India to Myanmar by Road – the great road trip
The change is palpable as we arrived at the other side of the border. People look almost the same, but there are subtle changes in their demeanour. The first thing that we noticed at Tamu was that the place was cleaner and the numerous hoardings of Myanmar Beer. Since the time we heard about the proposed India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, it had been on our mind. When we came to know that Indians could now travel to Myanmar by road crossing the land border, we knew that we have to visit Myanmar by road.
What is India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral (IMT) Highway?
Sixteen years ago, India, Myanmar and Thailand decided to build a road connecting the three countries that would boost trade as well as connect the people of the three nations. The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is a project to build a 1360 km stretch of highway between Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar. It had an ambitious beginning in 2002 and is still a work in progress. The first 160 km stretch of road is known as India-Myanmar Friendship Highway and you can see a small yellow slab at the bridge announcing the same.
The deadline for completion has been missed once. It was in 2015 and now the revised one is in 2020. India is supposed to implement two projects on the IMT Highway and both in Myanmar. You will get all the facts and figures about the project on the internet. Let me share our experience here.
India to Myanmar by road
We reached Imphal and then travelled to Moreh on the Indo-Burmese border. Moreh is a small, dusty border town. By the time we reached Moreh, we were already late and it was drizzling. We had to cross the border by 4:30 PM IST. But before that, we wanted to exchange our Indian currencies to Myanmar Kyats.
During the time of our visit, a rupee gave 20 Kyats. So suddenly from a few thousands of currencies, we were the owner of few lakhs! Before I could really get hold of the Kyats, we had to go towards the Moreh ICP because we were really really late.
There is an Assam rifle Checkpost on the way. The sentries stopped us and wanted to know why we were going to Burma so late. How are we going to return back? He was quite surprised to know that we were planning to travel all the way to Mandalay. Well, he just told us to come back and get all the details entered after getting our passports and visas stamped.
The Moreh Integrated Check Point (ICP) stands on top of a small hillock overlooking the Bailey Bridge, the “border” connecting India and Myanmar. The bridge was built during the WWII era linking Moreh and Tamu, the Burmese counterpart. The ICP is a huge complex with a passenger terminal, parking and import warehouses. But it is all empty. There are about two to three employees at the swanky office. One checked our passports and made all the necessary entries. The other did all the other customs procedures. The car which brought us till here then left us at the Bailey Bridge.
Because the nations have not yet agreed upon the movement of vehicles across the national border, our car with the Indian number plate could not cross the bridge to the other side. So we walked down the 100-meter bridge to the other side starting our journey on the India-Myanmar Friendship Highway. Well, there are a few vehicles crossing the bridge which we presumed to be for the people of Moreh and Tamu, a concession made for border trade.
At the opposite end of the bridge stands the Myanmar Immigration Office, a small one-room office quite unlike the Indian counterpart. The immigration officers looked at our documents, visas and get them stamped. So now we were officially in Myanmar.
Now that all the paperwork were done, we have to go to Tamu town from where we would get our Van to Mandalay. While we were looking out for cars to take us there, a betel chewing man approached us and offered to take us there. He charged INR 100 per head for taking us to the stop.
Once we arrived at the Van stop, another shock awaited us. The last van to Mandalay had already left. Fatty Ko, the person whom we had contacted for the van said that the last van to Mandalay was at 4 PM Myanmar Standard Time (MST) and we were an hour late. He advised that we could stay back at Tamu and take the next days’ van to Mandalay. But that would mean all our plans go haywire because we had limited days. We wanted to go that day itself! He told us we can take a car to Mandalay, but that would cost us 50000 MMK per head. Well, the van takes 20000 MMK and this means our budget too would go a bit haywire too!
Finally, time won over money and we decided to start that evening itself. We started at around 6 PM towards a long and arduous journey to Mandalay. It was dark outside and our car sped across the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway. I would not say that I was a bit afraid. It was a new country, new people and a language that we did not understand at all. Neither did they understand English! But while travelling, you should always trust your gut! That is what we did and embarked on the journey of a lifetime.
The first few kilometers of the road was good. But after that the roads became bumpy. Later I came to know that there are 69 bridges between the 150 km Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa section. India is supposed to help Burma build these bridges! And also the road between Kalewa-Yargyi sector. We had our dinner somewhere on the road and then again started our journey.
We tried to sleep, but at every sharp bends and turn, we were literally thrown out of the seats. Anyways, we sat tight while sleep fleeted in and out. Early morning we were driving the villages of Myanmar and finally, around 8 AM we were at our destination. We had arrived at Mandalay.
To know about our entire trip, read our Myanmar Travel Itinerary.
While returning from Mandalay to Tamu, we took the 12-seater Van. This journey took longer time because, during the night, the driver would just stop in the middle of nowhere and sleep. Yes, he would stop the van and go off to sleep for a good 30 minutes to one hour. We were more comfortably seated in the van compared to the car as there were 3 of us and there was a seat belt too.
The road trip was fairly interesting and thrilling and also quite tiring. In the end, everything was great and we had a great trip to Myanmar. The IMT Highway goes further to Mae Sot in Thailand. We also heard the highway is being planned to extend to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam as well. So, we can see another road trip is in the future. Would you join us?
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