From one end to another. Thank you covid mata :-)

Ok lets get back to the good side of the travel.

Plan : Imphal to Kohima
Distance : 137 kms.
Time : Google is useless in this part of India. We guessed it should not take more than 5 hrs.

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Given our experience from the previous day (refer previous post), We agreed to wake up early in Imphal and then start early to reach early. We were mentally prepared for not a very pleasant day, given that we are heading towards more concentrated habitat of Naga people (NSCN is a naga extremist group).

The alarm rang at 5 and on waking up I realized I had a surprisingly good sleep in the car while the outside temperature dropped to ~ 5-6 degrees Celsius. We had a hot cup of tea and started our journey. This morning was distinctly different as in lots of fog, very windy and super cold. However within first 50 kms we realized that this side of Manipur / Nagaland was much more developed than Silchar to Imphal route. The roads were wide and paved well, every village looked clean and maintained well. All these villages took pride in their tribe and showcased their tradition at the entry gate to the village (through which the NH passes). This being few weeks before Christmas, almost the entire stretch was decorated beautifully.

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Somewhere near Maram bazaar we stopped for breakfast where we met a nepali couple running their restaurant. While chit chatting in nepali, we came to know that a lot nepali live in this region. They had originally moved from Nepal in search of construction work and eventually settled down.
By 9ish, we reached Mao, the border town to Nagaland and as expected there was a covid center set up to check and allow people travelling to and from. From our experience a day earlier, we were expecting cops to ask for bribe and possibly harass in the context of covid, but surprisingly one cop allowed us (only us) to proceed towards Kohima, given that we were travelling from Manipur. The logic is manipur had a stricter covid control, so the folks in Kohima side allow all such travelers. While people travelling from Kohima to Manipur need to undergo checks. Good for us, we moved ahead with relief and in next one hour, we were at the outskirts of Kohima.

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My Dad started his career in Kohima so for him it was quite nostalgic. While I drove, he narrated stories from his good old days for straight 2 long hours. We reached this place named Viswema from where one can see the first view of Kohima. It was indeed mesmerizing. Kohima is probably one the biggest hill station I have seen, it is certainly spread over a large area. The hills in this part of the India are very broad vs what I'm used to seeing in north west bengal (Darjeeling etc). This was a completely different experience. First impression of Kohima was BEAUTIFUL...

First we visited Dad's office for some work and then we took up a room in Hotel Aurora, right in the middle of Kohima. The location was excellent and we had a parking too. We had a sumptuous lunch in their restaurant and then went out to do some site seeing. Unfortunately covid had other plans and most of the places of interest were closed, including Kohima War cemetery. Nevertheless we took this opportunity to leave our car in the parking lot and take a walk of the city. Within an hour it was evident that one should not judge naga people strictly based on the elements we find in rural Manipur (Silchar to Imphal route). Naga people in general were very warm, well mannered and most of them were educated. The evenings were awesome too, the city center becomes a street food heaven by 5, with vendors setting up makeshift shops of local delicacies as well as the usual 'city snacks' we are used to. We spent the rest of the evening experiencing the city and enjoying beautiful Christmas decoration all throughout.

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The decision we had to make was, whether it was worthwhile taking a chance for Dzouko valley the next day or head back home. Locals confirmed the valley was closed due to covid, so it was clear we were heading back to Imphal the next morning.
 
There is not much to talk about our return journey from Kohima to Imphal to Silchar. So lets skip directly to the next leg of our journey.
For next weekend we planned to visit Agartala. This time the passengers shuffled and it turned out to be a all boys gang....brilliant....finally.
So it is
Silchar to Agartala and back in 2 days, 4 guys and no set expectation from the place, except that I was very curious about Unnakoti. I came to know about this place from one of the youtuber with a channel named 'Counting Miles'.

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By now all the passengers realized the importance to start journey early in the morning. Thanks to all the fiasco on the Silchar to Imphal route. We started at sharp 5. The route was Silchar > Dharmanagar >Unnakoti >Agartala > Mata bari (Udaipur) > Silchar.
From Silchar to the border village (Churaibari) it is 100kms and the roads are fairly straight and well paved. The real deal starts after this border. The roads get thinner single roads (max one and half vehicles can pass) and massive potholes are a key feature of the roads. To counter it the lush green farms and forests were a treat to the eyes.

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Trees of two different species growing as one
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Our first stop was Unakoti. This is UNESCO World Heritage Site. A must visit if you ever come to Tripura. Unakoti means 1 less than a crore (representing number of stone carved god & goddesses you can find here). There is a short story to this place which I would suggest you to read on google. Let me highlight what I as a traveler experienced. By the time we reached Unakoti, it was 8:30 and during covid there was none to let us in. Neither was there any sign if that place actually was Unakoti, we simply relied on google map. After spending 15 mins we decided to check with someone and entered the park, just to realize that there is a separate road at the back of the park that leads to Unakoti.
Got to that place (5 kms from the park on the main road) and registered ourselves for entry (no entry fees). It is a valley within steep hills and you need to climb up/down a total of 1000+ stairs. But the first view of the place was simply amazing. Rarely people would believe that there can be such a beautiful serene place amidst hills away from Agartala. The morning mist and winter morning added to the experience. We spent the next 45 mins exploring the place.

