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Saturday, October 21, 2023

Chp 893. Anthurium Festival 2023, Day 1.

So I went to my first-ever Anthurium festival yesterday.

I came down to Aizawl from my farm this week to have my three dogs neutered. While I waited for them to recover at Mercy Pet Care, Ramhlun, I decided to take the opportunity to experience the Anthurium festival. :)

For my non-Mizo visitors, the Anthurium Festival is an annual 2-days event organised by the Tourism Department of Mizoram, where various cultural and traditional practices are showcased to tourists (and locals) in the forms of dances, songs, plays, fashion shows, stalls, games, and so on.

Since I happened to be in Aizawl this week, I really wanted to experience it for the first time, and fortunately for me, my sister who works at Vinco Construction was going as their subsidiary "Vinco Farm" was putting up a stall at the event.

We first went to their office at Eden Thar.

I met Vincent and Nico again after a long time. Vincent heads "Vinco Construction" while Nico heads "Vinco Farm", and back during my Pune days, we used to meet every week for our "Amosa group Prayer Cell meeting" as we all lived in the same locality - Koregaon Park.

We packed all the items for their stall in our two vehicles.

After that, we all left together and made our way towards Reiek, an hour-and-a-half long ride.

The road was narrow and winding, but thankfully, there were hardly any other vehicles. We crossed the river Tlawng midway to our destination.

We drove past many enchanting waterfalls, each one a hidden treasure veiled in nature's embrace.

By the time we reached the village of Ailawng, we were famished as we hadn't eaten anything yet. We stopped at a restaurant recommended by U Baby, who swore they made the best Teriyaki in Mizoram.

The name of the place is "Ell Emm Restaurant", and it is quite easy to miss it if you're driving towards Reiek because their tall fence covers up all the shacks inside. Just keep a lookout for a tiny red signboard outside.

Once inside, I immediately got a similar vibe of being in one of those beach shacks in Calangute or Pallolem, Goa.

Gotta admit, it was indeed a comforting feeling to sit inside. The inviting warmth and cosiness of the ambience coupled with the cool gentle breeze and the silence of any vehicular sound even though we were at a roadside made it a truly cherished experience.

We ordered Zufang and some cold coffees.

Zufang is our Mizo traditional rice beer. Even though Mizoram is a total prohibition state, traditional alcohol like Zufang, Zupui and Rakzu are allowed on special events.

We took a few minutes to order from their impressive menu ranging from Thai and Chinese to Korean and Vietnamese, and when our orders finally arrived, U Baby was not wrong! OMG the food was sooooo good!

I mean, it was unbelievably good! Everything was super scrumptious and authentic. We hogged through the exquisite symphony of flavours, each bite bursting with a tantalizing combination of spices and textures.

I ended up overeating of course!

Once we enjoyed our divine cuisine, we complimented the manager, who told us that the owner and chef worked at Taj before moving back to Mizoram. No wonder.

As a foodie, trust me when I say this, their food is better than most (if not all) restaurants in Aizawl. Do give it a shout when you visit Reiek next time.

I did feel a bit uncomfortable because I overate. Luckily, Reiek was just 2km away from Ailawng. As we entered the event area, everybody had to park their vehicles at the parking plot below but we were allowed to drive right up to the venue because we were carrying equipment and items for our stall.

There were still around 30 minutes before the festival began, and the other stalls around us were starting to set up too.

Our stall.

So basically, Vinco Farm was showcasing two of their products - a new Masala-flavoured tea, and "3 paste", which is a cooking paste made from Ginger, Garlic and Culantro. All ingredients are locally grown. 

To show the advantage of "3 paste", my sister and her team fried two different batches of chicken kebabs, one made with "3 paste" and another without, and these were given out as free samples for visitors to eat and taste the difference between the two. 

Very smart marketing strategy indeed. 

And of course, the difference between the "3 paste" kebab and normal kebab was very prominent. Most of the people who tried out the free samples ended up buying a packet of "3 paste". 

A large number of children also came to the stall again and again because of the free sample, lolz, but they were so adorable as they shyly asked with a silly grin if they could have the free sample again for the umpteenth time. :D 

Another plus point was that, the Vinco Farm stall was right at the entrance of the stalls section, guaranteeing maximum exposure.

As the main Anthurium Festival event was about to start, I headed up to the grounds with Nicky to experience it, while the rest of the Vinco Farm people were busy at their stall.

You could make out that the road was recently repaired for this event, with a slight hint of fresh tar smell still lingering in the air.

The path to the main stage was lined up with vendors selling homemade ice cream and popcorn. These were probably the locals of Reiek village, and occasions like this would be such a blessing for them.

The event was kickstarted by members of the Mizo Cultural Organisation Gen Hq with our traditional "Hlado chham" which is a hunter's cry to his village to inform them of a great kill. Three shots were fired from their guns and people rejoiced as the Anthurium Festival was officially declared open.

[Image source: DIPR website]

Next came a beautiful vocal performance by the popular gospel band "One in Christ" which was started by my fellow Arsenal fan mate Aldrin. This was followed by a speech from the Chief Guest, Dr. Lalrozama IAS, surrounded by two very pretty flower girls.

Since the photo I took from the gallery is too far, here is another photo from DIPR website.

Interesting to note is that, every year the Chief Guest of Anthurium Festival was a Minister of State. However, with the Legislative Assembly elections coming up next month, due to the Model Code of Conduct, that practice was prohibited, and that's why the Chief Guest this year was the Secretary of the Tourism Department.

