How I Crossed the Indo-Myanmar Border to Spend a Day in Myanmar
A Backpackeras story of crossing Indo-Myanmar Border
I started from Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, early in the morning. The shared taxi had taken lessthan four hours to complete the 100 odd kilometre journey between Imphal and Moreh. The entire journey was a memorable one. Wepassed through several mustard fields, shining brightly as the sun graced its light upon them. We also passed by the infamousfield which was the battleground for the Battle of Imphal during the Second World War We also passed by quite a few militarycheckpoints where the vehicle had to stop and each passenger was asked display their identity card.
I reached at around 11 in the morning. Without much ado, I went looking for a hotel room. Being a trade town, one can easilyfind a hotel room for anything between a few hundred to a few thousand INR. I checked-in to my room and without wasting anytime, I left for the border gate. The stretch of road which led to the border had several shops. It did not seem like asensitive location. As I walked ahead, I realized why. The border gate was a friendship gate between India and Myanmar.
The border gate is a gateway between the two countries for trade and commerce. As per the Indo-Burma trade and commerceagreement signed in April, 1995, 22 products were listed that could be exchanged between the two countries through thefriendship gate without having to pay any customs duty. But the products that come in and go out are a lot more than those 22items. However, that is not all. The border it is also a gateway for illegal activities, mainly the import of heroin andopium.
Before crossing the border, I stood at the Indian side to take a picture or two.
aYou cannot take pictures her,a an Indian Army personnel warned.
I apologised and walked past the Indian gate.
While it was afternoon for my right foot, my left foot was still enjoying the morning. With one foot in India and the otherone in Myanmar, I lived my childhood fantasy of being in two countries at once.
As I walked past the gate and entered the Myanmar side, I had to queue up myself for the immigration. When my turn came, acustoms official wearing black aviators whilst comfortably seated inside a shaded bunker asked me quite a few general questionsabout myself and my purpose of visit. He then asked me to hand over an identity card along with INR 20 before providing me witha slip which would act as a one day permit to visit Myanmar.
aCome back by 17:30 hours,a he said.
aSure,a I replied, as I exited the immigration booth and breathed the air in Myanmar. It was then when I wondered whether hemeant 17:30 hours by Indian time or Burmese. (The time difference between Indian time and Burmese time is of one hour.) I waslater informed that Indians have to return to the other side by 17:30 hours IST.
As soon as I entered Myanmar, the bazaar of Namphalong unrolled right in front of me. The hundreds of shops a permanent aswell as temporary - sold products ranging from clothes to footwear, cheap electronics to fancy showpieces, fake footballjerseys to handmade carpets, and chocolates to packed beverages. The excessive crowd made sense. A lot of products from thisbazaar are exported to India. While the fancy products were tempting, the fear of carrying them back held me from purchasingthem. However, I did buy a few cans of Red Bull energy drink. After all, nowhere else can I buy a can of the popular Thai drinkfor just INR 30.
Things were considerably different from what I had seen on the Indian side of the border region. The first difference was inthe form of advertising hoardings. Ads on alcohols are banned in India, but in Myanmar, every second hoarding displayed onebrand of alcohol or the other. As I walked past the market, I decided to have breakfast before heading to Tamu - the nearesttown. I went from one restaurant to another, searching for vegetarian food. It took me about a quarter of an hour to find one -a restaurant cum bar. While I waited for my lunch, the locals were having drinks as they watched an old football game. Theenthusiasm on their faces and their loud cheers made it seem like UEFA Champions League finals was broadcasting on the small TVscreen.
Locals enjoying their drinks/food while watching the repeat telecast of a football match.
By the time my lunch arrived, it was already 13:30 hours by Burmese time. It was a platter of vegetable salad served withhot soup. Correction - it was the best vegetable salad I have ever had. In no time, I was done with my lunch. I soon left forTamu. Nestled at a distance of nearly four kilometers from Namphalong, I decided to walk. Another difference that I noticedbetween the two countries was the driving side. Where it is left hand side of the road in India, it was right hand side of theroad in Burma.
On my way to Tamu, I also visited a couple of religious sites. The first one of them was a monastery - Tamu Monastery. Theold religious site had large statues of Lord Buddha with the biggest one of them all calmly seated inside a cobra. Next, Ivisited a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Considering that a lot of Hindus live in this part of Myanmar, it was not reallysurprising to see the Shiva Temple. The best one of them all was the religious site which housed pagodas as well as Buddhisttemples in its premises.
I also passed by a couple of playgrounds where I could see kids playing football. Just before reaching Tamu Market, I alsosaw a bunch of grown up men juggling with a football.
My next stop was Tamu Market. As soon as I reached the market place, it seemed like I had gone back in time. Back by atleast a decade. Women sported big hats on their heads and paste made of sandalwood on their faces to protect themselves fromthe harsh autumn sun. Whereas the men wore boot cut trousers and optical lens fitted in big oval frames. The huge vibrantmarket had shops and stalls which were selling everything from meats and vegetables to original and duplicate electronic goods.But the thing Tamu is famous for is jewellery. I, however, was focused on the shopkeepers than what they were selling. Many ofthe shopkeepers were elderly women. Their faces were full of wrinkles, but they all had a shine in their eyes. None of thefaces seemed too serious or stressed.
Before I could even think of buying anything, it was 17:00 hours already. I decided to leave, knowing I would return thenext day. I left for Namphalong in a shared auto rickshaw which cost me just INR 20. By the time I reached the border, it wasabout time. I entered the same immigration booth to hand over the permit slip and collect my identity card. But I could notjust leave without one thing - a picture of the friendship gate. I had received a warning from the Indian side, but not fromthe Burmese side. I secretly took out my camera and clicked a picture using my espionage skills.
I returned the next morning and bought quite a few things, especially chocolates, fruit drinks, and slippers. I had to leaveearly because there were speculations that the road which leads to Moreh might get shut down for a few days. Manipur being asensitive region affected by terrorist activities, such speculations often turn out to be true.
How to reach - You can hire a share taxi from Imphal to Moreh. It will cost you INR 300. However, the return ride will costyou INR 500.
Entry and exit time - You can enter Myanmar from the Indian side after 07:30 hours IST. You have to return by 16:30 hoursIST.
Documents to carry - You must carry a valid government identity card.
Best time to visit - From October to March.
Note - When in Moreh, do not leave your hotel after 19:00 hours.
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