Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A State with a soul & many "Invisible Salesman"- Mizoram

I had read an essay written by Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayana 'Agyeya' in school, where he talks about how he wanted to travel & so he just packed his bags & took off. With no specific destination in his mind, he reaches Assam & then the journey goes on with loads of interesting events. It did leave an impact, as I still remember the plot. Inspired by the author, even I have liked the kind of traveling where not many things are planned, you reach the destination & figure out what, where, when, how, etc. Also the fun part is that you interact with a bunch of locals to get information & the same gives you a feeler about the place. And of course little struggle add to the overall experience.

With the same strategy in mind, me & jojo decided to travel in Mizoram and all we had planned was dates for Kolkata- Aizawl return journey. Everything else was to be decided post we land at Lengpui Airport. Though we did read a few articles about places to visit & we were biased towards "Rih dil", Mizoram's biggest lake which was in Myanmar, & we wanted to trek to Phwangpui. But as planned earlier, we didn't plan for anything.

Jojo at the dam
After landing in Mizo land & taking the ILP (Inner line permit), we started looking for a tourism kiosk or information center. No one even understood what information center or a tourism kiosk was. So we were at the airport without a plan or the next destination. Finally after some deliberation we decided to reach Aizawl & figure things out from there. So we reached the market and tried figuring out possible destinations. But the idea of getting to touring office was still there in our head.After much struggle & help from our driver Sangtea, we managed to reach tourism office. But that office was for administrative purposes, so again we were back to square one. But there were a few ladies who found the idea of tourist coming from outside north eastern states amusing. They decided to help us & one of them was sweet enough to consult us on all the options available. She gave her unbiased views on locations, helping us to make a better plan. Nonni, that's the helpful lady working in tourism department, kept calling us post that to check on our well being & to see if we need any help. Everyone we interacted with in Mizoram was surprised at seeing two guys, one from Calcutta & other from Chennai, on a vacation. This led us to believe that not many people visit Mizoram for traveling. This was something which was hard to understand, as the place was beautiful & people nice & friendly. So after planning for next couple of days we started for a small place call Reiek Tlang. We reached the place, not before stopping at a dam on the way & having a light snack at a small shack. 
Chana, tea & extremely hot chutney

Walking on one of the trails
Unlike other places, Reiek Tlang doesn't have any private lodges/guest house/hotels etc. But they do have a government owned property which was cheap, but at the same time extremely beautiful. It was slightly above the main town and quite a few trekking trails would originate from the resort. We would have spend just the bare minimum time in the cottage, thanks to my head-lamp, as we kept on exploring the place till late evening. We would walk to the highest point possible & then late evening we would go to the village & spend time at a small tea-shop-cum-restaurant. Folks there would watch some Korean channel. It was friendly place were locals would come for a friendly chat & light meal. We would sit there & have our own conversation or silently watch them chat away. We tried quite a bit from their menu as well, apart from a Mizo version of 'sakkarpara' we didn't like much. But still I would rate it highly for the feel of the place. The place, like most of the places in Mizoram, was run by females, a mother-daughter duo.

A cave on the way

One morning we went for a trek to the tlang (stands for 'mountain' in local language). After crossing a few caves & small waterfalls, we reached the hill point from where we just had to go up. After a while weather changed completely & it got so windy that it became difficult to balance & walk. We still went to the top, though we missed out on a second trail as it became extremely foggy & with the wind, the combination was deadly. The place had a few fatal accidents in the past and we didn't want to add to that list. We came back, not before clicking a few pictures & videos. Also there were a few chairs put in awesome locations, with a dead fall in couple of steps in front. Jojo & me took turns to get clicked. During walk back the wind was so strong that we couldn't even hear each other properly, but it was great fun as I shot a video with Jojo in the lead.

living at the edge :)
A few of the skull on display, including that of Jojo & Beiseia
Post this we took a guided tour of "Typical Mizo Village". The idea was pretty simple, they recreated the village as they used to be a few decades ago. The experience was worthwhile because of good execution of reconstruction & well trained guides adds to it. They are keen to show you things & are full of enthusiasm, and at times they are visibly disappointed when the enthusiasm is not reciprocated, as was the case with one local family. But we had enough & more enthusiasm for our guide, Mr Beiseia (meaning "hope" in local language). He showed us around, with live demonstration of hunting equipment, of course he didn't kill any animal as the demo was given on our hands or random lifeless objects. Also during the tour he showed us skulls of various animals, wild boar, mountain goat, monkey, bear, tiger, elephant, etc. We were also told about various roles which existed in a village, King, Head huntsman, etc.