That's also probably why the Chief Guest speech was so interesting this year. :P

After the speech, members of Pachhunga University College Chhhawkhlei Cultural Club dressed in different Mizo attires treated us to a beautiful performance of different Mizo traditional dances.

I was completely mesmerized by the dance performance because it was not only stunning but also impressively lengthy! Just when I thought it was over, the music track changed a bit and there they were, swaying gracefully to yet another melodic enchantment.

You can also have a look at the dance videos I took with my phone. Since YouTube integration on Blogger is not very user-friendly, do press the "enlarge" button to watch the videos in full screen.

While every experience so far was amazing, I did feel a bit disappointed and that was because I had zero network on my mobile phone! Yes, let me warn you - if you're a Vodafone subscriber, then you will not get any signal at the venue. I had to ask Andrew to hotspot me all the time just to update my WhatsApp status.

So yeah, you can imagine my jealousy when I spotted my dear friend Zocop happily live-streaming the event on Facebook while I didn't even have a teeny weeny bar of network! :D

As other programs like solo and more speeches followed, Nicky and I quickly went and visited the traditional Mizo village nearby.

It was free entry for all because of the ongoing festival, otherwise, it was ₹ 20 and ₹ 10 entrance fee on other days.

The Mizo village had an ensemble of different houses. The first was the most important of all - the Zawlbuk, which was a dormitory for young unmarried warriors to sleep in the night. The presence of Zawlbuk was crucial to the defence of the village.

We visited each house one by one. There were people in each house, dressed traditionally and enacting actions such people would be doing in those days. I think an "educational cosplay" would be the right term for it.

Inside each house, there were also different household items, and they differed greatly between classes.

Like the "Lal in" which was the Chief's house had beds, a stove, balconies, etc while the "Minaran in" which was the commoner's house had just a loom.

At the far end and bottom of the village was the secluded "Hmeithai in" which was the widow's house. 

I wasn't surprised to see the location of the widow's house. Being a patriarchal society, widows weren't ostracised but they did face a lot of discrimination back in the days. Even the sons of widows were looked down upon and weren't considered to be suitable suitors when it came to marriage. But thanks to the wokes, the societal standing and condition of widows and single mothers are much better today.

The hunter's house was pure testosterone. There were weapons and skulls of different kills everywhere, though in the image below, the modern shoes under the bed weren't a part of the original setup. :D

As we heard loud cheers and music coming from the main stage, we quickly headed back.

I went and peeped quickly inside the camping section. It was a place where people could book a tent and stay for the night. My friend and fashion designer Mami Khawlhring was also one of the officials helping with the costumes and she was staying in one of the tents. In fact, in the photo below, I am sure that is Mami Khawlhring's butt. :D

Next on stage was a cultural dance performance by Govt. Hrangbana College Zunleng Cultural Club. You can watch the video below too.

After that, we had an educational display of what women used to do in the village during the day, courtesy of the Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP) Reiek branch.

We also took a selfie with the legendary Mizo YouTuber Vanlalpianga. What an honour it was.

We soon headed back to the stalls below while other events like modern dances, skateboarding and stuff happened on the main stage.

Back at the stall, the host of the festival and celebrity presenter Angelina Paul interviewed Nico and he explained about the speciality of the two products.

Soon celebrity YouTuber Vanlalpianga also approached our stall. :D

Nicky jumped into action and did the explaining this time.

We walked around and visited the other stalls. I was still so full from our earlier brunch that I still couldn't eat anything. However, we did try out the "Zupui" and it was indeed a very different feeling to drink it right next to the police! :D

But to be frank, I didn't find any difference between the Zupui we just had and the Zufang we had earlier. Maybe I am not a Zu connoisseur after all. :P

I also didn't try out the masala tea Vinco Farm was making as I don't drink tea. After all, I am a teatotaller. :D :P

Soon it was 3pm - time for me to head back. I had to go all the way back to my farm at Neihbawih because of Dobby and Robin. Ahhhh fatherhood. Life of a single dad.

Nico too had to leave early due to an upcoming KTP program that night, so I went with him on his scooty.

What a great experience it was for me. My first Anthurium Festival. Wish I could have stayed till the end because I knew many of my friends had after-party plans at the venue, but unfortunately, I had to sacrifice all that because of my children. Goodbye Anthurium Festival.

We stopped briefly to admire the breathtaking scenic beauty. By the way, you can click on all images to enlarge to a new window.

Once we crossed the midway Tlawng bridge, Aizawl didn't seem to be that far away.

All in all, I had a very memorable time thanks to my sister and the people of Vinco Construction and Farm. I reached home, packed quickly and left for Neihbawih again, where I was reunited with Robin and Dobby as they excitedly jumped all over me.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience. As I end this post, I think I'll just quickly address the elephant in the room - the critics of the Anthurium Festival.

Yes, there are several people here in Mizoram who feel that the Anthurium Festival is unnecessary, that it is just a made-up festival with the sole purpose of attracting tourists and profiting from them. 

Well... I mean... what is so bad in that?

While I do understand their perspective and argument that we have many actual cultural festivals like Chapchar Kut, Mim Kut (not related to vaimim :P), Pawl Kut etc., I think organizing a popular "made-up event" does benefit our state by boosting tourism and economy. Given our unfortunate status as the state with the highest debt and fiscal deficit in India, why not let the Tourism department generate revenue to replenish some of our depleted coffers?

Let's also not forget that other "made-up" events like... Valentine's Day, Halloween, Oktoberfest, NH7, etc had all been extensively promoted and commercialised successfully.

I would like to know about your opinion on that and you can leave your comment here or on Facebook. Hoping to see you all again on my next update. 

Take care, everyone.