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India: Final Days?

A rainy day: August 18th


It was earlier than usual when we awoke and pulled ourselves out of bed. It was pouring rain outside and it was difficult to get out of bed but the allure of a coffee and some good food got us moving pretty quickly. We headed into the rain under the cover of our umbrella's. We arrived at Glenary's, a British style diner and ordered some muesli and coffees. The food turned out to be a bit overpriced and not nearly as filling as we had hoped so we fell back on the bakery that was in the same building. We got some delicious banana nut break and a fruit cake that was more of a sweat dense bread. The bread was very filling and went well with our coffees as we looked out into the white expanse trying to picture the massive Himalayas that we knew lay just beyond the clouds.

We returned to the hotel and while Michael and Graham headed to the internet cafe to upload the blog I phoned home. I eventually met up with Graham and Michael at the internet cafe to get my part of the blog done. When we were finished, Graham and I went shopping for some of the Tibetan goods and other souvenirs. We found a few cool shops that were fair trade shops and it felt good to be purchasing some goods where the money was being introduced to the community where it was made. One such shop was in support of women in Darjeeling and all the goods were made by women in Darjeeling. When we were satisfied we returned to the room to pack up our souvenirs and the excess baggage that we wanted to send home. We had decided that we no longer needed our sleeping bags along with certain cold weather clothes and we wanted the extra space in our bags. Michael had purchased some large burlap-esque sacks and packaging tape that we used to cram all the goods in before heading to the post office.

When we arrived at the post office we found that you had to be very forceful when standing in line. People would push their way in front of you with no hesitation and force the clerk to take them first. We learned quickly though and soon had boxed out a window using our size to prevent people from pushing through. Even with this technique a man attempted to pass his envelops over us to the stranger in front of us than weaseling his way in when the clerk took the letters. Michael quickly put an end to the man's scheme though and we soon finished up our business at the post office.

We headed up to a cafe we had visited the day before for some good food. As we ate we noticed the clouds had begun to clear and distant hills were becoming visible. We were looking for an excuse to get out and get some exercise so we headed off to get a better view. The clouds never lifted enough to see mountains but the view was very beautiful with the green hills and valleys covered in tea fields and houses. We wandered through narrow streets past schools, houses and lots of curious pedestrians. We eventually returned to the hotel. After a delicious dinner at Hasty Tasty we returned to the hotel room for an early night and a good movie. We weren't sure what lay ahead of us to the east and wanted to make sure we were well rested and ready to take on the world.

View of Darjeeling and cloud covered Himalaya's from our hotel

Graham Turns the Big 24: August 21st


I woke up, rolled over and started singing, "Happy birthday to you…" Graham showed his excitement by lifting his right leg and passing a large amount of gas. I laughed rather hysterically and decided that neither of us were mature enough to be 24 year olds. We got out of bed and meandered around as we packed up all our gear. At one point I was taking a shower and heard a loud groan from James. I came out of the shower and found James dangling his pair of pants (his only pants) from a giant burnt hole in the side. He had left them on a lamp the night before in the hopes that they'd dry, but somebody must've accidently turned on the light. His pants were toast.

After getting packed up, we had a few final errands that needed to be taken care of (James needed pants), but first we needed to get Graham's birthday breakfast.

Graham looking extra good on his 24th birthday

We went back to Glennery's, despite us all thinking it was overpriced, and had coffee, muesli, omelets and a pastry or two each. James covertly bought a small fruit cake that we planned to use as Graham's birthday cake later that day. James went in search of a new pair of pants and Graham went to get more money from an ATM. We would all meet back at the hotel. James had to wait for the pants store to open but eventually got them. We waited for Graham and at one point James wondered if we should be worried about him since he was taking so long. We decided he was probably getting a shave. Sure enough, he was. He described it as the best 20 minutes of his life, the man gave him a head and shoulder massage as well as one of the closest shaves any of us have ever had. It cost him 40 rupees ($0.60).

By the time we were ready to leave Darjeeling, it was pouring. All the drying out we'd tried to do was for naught. Our shoes, pants, socks, shirts and even our helmets were still soaked. Worst of all, they smelled like mold. Putting on my helmet almost made me gag. It reeked of mildew. Worst of all, James and my bluetooth intercoms (what we use to communicate while we ride) were water logged and appeared to be broken. It was a poor start to Graham's birthday. We drove away from Darjeeling soaking wet and were heading towards the wettest place in the world, Meghalaya.

The ride down the pass from Darjeeling was much better than the ride up, after 15 or 20 minutes of pouring rain, it subsided. We could see the other cars and could see the green hills surrounding us. I even got a honk from the driver of the Darjeeling Toy Train, an infamously slow train that takes passengers from Siliguri to Darjeeling.

I snapped a quick picture of James in the lead as we rode down from Darjeeling

We reached Siliguri without much difficulty and were greeted by the typical overwhelming amount of traffic. I have tried my absolute best to understand the mindset of an Indian driver, I've decided that it's impossible. There is no pattern to any of their driving tactics.

We rode towards Guwahati, a large city in the province of Assam. It was ~240 miles away from Darjeeling and we were hoping to make it there that day. We had no chance. The roads took a plunge for the worst and we were traveling at a steady 15-20 mph. The time was flying by and we had hardly made it out of Siliguri. By 6 o'clock it was starting to get dark and we needed to find a place to stay. Without our bluetooth intercoms, communicating became difficult. If someone saw a sign for "Hotel" they would try to get the other's attention by honking, flashing their brights or riding up next to them. By the time we were all aware that there was a hotel, we were a mile away…

Our options for places to stay were looking bleak. We stopped at a few different restaurant/hotels but were told by all of them that they did not have room. The sun was nearly down, and we were starting to get worried that we may be riding in the dark. After our experience driving at night in India, we promised ourselves that we'd never do it again


At our 4th or 5th hotel that we'd been turned away by, we were approached by a man on a scooter. He asked us what we needed. I told him we were looking for a hotel. He did a little head bob and started driving away. We weren't sure if we were supposed to follow him, but we went for it.

He took us into the center of Dhupguri (the town we had just entered) and after 5 or 10 minutes he pulled into a small parking lot in front of a tile shop and an ATM. He showed us the sign for a hotel and then drove away. We were highly dubious, the outside of the building looked like it was about to fall apart. There were open electrical wires hanging from the walls and it looked dirty. But, it was our only option. Graham hopped his bike and went to check out the room. He came back grinning from ear to ear.

Don't judge a hotel by its cover

The hotel was nicer than anything we had experienced in India thus far. It was 1,200 rupees (~$6 each) for a room with AC or 800 rupees for a non AC room. We decided to splurge, it was Graham's birthday, and got a room with AC. It was 100% worth it, our soaking wet clothing was able to dry in the room and a bit of the mildew smell disappeared.

One thing I've learned on this trip is that the outside of a building gives little to no clues as to what it will be like on the inside. On previous travels, I remember walking by or looking out from a car, tuk tuk, train or scooter and seeing buildings that looked like they were about to crumble. I remember thinking about how terrible it must be to live in one of those buildings. I always thought the inside would be like the outside. On this trip, we've been in a large number of those buildings. From the outside they look like a ghetto about to topple over but from the inside they are nicer than the average American home. It's incredible.

The hotel had a restaurant, we got cucumber salads and Aloo Dum (potatoes in curry). We snuck a little whiskey into our cokes and toasted to Graham's birthday. As usual, multiple people came up and asked to take pictures with us. At one point, Graham stated he couldn't be happier. We had found a gem of a hotel and were able to celebrate Graham's birthday away from mosquitoes and in a place where everything could dry out.

Notice the cucumber salad decor and drink umbrella

Fame, cows, and all you can eat finger food: August 22

~ Graham

I woke up to Michael’s alarm, and then him jumping up to see if his Bluetooth was working. It is pretty lonely riding when the other two are talking to each other, and making decisions on the fly is pretty difficult when you can’t express your opinion. He was pretty bummed that it still wasn’t working and ran across the street to grab some rice to try and dry it out. In the meantime we tried going to the restaurant for breakfast 3 different times, and they kept telling us another hour or so. We let the morning waste away until 930 when we decided we would leave even if we didn’t have food. This seemed to light a fire beneath their feet and 30 minutes later we each had 8 pieces of toast, an omelet, and some coffee. We had ordered 2 pieces of toast each so when an entire loaf of toast for each of us arrived it was pretty comical.

We finally got on the road much later than anticipated, but still happy to be moving. Unfortunately we weren’t moving that quickly. There were lots of potholes, traffic, and towns to slow us down to an incredibly slow pace. This was pretty mentally taxing, but we were riding through a beautiful place and the freshness of the surroundings was refreshing. To our left across the flooded rice fields the foothills of the Himalayas rose sharply on the border with Bhutan. To our right the rice fields continued with hills randomly protruding from the landscape. The sharp hills reminded me a lot of the drastic limestone cliffs of southern Thailand. We entered the province of Assam and the religion here must be a different form of Hindi or something else entirely because they serve meat and people were fishing everywhere. They have large bamboo poles with nets fixed on the end of them. They lever these large bamboo nets with an a-frame made of bamboo and swing them around through the marshes of the rice paddies. As we looked closer the water in the flooded rice fields was actually moving. We were riding through the massive flood plain of the Brahmaputra, and the flooded areas were still very much a part of the river. It was pretty cool to see the water drain underneath the road from one field to another.

Pot holes galore on a bridge crossing

After awhile we pulled off for lunch at a small restaurant on the side of the road. We ordered rice and chicken, and they came out with a plate filled with different assortments of things. As we ate they would come around and dump more food than we had before on our plate and we ate until we could barely move. They offered us spoons, but we thought it would be more fun to eat like everyone else with our hands. You pour the various curries on the rice and mix it all together before scooping it up and pushing it in your mouth with your thumb. I can’t do it very quickly, and I got plenty of curry stuck in my mustache before we were done, but it was extremely satisfying. We paid our bill of 360 rupees (less than 6 bucks), slurped down our teas and got back on the road.

Not long after lunch, James and I became simultaneously distracted for a split second. In that second a cow managed to catapult itself directly in front of James. He looked up a half second before smashing straight into the middle of it, and swerved just enough to scrape its head on his front saddle bag and then give it a solid whomp with his rear box. It knocked a few things off his bike that were loose, and Michael came screeching to a halt. Around this time I looked up, realized I was about to run straight over Michael who was now stopped. I swerved at the last second to avoid running over Michael, and then instantly swerved back to avoid smashing directly into the cow. It was a hair rising experience, and I didn’t want to think about how bad that could have gone. You can’t even take your eyes off the road for a second without having something try to kill itself and you at the same time.

Cruising through the rice fields

We decided we should probably call it a day as the sun was starting to go down, and we were pretty exhausted. The sunset was pretty spectacular as the whole sky turned bright orange and purple. The rice fields reflected everything in their smooth waters, and doubled the awe inspiring sunset. We pulled off at a few places that claimed to be “hotels,” but they told us they didn’t have lodging. There was a hotel every 100 feet, but none of them seemed to have a place to stay. I still haven’t figured out what they consider a hotel to be, but it is incredibly confusing. We ended up seeing a sign for Manas National Park, and figured we might be able to camp somewhere near it so we turned off into the town of Barpeta. We stopped to ask a guy if he knew a place we could stay, and before he could respond a guy on a motorcycle pulled up next to us and asked us what we needed in perfect English. We pulled over for 5 seconds to ask where we could stay, and 5 seconds later we were following a guy through the town to the hotel. The best way to find anything here is to just ask someone. Chances are someone around speaks English, and most of the places you want to go are hidden. We ended up in the middle of the town at a hotel, and Michael and James went in to check it out while I waited with the bikes.

