The Moodie Davitt ‘Roarport’ Days 9-11: “For their tomorrow, we gave our today”
From Darjeeling, Gautom and his co-pilot, Paul George Vedanayagam, headed north to Guwahati, the state capital of Assam. The views along the way, were breath-taking, Gautom says, while the city itself is also a treasure trove of sights and experiences.
Guwahati was formerly known as Pragjyotishpur (‘the City of Eastern Light’), an appropriate moniker given its position nestled between the hills of the eastern flanks of the Himalayas. The city is the main gateway to the seven other northeast Indian states, acting as a vital tourist link while being a hugely popular visitor attraction in its own right.
The mighty Brahmaputra snaking through Guwahati. The Brahmaputra is one of Asia’s major waterways, flowing through China, India and Bangladesh
The Wild Tiger team were hosted for drinks and dinner once more in Guwahati by the local branch of the YI (Young Indians, a progressive organisation of young Indian entrepreneurs wishing to converge, lead, co-create and influence India’s future). Young Indians is the Roartrip’s official Support Partner and its members are meeting Gautom and Paul in every Indian city that they pass through.
The next morning the two tigerishly tenacious co-pilots visited the world-famous Kamakhya temple situated at the top of Nilachal hill. This magnificent building, built in the 10th century by the Koch king, Naranarayan, is ranked among the world’s most sacred tantrik shrines (Shakti Peethas) of Shakti worship. What better place then for Tiger 1 (Gautom) and Tiger 2 (Paul) to be flagged off by the local Young Indians the next day?
A T (Tiger) to TT (Tuk Tuk) face-off
From Guwahati, the pair’s TRiger (a Tata Hexa) headed into the state of Nagaland and its commercial capital Dimapur. According to Nagaland Tourism, Dimapur is the ancient capital of the Kachari tribe, whose rule existed before the 13th century AD. Remnants of the kingdom are evidence in scattered ruins across the town. Nearby Rangapahar Reserve Forest is home to a magnificent variety of bird and animal life, from parrots to woodpeckers, hornbills to hawks, monkeys, deer and, of course, tigers.
Once more the Wild Tiger team dined in style, sampling (courtesy of the local Young Indians) some of “the most exquisite and authentic Naga cuisine”, as Gautom describes it [Naga food features an emphasis on smoked meat, bamboo shoots, chillies, pumpkin flowers and a host of regional ingredients]. To wash down that culinary mix, a certain taste of southern India was called for – and duly a few bottles of Wild Tiger Rum from Kerala were downed in celebration. “It was truly a roaring evening,” recalls Gautom through a slightly rum-infused mist.
The next day’s plan had involved heading to Imphal, capital city of Manipur, famous for its central Kangla Fort, one of the most impressive monuments in the Northeast and home to the vibrant Ima Keithel – a 500 year-old said to be the world’s largest women-vendors-only market (there’s one for the impressive Women in Travel Retail to note).
However, the best-laid plans of mice and (especially) tigers and men can go awry. The robust roadsters were strongly advised to avoid Imphal due to a mass general strike. Out came the Roartrip map and a new route was swiftly chartered to the Nagaland capital of Kohima. However, Gautom and Paul may have progressed faster via their original route.
“The roads were not just bad they were perilous, by far the worst we have encountered so far on the Roartrip,” says Gautom. “In fact, it would be unfair to even call them roads.
“We passed through multiple areas where landslides had occurred recently, so we had to be extra vigilant, especially as the rains were playing havoc too.
Sustained torrential downpours have wrought havoc in North India over recent days, causing multiple landslides such as this one on the roads
“The goods news is that our Triger is running on Pirelli tyres (another of our sponsors), which were just the right tyres we needed to negate these conditions.”
Today, Kohima, a picturesque town in the eastern frontiers of the Himalayas, has an unhurried pace of life, a peaceful serenity and clear unpolluted skies. But ghosts walk here. For this was the site of the Battle of Kohima, commonly acknowledged as the turning point of the Japanese U-Go offensive into India in 1944 during WWII.
A ferocious battle was fought between Japanese forces and combined British and Indian troops between April and June 1944. The battle ended on 22 June when British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 109, ending the Siege of Imphal. Their heroic and ultimately triumphant struggle is often referred to as the ‘Stalingrad of the East’. According to Wikipedia, in 2013 the British National Army Museum voted it ‘Britain’s Greatest Battle’. It was not simply Britain’s battle, of course, but India’s. And the country lost many of its sons.
