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Discovering Mizoram -Part 1

DISCOVERING MIZORAM

MIZORAM – A BRIEF DESCRIPTION.

Covering 21,087 square kilometres, the 23rd state of India, Mizoram lies in the most southern extreme of northeast India. Sandwiched between Myanmar in the south and east, Bangladesh and Tripura in the west, Assam and Manipur in the north, Mizoram occupies an area of great strategic importance covering 722 kilometres of international boundary.

Mizoram is a mountainous region broken up in lengthwise into five major mountain ranges. The majorities of the hills rises to about 900 metres and are separated by rivers flowing either to the north or to the south creating deep gorges between the hill ranges. The highest mountain is called Phawngpui, which towers to 2210 metres above the sea level.

The State is divided into eight districts: Aizawl, Lunglei, Saiha, Lawngtlai, Serchhip, Champhai, Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl is the capital of the State. (Updated December 2008 - Meanwhile Mizoram has three new districts Hnahthial, Khawzawl and Saitual since her last travel.)

With a population of about 8,91,058, Mizoram is inhabited by the Mizos, including several tribes  (and sub tribes) like Lusei, Hmar, Lai, Mara, Ranglong, Riang, and Chakma, etc.

The Tropic of Cancers runs through Mizoram, Aizawl in specific, making the climate pleasant all year round with temperatures ranging from 20C to 30C in summer and in winter from 11C to 21C in winter. The best time to visit is from October to May.

 

MY JOURNEY:

January 2007:

Week 1 and 2: South of Mizoram:

On a bright January morning, myself, my brother Tea, our friend Ritin and our driver Dika got ready to leave for our journey to the south of Mizoram. We had our own sumo jeep to travel around with and the destination that day was Lunglei, 240 kilometres away from Aizawl. We estimated that we would take about 7-10 hours depending on the road conditions and the number of stops we were going to make.

This journey took us through: Tuirial, Phaibawk, Seling, Thingsulthliah, Tlungvel, Khumtung, Chhingchhip, Chhiahtlang, Serchhip, Keitum, Bungtlang, Rawpui, Thiltlang, Pangzawl, Hnahthial, Tupuipeng, Leite, Mat (R), Dawn, Zobawk and Hrangchalkawn.

My childhood memory of the journey between Lunglei and Aizawl was - a never-ending journey in a Mahindra jeep, guarded by army convoy back in the 1980’s during insurgency. My dad was posted in Lunglei and we often had to travel back and forth to Aizawl to visit our families in Aizawl District and Assam, where my dad is from.

Today, 23 years later, the journey was different – I embarked on a journey with curiosity and excitement to see how things might have changed in the years I have not been to the places I had spent time in my childhood and the passing through the villages brought back memories of a very different Mizoram I knew. 

 Like many, I left Mizoram at a young age to study and have lived outside Mizoram for many years. I have travelled to many countries and have seen beautiful places in the world. But this trip is one of the best that I had ever taken and Mizoram is indeed beautiful. I am blessed to have met so many kind souls who were our hosts, our guides, travel companions and new friends. I am very indebted to all who imparted in me their knowledge about the places and legends associated with it. I hope that every Mizo youth would take a journey to these roads less travelled to discover the beauty of their homeland. Every person we met, village or town we travelled through has a story to tell…and I cannot get enough hearing the stories….
 

Lunglei:

The second capital of Mizoram. Lunglei got its name from a bridge of rock found in the riverine area around Nghasih  -a small tributary of the river Tlawng and literally means the ‘bridge of rock’ Lunglei is blessed with great natural beauty and one can see one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.

We reached the place after sunset and we stayed in a very nice hotel called Elite as the Circuit House was fully booked. Elite Hotel, in my opinion is one of the best and cleanest hotels in Mizoram. It was interesting to discover that I had followed the footsteps of the owner of the hotel, Lucy all of my life and it took us 23 years to meet, me as a traveller and she as a hostess! We were neighbours as kids (but never met), went to the same schools, university and have spent time with same friends at different times of our lives.

