Manipur

Night, Jamie and I were all headed in the same direction. Night was behind schedule, so he planned to take a bus, but Jamie and I set off cycling from Silchar together.

My front brake had a problem: there was too much resistance between the cable and the cable housing. This meant that when I pulled on the brake lever, the brake would engage but then not disengage. I had to be very careful with my use of the brake for the rest of the day. The people in Assam are Bengali, and so we were back in the land of staring: a crowd gathered whenever I stopped to adjust the brake.

After a few hours riding across plains in Assam, we reached the state of Manipur and entered the mountains again. Manipur is one of India’s more rebellious states, which was reflected in a greater police/military presence. On crossing into the state, we had to enter our information into several logbooks. Then we set off into the hills: the flat farmland of Assam was over!

For the most part the road was very nice: hilly with great views, a good surface and limited traffic. The reason for the lack of traffic was that weak, narrow bridges create choke points where truckers must queue for hours before crossing one at a time. The military were there to make sure no one tried to skip the queue.

After one such bridge, there was a short patch of deep mud. Following this, my rear derailleur started to behave strangely. A couple of times, my chain came off one of the jockey wheels. When I set off after sorting this the second time, my derailleur caught in my spokes, twisted around and snapped off.

It’s not supposed to look like this

This was something of a problem! Being unable to switch gears wasn’t too much of an issue, but the derailleur also maintains the chain tension. Without it the chain just hangs loose, and won’t stay in gear. I shortened the chain so that it was the right length for my middle gear. This wasn’t perfect and the chain did continue to fall out of gear every few minutes, but it let me catch up to Jamie.

While he was waiting for me, Jamie had received an offer from some locals to camp in their garden. We gladly accepted and were later joined by Jon, a motorcyclist from the US.

While the others packed up the next morning, I set about fixing my brake. It seemed the cable was the main cause of the problem. After replacing that, the brake was working fine again.

Setting off in the morning

We set off, but my chain still wasn’t properly staying in gear. We spent a long time trying to sort out a solution. The goal was to produce something that would prevent the chain swinging from side to side. Jamie eventually produced a contraption made of plastic bottles and cable ties that did the job.

We continued on, up a climb. With my bike now stuck in one gear I was having to stand up and pedal hard, but the gradient was gentle enough that this was possible.The climb was followed by a descent down to a river. As usual there was a long line of trucks waiting to cross the bridge. Less usual was the deep mud through which we had to ride!

With my wide front tyre, there is such a small amount of space that it quickly filled up and produced a large mass of mud around that area. It was much worse for Jamie, who has mud guards. Despite the name, these are a major hindrance when it comes to dealing with mud. The mud gets trapped between the mudguard and the wheel. He was pushing his bike, with the wheels sliding rather than spinning at times. Many trucks were in the same boat – it was a bit worrying to see them sliding diagonally across the road, wheels locked!

When we were out of the mud, we stopped to clean the worst of it off. After I’d finished doing so, I was standing back from my bike when there was a sudden explosion in my front tyre. The inner tube burst, ripping a hole through the tyre.

We patched up the tube and I cut some strips from an old inner tube to minimise bulging. There was a friendly Manipuri trucker helping me as I did this. Another guy was very curious about my camera, and took a bunch of photos.

After spending quite some time on this repair, we set off cycling, now in the rain. We rode on for perhaps another half hour before seeing a flat grassy area. After checking with the locals, we set up camp there.

The next morning was mostly quite foggy as we made an early start and continued climbing. The hills continued for the whole day, up and down and up and down. My new plastic derailleur functioned quite well for most of the day.

Many of the villages we passed through had recently acquired toilets. There were many signs explaining that “toilets are for everyone: children, adults and the elderly!” Several villages boasted signs proudly proclaiming that they were “open defecation free.”

At the end of the day we began our longest climb of the day. My “derailleur” began to struggle to keep the chain in gear, but we made it up to 1000m, where there was a small flat area with a building. We spoke to the people there and they were happy for us to set up our tents nearby.

As we continued along the climb the next day, we reached a place where a truck had driven off the road. The 100m+ drop had utterly destroyed the truck. It’s surprising such accidents aren’t more common, given the standard of driving here.

