What is it with me and border challenges! Either I’m staring down the barrel of a gun or I get caught in the middle of an ambush! Right now there are jawans patrolling the area and even some crouched behind bushes with their weapons pointed at some invisible adversary. Something didn’t feel right and I voiced my concerns to my photographer Varun. He generally doesn’t agree with me on anything and was nodding his head in disagreement. We rounded the next corner and came upon a road block with an army jawan asking me to pull over. As I was about to jump out and make inquiries that unmistakable crackling of automatic gunfire echoed through the mountains.
We kept our fingers crossed but did not spot a tiger
I’m going to rewind a bit and tell you how we almost got peppered with bullets. See, up until now, border challenges involved difficult roads, lonely places and extreme weather. Getting to Moreh – on the Indo-Myanmar border – is none of that. The roads are relatively easy and the weather is moderate if you compare it to the last few places we’ve taken the Duster to. No, the challenge with getting to this border is more psychological than physical. I’ve heard so much about the North East, about kidnappings, about strife, about a whole bunch of active militant groups that I had to talk to myself all the way there to stop my brain from conjuring up images of red flags and road blocks. And possible kidnappings. Ouseph who’s been up in the North East tells me that this is all hogwash, that it is safe as long as I don’t drive around at night. Right.
We begin our journey from Dimapur in Nagaland, and embark on a 600km rollercoaster drive through the mountains that would finally get us to Imphal, where we planned to stop for the night. The roads in the hills are narrow and there is a fair amount of traffic plying between Dimapur and Kohima – capital of Nagaland. Slowly weaving through traffic, driving literally on crawler mode, we get out of Kohima.
A quick picture before the elephant lost its cool.
Finally the traffic thinned and it was the perfect time to step on the pedal and get going. Packed with 108 horses and 248Nm of torque, the 1.5-litre diesel mill responded with urgency and took to the twisty and open mountain road with ease. The Duster AWD has short gearing to help it when it goes off-road and this gearing helps immensely when you’re driving on steep and windy roads. Stick it in second gear and you can get up most inclines and declines without really having to downshift to first, as you would in most SUVs. After driving for about an hour and a half we stopped at a small cottage by the roadside for a quick bite of eggs, biscuits and chai.