For our next destination we zeroed in on a place called Hmuifang, but to reach there we had to come back to Aizawl. After reaching Aizawl we realised we were out of cash, so after looking for quite a bit we found one functional ATM. Then we went to a mall, which was the only place where you can get the local wine, Zawlaidi. So the plan which got evolved was to get a bottle, decide on the mode of transportation & have some food before leaving, in that order. In the wine shop they would sell only one product, Zawlaidi wine. It was extremely cheap, selling at around Rs 140 per bottle. We had food at random places, trying different things. Food wise we couldn't find anything which was great, but we were satisfied because typical food places where we would go would have awesome view & the combination worked for us.
tea, nature & us

Jojo & our friend from Myanmar
For transportation, we thought we would take an option where we can interact with locals. So we took tickets for a shared sumo, after waiting for about an hour we started towards hmuifang. In the car we started chatting with people who could understand Hindi, found many people who have come from Myanmar and have settled here for good. Tried to understand more about their country, but language barriers made it difficult. We parted ways, not before clicking pictures together.

View from hmuifang resort
We reached Hmuifang on time & again the resort left us spell bound. It was beautiful, again it had cottages & one can look in any direction to admire nature. Just beside the resort there was a government project of a natural park, which was more like a huge jungle, with multiple walking trails. Out of nowhere we would found a machan or a wire bridge or a bench. It was something which was completely natural, with just a few human addition. Overall, it was an impressive effort with an absolutely fabulous execution.

one of the wire bridge at the park

Post visiting the park we went to take a look around & found a few dhaba kind of joints, which one would typically find on highways. But construction was at its minimum, small villages or settlements here & there. Imagine one small wooden house in middle of a path with a view to die for. Every house would have a animal shed outside them, again with a mix of animals, cutest of them being piglets. Kids playing in small groups, most groups playing football, cricket was not to be seen anywhere. After we were satisfied with what we had seen for the day, we decided to return for some food, wine & a well deserved rest, as next morning would again be an early one. We were told that on Sundays it is difficult to find public/ shared transportation. So we decided to call our Man Friday, Sangtea, to give us a ride back. But even for calling we had to walk for about a km, as the reception was poor or non-existential at the resort, which incidently is the thing I love the most about such places.

Till now we had admired Mizoram for its natural beauty, now it was our turn to admire Mizos for their beauty. Every single person would put their best clothes on for the Sunday mass, its like a weekly party they would go to. The cycle never stops, its their way of balancing their life. And women would look so beautiful & elegant in their Sunday dresses. Mizo women can pull off anything with grace, this is an established fact in our books. We watched men, women, children, impeccably dressed in their best clothing, sharing jokes, gathered in groups & looking extremely happy. In the end we decided to spend less time at the airport and more time at a tea shop which was close to a church. The idea of watching human beings, who are so happy & living in the moment was pretty good. It kept us at the tea shop for quite some time.

Jojo sleeping
We started for airport when we could not delay it any further, as the airport is 32 kms outside Aizawl in a town called Lengpui. Reached before time, so after check in we went to a place where many people would come & see flights take off. There were benches put up there for people to sit, which jojo decided to use for a power nap. While interacting with one of the local I was told that there never used to be this much security at the airport. One would simply turn up with family and food & spend a perfect day watching aircraft take off & land. Currently they have to pay a minor fee, but its still worth it for the family. In the meanwhile Nonni, our helpful lady from state tourism department who had called us multiple time post our first interaction with her just to check whether we are having it easy or not, was to receive a "thank you" call from us. She even gave calls to people in places we visited, like manager at Hmuifang resort, just to ensure we have a comfortable stay.