The derailleur had by now pretty much given up the ghost. The chain moved freely between the smallest five cogs. When it tried to move to the next largest, it would jam, so I pedalled backwards to release it. When moving to a smaller gear it often slid all the way off the cassette, so I had to stop to replace it. Eventually, I made it to the pass, at an altitude of about 1300m.

Jamie was waiting for me at a teahouse at the top. We chatted to a man, Naomi, who lived in a village we’d be passing through later in the day. The women working at the teahouse spotted Jamie’s ukelele and asked to have a go.

The tube was bulging out through the hole in my tyre. We put same cable ties around it, which did a good job of holding things together.

We descended to a wide flat river valley, then rode into the city of Imphal. Here we hoped to repair my bike, though we weren’t feeling optimistic. Jamie explained to me that a derailleur hanger is essentially a proprietary component, each type fitting only a few bikes. It wasn’t exactly likely that they’d have one for my bike here.

We were quite lucky as it turned out. A bike shop took a derailleur hanger and cut it to a shape that would sort of fit onto my bike. I also got a new derailleur, cassette, chain and a tyre. It was a successful visit!

We continued along the flat lands, riding south. We were flying along, with me enjoying my newfound ability to change gears. Unfortunately the traffic was also moving at high speed – there are a lot more vehicles and a lot more people in the flat parts of India.

Late in the day we reached the village where Naomi lives. He’d invited us to have tea at his house so we headed over there and met his family. He lives in one building with his wife and children, while his three brothers live in adjoining buildings with their wives and children. With his mother there too, it was a big family!

We didn’t stay long as it was beginning to get dark. Much to Naomi’s confusion we rode away from the main road, in search of somewhere to camp. A woman on an electric scooter offered to show us to where we wanted to go. We told her we wanted to ride to some hills, and she led us to the track leading to them. After following it a short distance we found a large sheltered space next to a shrine. We lay down our sleeping mats and spent the night there.

We woke to find a thick fog blanketing the valley, so we set off with rear lights flashing. Thankfully, the traffic was much lighter this morning, and we soon reached the beginning of a long climb to the mountains, where there were few people.A couple hours of climbing brought us up to over 1500m, where the road levelled out and followed the top of a ridge for a few kilometres.

Near the top, we met a pair of German cyclists. They’d started in Thailand and were riding home. We warned them about India!

After that, we began a long descent which ultimately brought us all the way down to 200m, albeit with another climb partway down. As we were approaching the border, we saw a few police checkpoints where soldiers entered our details into yet more logbooks. India is safe again now that the military know my town of birth.

Looking out over Myanmar

The border town, Moreh, has two border crossing. The first one we went to was bilateral, meaning only locals can cross. We then found our way to the other, which had a huge immigration building out of proportion to the number of people there (1 immigration officer, 1 customs officer, 4 cleaners and 6 travellers). We had to wait a while but at last we we were stamped out of India and allowed to go, crossing over a small bridge and into Myanmar.

Myanmar immigration was just a small one-room building next to the road. We showed our e-visas and passports and soon had our entry stamps and rode off – now on the right side of the road. Distances were marked in miles, something I haven’t seen since I was last in the UK.We rode a short way to Tamu, the border town on the Myanmar side. We found a cheap hotel and checked in, looking forward to riding across a new country. We went out in the evening for dinner and had an amazing variety of food brought to us, all for just 2500 kyat each (£1.30).Jan 4: 81 km

Jan 5: 46 km

Jan 6: 92 km

Jan 7: 82 km

Jan 8: 88 km

4 thoughts on “Manipur

  1. Hey Sam, this is the first time for a while that there’s been a ‘leave a reply’ text box at the end of your blog. I’m still keeping up with your intrepid journey, loving the photos and being constantly amazed by your (and your friend’s) ingenuity when your bike busts (which is quite often).

    Like

    1. Hi Janet. I hadn’t intented to disable the comments, so I re-enabled them when someone pointed it out to me. Hopefully it should be resolved now.

      Yeah, bike problems are more frequent than I’d like. I’ve been pleased that (so far) I’ve managed to keep limping along. It’s surprising how many parts of the bike are non-essential, and at its core a bike is remarkably simple.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Sam.

      Like

  2. “India is safe again now that the military know my town of birth.” You made me laugh. Little do they know how close they came to the end of civilisation!

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