Vijay and I breakfasted then headed out to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Imphal. Three New Zealanders are buried there, two died serving under the New Zealand Air Force (Mervyn Ingram DFC and Sidney Sadler) and one died serving in the Royal Air Force (Eric Todd).
It was down a dirty side street and nestled in among some deprived housing. It was a lovely setting but surrounded by squalor.
The grounds themselves were immaculately looked after but it was very disappointing to see that it is a gathering place for the local youth who were lounging around, lying on top of monuments, smoking and generally treating it as a place to gather and catch up with their mates instead of a memorial site.
I vented my views to a couple of them but they didn’t really know what I was saying, when I walked away from them they started laughing so it was obvious they didn’t give a damn.
The caretaker must have spotted Vijay and I – he saw me placing flags and poppies on the New Zealanders graves. He was carrying a brush and a rag which he wiped the graves with so I could take photos of “clean” headstones. It had rained the night before so they were watermarked – no bad reflection on him – the cemetery itself is as I said well maintained.
We left there and I was not sure whether I was angry or not, on the one hand the youngsters there should be more respectful, but on the other hand, there was no visible vandalism, it was a beautiful place, and maybe – just maybe, they might have a glimmer of understanding about what this place was. They obviously like the cleanliness and peaceful surroundings since it is there that they gather.
From there we went to the Indian Army Cemetery. There Muslim Soldiers serving the British are buried, and there is a plaque to commemorate the Hindu Soldiers whose bodies were cremated.
This cemetery is also maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was spotless also. The big difference as that there was no loitering here. As we pulled up to the gates a man who was the caretaker opened the gate for us. It must have been coincidental that he was there at the gate when we arrived, he had looked after the place for 18 years.
When I asked him how come there was no loitering youths here but there was at the other one he said it was a) because there were Muslim Soldiers buried there b) because people were not allowed there to loiter.
When I asked why they could loiter at the other one he said that they are not supposed to, but if they try to stop them there is trouble, so it is easier to let them than to stop them. He did mention that they are probably going to post a soldier there to stop the loiterers, but whether that happens or not I could not say – maybe it sounds good but won’t ever happen??
From there Vijay and I headed back to the Hotel to get our bags and catch a ride to the bus station to travel to Moirang which is where Loktak Lake is. We got on a very crappy bus (good by Bangladesh standards though), the seats were all full so we climbed through a partition and sat squashed in the very front, me wedged up against the windscreen and Vijay beside me both side on facing the driver.
But we weren’t as squashed as we were about to become because next another man squeezed in and sat next to Vijay, then another man placed a cardboard box full of baby chickens in the space we had all crawled through. Shortly thereafter the chickens had to be moved and another man sat in the gap we had crawled through. That meant there were 5 of us (including the driver), plus Vijay and my backpacks wedged into the drivers compartment. Our bags were in the very back of the bus. It was a fingers crossed journey. If we had hit anything or gone off the road we would have been goners, and secondly we just had to hope that our bags would make the full journey to Moirang and not end up part way in some poor villagers house.
I had checked all the windows to see which would be the easiest to break if we had to evacuate, my fear was if the bus caught fire – roasted chicken is fine, but not roasted Brent.
Anyway since I am writing this email we obviously made it safely – not so sure about the chickens futures though.
Moirang is a little town at the Southern end of Loktak Lake about 45 k’s south of Imphal.
The State of Manipur is not a fun place to visit, the people are not outwardly friendly, there is a palpable sense of underlying tension, there are Soldiers everywhere, and at 6.30pm the entire City completely shuts down, nothing at all is open. The few people that will communicate all tell you to be inside after 6pm as it is not safe to be out and about. Imphal and possible the entire State is like petrol awaiting a spark, then it will erupt, you can just sense it.
When Vijay and I went to Loktak Lake the day we visited what used to be an Island in the middle. It now has a causeway and you can drive to the hill in the middle. On the hill there is a flash hotel within a gated complex – it had the feel of a very small resort. At the very top of the hill is a rotunda with seats around it – people that are not guests can pay at the gate at the bottom to enter and sit admiring the views of the Lake almost completely around them apart from the causeway, and the part of the Island still ahead. Further down are cottages which were also for hire – strangely at the same price as the Hotel rooms. Nice as they were they only had 1 double bed which wouldn’t work for Vijay and I. Nice as he is I won’t sleep in the same bed as him, I am sure that is mutual in the nicest possible way!!