Back in the 80’s, there were only two houses below the Circuit House and today, there are few more houses and the place has changed a lot. It was quite a nostalgic moment for me to stand by the Circuit House and look around.  Memories and images flashed in front of me- of my siblings, myself and our cousin riding bicycles and skating down the hills till the police canteen. We were quite daring then when I look back and see quite a steep hill that we used to race on, oh but the fun we had….

I had breakfast with the cooks and caretakers from the circuit house who were still working there and remembered my family and me. It was a delight to catch up with them and hear about their lives. 

Lunglei has a lot to offer to tourists, but we stayed there for two nights as a transit point as we wanted to see interior villages that cannot be reached during monsoon. Lunglei can be easily reached from Aizawl and I decided to come back and spend more time in my next trip.

Tlabung:

We proceeded to Tlabung, 83km from Lunglei. Tlabung falls under the Lunglei district and borders with Bangladesh.

The journey took us about 6 hours passing through Pachang, Phairuang, Rotlang, Lungsen and Tuichawng. We gave lift to the locals and sometimes our jeep was fully loaded with people with chickens and pigs and we even had passengers on top of the jeep.

It was a beautiful journey and bamboos, which were at their prime flowering season, thickly populated the jungle. For those who are not aware - over 30% of Mizoram’s forest is covered by bamboo species called Melcanna baccifera, and they flower every 50 years. This flowering is followed by invasion of rats that feed on the seeds and then on to the crops and have caused famine in Mizoram in the past. However, the Government of Mizoram has taken lots of steps to prevent famine in the state and is doing a good job. I heard that our people in the Myanmar side are not doing too well, and are going through many hardships due to this phenomenon called Mautam in Mizo.

 We then spotted wild pheasants during the drive and as I was quietly switching my camera on to capture the very rare Ram Ar as we call it in Mizo –Dika, our driver decided to race the car to kill the birds…and alarmed by the sound, they flew away. Two people sitting in the front of the car had different ideas of shooting wildlife picture! (and this would not be the last time that we would have different views about shooting wildlife).

…Alas, I could only laugh about the incident much later during the journey, but I will never forget the sight of the beautiful birds that I have not encountered for years and years….

 We reached Tlabung at late noon, and checked in to the newly built tourist lodge. Then, we proceeded to the river hoping to find a boat for hire. The sun was setting and I almost panicked not able to find a boat to hire…after sometime, and almost too late, we finally convinced someone that we wanted to photograph and not shop in Bangladesh and he agreed to take us in his boat!

 The sun was just setting and after an initial equipment hitch and stabilising my camera for the shots, we were on our way.  

For me, the people who live along the riverbanks of Mizoram represent the most fascinating and captivating scenes of life in Mizoram. I am so fascinated by the way they dry their clothes along the banks, cultivate their crops and also the unique means of arrangements they have transporting people and crops using the boats.

It was an amazing scene that would be embedded forever in our minds. Those scenes can never be captured with cameras, though I certainly did try it. Along the river bank, there were women washing clothes, people bathing, getting water in pots, men fishing, people returning from the Bangladesh bazaar, from their jhums and children frolicking around. Before we realised, we had reached the Indo –Bangladesh border and we had to register our boat. We went a bit further till the first village of Bangladesh but we had to turn back as it was getting dark.

After the river trip, we retired in the tourist lodge and spend the night in the dark, as there was no electricity. I was awakened by the sound of someone shaving wood with an electrical wooden plane.

Well, as the village hardly gets any electricity, it was humming with life even though it was 3am in the morning…this was when I wished that I had earplugs with me …besides the sounds of the electrical wooden plane, someone decided to blast the music and I almost had a breakdown listening to ‘It’s the time to disco’ at least about 10 times early in the morning! 

Needless to say, we were all very grumpy in the morning, and though slightly late than scheduled, we went back to the river and visited Chakma villages in the Indo- Bangladesh border, and it was truly enjoyable to experience their hospitality, and witness their lives. 

Lunglei to Saiha

Our journey from Lunglei to Saiha took us through Bualte, Thualthu, Tawipui 'N', Mualkawi, Tawipui 'S',Thingfal, Thingkah, Lawngtlai, Paithar, Chawntlangpui, Sihtlangpui, Kawlchaw, Zero point, and Tuitlawk.