Almost instantly a crowd started to form. This was the craziest crowd we had come across so far. I think anyone within a kilometer came to see what 3 guys on weird motorcycles were doing in the center of town. There were at least 100 people surrounding me and everyone started taking out their phones and snapping pics. The lights from the 100 or so camera phones was a little overwhelming, and I had no idea what to do other than smile and look around. Various people came up to me and asked where I was from with big smiles on their faces. I saw a guy with a handicam shooting the whole scene in the distance, and as I pulled out my GoPro to try and capture the moment he walked over to me. He pulled out a big orange microphone with “Assam News” printed on the side of it and started asking me questions. Michael and James were checking out the room and looked down to see a crowd of people surrounding me in the middle of an interview for the news. It was an incredible experience, and I think it is the closest I’ll ever be to famous. We started pulling our stuff into the hotel, and people started asking for pictures with us. After agreeing to one picture we realized it was a mistake. Everyone was grabbing and poking at us to take a picture with them, and people were posing all around us. A guy came up to me and had me autograph his kid’s hand. It was absolutely insane.

I tried to snap a quick pic from the window. You can see our bikes poking through the crowd

We finally got our stuff into the hotel, and they shut out the crowd so we could breathe. Michael and James had bargained down the price of the room from 1745 to 600 rupees, and we dragged all our stuff into the room where we could calm down a bit. We wanted to get out and see the town and we figured with all these people around they would be eager to show us, so we asked where we could grab a beer. They regulate alcohol pretty strictly in Assam so they best we could do was grab them from a liquor store. When we got into the lobby the crowd was as big as ever outside, and they all peered in eagerly to get another peek at the strange Americans. We were led to the liquor store by a few guys and a parade of people followed behind us. It was a sea of people moving with us, and we were quickly ushered back to our room by the hotel staff. We cracked our beers in the room and contemplated another way to explore the town when there was a knock at the door.

The reporter and his friend came into the room and draped the local red and white checkered scarves called gamosas around our necks. He explained that they are a traditional Assamese garment, and was very proud of his culture. We were honored to be given such a unique gift and we wore them proudly for the rest of the night. He wanted to look us up on Facebook, but his phone was about to die so he ran off to charge it promising to come back later. As he left the owner of the hotel came in and asked if we could move our bikes to the police station because otherwise the crowd would be there all night. Everywhere else we have been the crowd usually dissipates after we leave, but here they were completely mesmerized by our bikes.

Our reporter friends

We walked out into the crowd and started up the bikes. Cameras flashed and the sea of people parted as we turned our bikes around. The owner of the hotel hopped on the back of my bike and looked around triumphantly. I think he tried to contain his excitement, but I could tell he was happy to be the one who got the ride. He directed us to the police station, and on the way we passed the local temple. It looked pretty lavish and he promised to take us there on the way back. The cops moved a car from underneath a covered garage and insisted we park there. We felt that our stuff was pretty safe there, and were happy to leave our bikes under the protection of a guy with a big rifle.

On our way back we stopped in the temple. There was a crowd of people chanting while banging drums and tambourines in front of a shrine. There were 4 or 5 different shrines with elaborate sculptures and paintings illuminated within the area. It was definitely a lot nicer and cleaner than the smoking room/temple that we were taken to near Shimla. We didn’t stay long, and soon we were back in our room drinking our beers. We thought our night be over when our reporter friend came back with a freshly charged phone. We pulled up our Facebook pages so he could send us a friend request and talked about Assam. He explained that they were Assamese and were different from the rest of India. He was under the impression that their culture was being washed out by the muslims who were migrating in from Bangldesh, and Indians that were not from Assam. He also did not have a high opinion of China. When I inquired about Bhutan he said they were ok, “They are peaceful Bhuddists.” He seemed to have a very poor opinion of Muslims, and didn’t like any Islamic countries; “I like America and Israel.” There are lots of Israeli tourists in India, so it made sense that he would like them especially since they also dislike most Islamic countries.

Apart from the people that he didn’t like we also discussed the national park that was a few kilometers away. You could ride elephants and see one horned rhinos, tigers, and other various animals indigenous to this part of India. It sounded awesome and I am dying to ride an elephant so it definitely piqued my interest. We told him about the USA, and the places we have been and intend to go. He was very interested and excited about the whole thing and he left with a grin on his face as we promised him we would accept his friend request when we got WIFI. After he left we passed out pretty quick in our nice little AC room.

"Scotland of the East": August 23rd


The start to the day was the most efficient we had yet and we were leaving the room by 8:00 A.M. There was no crowd in front of the hotel and we were not bothered on our way to pick up the bikes from the police station. We arrived and after stowing our overnight bags on the bikes got ready to leave. It felt like we were a exhibit in a zoo as a crowd of officers accumulated on one side while a large group of onlookers peered at us through the police station fence. We said our goodbyes and gave thanks to the head officer than headed towards the highway. On the way out of town we stopped for gas and Graham got side tracked by a sad looking elephant on the side of the road. We managed to get on the road by 8:30 and were making good headway due to the conditions of the road. By noon we had made it to Guwahati, the capital city of the province of Assam and had found a small restaurant on the side of the road for some lunch. The lunch was disappointingly expensive and the mutton which was the majority of the cost was 90% bone, fat and gristle. Regardless we left the restaurant satisfied and excited to be back on the road so early.

They were definitely a bit confused on the meaning of hotel, there was no lodging at this expensively mediocre lunch place

As we headed towards the province of Meghalaya and it's capital Shillong we were expecting nothing but rain and slow driving but instead were rewarded by an awesome windy highway and blue skies. The road was well paved and lacked the typical business of other Indian highways with no livestock and fewer cars, buses and arto's. Eventually the highway dropped us next to a beautiful lake surrounded by lush pine forests with towering trees. We continued on through a slightly worse road but with amazing scenery. It was't long before we arrived in Shillong which had tentatively been the goal for the day. It was still early and we were all enjoying the ride so much that we decided to keep going and head for Cherrapungee where the living root bridges were. Meghalaya is a mountainous plateau and cherrapungee is an area on the southern edge bordering Bangladesh. As we drove the landscape opened up and a large lush valley opened up beside us before we arrived above tree line in Cherrapungee. Cherrapungee is known as the "Scotland of the east" and is also the rainiest place on earth. As we drove we could see why with short loam like grasses covering the alpine hills. Large boulder's littered the landscape and clear streams cascaded down small waterfalls. Fortunately for us though we missed all the rain but instead drove through quickly moving clouds that only added to the mystical feel of the area.

This lush valley emptied into the plains of Bangladesh

We stopped for some tea at a small shack on the side of the road and a small snack. It was owned by a large family of very small and friendly people. All of them had slightly rotting teeth and a reddened mouth which we later learned the cause of. After the tea we took some pictures and bid them goodbye before riding into the mist. The windy road eventually emerged from the mist and I let out a surprised yell as I was greeted by and stunning view. Directly in front of me stretched the plains of Bangladesh, slightly hidden by clouds and almost completely flooded. To the left the plateau dropped off onto the plains and 2 or 3 massive waterfalls cascaded over the edge toward the plains below. We continued on in search of a place to sleep and hoping to get close to the root bridges so we could get an early start in the morning. There was supposedly a nice resort very close so we headed in that direction which led us down a road carved into the side of the plateau. We were soon distracted by a sign for a view point and the need to do a bit of maintenance on Michael and my chains, which had become loose and were slapping at every bump.

The whole family came out to say goodbye.

The view point was amazing and offered an even better view of the plains of Bangladesh as well as a few more waterfalls. It was amazing to think that anyone lived on the plains below us as it seemed to be at least 50 percent water. A car we had passed soon arrived and two younger men got out and began to chat as we worked on our bikes. They were locals and we were soon sitting on the pavement of the view point parking lot smoking a cigarette and discussing the area. We learned that the rotting teeth and red mouths which accompanied almost every smile, even those of young girls and boys was caused by the chewing of "butternut." The butternut was wrapped in a large leave and mixed with lime to add to the taste. The more talkative of the two revealed that he would chew 25 or so of these mixes a day and smoke perhaps 25-30 cigarettes as well. We tried a small bit of the butternut chew and were not impressed as it just turned to a bitter tasting mush that made you salivate uncontrollably and created a bit of a numbing sensation. He also discussed some of the politics of the area saying that they wished only to live in their small villages and that most of India was much too populated and had many troubles as a result. Before leaving he indicated that camping was not a problem and suggested that back down the road a few hundred meters would be a good place.

Flooded plains of Bangladesh

We were convinced that camping would be awesome but had not eaten yet and decided to continue on to the resort to get some food before returning to camp. Unfortunately our chains were still adjusted improperly and we had to stop along the road to re-adjust them. We couldn't pull completely off the road and left just enough room for cars to pass but were a bit nervous as it was now dark. A few cars passed so I relaxed a bit, confident that the drivers were competent not too hit us or drive off the other side. I was wrong. One of the cars returned and while passing us dropped a wheel off the other side of the road. It soon ground to a halt with its leaf spring suspension high centered on a rocky embankment. The man did not seem upset at all but instead immediately got to work getting unstuck. To do this he got a jack and crawled under the car. Incredibly he could stay crouched under the pickup as his torso could fold between his legs. Later Michael was struggling in the same space while laying on his belly. Once the car was raised up he began removing the rocks that the car was stuck on. We did our best to assist him by providing light and pulling on the rocks when we could. The whole business was a bit sketchy as the jack was not particularly stable but soon enough we had removed the rocks and with a quick push he was back on the road. We finished our maintenance and headed towards the resort once again.

The resort was fully booked so it was good that we were now planning on camping but they were extremely friendly and quickly brought out menus even though their kitchen had closed an hour ago. The food was delicious and the staff extremely friendly and we were soon happily full and excited to get out and camp. Our friend from the lookout had mentioned that it had been raining for the last 7 days so we felt grateful for the opportunity to camp under the stars. We drove back up towards the view point before pulling off and tucking the bikes behind a boulder that had some concrete steps up its side. We all setup our various bedding areas before noticing a light approaching. We turned ours on so not to surprise whoever it was and went over to say hello. The man who we had met earlier at the view point was very friendly and with some sign language we got permission to sleep there. He followed us back to our camp and made his way on top of the stepped rock to make a call and smoke a cigarette while we crawled into bed. He soon bade us goodnight in happy broken English and headed back up the road. The temperature was perfect and did not require a blanket and I was soon sleeping fitfully.

Doing a bit of reading before bed

Finding Solitude: August 24th


I woke around 3 am and heard the pitter patter of rain on the tent. I smiled, rolled over and went back to bed. I was camping in Cherapunjee, known as the wettest place on earth, and I was dry and warm. It's the coziest I've felt in a long time.

James taking down his hammock

We woke at 7 and debated making instant coffee. We bailed on the idea, packed up and headed towards Cherapunjee Holiday Resort for breakfast. We parked our motorcycles, walked into the dining room and saw that they had a continental breakfast. It was 250 Rupees ($4) each, but we decided to go for it. All we could eat pineapple, pancakes, potato rotis, cereal, toast, and instant coffee. We gorged ourselves. After breakfast we asked about staying at the Holiday Resort. A small elderly woman told us they were full, however she offered to watch over our bikes and all of our stuff for the day as we hiked to the Double Decker living root bridge. She even called us a cab to drive us to the trail head.

Hard to spot, but James looks a bit like a giant when compared to the helpful woman

A couple years ago, we all watched a show called Human Planet. It's a spinoff of Planet Earth, but it goes into details about how certain peoples have adapted to their environment in order to survive. One of the episodes featured a segment on the villages of Cherapunjee. In order to cross the rivers and reach different parts of the jungle, the villagers built living bridges. They would start with a single root. By growing and stretching the root across a river, it would eventually grow thicker. As more and more roots were stretched across and got thicker and thicker, they would eventually intertwine and be able to hold a person's weight (takes ~15-20 years). Now, some of the bridges are estimated to be 300+ years old and can hold hundreds of pounds. Ever since seeing that episode of Human Planet, we've wanted to see those bridges. Today was the day.

