– By RK Lakhi Kant
The bus to Motbung actually ends at the crowded Nagamapal marketplace in Imphal but the actual station is at Khoyathong, about half a kilometre away. If you board at the ending point you have to take a short ride to the starting point. As you get on to the bus a feeling of travel and freedom comes to your mind and removes you from the hustle-bustle of Imphal. You get a not so surprising thought that Imphal has died a bad death over these years. As the traffic whizzes past your window you see time has elapsed. Seems like ages, far too long to know whether it’s good or bad things have come to this state of affairs. For those in the hills it didn’t really matter because life didn’t change their faith. It became stronger; faith became more. In the valley they lost the little faith they had. The back of their buses don’t announce boldly ‘The Lord is the Shepherd’. Values don’t decline unless you leave them. Something people in the valley didn’t realise. They left their values and wanted to only fit into the system to get its benefits or its sordid approvals.
Motbung’s by the way between Imphal and Saparmeina, closer by about just a few kilometres to the latter. A great wisdom I learnt on the road to Christian towns with Christian men and women is that sorrow doesn’t teach anything. They have the spirit to rejoice – ‘Rejoice always in the Lord’ they preach, and it’s remarkable, this characteristic of indifference to sorrow. Which in fact in the valley is somehow viewed as the hill people’s resignation to hardship, and surprisingly, of all the things, frustration. It should be a revelation for them to know the hills, as always, were thinking and living something else; it was apart from the usual, common, and normal. Normality meant worship here; not suffering life, as paradoxically life in the abundant valley; but being indifferent to the coming and going of suffering, so that it looked a continuity of how life traversed unchallenged, so much faith, love it had in itself and for others. You can’t be as quick as God in transferring wisdom and love, but that’s something the hills do every time I am on a bus through it. It’s like a greeting card or a large gift awaiting on the road. It lightens your burdens, enlightens you, and cheers you up at the very sight of it. You never needed an invitation to be at such places because it’s God’s gift, always an off chance, and fulfilling adventure or joy, when you are on the move.
Nowadays there are traces of mixed communities with quite a few non-hills people staying along the road, at least till Kanglatongbi. I don’t think earlier this was so because adventure and business was only through Imphal’s royal military and much couldn’t be placed here due to Imphal’s distance from alien cultures, and also due to logistics of military movements involved, since Imphal was a small community. Even after decades of resettlements, the hills retain their ardour on the National Highway-2. Only a few tankers, passenger buses and small four-wheeler vehicles are seen on this road, which has been in disuse ever since Imphal said it didn’t like the Nagaland route to the world outside Imphal; but tourist sightseeing is more pleasant because of this. Nothing much has changed over the decades in these hills and they are idyllic road tours. Life here along the way is lived as it comes, given and supported by natural circumstances, something that backpackers always look forward to.
Before the bus reaches the hills stretch, the land is inhabited more, from Koirengei onwards, sometimes by large buildings harbouring the by now redundant money culture that Imphal is now. But the lands here are giving more returns in terms of whatever mental peace and other gains it has to offer, than the earlier sparse rice fields that couldn’t have produced so much, but certainly looked much more pleasant a sight. Kanglatongbi, about seven kilometres to Motbung, is a big market now unlike about 10 years back. The signboard on the roadside quotes Jesus ‘Nobody comes to the Father except through me’. True indeed! Nobody who does not like the hills also, would venture that far from the city. You need a good heart and a mind to be here, approaching the hills.
Onwards, villages are more settled and organised. Damdei is a nice name for a village that has some corn drying in the sunlight on the sidewall of a house. See if the name rolls well on the tongue because there are more eye-catching villages on the way then on. Motbung cemetery next is quite a relic, going by the number of crosses erected on the grounds. Seems like nearby villages come here whenever someone passes away. Beyond Motbung there is also not much inhabitation with the river that got hidden along the way suddenly reappearing on the roadside. And you are suddenly reminded this was what the thirst was about down in the valley. The sudden appearance of the river seems to announce your divorce from the valley, and says, now you can drink in as much as you like; for it’s just a river without a price on its waters. One thing that troubled the sight along the way were the spawning stone and sand quarrying going on in the river bed. A pity the water loses its quality, so muddy it becomes; and it doesn’t go gushing down, with the familiar rush when the stones are heavy laden in the river.
To be familiar with the names, there’s Henjang village with a small bridge that connects it to the highway across the river. There’s Gamphazol near Damdei Christian College – quiet, sleepy, meditative and as if meticulously planned. Khonomphai village has something to do with MK Gandhi giving employment through the MGNREGA scheme. Beyond is Saparmeina where the earth’s swell rises from the river banks, as if taken birth from its life giving waters. To be alone with it too is peace. A peace no one owns, but is thankfully part of. Saparmeina is a biggish village town – a window for the area, which looks out into the world. I came across a poster directing the way to the Evangelist church there, which begins ‘Nache la lam lama…’, where I could pick out only the word ‘lama’, which in another language means monk. And I thought you don’t need translations in God’s country. Everything’s one there. Next to Saparmeina is Gamnom that has a State Bank of India branch with an ATM.
Even the buses here have their belief in God with each having an imaginative quote or two painted on them. One of them heralds ‘Victory in Jesus’, and on the back side ‘In God we trust’. There’s an amalgamation of nature, man and God in these lands. On the way back there’s Thingbongjang village with a few straw huts too, and next Kholep has a neat arrangement of only a few flowers on a house’s small porch. Motbung bazar, where I was initially heading to, but didn’t get off, as the bus was going further, has a large market and also the Thadou Baptist Association, a seminary, and the Presidency College. Charhazare has an Indian, Nepali people with a Sanskrit Vidyalaya. The Damdei Christian College at Taloulong in Motbung has one of the best approaches I have ever seen to a college; a long walk shaded by a line of trees, from the main road; it looks ideal for studies; better than even the Manipur University which is now rusted in brilliant colours and metallic human figures. Makhan Naga village is well spread out near Kanglatongbi and the last of the villages of any relevance to the purpose with which I went to Motbung, and further to Saparmeina, without luckily paying 10 extra rupees for the added ride, before I caught a passing glimpse of Gamjiphai village towards my lunch at Imphal. I eat outside as the other food puts me to sleep. I didn’t find the adherence of Imphal as appealing as the congruity and freedom itself of the hills on the Imphal to Dimapur highway – something that doesn’t trouble my faith in mankind, as it does in the heredity of Imphal’s locale.