From Nagaland we head south into the state of Manipur, bordered on the east by Burma. We enter Manipur at the Mao border crossing. It takes about three hours to drive 25 kilometers on these roads, which are incredibly bumpy and windy. We're heading toward Imphal, the capital of Manipur.
Manipur is crossed by a large mountain range and we're heading down it toward the lowlands. We drive past forests and rice terraces (our guide says that if we are not used to eating a lot of rice, we'll get some stomach problems, but that some chocolate helps). Manipur was described by India's first prime minister as the jewel in India's crown because of its beauty. It is filled with mountains, forests and rivers.
This is a no-frills expedition; really it is quite challenging and demanding. The 22 of us are not staying at fancy hotels - there are none. We're traveling in a local, simple bus - anything else would break down on these roads - and we're packing a lot of events in. What's great about it is that nobody in the group complains about anything, so un-Israeli. Through everything they sing, tell stories from Jewish history and Israeli battles from 1948 onward and pass around food.
All the food we're eating here is prepared for us locally by Bnei Menashe from the Israeli organization Shavei Israel and is kosher. Shai Bar Ilan Tours also brought some things over from Israel like pasta, rice and jam. During breakfast we make ourselves sandwiches to take with us for lunch. I don't see how any Western traveler not used to the way food is prepared and consumed here can survive this place without serious hospital time. Kosher is quite a smart way to travel in India.
This is not anything like an organized tour to an exotic location with all the comforts. We're getting jolted on our trips in the bus. Jolted is an understatement, a joke of a word for the violence the road is performing on our bus. And the bus is taking it out on us. I don't know how none of us have broken any limbs or ruptured internal organs. We're constantly driving into holes in the road and are flung up in our seats when we go over bumps. It's like everybody in the bus is undergoing an extremely violent exorcism, and the demons inside of us are putting up a hell of a fight.
Israel Weiss, the photographer, just as optimistic as the rest of the group, says that if you sit up straight in your seat, the jolting is actually good for your back. According to him, the constant moving creates space between your muscles and the vertebrae. Not everyone agrees with this theory. Arms and legs are being flung everywhere, but that doesn't stop one of the women from knitting - it's incredible how she manages.
Yaffa, a former teacher and principal who now works at the Education Ministry, has managed to fall asleep. Only someone who has taught in Israeli schools for 37 years could pull that off. It sounds like a torture chamber in here with all the groaning, moaning and occasional screams. It's quite a sight to see 12 kippa-covered heads bobbing and bouncing in front of you - I'm sitting towards the back of the bus. During trips in our bus, even I join in the prayer for the traveler.
Passing a small village, we drive past Levi's Pharmacy and Ebenezer Computers and Mt. Zion elementary school. There are many references to Zion in Manipur.
We pass a gas station sign: We wish you a very long and happy drive.