Graham working his glutes trying to make his way back up the stairs

The beginning of the hike consisted of 2,000 concrete steps almost vertically down. We walked through a few small villages and thought we were the only people on the hike. Then we came across our first bridge. It wasn't a living root bridge, but a wire rope one. It spanned ~200 feet across and 50 feet above a river and was full of Indian tourists taking selfies. Our photos were taken a couple different times and we were finally able to cross the bridge. We crossed 3 or 4 more of those bridges and only came across more Indian tourists. After ~1.5 hours of hiking, we came across the infamous Double Decker Living Root Bridge. One of the bridges featured on Human Planet. The bridges themselves were incredible, but how they were treated was awful. Human Planet made it look like a pristine area, deep in the jungle and far away from any tourist influence. We knew that wouldn't be the case, but we weren't prepared for Indian tourists running around on the bridges, kicking the roots, stomping on the vines, yelling in triumph and acting like they'd conquered the bridges. It was amazing seeing a bridge that was over 300 years old, but it was hard to appreciate where we were when we were constantly being pushed into pictures we didn't want to be a part of. We left the Double Decker and continued on the path.

Neither Graham or James was too excited about being forced into this picture

15 minutes past the Double Decker, we came across another living bridge that crossed right next to a waterfall. It was beautiful. A couple minutes later, we came hiked off the path, down towards the river and found an incredible water fall and swimming hole. We looked around, there wasn't anyone else. We dropped our clothes and enjoyed one of the best swimming experiences in my life. Not only were we in one of most incredibly gorgeous places, away from anyone else, in the jungles of Meghalaya, swimming next to a giant waterfall, but the water was drinkable. We had been told over and over again that we could drink the water straight from the river. We were dubious, however we couldn't resist taking giant mouthfuls of water as we swam. After swimming we tried rubbing sand all over ourselves in order to take off the dirt and dead skin (it worked, but not entirely). We hopped around on giant boulders, tried to find our own trail down the river, back tracked and started the hike out. We stopped in one of the villages and bought a bottle of honey. We talked about how much the area must have changed in the past 10-15 years and wondered if the villagers saw the tourism as a positive influence. I can't imagine they did.

Not too bad of a swimming hole

The hike out, surprisingly enough, consisted of 2,000 steps almost vertically up. It was embarrassingly difficult. Sitting on a motorcycle, dodging cars and people for the majority of a day is mentally strenuous, not physically. We are all out of shape and the hike proved it. We were huffing and puffing and were all more tired than we cared to admit. We walked the road back to Cherapunjee Holiday Resort and once we made it back to the resort, ordered a feast of a meal.

By the time we finished eating it was almost dark, we took a couple pictures of the sunset and got on our bikes. We drove 10 miles towards a hostel we'd seen two days before and hoped they would have room for us. They did. It was 250 rupees each ($4) for a hard bed that was surprisingly comfortable. The biggest plus was that they had a 200+ selection of pirated movies. We watched Darjeeling Limited, a Wes Anderson movie based in India and fell asleep warm, comfortable and happy.

In search of brake pads: August 25th

~ Graham

I woke up in the damp but cool room, and grabbed my book. Michael and James were hitting the snooze button so I finished my book while they woke up slowly. “100 Years of Solitude” is supposed to be a great novel, but I didn’t spend the time to ponder all the symbolism so it really wasn’t that great. We ventured out and grabbed some biscuits and tea from a few tea stalls. No one was serving any food other than biscuits so we tried to load up on as many as possible. The sun was coming out and it was getting pretty hot so we pulled out all our damp and wet camping stuff to dry out in the sun. Everyone in the town seemed to be doing the same, and everyone was stringing things up on the drying lines. They told us it had rained for over a week straight before we got there. Perfect timing for us!

We got on the road and headed towards Shillong to see if we could find some brake pads. Michael and James have worn through their pads extremely quickly. It is likely due to the crap pads we got in Istanbul, and the excessive amount of braking required to drive in India. The windy mountain roads, hectic traffic, suicidal animals, and oblivious humans do a number on our poor brakes. It seems that my pads must be pretty damn good because I have never replaced them, and they still have some life left. On our way out of the rainiest place on earth we got dumped on and ended up at a place for lunch pretty wet.

A bit of sunshine before the downpour

We ordered up some Chinese noots and were happy when a massive plate of steaming chowmein was placed in front of us. We headed into the city blindly looking for either a place to stay or a motorcycle shop. We ended up on a street that had plenty of both, but after asking around the hotels everything was double the price we were looking to pay. We figured we should check the motorcycle shops first and see if they have what we need before we figure out the sleeping situation. As we pulled into the closest shop the sky opened up, and the heaviest rain we have seen on the trip poured buckets down. We pulled under an awning and ended up right in front of a Kawasaki service center.

The employees came out to check out what these strange Kawasaki bikes were and Michael tried to find the brake pads that we needed. After talking to a few different people we were informed we would not find those pads in India, and that it would take at least 60 days for them to get here from Thailand. Our only hope was heading to Guwahati and seeing if they had them there or could possibly resurface the ones we have. A guy wrote down an address of a place in Guwahati that might be able to help us out. We were then forced back into the rain by a car that had to pass through the awning and found ourselves on our way to Guwahati.

It was a torrential down pour and the streets had small rivers flowing down them. When we stopped the water flowed over our boots and soaked them instantly. We headed back over the windy highway to Guwahati in the rain, but it was still an incredibly fun road to ride. We were a little more timid because the braking situation was becoming dire so we engine braked as much as possible. When we made it to Guwahati we pulled into a Suzuki dealership and asked them how to get to our desired address. They pointed us in the right direction and we headed into the heart of the city.

By this time it was already 5 PM and the shops would probably be closed by the time we got there so we went off in search of a place to stay. Unfortunately every hotel in the city seemed to be full. We went to at least 10 hotels and all of them were full. The ones that weren’t full only had their “super deluxe” rooms available that were an astonishing 3000 rupees (about 50 bucks)! There was no way we were going to pay that so we headed back out of the center of the city and found a nice guest house with a room available. Michael bargained them down from 2200 rupees to 1500 and we called it good.

We were starving so we walked across the street and had a delicious pizza from Dominoes. They were really excited that we were eating there and had seen us ride by earlier on our bikes. After our pizza we grabbed some beers and the ingredients for some whiskey cokes before heading back to the room to relax. When I thought back about the day it seemed all we did was look for a place to stay and had a difficult time doing so, but for some reason it seemed we earned a Tuborg (Indian beer) and McDowell’s whiskey coke.

As we kicked back we reminisced on the first memory that came to mind of each country we had visited so far. It was fun to compare the most vibrant memory because most of the time we had different situations that were the most prominent. It also made me think how incredibly lucky we are and how many crazy places and things we have done so far. The craziest part is that we are only half way through! Soon the mild alcohol buzz put me straight to sleep in a good mood.

Shopping Shenanigans: August 26


I stretched out on the pad laid at the foot of the bed in the hotel and opened my book. We had just ordered breakfast to our room and were waiting for it to arrive before heading out into Guwahati. Our primary mission for the day and the reason for being in Guwahati was to get new brake pads. Michael's and mine were pretty much completely gone and we had already resorted to engine braking as much as possible. Eventually our breakfast arrived and we packed up and headed out to catch an arto into the downtown. After a very hot ride we arrived at a bustling area dotted with motorcycle and car stores as well as an odd assortment of "engineering" and hardware stores. We proceeded to bounce between stores asking about our brake pads and being continually pointed on to another one that would surely have what we need. After speaking to at least 5 different stalls we managed to find a short little man who spoke zero English but who seemed confident he knew where we needed to go.

The man led us to a stall where we were interrogated about the kind of bike we had. I got a bit frustrated as they seemed so fixated on the kind of bike that they didn't seem to even pay attention to the brake pads. After being assured that we could not find those brake pads nor a place to resurface them we moved on to try another place. Our guide led us to a Yamaha dealer where we were very vague about the kind of bike we had saying it was a Yamaha. This finally allowed us to be presented with some different brake pads. While the pads were not the same as what we were looking for we were pretty confident we could at least give them a fighting chance with some minimal modifications. Buying the brake pads we headed to the " Super Engineering Works" stalls to get the modifications made. After a bit of bargaining and explaining we got the point across and a worker disappeared with the new pads to have some hole's widened. We received the brake pads, paid for the work and headed off. While a bit disappointed that we had not found the pads we needed we were happy that we had at least found a possible solution.

The high tech shop that helped us rig up a pair of brake pads

We wandered down the street and were soon sucked into a Baskin Robins for some delicious ice cream while we decided a plan of action. The day had gone slower than we had hoped and instead of returning to the hotel to depart and get some miles done, we decided to spend the day in the city and get an early start the next day. We wandered the city doing a bit of shopping and taking in all the sights and smells. Graham and Michael got a shave while I wandered through various clothing markets examining the goods. Graham had decided to get rid of his mustache as we were almost through India and in doing so he seemed to transform from a 45 year old man to a "young lad." We stopped and had a disappointing lunch of Aloo Dum (potatoes and a Indian style spice gravy) while watching some pretty awful Indian movie. After lunch we headed back towards the hotel stopping to get money and for Michael to try a butternut chew. The chew was a leaf, some pieces of butter nut, chai spread, and a multitude of sweet treats sprinkled on top. Eventually we caught an arto to the street in front of our hotel.

Getting cleaned up!

Instead of returning to the hotel though we headed back up the street a few buildings to a Royal Enfield shop I had spotted the previous day. We entered and immediately put on the facade of being a serious buyer. We sat on the bikes and asked if we could test ride the bikes. After a few calls we were hoping onto some employees bikes and being driven to the show room where we could test ride the bikes. The bike we wanted to ride, the Thunderbird 500, was soon brought forward. Michael was first up and was joined by one of the Royal Enfield Employees. After a somewhat rough start as he broke his sandal kick starting the bike, he was off. It wasn't long before he was blowing by going the opposite direction whooping and waving at us. When he finally pulled up the employee hoped off quickly and retreated to his co-workers, apparently a bit shaken from the ride. Graham stepped up to take his test ride and another employee stepped forward as the other one had apparently had enough. He took off and similarly pulled up with a stricken looking employee. I stepped up and climbed onto the bike and was joined by yet another employee. The bike took a bit of getting used to as it was drastically different than our bikes but I was soon cruising. The most noticeable thing about the Royal Enfield is the guttural pounding growl they produce and finally riding one made the noise that much more enjoyable. Doing a lap I returned to the store amidst some laughing as I had left my blinker on as usual. Leaving the showroom full of beautiful bikes we headed toward the hotel, content that we had finally gotten to ride the bikes we had been ogling the whole time.

On the walk home we happened across some delicious street food and began stuffing our faces. We got some of the best pineapples I have ever tasted, some momos (dumplings) and an ice cream for less than a dollar each. Returning to the hotel we did some writing and cleaned up before returning for round two of the delicious street food. We went through and bought some more pineapple and ice cream as well as trying some new treats. We tried a delicious mix of beans, lentils, nuts some sort chip like things and some sweet sauces that was recommended by one of the Royal Enfield employees who we ran into again. We also tried some fried potatoes, sandwiches and peppers before turning to some sweet treats at a nearby bakery. Very full and satisfied we returned to the hotel to write and watch a movie.

Beef, it's what's for Dinner: August 27th


Graham's alarm went off at 6:45. We didn't wake up. My alarm went off at 6:55. We didn't wake up. At 7:00 there was a knock on the door and we immediately woke up. The night before we had ordered breakfast to be delivered at 7. We had just learned the day before that this was a common practice in India. It was fantastic. We slowly woke up while eating an omelet, rotis, potatoes and coffee. Not a shabby wake up call. We packed everything up and were on the road by 8:30. It felt good to get a fairly early start.

