India's plans to remove travel bottlenecks with Myanmar, with a bus service from this Manipur capital to Mandalay appears to be faced with a major impediment - poor road conditions along the border areas - but this has not affected the thriving interaction across the border.
Official indications are that the proposed service will be put off for an indefinite period.
"The government has been informed of the bad road condition along the border areas, " Manipur Chief Secretary O. Nabakishore told IANS.
India planned to introduce the Imphal - Mandalay bus service over a distance of 580 km as a part of its Look East policy, hoping this would evoke a good response from the people and go a long way in promoting tourism.
Besides, it would help legalising border trade, as various goods could be brought straight to Moreh in India and Namphalong in Myanmar.
As it is, hundreds of Indian tourists and traders travel to Namphalong every day without travel documents for binge shopping.
During his visit to Myanmar last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had signed an agreement with its leaders to construct 71 bridges along the road where the Indian buses will ply. The Myanmarese government has started construction of two bridges. The Indian cabinet has also sanctioned Rs. 371. 58 crore ($55 million) for constructing the remaining 69 bridges.
The construction will be supervised by the Indian embassy in Myanmar. Construction material, labour and machineary will be transported from India to Myanmar through the 110 - km - long NH 102 from Imphal.
"It will take some decades since the two national highways connecting Manipur with Assam see general strikes and blockades round the year. Besides, during the rainy season the trucks cannot ply along these mountain highways due to rockslides. All projects in Manipur are far behind the schedule for these reasons, " a worred official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In spite of this, the India - Burma Friendship Association has been organising tour packages and has been receiving encouraging response. Backpackers have also been travelling by themselves along this route. Besides, several officials, tourists and traders from Myanmar and Thailand often come to Imphal for government - sponsored festivals.
Kulachandra Potsangbam, who has taken several cultural troupes from Imphal to Myanmar, said: "There is always electrictrifying response from people. It may be because of the fact that the people would like to meet Manipuri origin Myanmarese there. They are still preserving language, culture and religion and the Indian visitors feel at home there".
(L. Ibiyaima can be contacted at imphalreport@gmail. com)