Consider these terrible statistics. During the Battle of Kohima, the British and Indian forces lost 4,064 men, dead, missing and wounded [Source: Wikipedia]. The Japanese lost 5,764 and many of the survivors subsequently died of disease or starvation, or took their own lives to avoid capture.
Paul K Vedanayagam, one of many Indian heroes during the terrible Battle of Kohima
Paul George Vedanayagam’s grandfather, Paul K Vedanayagam, participated in that battle. He was a member of the Royal Indian Engineers, Sappers and Miners, stationed in Kohima during those terrible, tumultuous months. At one point, the Japanese army was just 30 miles away. As part of the evacuation process in advance of a full-scale Japanese assault, the Indian forces drove their surplus jeeps and motorbikes into the river to prevent them falling into Japanese hands.
Today, at the ripe old age of 96, Paul K still vividly recalls those events. His son Tim Vedanayagam takes up the story: “My son Paul George just texted, ‘One of the guys we just met here in Kohima said, ‘If you give me the exact name of the river, I’ll have the jeeps and the bikes excavated.’ However, Dad doesn’t remember if it was the Dansiri river, the Dikhu, Doyang, or the Zungki!”
Paul K Vedanayagam, now an old man of 96 but still going strong
“The Northeast of India has been a revelation to say the least,” says Gautom, speaking to The Moodie Davitt Roarport while sipping on a rum-tastic Wild Tiger at the team’s night 11 lodgings. “The people are so amicable and proud of their culture. We would love to come back here, but just hope the roads and mobile networks will get better as the economy improves.
“Even as Indian citizens ourselves, there is so much we’ve experienced and discovered in the last few days.”
The epic drive from Kerala in the south to the far north of India complete, it’s almost time for the Wild Tiger team to cross their first international border. Next stop is the India/Myanmar border – “our first international SKROSSing,” says Gautom in a reference to one of the Roartrip’s sponsors, Swiss company SKROSS, which specialises in travel adaptors and other mobile solutions for travellers. The Wild Tiger team are hoping to make contact with duty free retailers in Myanmar and Thailand, their next two country stops. The Roartrip continues.
*Kohima War Cemetery is dedicated to British, Commonwealth and India soldiers who died during the Battle of Kohima on the battleground of Garrison Hill in the tennis court area of the British Deputy Commissioner’s residence. There are 1,420 Commonwealth burials from that single conflict alone at this cemetery, and a memorial to an additional 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who were cremated in accordance with their faith [Source: Wikipedia].
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HOW TO SUPPORT THE WILD TIGER ROARTRIP
Via the official website – www.roartrip.in
The donation page link is on the website, but anyone can donate directly at www.roartrip.in/donation or https://letzchange.org/projects/roar-trip-2019-an-awareness-drive-for-tiger-conservation
Please encourage your colleagues, friends and family to consider doing so.
En route to Cannes, the daring duo will be meeting up with other travel retailers. Those wishing to ‘meet and greet’ them are encouraged to make contact. Yes, Gautom will be checking his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT WILD TIGER RUM: Kerala-based Wild Tiger is India’s first rum to be produced from a blend of molasses and cane spirit. The rum’s velvet tiger print stripe packaging reflects the fact that no two tigers share the same stripe pattern – so the stripe design of the sleeve has been designed and cut to ensure that no two bottles are alike.Wild Tiger made its Indian travel retail debut in February 2016 and is now available in 53 countries.
ABOUT WILD TIGER FOUNDATION (WTF): Wild Tiger Foundation is a CSR initiative by Wild Tiger Rum, which contributes 10% of its profits to the cause. It is a registered non-profit organisation headquartered in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India that focuses on the conservation of the tiger and its habitat by raising funds and creating awareness. It was founded in 2015 by drinks entrepreneur Gautom Menon and Coimbatore-based businessman Suprej Venkat.
The primary focus is the conservation of tigers and their habitats within the state of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, specifically Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. Wild Tiger Foundation acts as an influencer and an enabler.India had around 100,000 tigers in the mid-19th century. Today it has around 2,200, underlining the urgency of the conservation cause.