We left Guwahati, drove by the Royal Enfield shop in the hopes of running into the workers we'd met the day before, and left town. After 45 minutes of driving we started to discuss what we were going to do the next couple days. We wanted to be in Imphal by the night of the 29th at the latest, meaning we had 3 days (27th, 28th and 29th) to ride the ~300 miles to Imphal. We weren't sure what road conditions would be like but we were feeling confident that we could make it in 1 or 2 days. Meaning, we had at least 1 extra day to do whatever we wanted. We decided to spend our day at Kaziranga National Park, searching for the elusive one horned rhino while riding elephants through the flooded plains of Assam. On the map it appeared to be a short 70 miles out of the way. It looked like it'd be the perfect way to spend our extra day.

We took the detour and 2 hours later found ourselves at Aryana Resort, known for booking elephant treks through the park. We walked in and asked to book a room and an elephant tour. They said yes to the room, but no to the elephant tour. Kaziranga National Park was closed until November 1st. During monsoon season (July, August and September) the plains flood and the park is supposedly inaccessible. We were bummed to say the least. However, we couldn't help but laugh.

All three of us have had the mindset for this trip, and many of our past adventures that, "no plan is the best plan." Obviously a large portion of this trip has required ample planning. However when it comes down to our day to day, we have little to no plans. If something looks or sounds fun, we'll make a quick decision and decide to do it. If something isn't what we originally thought it'd be, we bail on it. Kaziranga National Park was no exception, it sounded awesome and we made a last minute decision to go. This time it didn't work out for us. We weren't able to ride elephants and we didn't see a one horned rhino, but it took us on a new path towards Imphal and we did not regret it.

We left Aryana Resort and continued our ride towards Imphal. Due to the detour, our quickest way to Imphal was through Nagaland. A province that, up until very recently was closed to tourists. The act of beheading and shrinking an opponent's head was also legal up until the 1950's, a practice we've been told may still occur. Nagaland wasn't on the previous itinerary because we didn't know if we would need an Enter Line Permit (permit to cross in and out of Nagaland by motorized vehicle).

We came to the border between Assam and Nagaland and saw a line of trucks, each truck driver seemed to be required to stop and show the guards their paperwork. We didn't know if that paperwork included an Enter Line Permit, but we decided we didn't want to gamble it. We ducked out of the line of trucks and drove by the border guards. They looked at us, didn't do anything and showed no signs of objection. We were in Nagaland. Now all we had to do was make sure we didn't end up as 3 shrunken heads.

Stoked on being in Nagaland

Once in Nagaland we started climbing. The roads were pristine, windy and cut through some of the densest jungle I've ever seen. It was one of my favorite roads of the trip. The turns were tight but they had banks that allowed us to take them at high speeds. The sun started to set and we realized we were starving and as usual, had no idea where we were going to sleep. Immediately after discussing our sleeping options we saw a dirt road pull off that appeared to lead to nowhere. One of the first pull offs we've seen since being in India. We decided we'd try to camp there. Now all we needed was dinner. About 0.5 miles past the pull off we came across the first restaurant we'd seen in the last 1.5 hours. Luck was on our side.

The Hamlet Kitchen!

We went inside, sat at one of the 4 tables and hoped someone would take our order. There were two men sitting at the table next to us speaking a language we did not recognize. We were convinced no one would speak English and we'd be ordering at random. Something we aren't unused to, but would prefer to not do. The cook and most likely the owner of the restaurant approached us and in perfect English, asked what we'd like to eat. She gave us two options, intestines with blood or smoked meat, both would come with rice. The thought briefly went through my mind that I'd like to try the intestines with blood, but we all decided to go with the smoked meat.

The meat turned out to be beef, at least we think it was. Dog is popular in Nagaland and we never confirmed what kind of meat it was but I like to believe it was beef. Dad, I'm sorry, but your home made brisket may have been beaten by this succulent combination of fat and meat that was soaked in a surprisingly spicy curry that had a tinge of BBQ sauce. We dumped the sauce and meat onto our plates heaped with rice and devoured the meal; mouths burning and sweat pouring down our faces. It was hands down my favorite meal in India and maybe even my favorite of the trip. It cost us 150 rupees each, equivalent to $2.30. After the meal I couldn't stop smiling. It felt so good to be full off such a tasty meal.

Eating with your hands makes everything taste better

Unfortunately it was almost dark and we had to leave the Hamlet Kitchen in order to find our campsite. We turned off the road and rode up a path filled with rocks and mud. We hadn't gone off roading in search of a campsite since Kyrgyzstan and in the words of Graham, it felt "F*^%ing AMAZING!" We pulled into a flat gravel portion of the path and found that the mosquitoes were hungry. We set up the tent and crawled in as quickly as we could. It was 6:30. We read until 8:30 and were asleep by 9.

Mudslides and Militias: August 28th

~ Graham

I woke up at 3 and ran outside to pull the tarp over the tent as the rain began to fall. Luckily it only rained lightly and for a short period. When we woke up for good three hours later we all felt great. It had been a perfect cool temperature all night and we had fallen asleep early. We laid all our stuff out to dry for a bit while James adjusted his chain and then headed towards Kohima. As we drove down the dirt road out of our campsite James noticed his chain was insanely tight so we stopped at the Hamlet Café again for breakfast and so James could readjust his chain.

I went inside to order up breakfast and three little girls in their school uniforms smiled at me shyly and giggled. I found the super nice lady who ran the place, and ordered some tea and biscuits (the only thing for breakfast). When I went back outside to help with the chain adjustment a patrol of soldiers started to walk by. Each one was walking about 30 feet apart and carrying assault rifles. It was a little surreal to think that we were in a place where military patrols were looking for insurgents. We smiled and waved at all of them and got a warm response. One of the sergeants came up to ask curiously what we were doing, and we told him about the trip. They didn’t seem too wary about their patrol so I figured we were probably alright.

A guy on patrol by the hamlet kitchen

We finished the chain adjustment right as we were called in for our piping hot tea and biscuits. While we were eating our lady chef brought out some small curried fish that looked interesting. They were pretty bony, but the meat we got from them was delicious. We told her we were going to Imphal, and she said we would have to go back to Dimapur because there was a massive landslide that collapsed the road between here and Imphal. This was a bit concerning, but we decided that we would continue and at least see the landslide that took out a few houses and the highway. She said people walked over it, so maybe we could just ride over it.

The road to Kohima was windy, muddy, and filled with pot holes. Our brake pads are quickly deteriorating and it looks like the only place we are going to get new ones is in Bangkok in a month. We were using as much engine braking as possible and avoiding the brakes as much as possible. When we arrived in Kohima the road condition wasn’t much better but there was plenty of traffic as well. At one point every one pulled over as an entourage of about 30 military vehicles shot through the town. We were almost to the landslide area when we were flagged down by a guy on a motorcycle who was decked out in rain gear. He pulled over and explained in good English that there was no way we would make it over the landslide. The road is completely gone and it is just a big pile of mud. He started to explain another way around the slide through some smaller towns, but he realized there was no way we would find out way. He hopped back on his bike and we followed him back through the potholes and the traffic of Kohima.

He cruised through town, and we swerved up and down various streets that we would have never found without him. After we made it out of the town he pulled over and tried to explain the rest of the way, but he was not confident that we would find where we needed to go. He was obviously in a dilemma because he kept checking his watch. He needed to be somewhere, but he felt like he had to show us the way. We tried to insist that we could figure it out, but he hopped back on his bike and we continued on. He pulled over again when we saw another motorcyclist on the side of the road. After some talking he said this guy would show us the way and then sped off back towards Kohima. Our new guide led the way along the road that wound its way deeper into the jungle.

Our impromptu guide talking with a guy in front of James to help us find the way

We didn’t have to worry about finding our way so we looked around and admired the jungle that we were riding through. Steep green mountains surrounded us, and we rolled through some small villages with buildings made of thatched walls and tin roofs. We were heading into the rural parts of the jungle, and I loved every second of it. After a little ways our guide pulled off and pointed down a road. We thanked him and continued on. I thought once or twice about the safety of following a complete stranger into the jungle, but we all had a gut feeling that these people were genuine and there wasn’t any malicious intent behind their actions.

We ended up on a road that led us back to the main highway that did not exist on our map. Somewhere along this road we crossed into Manipur. This was actually a relief because we were not sure what the Manipur border was going to be like with the tension in Imphal and the obvious military presence everywhere. At the entrance and exit of every town there were a few soldiers with guns. Soon after we crossed into Manipur we were stopped by some school kids who had a ribbon stretched across the road. At first it felt like I was about to win a race of some sort, and I thought about riding through the ribbon in celebration. In reality they were asking for donations for National Teacher Day, which was actually on September 5th. We gave them a few rupees and continued on through a larger town. There were school kids everywhere and they greeted us with varying reactions. When we waved to them some smiled, some waved back, some shrieked with excitement, a group of girls held their hand over their mouths as they giggled, some stared and did double takes as we rode by.

It was now past noon and we were starving so we pulled over in a village to grab some food at a small restaurant. Everyone looked curiously at us, but they didn’t swarm us like everyone in the rest of India has done. We ordered up some food in the restaurant and the empty restaurant seemed to fill up while we ate. We couldn’t tell if it was just a happening spot or people were coming in to check us out. The food was delicious and when we got up to leave everyone got up to watch us leave. A little boy had been curiously watching us the whole time, but when we looked at him he would run away. As we were leaving I reached out to give him a high five which he obliged after some coaxing. As he slapped my hand he a big grin spread across his face and he nervously laughed and ran back behind his mom’s legs.

The road soon dropped down into a valley that was covered in rice paddies. The vibrantly green fields looked stunning as some surprisingly tall mountains rose above them into the clouds. There were some massive water buffalo up to their necks in the water, and thatched houses spread sporadically throughout the fields. A few more military convoys drove by us that looked more heavily armed. They drove trucks with heavy machine guns mounted in the bed, and all the soldiers wore balaclavas that made them look more like militants than Army personnel.

Big mountains and big guns

Imphal had a big riot on the 20-21st of August where they burned down several buildings and there were rock fights in the street. We are now here a week later and the military presence is everywhere. There are lots of trucks with soldiers packed into the back carrying a various range of Ak-47’s, MAC-10’s, and AUG’s. They have imposed a curfew on the city between 8 PM and 6 AM. It is pretty wild being amongst the atmosphere here. I wouldn’t normally go riding into a possible conflict zone, but we have no other way into Myanmar so here we are.

The protests are over a law for an Inner Line Permit, which requires a person to obtain a special permit to visit that area. The people of Nagaland and Manipur are ethnically different from the rest of India, and they are afraid that their culture is being washed out by Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants. They are very proud of their tribal heritage and exhibit many differences to the people in the rest of the country. Ethnically they look more oriental, over 90 % of the population is Christian, they eat meat (including cow and dog), and their languages exhibit more of the characteristics of an oriental country than that of India. The tensions between the local people and the government of India have led to the organization of native guerilla groups who are nearly impossible to find in the dense jungles and hills of the area. These guerilla groups have inflicted many different attacks on the military presence here and two months ago 18 army personnel were killed in an attack.

We made it into Imphal without incident, and followed signs to The Classic Grande Hotel. It had good reviews in Lonely Planet, and the guide for our Myanmar trip recommended it. When we arrived though it was a few steps nicer than what we are accustomed to. It was a 4 star hotel and was about 3 times more expensive than we were looking to pay. I am a little curious to see where we are going to be staying on our Myanmar journey if this is what they think we are looking for. We eventually found a cheaper room and parked our bikes inside a weird lobby area. We grabbed some grub across the street before the curfew at 8, I wrote this blog, we watched Prometheus on TV, and passed out.

Snakes and snails: August 29


As the day grew later I repeatedly opened my eyes expecting to hear the sound of knocking. It was around 8:30 and the early start we had hoped for was already an hour and a half late. We had ordered food the night before being told it would be brought up at 7:00. Most of the hotels we have been staying at lately offer food but have no dining area and as a result room service is the go to method for meals. We had decided to take advantage of this and order breakfast the night before so that we would be awoken by a delicious meal. After a few calls to management we were about to give up on breakfast coming at all when we heard the knock. We sat on the bed and ate our omelet's while discussing our plans for the day. We decided to stay another night at the hotel and to go out and see Imphal and get a number of things accomplished.