 The road was good, and we covered the distance pretty quickly. We stopped by villages along the way, took pictures and had lunch at Lawngtlai. I was surprised to find so many auto rickshaws in the town; and we met a lady who left her shop and took us around town; she even shared her family pictures with me even though we had just known each other for an hour. I was very touched by her generousity and I hope that I will see her again.

 People joked that the most arduous journey for us would be between Lawngtlai and Saiha ; that we will see Saiha throughout our journey, but it will take us hours to reach the town. They were not joking, and by the time to reach Saiha, it was dark and it took us time to find the tourist lodge and we even landed in the helipad with our sumo jeep! Alas, we had to drive down to the town again than take off

Saiha is the third biggest town in Mizoram and is the capital town of Mara District Autonomous Council. It is said that in the earlier times, lots of elephant teeth were found in the area and hence called Sai -meaning elephant and ha- meaning tooth - therefore elephant tooth!

Much to our regret, we did not have much time to discover the area around Saiha. We did not visit the Palak Lake, but I have no doubt that I would be back as soon as I can to the south of Mizoram.

Saiha to Sangau:

The next morning, we then proceeded to Sangau, to see the Phawngpui, the Blue Mountain, the highest peak of Mizoram.

The journey from Saiha to Sangau took us through the villages Tlangpui, Lunzarhtum, Bualpui, Lungpher, Rawlbuk, and Cheural.

 The road was pretty interesting, and we sometimes circled a hill for hours. But the ride was rewarding as we passed through villages that are hardly ever visited by people. It was amazing to see young and old people especially men playing cards on the roadside. People were eager to talk to us and we spent time in each village and each person we met enriched our knowledge about the places and convinced me even more that I have to come back and spend more time.

 We also spotted many young boys with catapult and a cloth bag full of mudstones, also men with rifles. It was apparent that hunting was main pastime of the people there. Though I understand the need to hunt for food, I was quite saddened to see so many beautiful birds being preyed on for fun. I had never seen such beautiful birds in my life and it was quite easy for me to feel protective about the environment – I also understand that there is not much that the youth has to fill their past time with. Perhaps, with time, things will change, and we have to take on initiatives to develop something for the youth in the villages.

 Sangau:

We reached Sangau, the nearest village to Phawngpui Mountain in the late afternoon and checked in the tourist lodge. A very friendly family looked after the lodge and we immediately felt at home and cooked our own meals in their kitchen. We discussed our plans with them and they organised our itinerary for the next day and also our permits to enter the Phawngpui National Park.

We were told that the road between Sangau and Farpak would be one of the most adventurous ones we had ever driven to. I was not planning to drive as I am one of those who believes that if people can, they should walk when entering a protected sanctuary…but my curiosity gt better of me, especially after I heard the story that the Governor of Mizoram who had visited the place earlier did not eat for a day after he took a ride to this road…

 I agreed with the boys that we would drive till Thaltlang to experience the road but no further. The road was narrow indeed but it was not as bad as we had anticipated. But I certainly recommend that one should travel in Maruti gypsy rather than sumo, as it is too narrow to manevour.

 Upon reaching Thaltlang, we trekked about 7km uphill to Farpak, detouring from the motor road and walked into the jungle. We had the son of the tourist lodge caretaker, his friend and a forest guard with us, who were most useful in guiding us to the area. We came across birds, mushrooms, plants and fruits, some we had never seen in our lives. We were told of legends that were associated with the place. We were actually most fascinated by the story of a Mizo warrior who is said to have combed his hair everyday in the most inconvenient places we saw and spend hours arguing about how he could possibly jump from the cliff to the stone and get down or back! The discussion did make the trek shorter as all of us had our own theory!

If you have heard of the steepness of Thlazuang Kham, you would have also heard that any thing you throw, except yourself comes back due to the pressure of the wind…and it was true. The boys were throwing their shirts and bandanas and they came flying back as fast as it was thrown off to the cliff….amazing….