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From there we headed towards Agartala. We took a slight detour via state roads which costed us additional 30 mins on bad road, but that was worth it. Remember green country side road of Tripura? As we proceeded the roads were getting worse and we started deliberating different alternate plans if Agartala turns out to be a meah place. It took a really long time for us to reach Agartala, 4 pm to be precise. The days in NE are shorter so we hardly had another hours before we called it a day. The first thing we visited was the railway station. Why railway station you say, because it is probably the only one in India which actually looks like a Palace. We did not go inside but later locals told us that the inside is even better.

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Nevertheless we headed to the city center and found this palace. This was not in our list of places for some reason. It is called Ujjayanta Palace. What was surprising was to find something like this in one extreme corner of India and the rest of the Country really does not know much about it. It was quite an exploration for us. We lazily graced around this place for the next 30 mins before it clicked all of us that we hadn't booked any hotel.

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Tripura as such is not very tourism focused thus good hotels are rare. We found one in city center and our prime attraction was Awadhi biryani shop (named Dum Pukht) right beneath it. You heard it right Awadhi biryani shop in extreme NE. That night we relished the brilliantly cooked Awadhi biryani (at par with the ones you get in Lucknow) and I tell you, you cannot afford to miss this restaurant if you are here.

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First evening was certainly full of surprises and definitely impressive. Agartala so far was pleasantly surprising.

Day 2 to follow.
 

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Day 2 of Silchar Agartala trip

Today is expected to be a long day, very long. 11 hrs of drive time to be precise. Our first destination was Neer Mahal.

Neer Mahal : Neermahal is a former royal palace built by Maharaja of Tripura Kingdom Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya bahadur of the erstwhile Kingdom of Tripura, India in the middle of the lake Twijilikma in the 1930s. It is situated in Melaghar, 53 kilometers away from Agartala.

The road to Neer Mahal was surprisingly good. Partially because it was a flat land but additional due to its connectivity with Sabroom (border town with Bangladesh via which most of our trade happens from NE. We covered 53 kms in 1.5 hours, I know its late. Mornings during winter in NE is quite foggy and in some places the fog stays till 10 am. By 7:30 there was none but us at the entrance of dock to Neer Mahal. The dock opens by 9ish is what we were told. You need to take a boat to Neer Mahal, roughly 20 mins ride.
We spent ~ 10 mins staring at nothing when one of the unregistered boat guy approached us and agreed to take us for Rs 200. So there we started.

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I have not been to Jal Mahal Udaipur (biggest lake palace in Asia, Neer Mahal being 2nd biggest) however my experience with the Neer Mahal was out of this World. It was experiencing a virgin beauty. Absolutely uncommercialized place plus add the peace of a winter morning with very few people around. We started framing an opinion on Agartala, as the best capital city and tourist place in entire NE. The day had much more to offer us. Read till the end.

From here my cousin informed us that there is a Kali bari (very auspicious) nearby so we should try that. So we headed for Matabari (27kms).
This place is just about ok, typical religious place. Photography was prohibited.

Matabari pond
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After this we had to decide on which route to take back to Silchar. It was 1 pm. If we had to go back to Agartala and then to Silchar that would be 358 kms. The other alternate route was via Amarpur 321 kms, i.e. ~ 30 kms shorter and 30 mins less time. Given we had at least 3 to 4 hours of day light we decided to take a try and take this shorter route (marked in black i the map above).

Not sure who had the guts to crossbreed a Tiger and a Dog :)
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And guess what in next 15/20 kms it was evident that this decision was better. This route took us through the country side of Tripura, which I must say was such a pleasure to our eyes. Green, healthy plants all around, small hills (or big hillocks if you may say) and the roads weren't bad either. We dropped our speed to the extent possible to absorb the beauty of this region. The best route of our entire trip for sure.
Eventually we reached Silchar by 11:30 pm.
 
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Back from Agartala we spent few more days in Silchar before we headed back to Siliguri.

There are ruins of Kachari Raja's house (Silchar is a city in Cachar district) which is a good visit for a couple of hour weekend time pass. Nothing really fascinating, but still good enough for us to cherish our history.

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On our way back to Guwahati, we took a detour to the river of Karati Nadi (right after Badarpur). This place is truly fascinating. Just like the way a kinder garden kid would draw a river. Picture perfect set-up I would say.

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Jam in Jowai
Unlike the onward journey, we planned the return journey a bit differently. We planned for a long single day drive straight to Siliguri..i.e. 770 kms in straight 18 hrs drive with washroom and food breaks in between.
The plan appeared to be heading right when we started early in the morning at 5 from Silchar. But the entire thing turned upside down when we got stuck in a long 5 kms jam with 1000+ trucks deciding to create a chaos at the Jowai checkpost. The place is notorious for traffic jams however today was something on different level. Locals informed that the jam had been there for the night before and we should take a off route via villages if we plan to get out early. But the problem was everyone wanted to take the village route.
So thus we were stuck in a secluded village of Meghalaya with obsoletely no roads and landmark for almost 4 hrs. The locals had to call the army to clear the jam when we finally managed to leave Jowai by 1.

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Lumshong Falls, Meghalaya
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By the time we reached Guwhati it was 5:30 in evening and we had to take a hard call whether to continue driving till mid night to reach Siliguri or stay @ Guwahati for the night. The worry was notorious disturbed area of Kokrajhar/Barpeta which aren't safe for night drive.
The consensus was to move ahead and see if we can cover the distance till Siliguri. We eventually reached Siliguri by 2 am.

This concludes our NE trip all the way from Bangalore. Hope you liked our trip of a life time, which I would say was only possible due to covid induced wfm.
The next leg of our journey is towards North of India, thus I will create a separate log for that.
 
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