We left the hotel and began wandering down a crowded street looking for a market that we had been informed about. After passing a number of very busy clinics with long lines of women waiting outside and being told by everyone we asked to continue along the street we arrived at a bustling area which we decided must be the bazaar we were looking for. The bazaar, as we later learned, consisted of 4 different markets. The first consisted of a huge range of vegetables, fruits, spices, honey and other various foods. The second contained a large selection of woman's clothing as well as some metal work. The third was the fish market and had various arrays of fish ranging from large catfish to shrimp to snakes and eels. The fourth and last market had fabrics and mosquito netting. As we entered the muddy streets of the first market and began to explore we noticed we had a shadow. A curious young boy was following us very closely wherever we went, sheepishly smiling whenever we looked at him. It soon became apparent that he would be joining us for our market experience. We soon learned his name was Dines and although he spoke very little English we were happy to have the smiling youngster with us. Dines seemed to know everyone in the market and was related to a good number of them and was eager to show us anything and everything.

Our homie Dines ("Din-es") acting a bit shy

We wandered the market buying a few small trinkets and worked on our bartering skills. We also tried various different foods, some were recommended and others we chose out of curiosity. On passing a large pile of still wriggling snails, Michael decided he must try one. After a failed attempt at sucking the snail out in the "proper" fashion as demonstrated by Dines, he had to resort to peeling away the crunchy shell to get to soft fleshy part still inside. We also tried various vegetables and fruits and bought a blackened ring of snake. Graham had pulled out his large DSLR camera and everywhere we went people wanted their picture taken. People would stop Graham in the middle of the street and ask for a picture. The older woman were especially excited and would take the time to adjust their clothes before striking a pose.

Thumbs up for giant fish!

Fried snakes?

Old lady posing for Graham

Michael picking the perfect Snail

We eventually returned to a hotel near ours in an attempt to get some wifi. While sitting in the lobby we got to reading some news papers and read some alarming news. We learned that 8 people had been killed in a conflict near where we had crossed into Manipur the day before reminding us once again that we were in the middle of a region of unrest. We also learned that the road between Imphal and Moreh, the town where we were to cross into Myanmar, was under strike and according to the news paper was closed to all commercial and passenger vehicles. Using the internet and talking with the hotel staff we learned that there was a good chance the road was closed to all vehicles and that we should go the Imphal police station in order to clarify. One of the hotel staff was particularly friendly and introduced himself as Rahamat. Rahamat insisted that we come to his town the next day as it was on the way to Moreh and that he would assist us in reaching our destination.

Our hotel friends! Rahamat is second from the right.

We headed to the police station via arto (auto rickshaw) to figure out the details of the road closure. When we arrived a stern looking police officer jotted down key words such as New Delhi, tourist and Kohima to indicate where we had come from and what we were doing. He then told us the road was in good condition but that we had to register with the Foreign Registrars Office. He led us to the office and left us with some very kind ladies who took our passports and entered us in a book. Before leaving the Registrar's office they warned us of the troubles to get into Myanmar and wanted to know if we had the right documents. We ensured them that we did as we had a company arranging the whole thing. We left and picked up a snack of delicious honey soaked pastry's at a small cafe.

We walked back towards the stadium where we were hoping to catch a soccer game later in the afternoon. Along the way we picked up a creepy green shirted man who decided he wanted to follow us for some unknown reason. We soon lost him though and disappeared into a few book stores and electronics stores where we picked up some cheap DVD's and a book or two. We inquired about the soccer game with some soldiers in front of the stadium and soon found out that it was the following day and we were out of luck. We were bummed but didn't come up completely empty handed with some good pictures of the soldier. We returned to the hotel to relax and watch a movie. We had just started the movie when there was a knock at our door and Rahamat, the employee from the other hotel, walked in and shook are hands. He wanted to ensure that we would meet him at his house on the ride to Moreh and that he would be joining us on our journey to Moreh. We ensured we would call him before we left in the morning and said our goodbyes. We had some dinner and finished what turned out to be a terrible movie before heading to bed early. We had a big day of riding ahead of us on a road that could possibly be closed into a region of high tension where rioting and violence had broken out less than a week before.

The last day in India! August 30th ~Michael

We woke up at 7:00 and were up and out of the hotel quicker than usual. We had planned to meet Rahamad at his village by 9 that morning. One thing I realized, as we were riding our motorcycles towards his village, located in Thoubal (~15 miles south of Imphal), was that we hadn't seen the inside of an Indian's house yet. So what better time to do it than our last day in India? About 10 miles out of Imphal, James asked Graham if his rear tire looked flat. Yup. It was flat.

We pulled over, got the electric pump hooked up and reinflated James's tire. We thought that it may have a slow leak and it would be fine to keep riding. We got back on the road and were very thankful we had decided to leave for Moreh (the border town on the Indian side) that day.

Our original plan was to leave Imphal for Moreh on the 31st (the day our Indian visas expired and the day we would enter Myanmar). However, on August 28th we read in the local paper that an indefinite Road Ban had been implemented between Imphal and Moreh (due to civil unrest). We were highly worried that the 100 km road would either take us a long time or would maybe be uncrossable due to the ban. We were hoping that it would only take us a long time.

We reached Rahamad's village and were greeted by his family and many other members of the village. The children, as always, were incredibly curious and extremely cute. They would touch everything on our motorcycles while constantly smiling. All the woman in Rahamad's village seemed very taken with the 3 of us, laughing at everything we did and constantly complimenting us. They must've taken at least 100 photos of us and us with them. Constantly changing up the scenarios, James with one girl, then James and Graham with the same girl then James and Graham with another girl, etc. Few people in Rahamad's village spoke English so Rahamad acted as the translator for most of our hour long conversation.

1 of 100 other photos that were taken

We got up to leave and walked towards the bikes, James's rear tire was completely flat at this point and definitely needed to be fixed. With an escort from Rahamad, Graham and I took James's tire to the closest motorcycle repair shop (or hut) and watched in awe as the man repaired James's tire in less than 10 minutes. It cost us 50 Rupees (less than 1 dollar) to have James's tube repaired and replaced. Once again, I was amazed at the incredibly low cost of labor in India. In the United States it costs $50 to get a tire replaced.

The cause of James's flat tire

By the time we made it back to Rahamad's village, his sister and mother had made us lunch. Rahamad and the 3 of us ate in one room while the women ate in another. We had a fantastic combination of canned fish curry, rice, and soup. As is common in India, we ate with our hands and sat on the floor. Despite being made of hard packed dirt and concrete, his floor was cleaner than my floor in Colorado has ever been. The entire house, consisting of 4 or 5 rooms, was spotless. After lunch, Rahamad insisted that we digest for a couple minutes before we leave for Moreh.

Our lunch table

During lunch, Rahamad had asked if he could ride with us to Moreh, of course he could. We thought it'd be a good way to repay his hospitality and we would enjoy his company. With Rahamad on the back of Graham's bike, we left around 1 o'clock and received a large farewell from everyone in the village.

Just a few of the villagers we met

The sun was shining, we were ecstatic about the experience with Rahamad's village and we were curious about the Road Ban we were about to encounter. We rode for an hour before we hit the mountains. We enjoyed some tight uphill turns for ~5 miles before we came across our first military checkpoint. We showed them our passports and were let through without an issue. The guards were extremely friendly and it eased our concern about the other checkpoints. ~30 minutes, we came across another check point. The guards were just as friendly and allowed us to pass without any issues.

The problem with trying to ride a vehicle across NE India in the middle of monsoon season is obviously the rain. One side effect of the rain, especially in the steep mountain range between Imphal and Moreh is the land slides. After the 2nd checkpoint we came across a major land slide. There were two tractors working to clear the muddy dirt, but we were told it would take an hour before they had a path cleared away for us. We waited, and once a path was "clear" we started to ride across the mud. It was SLIPPERY. We made it through the bulk of the mud but the streets were covered and we were going downhill.

Working to clear the landslide

I had one of my favorite falls of the entire trip thus far. I barely tapped my front brake and it immediately lost traction. In seemingly slow motion, my front wheel locked out and I started slipping sideways. I tried to keep myself upright by planting my boots on the ground, those instantly slipped out as well. My bike and I fell and slid along the muddy pavement for 4 or 5 feet until I rolled away from it into a ditch. I got up with mud everywhere and everyone laughing at me. I was embarrassed but couldn't help laughing at the situation. About 5 minutes later, Graham (with Rahamad on the back) hit a patch of mud. They did an entire 180 while still on the bike until they toppled sideways. After those two falls, we decided to ride much slower and be wary of the mud. Probably should have had that mentality before, but experience is the best teacher.

Hard to tell, but you can see Graham's skid mark of where he slid out

We went through two more checkpoints and had no issues with any of them. We made it to Moreh by 5 o'clock and were amazed by how easy it had been to travel along a road that had a supposed Ban on it. Moreh was a desolate town. It had the look of an abandoned shanty town. Wood buildings about to collapse, trash and mud in nearly every open area, and less people than we'd seen in any part of India. It looked deserted. With the help of Rahamad, we found a hotel, parked our bikes and started to explore the town.

We visited the border between India and Myanmar and were almost allowed to cross into Myanmar for dinner. However the guard told us it was closed for the night but we could walk through for breakfast the next morning. We weren't upset. We would be in Myanmar tomorrow and we wanted to enjoy one last Indian meal. We found a place and had a fantastically spicy meal of meat, rice, dahl, onions and peppers. The spice, eating with our hands, sweating profusely, feeling cramped while sitting on a thin bench, and paying less than 2 dollars for each of us, summed up our experience with Indian cuisine perfectly. I loved it and I will miss it immensely.

India Myanmar Border

We headed back to the hotel, happily full and ready for a final night's sleep before going through the (hopefully) easy task of entering Myanmar.

Shit hits the fan in Limboland: August 31st

~ Graham

I woke up giddy. It felt like Christmas morning. We were going to Myanmar today! We were required to hire a guide through the country, and we were excited to just follow someone through their country and have them show it to us. We were a little stuffed on the bed underneath the mosquito net so we got up and followed Rahamat straight to the border where he talked to the guard briefly before he turned around and asked for our passports. The guard smiled at us as he looked at our passports and asked us some questions out of general curiosity. He then let us pass through the gate and we were in Myanmar!

Although there are some local tensions between tribes in Moreh and the Indian government there are no hostilities between Moreh and Myanmar. They actually have a thriving trade business that flows across the border and seems to be pretty profitable. Motorbikes are shuttled across from India to Myanmar, and various goods produced in Thailand and other parts of South East Asia are shipped across to India; electronics, clothes, tarps, toys etc. They therefore open up the border every day from 8 am to 6 pm and as long as you have an ID you can cross freely. There isn’t even a market in Moreh, but on the Myanmar side there is a thriving market with shops everywhere.

We walked through the market and checked out the shops that were packed with a multitude of things that inherently reminded us that we were now in South East Asia. The people and the language had changed after walking 100 feet through the gate. Instead of red dots and orange stripes on the nose that are accustomed to Manipur, the people of Myanmar had a light brown paint that covered their entire face. It had the same color of mud, but looked much cleaner. The language also exhibited the harsh tones that are usually attributed to oriental countries. We stopped in at a nice café that was playing an EPL match and had a breakfast of cute asian biscuits accompanied by coffee. We finished up quick, exchanged our Rupees to Kyat, grabbed a not so sweet pan, and headed back to Manipur so we could get our bikes across the border as well.

We packed up our bikes quickly and as we were saying goodbye Rahamat asked for some money for his return trip to Thoubal. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was going to happen but I was definitely not surprised. After we gave him 1000 rupees (almost double the fare home) he asked again for another 300 rupees. I literally did not have any more money because we had exchanged it all to Kyat. He had actually insisted that we not exchange all our rupees, and we now understood why. It was a little annoying because we had not asked for his help and actually thought we were doing him a favor by bringing him to Moreh to visit his uncle for free. I didn’t hold it against him though and we proceeded to the border to start the process of getting the bikes across.

