Entangled in my own thoughts, I gazed out of the car into the gloomy skies and the desolate valleys of Mizoram. Wandering from one thought to another, a memory of a fifth-grade lesson floods into my mind. The story revolved around a Mizo girl interested in Handloom. Her parents being the typical Indian sceptical bunch weren’t supportive of her passion. That led to her sliding away into a secret space to immerse herself in weaving. Further, into the story, she participated in a competition and ended up being declared its winner. That would be the first time I got acquainted with the word Mizoram.
I was the bright-eyed girl, whose face lit up with curiosity about the state. And finally Aizawl went from being just another capital I had to pinpoint accurately on an outline map of India; to a place, I would actually collect stories from.
Immersing ourselves in the feel of the Mizoram countryside
Strolling through the countryside, I found my feet leave footprints in a place, where one could lose (or maybe even find) themselves. Our eyes were greeted by the sight of endless hills covered in a green blanket of trees and thick bamboo groves. Farmers with traditional Mizo hats as their choice of headgear; were working on abundant terraces of paddy fields and vineyards that surrounded us. Most of the Mizo farmers practice Jhum cultivation (Slash & Burn agriculture), but people have been switching to modern methods for a while now. Kids played around in the evening, riding a traditional go-kart. I had my moment of manning the go-kart and going on an adventure with them as well.
A good number of houses here stand on the sides of the hill-cut roads and are built on stilts. It was intriguing to see the popularity of pork in the region, reflected by the number of pig pens attached to each house. I was filled with joy when I observed, how efficient the people were at Water Management. You’d find half-cut bamboo being used to drip irrigate and transfer water. You might even spot them spanning the roads above you at some stretches. Every house has a rainwater harvesting system, which collects water either from their sloping roofs or other sources. Way to go, Mizoram!
Walking around in the lanes of Aizawl
Aizawl must be that small patch of modernity, in a state that boasts about having the highest concentration of tribal population in India. A century-old town that’s built on hills; it sure looks like Milky Way with all the twinkling city lights at night. The state predominantly follows Christianity, and the Churches are some of the magnificent buildings here. Come sunrise and the city sees people having breakfast and setting out for the workday. Here in this part of the country, people have two meals: a breakfast and an early dinner. Lunchtime is normally treated as snack time accompanied with some tea. By around 6-7 pm, everyone returns home and the hustle of the city dies out.
One of most vibrant places in the city is its bazaars. The millennium centre acts as the only shopping complex, with goods from Thailand seen in every shop of the mall. And then you have the Bara Bazaar, the city’s market, bustling with activity at every corner, complete with vibrant colours. One of the most notable things about shopping in Mizoram is that most of the small businesses and shopkeepers tend to be women. You’d find them selling things ranging from fruits, vegetables, spices to traditional garments and footwear.
I got my hands on some Raja Mirchi (literally translates to King Chilli), a type of extremely hot chilli, infamous for burning people’s tongues. Remarkably popular in the region; it is great for making pickles. After hearing all the praise about the oranges from the region, I got my fix of some extremely sweet oranges as well.
Learning about their heritage and tribal ways
Driving beyond the city limits, at about 30 kilometres; you come across Reiek Heritage Village. As I stepped inside, I was instantly surrounded by some beautifully built Traditional Huts. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the variety of huts built by different tribes of the region. The detail and uniqueness of each one of them feel like a cry to stand out from the rest and establish their own identity. Like most tribal huts, the material of choice to build them are bamboo, cane, hay or anything to keep them sturdy; and stilts support a majority of them.
Going through the interiors of the huts; the first place I found myself in was the living room area, with a wall at the entrance dedicated to displaying skulls of hunted animals. These are their equivalent of trophies and act as a reflection of the tribe’s pride. Helping my way further inside, I stood in the living quarters inspecting and uncovering more details on their lives. The room consisted of a central area; used mainly for cooking, which would double up as a fireplace during cold nights. The sleeping area, situated on either side of the room. They used rugs made out of fur as mattress and blankets. A look at the materials used for cooking and other household activities and you’d find firewood, earthen pots, cane and bamboo baskets/ containers, metal utensils. A welcome change from the all the gas and plastic found in our modern homes.
While I was touring the place; a few Mizo working at the place were having their afternoon snacks and tea. Though our tongues were foreign to each other, I had a lovely time interacting with them and they even shared some of their food. Their cuisine differs greatly from the rest of India. Think: lots of rice; less spicy; presence of meats like fish, chicken, pork, beef and boiled vegetables. They serve their meals on fresh banana leaves and most of their meals are cooked in mustard oil.
Also Read: Majuli: A Paradise Lost In Time?
A day out at Hmuifang Resort
Hmuifang Resort is that spot you’d pick for a lovely picnic and the perfect day out. All around me I encountered – Vast meadows spread out on an uneven terrain – Evergreen trees surrounding; giving the boundless meadow a hazy outline – Cabins and treehouses tucked away in the midst of the meadow and the trees – Unending chirping of birds and bustle of wildlife that enveloped the whole resort. It’s effortless to feel disconnected from the civilization in midst of such ecstatic beauty.
While exploring the farthest reaches of the resort, I came across an old suspension bridge worn out from time and use. There was buckling and it was bent slightly towards the middle. A bridge that screamed proceed with caution by just the way it looked. I had to tread carefully, being sure-footed and making sure my feet landed right in the middle of the bridge. On the other end of the bridge, a tree house stood amidst trees, mostly hidden away from the view.
Listening to the Myths and Legends
“Ma’am you must visit our Sacred Lake when you visit Mizoram next time”, the old man in the chai shop said. His words woke my curiosity up. Eager to learn more, I enquired about the lake. “Rih Dil is the largest lake in Mizoram, but is situated in Myanmar”, he said. I was just as perplexed as you are when I first heard the statement. To ease the puzzled expression on my face, he went ahead and explained himself, “Mizo folk believe that the other world was divided into two ‘Mitthi Khua’ (Village of the dead) and ‘Pialral’ (Heaven). Rih Dil is the inevitable passage that spirits of the dead crossed on their way to their final abode”.
I sat there in wonder and dumbstruck. This man had just helped me start a list of places I’d visit for my next visit to Mizoram.
Practical Information: Mizoram is the southernmost state in Northeast India. To visit, one can take a flight to Lengpui Airport, which is the only one in the state of Mizoram. Nearest railway station to reach the state would be Silchar, from where one has to proceed via road.
So, would anyone want to join me when I visit Rih Dil?