 It was wonderful to walk through the sanctuary and we spotted the first rhododendrons blooming in the forest but very challenging to photograph, as I could not find a place where I could stand steady. The peak is another two hours walk from Farpak, one has to be pretty fit to trek through deep forest path. The weather was very foggy and as we could not see much, we decided to walk back to Thaltlang in the late afternoon.

 Thalthlang is the village where Pu Vana and his group used to settle. I spent time interviewing the locals, taking pictures of their traditional jewellery and clothes. We went back to Sangau in the evening where a big feast was awaiting us.

It was time to leave the next day…and we had to embark on a 300km drive back to Aizawl via South Vanlaiphai, Darzo, Tuipui, and Tuipui Peng.

 We were told of the boat we would have to take to cross the Chhimtuipui River and did not believe it till we saw the MAR boat. Ritin and I were most excited to see a narrow hanging bridge and we decided to cross the river using this bridge whereas Dika and Tea were to cross with the jeep using the MAR boat. It was fun to cross the bridge, but I think I developed my first fear of height…no sure what triggered it…could be some movie scene that came to my head or the locals who were running behind me rocking the bridge as if they were walking on land that instilled sudden fear in me….(or perhaps my realisation that I am not in my teens anymore )

We rested for sometime and I interviewed the people operating the boat, while the boys were washing the Sumo and swimming. We then proceeded to Aizawl, stopping at Serchhip for food where we had the most delicious Tumbu bai (banana flower dish) and reached home, Aizawl  at about 12am…

 

Week 3

 Aizawl, Kolasib, Chhimluang, Bairabi:

 Ritin left for Kolkata and I was with my boys, Tea and Dika trailing further to the northern part of Mizoram, in Kolasib district. The destination that day was Bairabi, and a detour to a village called Chhimluang, a village inhabited by Riang tribes.

 Our journey took us through the villages and towns: Durtlang, Sihphir, Lungdai, Serkhan, Zanlawn, Kawnpui, Bualpui ,Thingdawl, Kolasib, Rengtekawn, Saihapui Peng, Pangbalkawn,  Meidum and Bairabi.

We travelled in one of the best roads in Mizoram and I wanted to take over the wheels…but Dika would not allow me to drive……….

We detoured from the main road from Pangbalkawn village to a settlement called Chhimluang, which was only 9 kilometres away but it took us an hour to reach the place.

I had never seen such an idyllic picture of a settlement except in Asterix comics and I was thrilled and excited. However, photographing in this village was one of the most challenging ones I have ever done. The people were apprehensive about an outsider, and they were not quite sure of what to make out of a woman running around with a camera, tripod and big lenses! However, we had given lift to one of the villagers on the way and he helped us talking to the people and explaining my intentions.

By the time I earned their trust, the entire village followed me and while I laughed with them to see their delight in discovering that they could see the photos though my LCD screen. I found it very hard, as I could not capture any picture without one of the kids running to be in the picture. But we managed some shots after we calmed down the kids with sweets. This tactic seems to work in many interior places I have been to…

Bairabi:

The railhead town of Mizoram - As we could not find the exact time that the train would arrive, we discovered the village a bit and then off to the river Tlawng.

Bairabi is known for bamboo and teak logging. While rowing on the river, one can witness lively activities of the village life. It is worth spending time along the riverbank.

There were men floating bamboos, using bamboos as raft, which are then brought to the bank and loaded to the trucks to be transported to Assam. We met lots of villagers in boats who were going to their jhum, and chanced upon kids who were having a battle in the water. We spend time with them and their pictures are my masterpieces of the trip.

There is a MAR boat that transport vehicles across the river and one can reach Mamit district after crossing the river.

After three weeks and about 1500km later, I was running out of time and it was time to end the trip. I hope to be back again in autumn and continue my journey.....

