We were told by our cabbie on the way from Imphal to Moreh that the biggest attraction for crossing the border was that you get everything from clothes, shoes, and even electronics at a bargain. Manipuri’s themselves prefer buying apparel and electronics from across the border owing to lesser taxes and no duties levied on products. After traveling 4 hours and stopping at several army checkpoints, we reached the dusty town of Moreh where fast food South Indian joints hustled with Manipuri rice hotel counterparts. The joy of finally reaching the destination was short-lived as this adventure was strictly timebound.
A significant population in this border town are Burmese Tamilians who were forced to leave the then titled country of Burma in the 1960s. Following a military coup, they all fled from the country and eventually settled in the border town of Moreh. Their properties and businesses were seized by the government and they had to start from scratch in their new home. Today, they might be small in number but they definitely control trade in the town. Most shopkeepers and street vendors here are Tamilians. Other major communities in Moreh include the Kukis and the Meiteis. Since August 2018, Myanmar opened its borders with India for free movement from 7 am to 4 pm.
Crossover to Tamu
From Moreh, we walked over to Tamu by simply providing an Identity document and signing a register. In the bustling market we saw rickshaws going to nearby tourist sites in Tamu, take these instead of horse-drawn carriages if you want any chance of making it back to immigration on time. Instantly we noticed the near-perfect roads in Tamu which are in stark contrast to the potholed roads in Moreh.
The Tamu market was smaller compared to the IMA market at Imphal. While the IMA market mainly deals in groceries and locally manufactured handloom and handicraft products, I was amazed to see Tamu had a huge display of products from Thailand and China. Alongside were big wine shops selling Tiger beer and various Chinese beers that are not seen in the Indian market. Manipur being a dry state, I presume this is where the locals travel to quench their thirst. Having said that dry states often have a huge black-market of liquor.
The Thriving Trade Market
Many businessmen and traders from Manipur have profited from the India financed Trilateral Highway connecting India to Myanmar and Thailand. Until a few years back, traders were often threatened by insurgents and had to pay huge amounts as extortion money. With the completion of the highway and the government continuing to resolve tension caused by the insurgents, traders are now able to conduct business more freely. That said informal trade too still flourishes under the watch of the Customs at the border.
Well, we weren’t here to shop and left for a quick tour of the nearby monasteries and gilded stupas.
Quick Visit to Nearby Monasteries and Temples
Tamu has a Buddhist monastery with some beautiful arching pagodas and tall Buddha statues. Also, the language spoken here is not common with Meitei or any tribal language in Manipur.
How to Travel?
Renting a car to Moreh and back would cost nothing less than INR 6000. Shared taxis are easily available from Imphal for INR 300 and it is the most economical way of traveling to Moreh especially if you’re alone.
A tour in a shared rickshaw from Tamu immigration point to the nearest tourist sites in the town and back would cost a total of INR 1000 for 5 people. Yes, two of us shared a seat with the unperturbed driver.
The road from Imphal to Moreh is through hills which is a landslide-prone area. You could be caught up and be back in Imphal by late evening only. Its best to start your journey to Moreh early and I’d avoid taking a flight out of Imphal on the same day of a Moreh trip. OR you could also stay at Moreh and probably have the entire day to explore how much ever of Tamu is permissible.
Check posts towards either direction shut by 4 pm. The closer you’re to 4 pm the more time you spend at the check post as most luggage carriers ferry back at such a time. Plan your day accordingly.
The Indian Army keeps guard on the route to Moreh due to the high risk of insurgents. It’s best to travel with a group.