The Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) car rally crossed into China from Myanmar on Friday night after a memorable journey through India, Bangladesh and Myanmar over the past nine days.
The complex geography of the region entailed entering India twice, once at the start from Kolkata and again from Bangladesh through Sutarkandi in Assam. From Assam, the road stretched to Manipur through Silchar and entered Myanmar through the Moreh-Tamu land border.
From Tamu, the convoy rolled through pristine Myanmarese jungles into Ka Lay, a small town in Chin state. From Ka Lay, we drove to Mandalay, the once imperial capital of Myanmar. Thence the drive took us into China through the Muse-Ruili land border. On Friday, we were in Tengchang, a quaint town in Yunan province surrounded by hills and bursting with spring flowers.
What sets this journey apart is that it is not about metropolises and mega cities like Mumbai, Beijing or Shanghai, but about relatively obscure places and less-noticed peoples. It is about Benapole, Jessore, Sylhet, Karimganj, Silchar, Imphal, Moreh, Tamu, Ruilly and Tengchang and hundreds of villages on the route whose names are not marked even on Google maps.
The rally is about bridging all those faceless villages and inconspicuous towns which populate the hinterland. It is about the hope that one day, sooner rather than later, the patchy roads will metamorphose into paved macadam providing easy access to each other. The rally is also about breaking down political barriers to ensure seamless connectivity for the common good.
Negotiating the stretches
For the moment though, the cars have to make their own road in quite a few stretches. So tyres swallow as much dust as tarmac as the convoy moves through the route. The stretch from Silchar to Imphal took fifteen hours to negotiate. Invariably, every single day, the rally reached its destination only by 10 pm, stopping frequently not just to attend to breakdowns, but also to interact with the villagers who had turned out along the route to wish us a safe journey.
School children may have been commissioned, but the home-makers and shop-keepers certainly were not. The reception was as spontaneous as it was overwhelming.
When a young journalist travelling on the rally stopped in Narayanganj town near Dhaka to scoop a handful of soil to take to her family which originally came from the region but now lives in Kolkata, it made headlines in local newspapers that day.
The journey has not been without hiccups though. Some car or the other broke down every couple of hours, some sprang punctures, others broke an axle or bent an oil pipe. The Kukis in Manipur had threatened to block the rally in the route before it reached the border near Moreh, but with literally scores of armoured cars escorting the rally from Imphal and six army helicopters on standby in case of an incident, the convoy rolled smoothly.
The local newspaper in Manipur reported that some explosives hidden on the route were defused well in time before the rally passed the spot, by an alert patrol vehicle. In Manipur, not only had the administration mobilised their entire paramilitary, police and armed forces to provide security, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh personally distributed mementoes to the entire delegation.
Landscape: Serving up a palimpsest
As the convoy passed through, the landscape served up a palimpsest of mountains, swamps, rivers, lakes, rice paddies and jungles, From densely populated Bangladesh and India, the landscape changed into the vast wilderness of Myanmar.
The ethnic, linguistic, cultural transformation along the route, though gradual, becomes pronounced. Facial features changed from the familiar to the more exotic, often defining slotting. Despite these gradual differences, what unites the people of this region is the desire to partake of the fruits of prosperity that seems to elude them primarily because of the lack of proper connectivity.