The plan was to meet our guide from Burma Senses at the border and they would help us through the notoriously tricky customs of Myanmar. However when we arrived at the border there was no one there and we had to check in with the military post now that we had stopped there. 30 minutes later we were riding back into Moreh to try and find the customs house that could give us our exit stamp. It took a little asking around but we finally found the place and got our exit stamp. We now had to find the place to stamp our Carnets so we searched for another 45 minutes for the guy who said he would stamp them the day before. We were eventually informed that the office that stamps the Carnet is on the other side of the military gate. This concerned us because we still had not found our guide from Burma Senses and we have a single entry Indian Visa. Once we cross that military checkpoint there is no way back into India, and we are relying entirely on our guide to provide the paperwork required to get into Myanmar. We decided to wait at the gate for a bit and hope that our guide would show up. I took off back into Moreh to see if I could find our guide there while Michael and James waited at the gate. I roamed through the town and found no one. The thought crossed my mind that we might have just been scammed 1800 bucks each and be stranded in India with no way forward and no way back.

I made it back to the gate and Michael and James sat up eagerly. I shook my head and they tried their best to look disappointed, but there were big smiles across their faces. The guide was just on the other side of the gate waiting for us! My mood instantly switched and we waved to the military guys we had been hanging out with and crossed through the gate. On the other side there was a massive van with a huge sign on the windshield boasting “Burma Senses.” 4 guys poured out of the van with big smiles and shook our hands. A massive wave of relief rushed through me, because we now had our way through. To ease me further the driver assured us that all we have to do now is relax and step through the hoops that they had already laid in front of us. We were all ecstatic and many high fives were exchanged. As a way of backing up this statement our Carnets were stamped and we were on our way to immigration in about 3 minutes. That process took us 4 days and 1000+ bucks in bribes in Delhi.

We crossed a little bridge and we were now in Myanmar for the second time that day. They informed us that we had three different people to talk to and get approval before we were on our way to relaxing and seeing a new country. The immigration officer seemed nice enough and we eagerly handed him our passports before sitting back and relaxing. We just had to wait for the formalities; no thinking or explaining, or arguing was going to be necessary because we had someone to do that for us this time. After a few minutes there appeared to be some confusion with our passports and they asked where the visa was in our passport. We were so used to showing our Indian visa to people that we nonchalantly showed them our stamp for 30 days and sat back down. They then asked a little more firmly where the Myanmar Visa was. Michael looked at us wide eyed and his face expressed a mixture of shock, terror, and anger. My heart sunk.

From left to right Rkar, Kyaw, Ethan, and Koni

“We were supposed to get our visa from you!” we exclaimed to one of our guides, Ethan. Ethan was our main liaison with Burma Senses and we were always under the impression that getting our visa from them was one of the key things that we were paying them for. He instantly denied ever telling us that we would get the visa from them and got incredibly defensive which inflamed all of us. We took a breath and asked what we should do next because regardless of whose fault it is we don’t have a visa for Myanmar. The other 3 guys stepped in and pushed Ethan out of the conversation looking a little frustrated. They said they would sort it out and started frantically calling people on their phones. They had direct contact with the Myanmar Embassy and various other offices in Myanmar that could help with our situation. We instantly felt useless, but did not know what else to do.

First we tried to get approval for an e-visa, but were turned down as these are only valid if you are arriving by air and not on a land border. This process took at least an hour and by this time we were hungry and annoyed. We were granted permission to go to lunch in Tamu on the Myanmar side of the border as long as we had an immigration officer to accompany us. All 8 of us then piled into the van and went into the town that we had hoped to be 60 km past by this point. I was annoyed and a little paranoid that they thought we had money to burn because we passed a lot of little grungy restaurants and arrived at the nicest restaurant in town. We have been eating at the grungy restaurants all through India, and in my opinion just because it looks nicer doesn’t mean the food is any better. Probably because I was hungry, I mixed up the conversion rate and was convinced that we were paying 20 bucks for a lunch that usually cost about 6-8 bucks. Michael and James set me right and we were actually paying around 5 bucks. I later felt pretty bad about this scenario because I was visibly frustrated and our guide Joe was very concerned and sensitive to our moods. After Michael pointed it out I realized that he was worried that we might not like the food, and was nervous about the whole scenario. He speaks English very well and is a genuine guy. We really like him, and I felt bad that we started on such a bad foot.

After lunch we went back to the immigration area to try and figure out what to do next. By this point it was pouring rain outside which reflected our moods. They continued calling people and we smoked a bidi (small Indian cigar) to calm our nerves and figure out how we could help. Ethan came over and started a conversation that had nothing to do with what was going on and asked us about the US and the other standard questions we have got throughout the trip. We asked him if there was anything we could do to help, but he replied proudly that the embassy would call him and tell him what we needed to do next so we continued to brood over the predicament. We went back inside and asked again if there was anything we could do to the other 3 guys who were obviously very stressed. They instantly responded “Yes!” and looked relieved that we might do something. I was starting to see a trend that Ethan was completely disconnected from the reality of what was happening, and was not the guy to get shit done. We called the US Embassy with high hopes that they could help us out somehow. To our dismay their response was “there is nothing we can do to help you.” We were shocked. I always thought the embassy would have some connection or could at least point us in the right direction, but they were extraordinarily unhelpful and a waist of our guides minutes.

Our options were narrowing and it seemed the only option left was to send our passports to the Myanmar Embassy in Delhi and wait for them to return them with the visas. This could take over a week. This situation was getting worse by the minute. Ethan tried to help by telling us “If you had your visas we would be drinking beers in Myanmar right now.” I restrained myself from kicking him in the balls. We were not allowed to stay on the Myanmar side so we had to go back to India. The problem was that we also couldn’t go back to India. We were stuck in limboland on the border between two countries on the opposite side of the world from home. I had a moment of feeling helpless. We decided we would go back to the Indian border and try our luck at getting a visa extension.

We exchanged numbers with Burma Senses, and set off back to the military checkpoint where our soldier friends were confused as to why we were back. It took a while but we eventually got approval to head back to the immigration office where they could cancel our exit stamp. It was almost 6 PM and we had to track down the correct official who did everything with his shirt off. We had obviously disturbed his private time. He cancelled our exit stamp, and the same officer who stamped our Carnets cancelled those as well. It was incredibly depressing. They gave us permission to return to Imphal where we had to go through a process of getting a visa extension for India. We now had to first get a visa to stay in India, and then figure out how to get a visa for Myanmar so we could leave. Our best option looked to be one of us flying to Delhi and trying to obtain the visa at the embassy ourselves. However since we were now illegally in India we were doubtful they would let us fly to Delhi. On top of that there was a strike in Moreh and all the shops were closed. We couldn’t get a phone to call the embassy or Burma Senses, and we also couldn’t get any food. Everything seemed to be rolling downhill and picking up speed.

Our lousy meal was made brighter by this insanely happy guy

We returned to our hotel pretty depressed, but the radiant smile of the guy who ran the hotel brightened us a little bit. He might have been the happiest man I have ever seen and his non stop smile consumed his whole face. He wore a sarung around his waist with no shirt which for some reason added to his amiable character. We each have been carrying an emergency backpacking meal in case we had no food, and we deemed this an emergency. We cooked up our worst meal in India, forced it down our throats, and went to bed feeling completely defeated.

Bieber and Biscuits: September 1st


The alarm had hardly started ringing and Michael was on his feet. It didn't take long before Graham and I were and at it as well. It was 5:00 AM and we had a big day ahead of us. First up we had to meet the Burma Senses people to discuss our situation and tell them we were headed to Imphal to get our Indian visas extended and from there hopefully to Delhi to get our Myanmar visas. We arrived and the guards at the Indian side of the gate were extremely helpful and soon let us through. We were excited for the win, no matter how small, and headed into no man's land to meet the guides. The guides arrived a bit late but had brought a large pack of breakfast cakes which we were eternally grateful for. We had used up almost all of our Indian Rupees as we thought we would be crossing into Myanmar and did not have money for breakfast. Unfortunately the ATM's and banks had been closed the day before due to a strike and we had not been able to obtain more money. We were also dangerously low on gas and were saving the remaining rupees to ensure we could make it to Imphal, or at least the nearest ATM.

We finished explaining our situation to the guides and quickly headed out of town only stopping for a quick gas fill up of 3 liters each. As we left the town we were surprised to see our friend Rahamat waving us down from the side of the road. We stopped and he told us the strike had prevented him from making it home. He hopped on the back of Grahams bike and we continued onwards. The green hills were partially hidden by a dense layer of fog and everything was wet from the night of heavy rain. The first military checkpoint went smoothly and we were soon through. The second one was a bit more time consuming as we had to have our bikes thoroughly searched but all our documents checked out. We continued upward and it was soon raining heavily. The already dangerous roads were now slick with mud from the landslides and visibility was close to zero at places.

We arrived at the first landslide and made our way to the front passing numerous cars who were waiting for their turn to navigate the slick mud-strewn section of road. A number of soldiers carrying large guns were supervising the clearing of the mud and directing traffic and when they saw us they waved us forward. The road was unbelievably slick and Graham and I were soon struggling to get our bikes upright while cursing our bald tires. Any amount of throttle immediately threw the wheel in one direction or another and the best method for navigating the road was to keep speed. This was near impossible after Graham and I had fallen. Instead we resorted to dropping the throttle and attempting to use our feet as training wheels of sorts. Michael and Rahamat did their best to assist us but the road was too slick to stand on so their efforts were less than effective. Regardless we finally managed to slip and slide our way past the slide onto firm ground.

We continued on knowing that a second, larger slide, awaited us ahead and dreading our second entanglement with the mud. When we arrived Michael gunned it through the puddle and up a steep hill with ankle deep, thick mud. Keeping his momentum he managed to stay upright as he hit the most treacherous and slippery section and continued on to dry asphalt. Graham wasn't quite as lucky. He made it through the puddle and up the hill but when he hit the slippery section he was suddenly on the ground and facing the way he had just come. After a bit of a struggle he got the bike up and made it to safety. It was my turn and I was a bit anxious as I gunned it through the puddle and up the hill. I hit the place Graham had slipped and somehow managed to remain upright by using my feet to stabilize myself. Falling may have been wiser though because I fish tailed and drove into the foot deep mud lining the side of the road. Luckily with a bit of help from Michael and Rahamat I managed to Back up and make it uphill with no further problems.

The rest of the ride went smoothly as we cautiously road through the hills and dropped onto the plateau where Imphal was located. Our documents got us through the remaining check posts with no problems and besides a few minor slides being cleared we ran into no other large mud areas. We dropped Rahamat at his town along the way and made our way to the FRRO office in Imphal were we had been instructed to go to get our visa extension. We arrived in the same building where we had registered prior to leaving and were embarrassed and apologetic to the very friendly staff as they had very clearly asked if we had all proper documentation for Myanmar. Eventually they warmed up to us and presented us with a solution. We were to find internet and apply online for a visa extension. We could then bring the papers to them and they would submit them for authorization. We were ecstatic to finally be making headway and furthermore they informed us that the receipt they would issue us would allow Michael to travel to Delhi immediately. We said our thanks and quickly left to find the closest internet cafe.

The internet cafe had only one opening which was actually super nice. While Graham began filling out the form, Michael and I finally had a moment to breathe. We went to the ATM and got money then grabbed some food and began looking into a mobile phone as well as flight information. We found a flight the next day for only 120 or so dollars. Things were beginning to look up a bit. We finished the application with no issues and returned to the FRRO office. I think the staff were impressed by our initiative and realized that we genuinely were trying our best to get out of this situation. We submitted the forms and took a seat. There were two women and a slightly older gentlemen keeping us company and we quickly made friends with them. We shared pictures of family members and our homes over a cup of tea and baffled them with pictures of Graham with and without a beard. In an attempt to get his name to stick Graham told them his name was like a "Graham Cracker." They were not familiar with biscuits so we had to further explain that it was a biscuit and the name biscuit stuck. One of the ladies after examining me closely exclaimed that I looked like Justin Bieber and the name stuck as well. We were fondly referred to as Bieber and Biscuit from there on out.

