I saw a lot of men with ‘guns’ today…. And not the sort of ‘guns’ I would usually see at they gym. These were machine guns and …all sorts of guns.
We needed to drive through Manipur to get to the border town of Tamu into Myanmar, which meant we needed to drive through an area which had quite a large military presence…. and I’m still not quite sure what the ‘civil unrest’ really means. We had to pass through many military checkpoints which our guide assisted us in the process of showing our passports and completing documentation of our passage through this area.
The views to the mountains were beautiful and I was really enjoying the cleaner air away from the cool morning smog of Imphal … and often I was surprised out of my relaxed thoughts when I saw walking on the side of the road or just off into the bushes; men wearing camouflage clothing; …. and with leaves sticking from the top of their hard olive green hats.
Then I saw their guns!
Their guns slung across their shoulder with their right hand on the trigger. Some were larger than others. Some had timber handle bits…. and were really long in the barrel bit…. and others were shorter and fatter and chunkier. My heart started to pound a little when I saw one soldier walking along the road carrying a mortar. I must admit thinking at that time for a split second – “What in the name of God was I doing here!!”…. but I didn’t feel unsafe – actually it was when the men with guns weren’t nearby that I felt less comfortable…but I knew that if there were any rumblings brewing they would not let us proceed through the checkpoints – and we were always waved off after our paperwork was completed.
Our last checkpoint leaving India was a little more complicated and we required our new guide – Mr Tin, to come to produce documentation that we had permission to drive in Myanmar. Whilst all this was happening we could see the head Indian officer watching an Indian movie on the computer screen adjacent to his working screen. Yep… only in India!!!
Police Checkpoints and Border crossings are always very official proceedings. Forms have to be completed. Passports produced. Xerox copies of papers handed over. Questions answered. Stamps seriously placed and signed…. and of course everything needs to be carefully recorded in some sort of ledger! Both Myanmar and India seem to use the same process of record keeping… folders for loose papers; all stacked in random piles… and hardbound ledgers where carefully hand written documentation is ceremonially recorded…. then… we are notified that we are free to proceed…only after they have had their photograph taken with Penny! Crazy hey!
The cultural demarcation line on the river between India and Myanmar was huge. The difference was immediate. The impact of this difference was evident as we were guided through lunch in a local café where our guide explained parts of the menu and the procedure for requesting the bill at the end of the meal – and only in local café’s…. which here in Myanmar requires one to make a sound with one’s lips just like making a loud kiss (without contact with any other lips of course!) We have yet to try that.
There was so much to share about today… but I am tired, and we have a 12 hour drive to our next town tomorrow so I’m off to bed now and will be in touch again soon.