Travelling along the infamous NH-2

Ninglun Hanghal *

Pathetic Road condition at portion of National Highway - NH 2 (now also called AH-1) at Senapati, Manipur :: June 21 2017
Pathetic Road condition at portion of National Highway - NH 2 (now also called AH-1) on June 21 2017 :: Pix - Chanchal Guru

One should be mentally and physically prepared before travelling on the infamous NH 2 (now also called AH-1), which connects Manipur's Imphal to Nagaland's Dimapur. There are two major concerns: First is the security and the second, the pathetic condition of the road. As one leaves Imphal, the ride is smooth and pleasant.

Public transport buses and wingers (capacity of about 15 people) – would stop for a sumptuous Manipuri delicacies along the roadside hotels at Sekmai. One must get used to the strong odour of the "sekmai chamellei" (local brew) while eating in these hotels. But no one seemed to bother; no one complained and no one talked about it.

In fact, there are no shops selling the brew; no one can actually be spotted buying and drinking, but it is there; it is omnipresent! One wonders whether the SC's order on liquor ban on highways covers the local brew. Perhaps the ban is only for liquor shops selling IMFL?

Here, women make sure they use the toilets resulting in long queues. Women know that there is not going be a toilet until the next hotel in the next town. If you must relieve yourself on the way, then you have the open space/the jungle bush. In fact, every woman passenger carries a shawl with her to cover herself.

These roadside hotels have tremendously improved unlike the past decades where one couldn't find any toilets. These hotels along the highway are the only option for toilets. Some local enterprising people such as at Mao gate have also begun a "Pay and Use Toilet", which have been extremely convenient for weary travelers, though not satisfactory. Surprisingly, one doesn't see any "swachh bharat" on this busy, important highway.

The journey is bone-rattling and bumpy. No one seem to be interested in the landscape the green hills, the Jhum cultivations, traditional homes, women trying to sell their eatables and snacks. Most of the passengers dozed off, some even snoring. Perhaps due to the heavy food or from the kick of the sekmai- chamellei !

Indeed the ride is so bumpy that it is best to sleep off. At several places, the steep sides of the narrow winding highway had collapsed. Fingers cross ! This year alone, 21 people were killed and over 25 people injured in an accident in March in three separate places along the highway between Imphal and Mao/ Senapati. Another site that catch attention along the highway are the charred vehicles, some along with their goods. The effect of economic blockades.

When one crosses Manipur and enters Nagaland, huge construction equipment can be seen on the highway between Kohima and Dimapur. JCBs cutting vast tracks of hills for road expansion. Given the terrain and amount of resources – human , finance , technology required, the current generation is unlikely to experience travelling on these 4-lane highway.

National Highway (NH-39) runs from Dibrugarh in Assam and passes through Mokokchung, Wokha, Kohima, Imphal and Churachandpur before terminating at Tuivang, Mizoram. This NH number was changed to number 2 in 2011, in short NH-2. Reportedly all the National Highways of India were renamed in line with the system followed in the USA. The highway numbering system indicates the direction and location of the highways.

NH 2 now has a parallel name – Asian Highway number 1 (AH -1). A roadside sign AH-1 could be seen at every interval along the highway. This Asian Highway (AH 1) is a part of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway that connects Moreh (Manipur border) to Mae Sot in Thailand, via Mandalay and Yangon in Myanmar.

It further links to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. AH-1 runs from Dhaka (Bangladesh) to Tokyo (Japan) via Indian state of Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and eventually to Japan.

A cooperative project among countries in Asia and Europe, the Asian Highway (AH) project, also known as Great Asian Highway, was conceptualised way back in early 90s with UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP). An agreement was signed by 32 countries to allow the highway to cross the continent. Some of the countries taking part in the highway project are India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Bangladesh.

It takes eight hours to commute by public transport on this 213-kilometre-long Imphal-Kohima- Dimapur highway. Even more hours in rainy season. Besides the winding, pathetic road with potholes, there are about 10 short halts for paying 'toll-tax' or police check post. The stops last almost 5 minutes and can even extend to 10 minutes if there are need for 'discussion' or arguments between the driver and the police or the 'collector'.

In most 'collection' points one cannot make out what are these taxes as there is no sign board and the driver who makes the payment does not know much. And these payments (most of them) are without receipt. Besides there are fines too, for non-compliance of traffic rules to non-availability of vehicle documents or driver licence.

In some places the driver would throw a few rupees so as to save time. The collector would pick up the notes from the road. The driver is mostly tense; he would curse; he wished that the "collector" does not turn up. The driver is happy if it rains (so that at least some collectors cannot come out).

Drivers also dread the dark, as there is possibility of more tax collectors. On a one-way journey from Imphal to Dimapur, a driver spends a minimum of Rs1000 in taxes. There is no exact amount as it depends on how many "collections" or check post he can avoid.

Imphal-Kohima-Dimapur route has been an important means of communication from pre-Independence era. It played an important role in the historic battle of Kohima and the Battle of Imphal during WWII. The highway became an important route even during post- Independence.

NH-2 / AH-1, an important highway and lifeline for north-east India, particularly for Manipur.. The entire economy and economic activity of Manipur depends on this highway. Much as it is 'important' the highway bears the brunt of the socio-politics of Manipur or the north-east at large.

NH 2 is the most abused , used and misused socially, economically and politically with groups, underground – overground, political heavy weights including civil /traditional bodies vying to control this important and infamous national highway.

* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 04, 2017.

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