They said they could bring in another bed, but in the end we opted for the Hotel room with a balcony overlooking the Lake with a steep bank immediately in front of us dropping down to a small village nestled on the Lake edge. Majestic it was, and a nice change from Imphal.
After checking in – which consisted of saying we would take the Room, not the Cottage, we dumped our bags and went up to the view point 100 meters from our room.
It was a beautiful afternoon – there were families picnicking, convention attendees from Imphal, and people of allsorts just taking in the view and atmosphere. We sat there for maybe an hour then decided to go to the bottom of the hill to where we could see a fishing hut out near the edge of the Lake. We walked down the hill, through security, past the Army Base and through the Village to the Lake edge where to our surprise hidden from our previous vantage point on the hill there was a flat area with a whole lot of boys playing cricket and football. I took a few photos before I was approached by a young man (18) who said he spoke English. He was keen to practise and he was very, very good. He said he was there playing football with his friends to lose fat – he was slightly chubby but only by Indian standards. We chatted for maybe 20 minutes, he was from a very poor family, his parents were both fishing people. Yet despite his poverty, he was a man desperately seeking a brighter future. Vijay and I were both impressed with him and after a good chat we went our separate ways, but not before Vijay asked if he could have a couple of balls bowled at him while he tried to show his cricket batting skills. Vijay hit both balls and I couldn’t leave without having a go also. I am crap at cricket, but relying on my softball skills of days gone by, was lucky enough to hit two great shots. I walked off feeling that I had put on a good show – India might have hit two fours, but mine were both 6’s in comparison.
From there, as the sun was starting to set we found a disused dredge that was high and dry. We climbed onto it and sat there watching the
sun set behind the hills reflected in the water. Vijay had a couple of beers with him, both of which he really enjoyed in a beautiful setting. I took a few photos and we were in a completely peaceful spot until a couple of locals pointed out that just above the dredge were power lines and that it was dangerous to be there. I thought there was enough gap between the dredge we were on and the power lines, but once they told us that people had been electrocuted there and it wasn’t safe we decided to heed there advice and depart back through the Village, past the Army Base, through security and back to our room.
On the way Vijays phone rang – the Hotel was letting us know the restaurant was shutting soon. So we diverted there on the way to our room, had a basic, but tasty dinner, then headed to our room.
It was a balmy still night, but not for long.
We were asleep by 10pm, but then in what seemed like the middle of the night I was awoken by flashing and a strange whistling noise. Once I had oriented myself I realised that we were in what seemed like a hurricane, there was lightening every one or two seconds, there was torrential rain and the wind was so strong that the roof seemed like it was going to rip off. And there lay Vijay snoring blissfully.
I decided I had to look out the window to see the storm in all it’s fury, the floor in our room had a big puddle of water where the wind and rain were driving water through the gaps in the balcony doors that joined in the middle and also under the door. It seemed like the door was going to explode off it’s hinges. It was an amazing thing to experience, the lightning was continuous, the wind intense, it was the most amazing storm I have experienced – Vijay finally woke up, and he thought it was pretty intense also.
Since the power in our room was knocked out I found my torch and suggested we brave the storm and go up to the viewpoint. Vijay stupidly agreed to come with me, so we made a wet dash up to the top of the hill. There was a roof over us but the rain was coming in horizontally so it afforded us only scant protection, so I then suggested that the way a cottage below us was oriented we could stand in it’s balcony and be in the lee of the storm. We made our way down along a few muddy steps and found ourselves on the balcony of the cottage out of most of the wind.
We were wet and it was still very windy even in the shelter, the storm was raging around us with lightening, thunder and heavy rain. We watched as the storm moved north of us then decided we had seen what we needed and headed back to our room. In the corridor just outside our room a sodden rat scurried back and forward not sure which was his worse danger – us, or being outside. In the end he went outside, we went inside, I mopped up most of the water in our room and we got back into our respective beds. Surprisingly despite all the action it was only 11pm, I slept well until 7am – an exciting day over.