due to its political situation. We had heard that it was opening, and we hoped that by the time we reached the border, it would be possible to cycle in. We left Thailand with a Mynamar tourist visas in – valid for 3 months, they expired when we were riding the high passes somewhere in Ladakh.
We kept hoping that the border would be open for us – we used to check the news every week, keeping our fingers crossed. While in Nepal, we applied for a new visa (again, only 3 months of validity). After two months of exploring the North Eastern States of India, we realized, that our time was running out and bought the flight ticket from Imphal – the capital of the state of Manipur – back to Bangkok.
During our last day of cycling in India (4 days before our flight), not more than 50 kilometres before our final destination, something very unexpected happened. A 4WD Toyota with German plates passed us by and stopped. During the first minute of our conversation, we learnt, that the young German couple is going to Myanmar. What?! How? When?
It turned out, that there is a bunch of independent campervans/4WDs riding across Asia, and that they would form a convoy just before the border between India and Myanmar, cross it together and then be guided by a travel agency across, to Thailand. We had our flight booked, but the perspective of crossing the border together with the rally made us super excited. We got goose bumps when we were told, that they are going to cross during the last day of our Myanmar visas validity! It was a coincidence we could not ignore!
Having just 2 days to get to Moreh – a border town on the Indian side, we spent one night in Imphal (one of the nicest state capital we visited during our Indian trip) and started cycling towards the border.
Not more than one hour after we left the city, a huge truck stopped. We could not believe our eyes! A huge German military 6WD, converted into a mobile house of the French family of Yannick, Muriel, Victor and Robin. They travelled all the way from Europe, via Central Asia, Mongolia and Tibet to Nepal, and they were going to cross Myanmar to reach the other South East Asian countries.
They offered us a lift – we could not say no! They said, that we could keep one of our bikes in their “garage” – and that was not a joke!
They carry 4 motorcycles in the back of their truck!
Together we went towards Moreh. In the meanwhile we contacted the tour guide (German) waiting for the group on the other side of the border. We explained him our situation, and he said, that he would try to help us to cross, but he could not guarantee us anything. It would be stupid not to try, so together with the French family we showed up on the border crossing.
The convoy consisted of more than a dozen cars of different sizes and nationalities. There was not so much time for us to mingle with them, but our impression was, that they were mostly tourists rather than travellers, enclosed in their own little world, watching life through the windows. While chatting with some of the drivers we could not really feel that they went all the way across Europe and Asia – they did not seem to be changed by the life on the road being captured in their cars and with their heads still back home. Having your own vehicle, where you have not only a place to sleep, but a toilet, shower, proper kitchen and – most importantly – a safe place to hide, makes travelling much easier but also spoils it all. We believe, that a deep development happens out of the comfort zone, when one faces the challenges of living an independent and unpredictable life. Of course, it would be nice to have a fridge full of cold drinks and a mobile workshop where we could do our DIY projects, but it comes at a price we could not accept to pay at this moment of our life and after what we had already experienced during our journey.
Anyway. We made it across. We convinced the Indian border guards to give us the exit stamps, we spent our last rupees and off we went to Myanmar.
We would really like to tell you, that we managed to enter the country, said goodbye to the group and just rode towards Thailand. Unfortunately, it did not happen. We were not lucky enough – since our names were not put on the rally’s list on time, the officers of the Myanmar army did not want to let us in, despite us begging on our knees and using all ways of negotiations, legal or not. We had to go back to India, which was not that easy since we had already got our Indian exit stamps and had a single-entry visa only.
We were allowed to sleep at the border checkpost, and the next morning, after some time of explaining our situation to the officials, the stamps in our passports were cancelled and we could cycle back to Imphal.
You could imagine, how disappointed and sad we were! With only 48 hours left to prepare everything for the flight, it was quite an intense time during our last two days in India… Nevertheless we could get some glimpses of Imphal.
Just like in Nagaland, Christianity is the prevailing (but not the traditional) faith in Manipur. There are big and powerful guerilla groups fighting with the Indian government for the independence of the state, so while cycling through Manipur we had to pass many check posts guarded by men with machine guns and bulletproof vests. This war zone atmosphere felt very odd combined with the Jesus pictures all over the place as well as all the calm, Asian faces smiling everywhere.
Unlike the drivers of the convoy, we were not that happy to leave India. It had become our place during those 9 months, and despite the chaos, noise, pollution, inequality and constant food poisoning, we really enjoyed and liked it. We received a lot from Indian people, especially in the Himalayas. The high mountains convinced us, that there is a great pleasure in finding new adventures, and gave us a lot of confidence.
Because we had to fly, and Indigo airlines allowed us to carry only limited luggage, we decided to send some of our things back home, including OUR FRONT RACKS! More about this decision soon…
We worked hard to get ready on time – even though we had 9 kilograms of junk less to fit into bags and boxes, it still required some packing skills and special tricks which we learned while living in Europe (thank you, Ryanair!).
We arrived in Bangkok late at night and decided to find a quiet corner where we could sleep for some hours before heading towards the city.
Due to the riots in Bangkok we could not get from the airport directly to our friend’s guesthouse Granny Bike & Bed. We took a taxi to the nearest intersection where the car was allowed to drive in and from there we improvised with a huge trolley…