Senapati to Kohima 80km
Kohima to Manja 115km
I've figured out why I'm feeling so relaxed and comfortable, why I'm enjoying the riding so much, even though I'm climbing. It's because I'm in the mountains, and these guys are pretty big. It doesn't take long and we are very high above the valleys. Also, the locals are so relaxed and chilled. They seem to be better off than some of the other countries I've been in, they're well dressed, clean, and, interested in my journey. It's also a lot cooler than its been lately......mountain air.
I've climbed a long way today, and am following a road that contours around the upper reaches of a mountain range, connecting towns and villages that sit on the ridges and spurs. It's very dry, and the road is narrow. None of the houses have running water, and locals are queued at springs in the side of the hill, filling water containers. There are signs warning of fines for washing your car or using extra large receptacles.
I woke early, but my hosts did not. I had all my gear at the bottom of the stairs and was ready to
go before 6am, but I was locked into the hotel, and Fiona was locked in another room. It's a bit scarey been locked into a building with no way out. I'm very conscious of an "escape route" in case of fire. Often there is no such route. I couldn't rouse anyone until 6.30am. Perhaps because it was so cold. On the street, through the locked gates, I could see everyone wearing puffer jackets.
Eventually someone with a key turned up, and they helped me load up. I was glad to get the blood moving. Out on the main road, we started climbing almost immediately, and almost immediately we were confronted by a convoy of petrol and LPG tankers. There must have been 200 of them, escorted by the military, with foot patrols at intersections, rest areas, and even where foot tracks came off the hills. They were all heading downhill, so for the best part of 30mins there was much squealing of badly adjusted brakes, tooting of horns, belches of diesel fumes, dust and noise.
Once I'd climbed for a couple of hours, the road evened out. I could cruise around the face of the mountain, down to a bridge in a valley, then climb back up to level. Often the climbs were not even too huge, and seldom steep. In places the road conditions deteriorated, but were still manageable,
and there was so much happening everywhere, to soak in and absorb. Yep, I'm having fun.
The kms were slow though. It took an age to ride the last 10km to Kohima. And what a crazy town. Narrow streets, this is a mountain town, on a narrow ridge, between pretty tall buildings, with masses of traffic. Crazy. It took four goes before I found a hotel that was charging reasonable prices, and each time it meant leaving Fiona and all my gear unattended in crowded streets. Each time I returned, I found someone had taken charge of "looking after" her. Getting Fiona, the trailer and four panniers up the step stairs to reception, then down a flight at the back of the hotel, to my room, was a feat. I'm glad I'd had an easier day of riding.
Out on the street, after my first dinner, I met a young American Raft Guide, cycling a Fat Tyre bike. I'm the first cycle tourist he's seen in India in eight months. We find him a room at my hotel, and go out for my second dinner. When we come out of the restuarant at 6.30pm, the town is closed....not even anything for us to look at. I can't even find out the results of NZ vs West Indies CWC quarterfinals.
50km of beautiful downhill the next morning, in fresh, but smoky air, and hardly any traffic,
followed by 20km flat into a city, and I'm dodging Sunday morning traffic at 11am. Doesn't seem much point in stopping this early, I reckon I could manage the 50km to Manja.
I've passed through heaps of very "Christian" towns, with various denomination churches and schools, and this continues for about 10km out of town, and then....there's nothing. No houses, no farms, no people, no traffic. I check my map. Nope, looks okay. After 10km a bus passes me. Another 10km and a tuktuk. Then a scooter stops and waves me down. He is "media" and wants some photos. Finally I reach a village, and stop for a break. Out of nowhere a crowd appears. The spokesman, a little fat guy, is quite a laugh. He is making the crowd laugh as he asks me questions. CWC gets a good thrashing. He asks me whether I eat pork. I ask him "has he got any left? " and pat him on the belly. The crowd understand more English than they have previously let on, and love this retort, some bent over laughing. All good fun.
I'm getting close to Manja, and a 15 year old cycles up next to me. He and his friends have been playing cricket against a neighbouring village, and are returning home. His English is very good, and we have a great chat as we ride along. As we enter
the village, he invites me to have a rest and drink of water at his home.......and then the flood gates open.
I'm given lemon tea and biscuits. Every person in the village comes in to the house to meet me, and get their photo taken. I am prepared a meal...Noone else eats...and taught how to eat "traditionally Indian". More people visit. I am presented with gifts. Finally, I am escorted, by five people, to a Lodge, where a special "locals rate" has been organized. I'm instructed to come back and visit later in the afternoon.
After a clean up and nap, I return to the house. This visit starts with "Indian snacks". Then a parade of locals come through, each wanting to speak to me personally. Then another meal is cooked. Finally, after 9pm, really late for me, and after tears of farewell, I'm escorted back to the Lodge, with promises of a farewell gathering at 6am. All I can say is ...WOW.