Getting serious at the cyber cafe where we basically became a regular

The process took much longer than we had expected as the internet was down but the lead staff member worked very diligently to get our applications processed and by 5:00 or 6:00 he informed us we would have our visa extension the next day. Things were finally looking up and we could at least see the ladder that would allow us to climb out of this whole of ours now. We continued to the cyber cafe to inform Burma senses of the development and book a flight for Michael. We finally returned to the hotel we had stayed at previously and after being shown to the same room ordered fried rice to the room and put on a movie to end the night.

Even the lack of a visa can't keep us from enjoying ourselves

Michael Goes to Delhi: September 2nd ~Michael

*Note: I wrote this post through out the day as I traveled to Dehli. The times of when I'm writing are stated

10:30 am

I woke up at 4, I didn't need to be up until 6:30 but I couldn't go back to sleep. I've never slept well before an important morning, whether it's a big test, presentation, travel plans or anything that requires me to be up earlier than usual. I'm always afraid I'll sleep through my alarm, therefore I don't sleep at all. It's something I need to work on.

I wanted to get to the airport early in order to make sure I would be allowed to fly. My flight left at 9:45 and I arrived at the airport at 7. Everything was closed. I waited outside as patiently as I could until the IndiGo station (airline I'm flying) opened. As I waited I couldn't help but feel the anxiety start to rise, what if the teller looked at my passport and saw that my visa was expired? What if they denied my ability to fly and I was stuck in Imphal? Turns out I didn't have to worry.

I got my ticket, made it through security and was sitting at the gate. No problems what so ever, no one even glanced at my visa stamp. I was sitting next to 3 dried fish salesman who were on the same flight that had taken a liking to me when a man in a pressed and cleaned white shirt, suit pants and a stern face tapped me on the shoulder and asked to see my passport.

My heart sank, I fumbled through my documents and pulled out my passport. He immediately flipped to the Indian Visa stamp and stated it was expired. I didn't know what to do. He started asking me questions, where did I come from, when did I get to Manipur, what do I plan to do in Delhi. After I answered all these questions his face softened slightly and he smiled. "Okay! It is you, you're one of the people trying to motorcycle around the world!" I laughed and said yes, I had no idea if this was a good or bad thing. He said he was here to help me. I was dubious but continued to smile and laugh with him. He copied down all my passport information. He looked at the paperwork we had received from FRO Imphal (foreign registration office) that was supposed to extend our visas and allow me to fly. He told me it would do neither. Extending an Indian e-tourist visa was impossible and the receipt would do nothing to help me fly. My heart sank even further. What was the point in everything we did yesterday then?

However, this man truly seemed to want to help me. Somehow he agreed to let me fly (something tells me he'd made that decision before he started talking to me) to Delhi, but he said I could have major problems when I arrived or when I tried to leave Delhi. That's okay, I thought. One step at a time, just let me on the flight. I can deal with the other problems once I'm there.

I'm writing this aboard the plane to Delhi. Step one complete... Somehow the 3 dried fish salesmen changed their seats and are sitting next to and behind me. They're ooing and awing at how quickly I'm typing...

I can't help but think I'm leaving the proverbial frying pan and jumping into the fire. I'm afraid that Dhananjay (the man who allowed me to board my flight) called Delhi and told them of my arrival. I'm afraid that when I get to Delhi, there will be custom officials waiting for me at the gate. I'm also afraid that FRO Imphal called Delhi and told them of our situation. If either of those is the case, I could be detained at the airport and it could be hours, maybe even days before I'd be allowed to leave. Especially if our visas are truly non extendable... If that happens, I have no plan and will most likely be stuck in Delhi for a couple days and pay a large sum in bribes/fines.

However, I'm trying to thinking optimistically. My goal is to exit the airport as quickly as possible (maybe I change my bright red shirt to a less recognizable one?) and catch an Arto to the Myanmar Embassy and HOPEFULLY get our visas completed. I have not decided, but once that's done I may go to the US embassy and inform them of our situation. However that may only cause more problems because once they're informed they may feel obligated to go through the proper procedures of getting me a new visa. At this point, I'm convinced that the more bureaucratic involvement there is, the worse off we are. I just talked myself into not going to the US embassy.

All I can do right now is wait and enjoy my flight. Hopefully not let my mind wander too far into the potential problems that may occur in the near future. I'm assuming I'll be sitting around and waiting, hopefully at the Myanmar Embassy but maybe in a prison cell at the Delhi airport (joking). I'll write more once I'm there.

1:30 PM

Made it to Delhi and did not get stopped at the airport. I was worried and my heart raced as I walked through the gates. Luckily, because it's a domestic flight there was no passport check. Which means, if I can get on a flight back to Imphal, once I'm on it, I should be home free.

After getting quotes for a cab at 1300 rupees ($20) for an 8 km ride to the embassy I found an arto that would do it on the meter (which I'm currently in). We've gone 3 of those 8 km and the meter is at 30 rupees (50 cents).

2:00 PM

Well... I was right about the waiting. Except I'm waiting outside on the driveway of the Myanmar embassy. Their hours for visas are from 10-11 and 4-4:30 Monday-Friday. Even though online they say they're open 9:30-4:30. So after figuring that out, I went to grab a quick bite of food (I hadn't eaten yet today) and swung by the US embassy. They wouldn't even let me in to speak with anyone. Only if I declared, "I'm in an emergency" could I give them a phone call.

The Myanmar Embassy. I wasn't allowed to enter and all the visa paperwork occured right next to the green door.

12:00 AM

Well I'm not really sure where to start... Right now I am currently sitting on an overpass on the Dehli highway. This will be my bed for the night.

Once the Myanmar Embassy opened things started to look up. I gave them all 3 passports and the necessary documents. The man who took the documents seemed sympathetic with our situation and vowed to help as much as he could. He said he could have our visas completed by 3 pm the next day. I'm hoping he does. The only problem was they don't accept cash (no doubt because of corruption) but instead they require "Demand Drafts", basically a check. I spent the next hour trying to find a bank that would give me the Demand Draft but none would. Finally, after returning to a teller who was originally rude to me, I received a promise that if I did not have a demand draft by 10 am tomorrow, he would give me one.

After that I caught an Arto to the Main Bazaar Road. A grungy tourist street full of dreadlocks, stalls selling over priced souvenirs, cheap hotels and Internet cafes. I spent the next two hours sending emails, booking a flight back to Imphal and trying to ensure our visas would get approved. I got a flight for 5:45 am on Friday. This means, if I can get the visas by 3 or 4 pm tomorrow (Thursday) then I can hop on the plane to Imphal early the next morning and hopefully make it to Myanmar that day. It may be wishful thinking, but optimism is key right now.

After the Internet cafe I was ready to find a hotel. I found one I liked and decided to get it. I knew the hotel's in India require a passport and visa copy. I have a passport copy, but the only visa copy I have also has a letter from the Moreh Foreign Registration Office that said I had permission to return to Imphal in order to get my Visa extended. I went to three hotels, showed them my passport copy, receipt for my visa extension and used the true story, that my passport was at the Myanmar Embassy. They all denied me a room. At the 4th hotel, I showed them my expired visa copy with the letter on it and the man instantly got highly suspicious and told me to leave the hotel immediately because he did not want to be required to report me to the police. That scared the crap out of me.

I tried 5 or 6 more hotels (but did not show my visa copy) and they all denied me a room. Even when I offered to pay an extra "fee". I tried going back to an internet café to scan my Visa copy and do some "manipulation" to the expiration date, however they were all closed. I even tried to buy a phone so that I could call Graham and James to potentially get some help from their end. However, I needed to show my visa copy in order to buy a phone. I couldn't believe it. There was nothing I could do to get a hotel room.

From that point I saw two options. 1: take the advice of the all the hotel receptionists and go to the police station to inform them of my situation or 2: try to find a place to sleep that wasn't a hotel.

We have received confirmation from Manipur Foreign Registration Office that I am okay to travel and I do not need to worry because our extensions were granted. However, after my interaction with the man at the Imphal airport, I am weary of the Manipur FRO. I believe I am traveling with an expired Visa and I want to do whatever I can to keep the bureaucratic cluster f#€k that is Delhi's system out of it. So, I ended up going with option #2.

It started to feel like I'd over stayed my welcome on Main Bazaar Road. The hotel receptionists kept giving me suspicious looks as I walked by and I could tell some of them were suspicious of me. I decided to leave. I bought some water, snacks, and two pair of pants (to use as a sleeping mat) for 50 rupees each. I caught an Arto to the US embassy and found a place in the bushes that looked decent enough to sleep in. It was awful. As soon as I laid down to sleep, I was swarmed by mosquitoes. There was no escape. I was sweating profusely and it was unbearable trying to cover all my bare skin. After 15 minutes of mosquito misery, I got up and continued to walk.

After an hour or so, I came across the overpass of a highway. It had an outdoor stairwell that looked perfect for someone to sleep. I was clearly not the first one to have the idea, there were 10-15 other homeless people scattered on or around the overpass. I found a level of the wall less stairwell that had no one else on it and set up my bed for the night. I'm currently sitting here trying to let sleep wave over me, but I'm afraid it never will.

I'm assuming at this point the majority of the readers are thinking, "why doesn't he just go to the US embassy?" I have 3 reasons:

1. If by some miracle the Manipur FRO is correct and I'm free to travel, I still do not want to get the US embassy involved. There's a chance that the US Embassy has their own procedures and if a US citizen shows up with an expired visa, I highly doubt they'd let them leave the Embassy without fixing the problem first. We have tried multiple times to receive the US Embassy's help while in India and they have been unresponsive at best. One time, an agent told me, "there's nothing we can do to help," and hung up. Therefore I'm assuming the US Embassy is just as incompetent as Delhi custom officials. If that is the case, fixing my expired visa could take days.

2: While in Manipur, we were questioned as to what would happen if we were denied entrance to Myanmar. They said we must have a backup plan. Therefore, before getting anything or anyone else involved, I would like to have our Myanmar visas complete.

3. Maybe it's the lack of food or sleep and maybe I am acting stupidly, but I believe that if I can spend the night in Delhi, without getting pulled over by the police or anyone asking to see my passport, I will be able to get the visas and fly back to Imphal without anyone in Delhi knowing my visa is expired.

12:30 AM

I had to leave my spot... a police car drove by with its lights on and the other homeless people sleeping on the pass ran to hide. I joined them. Once the cop car was gone, I observed the other homeless people and saw none of them return to their original sleeping spots. Despite the extremely comfortable sleeping area (there were no mosquitoes on the over pass), I decided I shouldn't risk sleeping there. As I was leaving, I saw a scooter cop roll up and take away one of the homeless men I'd been hiding with.

If only I could've spent the night on the overpass, I may have gotten some sleep

2:30 AM

I've been walking for the past 2 hours. I still haven't slept and I'm greatly looking forward to the sun rising.

9:45 AM

I survived my first ever homeless night. However, I definitely did not thrive. I must've gotten at least 50 mosquito bites (a swarm of them seemed to follow me all night) and I never fell asleep. I spent the majority of the night walking in the shadows trying to avoid any passing cars, scooters, trucks or artos. I found a few places that I was able to sit and relax for awhile but I didn't like the idea of sitting still. Mainly because as soon as I sat down, the mosquito swarm bombarded me.

