Rachana Bhattacharya
(Courtesy Discover India)

          In Mizoram, tranquility does not come packaged, but unfolds quietly. It is a place that you must feel and experience, not just read about.

          Travel to Mizoram by road, stop at its villages, smell its essence. Taking the flight to Silchar, instead of flying directly to Aizawl, we attempt to inch forward through Silchar's crowded main bazaar. It's a gridlock of harried shoppers, night buses, badly parked tempos and numb policemen. Slowly, the tight, narrow gorge of small, multistoreyed buildings and tangled wires gives way to an empty highway racing through open expanses of harvested fields, where farmers thresh winter paddy. To our left, the orange orb of the sun ebbs. Fringing the fields, the returning cows and the red hibiscus bush growing over the woven bamboo fence glimmer with a last burst of pure gold.

          We stay the night at Vairengte to visit one of the most illustrious army schools in India - The Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School. In the morning we go southward, through small villages, where shrieking children skid wildly down the road on indigenous wooden carts. Mizos use it to transport water, vegetables, football teams, squawking chickens and old grannies back and forth. We drive through teak and coffee plantations to Kolasib. The village square, with a giant tree at its apex, is being spiffed up for Christmas. Precariously perched on bare branches, two lads dangle a huge, glittering star into the darkening sky where the tall steeple of a church still shines white. The wind turns chill. Young, pliant bamboo stalks make wild curves, arching over the full moon now rising from behind the hills. The pitch- black forest suddenly comes alive with texture awash in moonlight. We plunge through the night, silent in pure darkness. Suddenly, without warning, as we turn a bend, the starlit heavens seem to spill out of the sky: Aizawl - capital city, Mizo heartland. Where the Mizos live, love, transact, dream. Glittering resplendently, spread across the horizon.

          My first impression in the morning is of disbelief. No snow-capped peaks, no pine trees. Instead, the tightly packed houses seem to cascade into a sea of pink clouds rising from the valley. Aizawl, a large hill station, standing on a high ridge surrounded by lush tropical forests and pristine rivers cutting deep gorges through the valleys. You can stay at the Government Tourist Lodges or private hotels like Ritz, Chief and Royal near Bara Bazar, the main marketplace. We wander down the 'foreign' market stairs where they sell Chinese blankets, shoes and T-shirts into the thick of the bustling local bazaars where exotic mushrooms and handlooms jostle for space with betel nut baskets, fresh flowers and trussed-up pigs. Handicrafts are available at ZOHANCO and KVI in Zarkawt or Hnamchhantu below Bara Bazaar.

          It is a sunny morning. The drive down up to Reiek through cool bamboo groves and dense tropical forests is alive with waterfalls and butterflies. The marvelous wind-blown tableland with its stupendous 360 degree view, where the world seems to fall away from you. (Tamdil Lake, set in the midst of cool, virgin forest is another ideal spot for a picnic).

          We drive up Durtlang hill to ATC (Aizawl Theological College) early next morning around 4 am for a breathtaking view of the Lushai hills rising from a sea of clouds. Halting at Berawtlang Tourist Complex before we carry on to Champhai, 194 km east of Aizawl, near the Indo-Myanmar border. Both buses and Sumos ply daily - the drive takes about six hours. All kinds of goods imported from across the border are available here at bargain prices. Room heaters, Chinese blankets, pasta makers and shoes, shoes, shoes. Spread below the city, lie Champhai valley's spectacular patchwork of paddy greens. We simply sit, watching the night darken the trees, brighten our bonfire and turn the love songs more melancholic.

          Next morning, after obtaining our permits from the Deputy Commissioner's office (the office opens at 8 am and closes at 6 pm), we visit the beautiful, heart-shaped Rih Dil lake, 22 km across the Tiau Lui river that separates India from Myanmar. Just across the bridge are Myanmarese shops that stock excellent textile - batik shirts and wraparound skirts. The massive memorial stone at Mankhaia Lung is worth viewing. A must-do trip for wildlife enthusiasts, trekkers and birdwatchers is one to the verdant jungles in southern Mizoram. Travel south of Aizawl. A trail that takes you right into the heart of Mizoram's virgin rainforests teaming with wildlife and rich in bio-diversity. Hire a sturdy Sumo, travel in small groups and make advance bookings for accomodation, rooms being limited. The Vantawng falls (152 km) descends a magnificent 750 ft. into dense foliage in a fine spray.

          At Falkawn, 18 km away, you can see a typical Mizo village, with the traditional bachelors' dormitory and bamboo homes. There is a tourist lodge seven kilometers away, at Thenzawl, famous for its weaving industry. You can buy excellent handlooms directly from the weavers. The beautiful hill station of Lunglei (235 kms from Aizawl) is further south. 60 km down the same road lies the Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary. There is a tourist lodge and a small forest lodge at Lawngtlai. Thirty kilometres east of Lawngtlai is Saiha, an angler's paradise on the banks of Mizoram's biggest river - Chhimtuipui. Above the foothill town, looms Mizoram's highest peak - Phawngpui, or Blue Mountain. Phawngpui National Park, harbours goral, serrow, barking deer, sambhar, leopard, hoolock gibbon, rhesus monkey and stump-tailed macaques. During February-March, rhododendrons cover the hills and the beautiful daphnia blossoms and orchids carpet the forest floor.

          We return to spend Christmas at Aizawl. The shops, which usually shut their doors at 6 pm, are ablaze with Christmas cheer. Swathes of glitter and pine, Santa replicas and thermocol cut-outs spread Krismas Chibai in no uncertain terms. The crush of shoppers defies all logic. Localities vying with each other, organise a crescendo of overlapping events. The Christmas - New Year weekend is the perfect time to visit Mizoram. The weather is perfect, the concerts many and the experience electrifying. At Zarkawt crossing they are holding a community feast after the concert. Everyone rocks. Even grannies in Santa caps. A German couple, who have left the howling wind back home, squat beside me, below the podium. We all bring in Christmas together, singing carols into the night sky, as bursts of fireworks herald the birth of Jesus.


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