While the same can be debated about many states in India, but Mizoram does surely have a soul, a pure one at that. The Assamese caretaker at the Reiek Tlang resort had told us that he came to Mizoram for a holiday, loved the place & decided to settle down here itself. He doesn't like people from back home as they are not as honest & not as hardworking. According to him the concept of stealing doesn't exist in Mizoram, its only now that people from other neighboring states are traveling here that some stray incidents are being reported. He also mentioned that all the inmates in jails are mostly from other states. He is currently married to a Mizo lady & planning to raise his family in Mizoram only. Through out the journey Sangtea never even once locked the vehicle, with open doors & open windows we would wander off, he wouldn't even think about the possibility of someone stealing his car. Local politicians are also extremely helpful & down to earth, we were told. Villagers would simply knock on their doors to settle any dispute. Nonni was a government employee, and she was the most helpful one I had encountered in my life.

The epitome of the faith-in-humanity which exists in Mizoram is evident in the phenomenon that I named "Invisible Salesman". Typically people living on hills would have a day job apart from farming, so early morning they would set up fruits & vegetables in a shack, put a price tag with details of each & every item. After coming back in the evening they would find the exact amount of money with the balance produce kept there. This practice has been going on for ages & people do not think of it as much. For me it was an eye opener, as the customers at these shacks were not just their fellow villagers, even the travellers from distant towns stop by to purchase the fresh produce. Would definitely like to return one day, with more time on hand, as there is plenty more to be explored about Mizoram & Mizos.


  1. Dude, reading this made me realise again just how important these travel journals/memoirs are..I was already forgetting names..Sangtya, Basiya, even Nonni!...reading this brought back a rush of memories to me, or to be more specific, a rush of emotions, vague half-thoughts and recollections, evoking the exact mood I felt and experienced during the trip...
    So, we need these trip write-ups, dude, we desperately do...the farther we get from our trips, the more relevant they become...
    Cheers for moving your usually lazy ass to pen this down...Much appreciated!


  2. Hi, I am from Mizoram. I fully agree on the lack of tourist information center, even at the airport. I am going to quote you in my upcoming post on the state of tourism in Mizoram at my blog.

    1. Yes, lack of information is an issue. Hope it gets corrected soon. Though helpful people do make up for it, still I guess for tourism to develop an information center is definitely needed.
      Will check your blog to know more about Mizoram..

  3. Hello Anand,

    First it's Sangtea (the driver) and Beiseia ( the guide) :)

    I spent 5 years in Trichy studying, 3 years in Chennai working (CSS) and then 5.5 years in Bangalore (HP). Tired of the cubicle I left my job last year. I came back home to travel the state. I have been on the road for about a month and haven't covered much.

    Less then an hour from Hmuifang is Sialsuk, with an even more beautiful hill. Just wrote a blog post

    And if you go beyond further to Thenzawl, you can visit Mizoram's highest waterfall - Vantawng which is a few meters shorter than Jog Falls in Karnataka and this pretty waterfall which is the source of Vantawng:

    Tuirihiau, the waterfall you can look from behind

    Reiek seems like the Nandi hills of Aizawl but I haven't been there. I guess it's the closeness from Aizawl that is stopping me, "Can always go anytime" attitude.

    In terms of Tourism, the State Tourism Dept. has done a good job of building lodges at several places, even places I didn't imagine. However, there's a huge lack of information. I was pretty surprise to see no Tourist Info Counter at Lengpui Airport myself.

    Anyway, I really like your kind of adventure coming to Mizoram and wish that you would come back another time :)

    1. Hey Benjamin,

      Firstly, I would like to say how envious I am after reading your current state of being. Hopefully I would also get bored of the cubicle soon & go for an extensive travel across country or countries.
      Thanks to you, now all the names are correct in the blog.
      After reading your comment my resolve of visiting mizoram again has become stronger, will contact you to get help on travel plan whenever I reach the execution stage :)
      Wish you all the best for future traveling & trekking!!

      P.s. thanks for dropping by...