I saw a decent amount on my evening walk. The sleeping conditions of so many Indians is miserable. Not only did I pass hundreds of adults sleeping on the street with no pad, blanket, or pillow but there were small children huddled together doing the same thing. There were rats and mice everywhere, crawling over everything. There was no form of shelter, other than the occasional overhanging branch. I have no idea what they would do if it rained. I saw a man puking uncontrollably in the street. The shelters I did see were so mangy that I think I would prefer to sleep on the street. They smelled of feces and urine, had tears in the tarp that worked as a roof, and were so small I don't think I could physically fit.

My biggest fear of the night was getting pulled over by the police and being asked to provide my passport (which I don't have). My second biggest fear was the dogs. During the day, the city dogs do not pay much attention to anyone, but at night they seem to be blood thirsty. 3 times I got chased by a pack of 3 or 4 dogs. All three times I had to run and jump over a fence in order to get away from them. They barked, snarled and seemed like they would attack if they had the chance. Apparently they occasionally do. When we first arrived in India we read a newspaper article about a 9 year old boy who was killed by a pack of dogs. I was terrified of them.

However, the night is over. I somehow stumbled across a Starbucks and am currently drinking a giant cup of delicious drip coffee. Living a homeless night in Delhi was terrifying, dirty, and not fun. I wouldn't recommend it and I hope I never have to do it again. Luckily, once I get the passports, I should be able to head directly to the airport and sleep there before my flight.

Tension in Imphal: Sept 3

~ Graham

We woke up and felt pretty lazy so we ordered up some bread omelets and aloo parathas for breakfast. Room service was the only option to get food in the hotel and I was not going to complain. We grubbed up and grabbed some delicious coffees from a small shop on our way out of the hotel. The plan was to head to the F.R.R.O to see what the status of our visas was. We had got a warning from Michael that a guy gave him some trouble trying to get onto the airplane and said that the visas were rejected. Getting stuck in Delhi would be a terrible predicament because of the awful system of bribing and insane amounts of paperwork that would likely be required. We wanted to make sure Michael was going to make it back to Imphal with the visas without a problem.

As we walked out of the hotel a guy sprinted past us pretty quickly, and right behind him there was another guy yelling and pointing at him as he chased him. It was pretty apparent that something had just been stolen and a couple people took off after him to try and help. I felt a little bad for not helping, but definitely did not want to get involved in a situation like that. We walked off in the opposite direction and another guy sprinted past us. It seemed he was a part of the robbery as well, but I wasn’t entirely sure. This whole scenario put us a little on edge.

About 30 seconds after we witnessed the robbery the sketchy guy that followed us the last time we were in Imphal found us again. With a weasely grin he walked next to us and didn’t really say much. It was pretty uncomfortable and it was apparent he wanted to take advantage of us somehow, but we couldn’t figure out what his plan was. There was a gap in traffic so we crossed the road quickly before he could follow. He walked on the other side of the road and followed us almost all the way to the F.R.R.O.

As we walked past the gas stations the gas shortage seemed to be worse than ever. The line was now over 100 people long and wrapped down several streets. The people selling gas on the road were selling for 130 rupees for a liter! That’s over double what the gas station normally charged, and our bikes were on dead empty. It looked like we might have to bite the bullet and spend a pretty penny on some gas to get back into Myanmar.

This was the line the first time we were in Imphal. Now it continued the same distance past us.

Once in the F.R.R.O we sat and waited to talk to our friendly friends there. When the ladies we had been working with throughout the whole process came in they smiled and asked us what we were doing there. We explained what happened to Michael at the airport and they told us not to worry about it. The visas did not get rejected and we still just needed to come get our passports stamped when Michael got back. We felt a lot better when they said “Relax and enjoy your day. Everything is fine.” We headed out of the F.R.R.O. feeling a lot better, but still confused about what happened to Michael. The F.R.R.O didn’t tell anyone at the airport about the situation, but they seemed to know the whole story. The only other person on planet earth who knew our situation that intricately was Rahamat.

We had already been getting uncomfortable vibes from Rahamat. It was pretty apparent that he wasn’t trying to help us out because he wanted to be our friend. He was trying to guilt trip us into giving him money for his assistance with tasks that we did not need help with. We had been avoiding him as much as possible when we got back to Imphal, but he still managed to call us or find us in the hotel at least once a day. We weren’t sure why but maybe he called the airport and tried to keep Michael from going to Delhi? This seemed far-fetched, but we couldn’t figure out how else they would know about our situation. Maybe he wanted us to stay in Manipur longer so he could try and get more money out of us?

We headed down to the market place to try and get James’ boots sewn back together. The seams were splitting in a few places, and we got them stitched back together for about 50 cents. We then ended up being convinced to buy a handmade blanket. They were the same kind that we had seen Rahamat’s mom making at their home. The only difference between the blankets was the price we were quoted. Rahamat had originally told us they were about 1000 rupees, but when we asked to buy one he changed the price to 2000. When we asked this lady she told us 650 and then before we could say anything else discounted it to 500 instantly. This reassured us that Rahamat was trying to squeeze money out of us, and wasn’t really much of a friend.

The lady who sold us some blankets. She smiled the whole time but no one smiles in pictures here

We headed back to the internet cafe to see if there were any updates from Michael. We also looked up the news and worked on our blog post. A message from Michael informed us he had spent a homeless night in Delhi, but our visas were good to go and he would be back tomorrow morning! The local news was not so good. A few hours earlier there was a protest about an hour outside of Imphal that led to 3 deaths when the police opened fire on the crowd. A 10 year old boy was among the victims. Another 8 insurgents had also been killed in Nagaland, and the road to Moreh still had restrictions on goods vehicles. The situation was not getting any better, and we wanted to get the hell out of India before something escalated and trapped us there.

When we walked out of the internet café there was a procession of police cars pulled off on the side of the road. There were about 40 trucks packed with soldiers, and a concerning amount of weapons lying around. There was an air of tension and activity in the air and everyone seemed to be alert. A van drove by with massive speakers on top of it blasting a woman’s voice. The van was packed with women, and the voice was obviously sobbing as she blasted her message through the town. We asked someone what was going on, and they explained that today was the procession for Robin Hood. Robin Hood was a boy who had been shot in a protest almost 2 months ago, and has become a martyr for the Inner Line Permit cause.

As we headed back into the hotel a guy who was very obviously Indian told us that he was from Venezuela. He was in Manipur for organic farming and was looking for a large chunk of land that he could use to import water buffalo from New Zealand, Chickens from Spain, and Turkeys from China. We suppressed our laughs until he was out of sight, and headed back to the room for a movie. TMNT was on HBO so we smoked a bidi (small Indian cigar) and called it a night.

Re-United at last: September 4th


After discovering the hotel kitchen had not yet opened and the small coffee shop below the hotel was not open yet we decided to head towards the cyber cafe and keep an eye out for food. It didn't take long before we passed one of the nicer hotels in town and decided we would use their internet to check emails while grabbing coffee and some breakfast. While Graham ordered coffee and some delicious yogurt things I check email and found no updates regarding Michael's status. Assuming no news was good news we prepared to head to the air port to pick Michael up.

We waited at the arrival gate and watched the stream of people arriving from the flight pass by. We eventually gave up trying to be sneaky as we grew impatient and moved in for a clearer view of the window. We could see Michael's tall lanky outline at a desk with papers being passed back and forth. We were relieved to see he had made it back to Imphal but worried about what was going on and why they were holding him. It didn't take long until we were the last ones waiting and he quickly spotted us. He eventually chucked us a thumbs up and after a few more minutes came to join us. We had a paper sign and a bag of goodies for our long lost friend and tried our best to hold back tears as we embraced, finally re-united. The arto ride back we traded stories and got caught up on each other's lives.

Michael holding back tears as he sees us just past the gates

When we arrived back at Hotel Tampha, it was go time. We quickly packed up the bikes and headed to the FRO office once again to get our Indian Visa officially stamped. As usual the FRO office was very helpful and even though the computers were down managed to get us our visas within an hour and a half. While we waited we had the pleasure of talking to the friendly women who worked in the office again. As soon as the visa was issued at 12:30 we were back on the bikes and heading out of town. The border between Myanmar and India closed at 5:00 PM and we had a 4 hour drive to the crossing. The gas shortage had caused oil prices to become outrageous but we were very low on fuel and had even less time so we bit the bullet and bought gas at 160 rupees/liter (9.50/gallon). The gas stations either ran out of gas early in the day or had massive lines extending multiple blocks so we purchased gas from a small store on the side of the road in the form of gasoline filled 1 liter water bottles.

You'd think 9 $/gallon gas would come in a golden challice not a 1 liter water bottle

The drive went very smoothly and even the military check points went quickly. The roads were completely clear of cars. At least moving cars, a number of cars were parked along the road going the opposite way. We assumed the lack of traffic was due to the road strikes that were occurring due to the civil unrest. Unfortunately the construction companies were taking advantage of the lack of cars and were doing road work at a few of the land slide areas. The first one we got stuck behind was the longest and when they finally cleared a path for us to pass disaster struck. As Michael pulled forward to pass he let out a yell and coasted to a halt. His clutch cable had snapped and we had used up almost all of the spares. Fortunately I managed to dig up a cable that had been hiding in my spares and the repair quickly turned from a day changing event to a minor hick up. Within 10 minutes we were back on the road and cruising. The military check points all remembered us and we spent no more than 5 minutes at each check. Even with the smooth sailing 4:00 PM was approaching as we pulled into Moreh and we weren't sure we would make it across the border.

Construction ended up being the biggest hold up as we raced the sun to the Moreh border.

Once again luck was with us and the Indian customs and immigration control were extremely helpful and efficient. By 4:30 we were at the border waving at our Myanmar guides across the border while the guards checked our documents. We suppressed the rising feelings of joy as we crossed into Myanmar and once again began the entrance procedure. This time we ran into no problems and were soon heading to dinner while our customs documentation was finished. The dinner was a delicious fried chicken and fried rice plate along with some energy drinks. Unfortunately the night was soured a bit by a somewhat tense discussion with the coordinator of our tour. He wanted compensation for the time they had spent waiting for us to get our visas and we adamantly believed that the mistake was equally their fault and we had already paid for our share of the mistake. We weren't willing to pay extra nor cut days from the trip which was what he wanted us to do.

While we were feeling fantastic about having got into Myanmar we still had a long drive to reach our hotel and were already exhausted. We hopped back on the bikes and prepared for the drive. As I pulled my clutch and I heard the pop and felt it instantly lose tension my heart sank. The second clutch cable of the day had snapped and would be pushing our drive later into the night. It was especially unfortunate as we had completely used up our spares and the existing cable refused to cooperate for a short term fix.

Our guide Joe, the driver Arthur, Arthur's friend and I piled into the van and set out in search of a replacement cable. Both motorcycle stores we approached were closed, not a big surprise as it was already close to 8:00 pm. Fortunately Arthur's friend who was a local had some connections and somehow they managed to contact the owner of one of the shops. An employee came and collected the broken cable through a barbed wire fence and went off in search of a replacement. It wasn't long until I had a replacement that would suffice for the time being although it was much too long and had the incorrect attachment points. We returned to the bikes and with a bit of hand filing managed to modify one of the attachment points to create a barely functioning clutch. With a functioning clutch we set off into the darkness following the van.

The drive took much longer than we were expecting and was much more eventful than we had hoped. The region of Myanmar we were driving through had undergone massive flooding a month prior to our arrival. This flooding, along with displacing over 200,000 people, had left 4 major bridges in disrepair. The temporary bridges were off the main road and while they were in good shape, the detour to reach the bridges were not. The detours were filled with thick mud, rocks, water and in some cases stranded vehicles. On multiple occasions we had to hop off the bikes and help push the tour van through the mud. When we finally arrived in Kalay we were exhausted and covered in mud and dust. A quick shower and we were soon all in bed. The beds were marvelous, especially for Michael who had not slept in a bed for 3 days prior. Needless to say we were fast asleep in a few minutes of laying down.

Making our way past a particularly muddy detour around a broken bridge. The car on the left side of the photo was stuck in the mud forcing us through ankle deep mud and fist sized rocks.

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