Our last two days in Myanmar were flat-out riding days again. From Bagan we headed west over some large hills towards the Indian border. The environment was suddenly more rural and in Gangaw, locals invited us into their homes and gave us gifts. Soe organised a final night’s celebration on our hotel rooftop together with the other bikers and their guides. Soe had actually been overseeing the other group too, so it was easy to see why he spent much of the day phoning and chatting and fixing things. He is the man.
Two things were foremost in our thoughts on that final day. The first was that we had to make a police checkpoint near the border crossing by 12:30. We had to meet the van there and process a load of paperwork. We had overtaken the van at some point along the Myanmar-India friendship road, and, as it turned out, sailed past the checkpoint without being stopped (or having seen it). Soe got there and did the paperwork for us as the officials claimed they had not seen us. So we needn’t have worried about that. The other concern that day was that a bomb had exploded in the border town of Moreh only 12 hours earlier. When we left Myanmar, we would be in Moreh.
We dithered about having lunch and getting petrol (suddenly remembering that petrol in India is nearly at Australian prices, or twice that of Myanmar). We also met up with the Victorians, Martin and Ray again. Ray had been squeezed by a truck into some oncoming traffic. Apart from splitting open up a few local youths on a scooter, his pannier was a new shape and his rear rack had bent right under slashing his rear tyre. Soe and Htoo helped us with our paperwork to exit Myanmar and we said our goodbyes and headed across the two-tone bridge into India. We did not know how much we would miss Myanmar at that point!
The first thing we saw as we turned off the bridge was some cows eating through piles of plastic garbage. Welcome to India! The next thing we saw was a military checkpoint manned by two soldiers in fatigues carrying large automatic weapons. They made us fill in a book with our passport information, phoned someone then let us pass. A fat man in civilian clothes walking down the road told me to move the bike. He didn’t have a gun and I didn’t know who he was. This was the first of a billion times someone not in authority told me what to do. I didn’t like it much.
We moved up the road into the town. It was mid-afternoon. There was no border post to go through. It was basically an open border. This border had only recently opened to foreigners. so we weren’t top priority. Why had I jumped through flaming hoops of Hades to get my visa when no one even wanted to see my passport?! Soe had made us memorise the layout of Moreh so we could find the Indian border officials. The town was horrible; unpaved, dusty, noisy, chaotic. Seeing no option but to abandon Nickiy and the bike, I went in search of customs somewhere near a banner that threatened taxation on imports. Wandering into one house I found a man on a phone, he led me down an alleyway to another house where he shouted through a doorway. I was then led back out to the courtyard to wait. Eventually two ladies appeared and opened up a small office and powered up all the cooling devices they owned. In the meantime I dripped sweat onto every piece of paper I touched. Surprisingly, the elder lady knew how to fill in the carnet but she also wanted to teach the younger lady how to do it. The younger lady was the stamp-master so it had to be her name and signature on it as well. I also had to fill in my second piece of a billion pieces of pointless paperwork India requires at every juncture. One of the import questions was “How many luggages (including hand baggages)?” It is a motorbike, it is all luggage!
Just as I was about to let the two ladies know that more bikers were on the way, Martin and Ray walked in the door with their carnets. Luckily for them, they had spotted Nickiy on the main street and she explained that border formalities were not as obvious as usual! Martin and Ray had not had the benefit of Soe’s detailed explanation of these places. Finding the immigration official was also slightly difficult as you had to walk through a military compound to get to his house…..and then he wasn’t there anyway. Once we were officially in the country however, we had to consider our next move. It was only 110km to the next town, but estimates implied it was 4 hour’s drive over badly-made mountainous roads. The carnet ladies had told us about a temporary military road block on the road as well, designed to isolate the border town after the bombings occurred. Another local told us that the road block would be lifted at midnight, but it was only designed to stop 4-wheelers anyway. Bikes would be fine. Martin made a very appropriate comment about not wanting to spend the night in Moreh. I concurred but I didn’t think we could make it safely over the hills before sunset.
We said our goodbyes and they headed off into the dust. Meanwhile we found the only hotel with a website and were forced to stay there, paying Australian prices. It was that or stay in a wooden shack on the main street. What we needed most of all was internet to begin researching, booking and planning the next legs of our journey. We were no longer on a schedule so we had to think for ourselves again! Our hotel had internet, but it “didn’t always work”. This meant it didn’t work at all! Giving up on that we wandered the main street until we’d found dinner and purchased some overpriced cold beer from a man who wasn’t supposed to be selling it. This would be our last beer for a very long time indeed.