 

 

 

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
yathin
Feb. 27th, 2007 01:34 pm (UTC)
wonderful writeup.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 1st, 2007 10:44 am (UTC)
Nice
Hey its a lovely journal and I read it thrice over ...which made me crack over and over abt our boat rides and the road to lunglei to saiha and the road to Sangau to Aizawl and the nite we had dinner @ serchhip and how you walked in that diners and stopped yapping and ate all those Tumbus...hahaha
But i had a great time and will do it over again with you anytime.
Keep on writing and snapping.
Kudos
(Anonymous)
Mar. 15th, 2007 07:10 am (UTC)
Nice and informative
Nice write-up and very informative, more so for an urban Mizo. I do share the same passion that you have, and its my dream too, traveling the length and breadth of Mizoram, exploring the natural beauty and interacting with the locals and know more about my state, Mizoram. But being a family man with two kids and residing outside Mizoram it is just a dream for now which have been shelved for quite some time, but I believe will be happen one day or the other, God-permitting.

Being born and raised in Aizawl, I didn't have many chances of exploring other places in Mizoram, though I was always interested since I was a kid. My trips to the interiors of Mizoram are very limited. Once to Sialsuk and Saitual, as a small kid. (During this trip to Sialsuk, we too came across Ram-Ar on the road, and upon seeing us it took off down the the ravine. It was one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen and still very fresh in my memory). Thrice to Champhai, where my maternal Grandparents were residing. Once to Lawngtlai, where my mother was posted in 2000. During this trip to Lawngtlai, I somehow managed to visit Saiha (alone) for a day, traveling in Local Bus (haha). And on the way back to Aizawl (from Lawngtlai), upon my insistence we (me and my mother) stopped in Lunglei, and stayed for a night. Another one, is a one day trip to Reiek tlang with my cousin, brother and a friend. This was three days after my marriage and one day before I was to leave Aizawl. Back then, my wife was red-hot haha.

Though limited, all these are rich with memories. And its always at the back of my mind to have a more detailed tour of Mizoram. And after reading your memoir, and seeing the pictures its gonna be a constant nagging.

Holy Cow!! Am I writing my own memoir where I'm supposed to leave a comment?? haha.

Anyway, its really nice to come across a person sharing the same passion and bringing back my dream to life.

Thanks,
Ben Sailo (aka Zem Buana)
bja.sailo@gmail.com
(Anonymous)
Mar. 22nd, 2007 06:41 am (UTC)
good work
nice work shehnaz anyways wuld love to see mor pic of vienna with u in it what wuld be the safest way to keep in touch with you
burburz here:)
(Anonymous)
Mar. 24th, 2007 11:40 pm (UTC)
Nice work Kimi. Much more interesting than those stories about visiting to Holy Land or some foreign lands. Do have a tour again and write more about it. I'm very excited.

Yours truly,

Val_brosky
Bangalore
(Anonymous)
Mar. 25th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
Kimi, i LJ-a ka ron ziah hian i hmuh hmat ber ka ring a, hetah hian ka ron hrilh mai che. Ka e-mail I.D. chu valbrosky@gmail.com a ni e.

Ka hming pum chu Rosangliana Chhangte a ni a, RS tiin min ko deuh ber. Hnahthial khawchhuak ka ni nain Hnahthial ka chhuahsanna chu kum 15 a ni dawn ta reng mai. Kum 2002 khan Bangalore-ah hian lehkha zir turin ka chhuk thla a, tihian hna chhete (Medical Transcriptionist) thawkin ka awm ve ta reng a nih hi.

Ti daih ila, I thlalak pakhat, Chhimtuipui lei hi Tuipui D ami kha a ni em? a nih chuan ka zawh ve zai zai tawh a, tin, MAR boat-ah poh khan ka chuang ve toh a, Tuipuiah pawh khan a thuk lo laiah ka cheng ve zak zak tawh asin, mahse tui ka hleuh thiam lo...heheh.

Pics chu i phal zat zat min lo thawn roh, ka lawm viau ang.

PS: U can delete this comment after u read....



(Anonymous)
Mar. 25th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)
Sial Picture
1) I photo tar zing ami SIAL i tih hi Sial ni lovin Ramsa chidang a ni lo maw???
2) I project hi tha ka tiin a nghahlelhawm hle mai,i approach dan poh hi a profe khop mai. Good Luck
3) Hmeichhia=Minu tih hi hman deuh khan Pu Buangthang(L) leh Pu Ch Aikima Aizawl sumdawng hausa te khan an buaipui hle a. Hanoi Vietnam ka kal tumin an Public Toilet ah hian MINU (Ladies) tih hi zuk tar a. Kan guide ka zawh chuan a origin hi Chinese tawng a ni a ti a. Nang helam pang hi lo chhui zau teh tih ka han suggest duh a ni
4) Tun dinhmun a Tourist te tana hriattur i cover tel duh chuan, Mizoram khaw hrang hrang Aizawl atanga hlat zawng leh kal dan tur leh Riahna Hotel leh IB awmna te ka puih theih che ka inring (Mahse Vienna or USA vela GPS hmanga driving direction detail ang erawh ka nei lovang)

Islander
ellen_ds@yahoo.com
(Anonymous)
Mar. 27th, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC)
I read with a great delight about your sojourn in the land of our fathers. You have wonderful pics as well. I love reading about your experience at Tlabung and the surrounding areas. Truly beautiful, isn't. Sorry about the blackout at night (I am apologizing for no fault of mine, lol, a very British thing to do, eh!). Well, I am from Tlabung myself and it's my dream to explore, to shoot (with cams) and tell stories of our part of the world someday. Here's a little piece: http://remaxian.blogspot.com/2006/10/tlabung.html

Best wishes for your book.

Rema
(Anonymous)
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:23 am (UTC)
A wonderful read...takes me back to Mizoram and to far flung areas such as Tlabung..."lives along the river banks"; how I have been part of it all. keep writing...

PC
(Anonymous)
Jun. 10th, 2007 09:26 am (UTC)
Photo of bamboo flowers from Mizoram
Dear Shahnaz,

greetings from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, Philippines. My name is Adam Barclay and I edit IRRI's quarterly magazine, Rice Today (PDF copies are available at www.irri.org/ricetoday). IRRI is a non-profit international research organization whose mission is to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure that rice production is environmentally sustainable. You can see more at www.irri.org.

In our next issue of Rice Today (July 2007), we're running a story on the Mautam phenomenon in Mizoram. I was looking for photos of flowering Melcanna baccifera, and I came across your shot at www.flickr.com/photos/73231755@N00/493560415/. So, I'm writing to ask you if you'll let us use it in the Mautam story. Unfortunately, we don't have a budget for photography, so I can't offer any payment - but we will of course credit you as the photographer and we can also list your flickr URL.

If you agree to this, can you please send me a high-resolution version (if you have one - JPG is fine) to "a dot barclay at cgiar dot org". (Sorry for spelling the dots and at out - trying to avoid spam). The story is actually a slightly edited/updated reprint of an article that previously appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper on 30 March 2007. You can see the original at http://jasonoverdorf.blogspot.com/2007/03/indian-state-gets-ready-for-onslaught.html.

One other thing - we need to finalize the July issue by this coming Friday (15 June), so if you're keen, can you please send the file ASAP (sorry to sound demanding!).

I hope to hear from you soon!

Many thanks,
Adam
(Anonymous)
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:10 am (UTC)
THis was really a fasinating account. Though not a Mizo myself I have lived in the state for several years and travelled extensively in it. Even upto Palak lake and beyond, till Burma. Perhaps when you are going upto Saiha next, we could meet up and travel to Palak.

Arpan Sharma
arpan@samrakshan.org
(Anonymous)
Jul. 9th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
benjamin
Shahnaz pointed me to this story but I never read it fully before. I am now really considering traveling to the length and breadth of Mizoram.


For the interest, YHAI is organizing

1) Mizoram Trekking and Caving Expedition sometime in Nov 2008
2) Himalayan Mountain Bike Trekking in Leh
3) Nature/Eco Tour to Andaman


details:
http://www.yhaindia.org/default.aspx

the website is currently out of service

(Anonymous)
May. 1st, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
Nice piece....
Hi Shahnaz
(Anonymous)
May. 1st, 2010 09:37 pm (UTC)
Nice piece....
Hi Shahnaz
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )