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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Chp 850. Dampa Tiger Reserve - How To Get There.

I went to Dampa Tiger Reserve last week, and it was one of the most exciting experiences I've had in a long time.

Dampa Tiger Reserve is the largest protected area in Mizoram, stretching across more than 500 sq kms of hills, ravines, forests, and it is a natural home to many rare animals and birds you won't easily find elsewhere.

In this series of blog updates, I will write about my experiences there, starting with the most important question of all – How do I reach Dampa Tiger Reserve?

First of all, do know that Dampa Tiger Reserve is a protected area, so you can't just randomly go there! If you do, you will be shot to death until you are dead. :D :P

Just kidding. But yes, you need a special permission to enter the Reserve. You must apply for a permit from the Chief Wildlife Warden, Forest Department of Mizoram. To apply for this permit, you'll have to go to the Office of Chief Conservator of Forests, Tuikhuahtlang, Aizawl, or the DCF (Wildlife) Office at New Capital Complex, Aizawl.

Keep in mind that your application can be rejected as well. If your request for a permit is granted, you will be put in contact with different forest officials regarding your accommodation and other details.
If you go to Dampa Tiger Reserve without a permit, you will be penalized as per the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

I was fortunate enough to accompany Lalani to the Tiger Reserve, so I didn't require any permit because Lalani and her team already had permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to carry out their research at the Reserve.

So what are the things to take on a trip to Dampa Tiger Reserve? Since we were going to do a lot of trekking across the thick overgrown forests and valleys, I packed a lot of energy drinks, ORS and emergency Cup O'Noodles. Medicines are crucial too, and you must take at least a strip of painkillers and antibiotics, as well as meds for loose motion, cold and stomach-ache.

I was informed that mosquito repellents weren't required because of the current season, but if you are visiting the place during the monsoons, make sure you pack a tube of Odomos and some GoodKnight mats.

Apart from those, pack the usual survival gears like power-bank, torchlight, matchbox, mini water filter (very easy to catch typhoid), pocket knife etc., along with utilities to minimize your pollution footprint like biodegradable garbage bags and paper plates.

Also make sure you don't wear any bright coloured clothes because you may end up startling the untouched wildlife and disrupting their normal routine. Bright colours also bring unwanted attention from insects and predators. The ideal colours to wear are black, dark green, dark brown and khaki. I packed my camouflaged suit for the trip, but I couldn't find it anywhere in my bag. Badumtsss. :P

So, coming to the topic of this post, how do you get to Dampa Tiger Reserve, considering you have all the required papers and permits from the Warden (as well as ILP for outsiders, m-pass for CoVid-19 etc.)?

Well, my first advice would be - DO NOT LOOK IT UP ON GOOGLE MAP. Because if you enter "Dampa Tiger Reserve" on Google Map and plot a route from Aizawl, you will get a completely different location! Maybe this will be corrected in the future, but right now, as of 28th Feb 2021, this is what you'll get on Google Map search.

The above location is technically correct, but that is not the Dampa Tiger Reserve you want to visit.

Let me explain.

Since Dampa Tiger Reserve spans across more than 500 sq kms, there are two different Range Offices, known as IB. IB stands for "Inspection Bungalow" and this terminology is a remnant from the colonial British Raj days. IB is basically a guesthouse where visiting officials as well as VIP dignitaries and tourists can stay for a few nights. The one that you see in the map above, is the Phuldungsei IB, but the actual Dampa Tiger Reserve you want to go to, is the Teirei IB, as shown in the map below.

At Phuldungsei IB, there is really nothing much to do or see compared to Teirei IB. The place doesn't have a hostel or dormitory for tourists to stay, it only has accommodation for officials and VIPs. In addition to that, if you are a tourist, you WILL need to hire a guide from among the WLG (Wild Life Guards) because you're not allowed to enter the forests without one, as per the rules, and it is easier to hire such guides from Teirei IB.

I don't know why Google Map shows Phuldungsei IB instead of Teirei IB. Even all the photos of Dampa Tiger Reserve people post online as well as the famous gate pictures are all from Teirei IB, not Phuldungsei IB. Anyway, I've already submitted an edit to the location on Google Map and let's see if Google approves my suggestion or not.

Coming back to this post, yes, to visit Dampa Tiger Reserve, the location you need to go to is Teirei IB.

From Aizawl, travel towards Lengpui airport and then take the left diversion towards Lengte. Keep on travelling until you reach Rawpuichhip.

Rawpuichhip is like the main hub of eatery for passersby, because the next nearest location where you can find food (like the town of Mamit, or West Phaileng in our case) is a couple of hours away and all the restaurants will be closed by the time you reach there if you start your journey in the afternoon.

That small stretch of road is lined with different roadside eateries, and apparently it is one of the main sources of income for the good people of Rawpuichhip village, numbering around 1500 as of 2011 census.

We went to "El Bee Hotel" initially, but they only had proper "meals" in their menu, and since it was still too early for us to eat that kind of food, we went to the neighbouring eatery called "Gospeli Restaurant" that served only snacks, and we ordered chow and sanpiau.

I wrote a blog post about ""Hotel-cum-Restaurant" in Mizoram last year and mentioned that according to many Mizo travellers, a "Hotel" is a highway eatery that serves meals, while a "Restaurant" is a place that serves snacks. You can see that this practice is still being followed at Rawpuichhip.

After our quick but delicious snacks, we freshened up. There is a toilet below Gospeli Restaurant, in case that information is helpful to you.

As the sun was starting to set, we continued with our journey.

Lalani fell asleep almost immediately after a fulfilling plate of chow and sanpiau. :D

This is the route from Rawpuichhip to our next destination - Dapchhuah bridge. The travel duration in the map below says 30 minutes, which is wrong. You'll take around an hour to reach the place.

It was dark by the time we reached Dapchhuah bridge. On Google Map, it is specifically listed as "Dapchhuah Bridge (New)" and this is because it is indeed a newly constructed bridge. You can see the dilapidated structures of the previous old bridge a few meters away.

Dapchhuah is apparently known for its vegetable and freshwater produce markets. We stopped there to buy vegetables to take with us to Teirei IB.

You'll need to do the same too if you are planning to stay at Teirei IB because there aren't any proper markets at Teirei village and you'll only get basic food items like rice, dal and potato at the IB kitchen. You can buy such items from West Phaileng too, but in our case, we bought them from Dapchhuah since it was already dark.

From Dapchhuah bridge, continue going on a very dusty and under-construction road, until you reach a fork. Going straight will take you to Mamit district HQ, so you'll need to take the other road heading upwards to go to West Phaileng.

From there onwards, the road condition is super terrible! Potholes everywhere, you'll move at tortoise speed for around 25 kms. It takes around 2 hours to reach West Phaileng if you are driving in the dark.

Finally we reached West Phaileng at around 7:30 PM.

Fun Fact - East Phaileng is a completely different and unrelated village that lies 180+ kms away from West Phaileng (Yeah that's the type of question a first-time traveller like me asked that day). At the main junction of West Phaileng, there was one shop still open, where we had coffee to revitalize ourselves.

Two quick night-photos of West Phaileng from where we had coffee. The population of West Phaileng is around 4000 as of 2011 census.

From West Phaileng, there are two routes you can take to reach Teirei IB. If you continue going on that same terrible road, you can reach Teirei IB in around 1.5 hours.

Or you can take an even more terrible road and reach the place in an hour. I was like, "Are you serious? There's a road even worse than this one?" :D

Since it was very late and the cook at Teirei IB was still waiting for us to serve dinner, we felt extremely guilty and decided to take the shorter but rougher route. We proceeded from West Phaileng to this mission school known as "Salem Boarding", run by Mizoram Synod.

At Salem Boarding, there is a road sign that says "Teirei Road" pointing towards your left. Take that road.

I really recommend you don't take this route when you visit Teirei IB because the precariously steep and bumpy road is not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. We were keeping our fingers crossed the entire time that we don't meet any other vehicle. :D

Also, yeah, once you take that left from the sign that says "Teirei Road" at Salem Boarding, you will be off the map! Google Map suggests you take the right and go all the way round, so instead, you will be travelling on a blank area on your GPS map, which I have roughly marked in red below.

But yes, it was much quicker and soon we rejoined the blue road at Chikhatlang, and from there it was a few minutes' drive to reach Teirei IB. Hello Dampa Tiger Reserve! We entered the gate and proceeded to our lodging.

Lalani met all the officials quickly and we immediately entered the kitchen and sat down for dinner. We thanked the cook and assistants profusely for staying up that late waiting for us to arrive. Yummy dinner!

After a much enriching dinner, we sat down with the forest guards by the campfire and Lalani discussed with them about the next day's program. Her students and research assistants (who were already staying at the Reserve) too joined us by the campfire.

Overall it was a new experience for me to travel like that, and soon it was time to call it a night as we were all exhausted from the jerky and jarring journey. We also had a very busy schedule the next day so we really needed to take rest.

I hope this post on how to reach Dampa Tiger Reserve was useful to you.

If you're travelling on your own vehicle, make sure you fill up your fuel tank in Aizawl, because there isn't a single petrol/diesel pump along the way. There is one at Mamit district HQ, but that is a completely different direction as you can see from the map earlier above.

And if you don't have your own vehicle, you can hire one from a commercial agency like "TBC Car Rental" for example, where for a Bolero they charge ₹ 30 per kilometre and ₹ 1200 per overnight stay, and for a more comfortable Scorpio, they charge ₹ 35 per kilometre and ₹ 1800 per overnight stay (the rates are as of 28th Feb, 2021, because it will be different if you stumble across this blog update years later).

Lalani hired a private Scorpio that she had regularly used for her earlier fieldwork, and because of that our rate was a bit cheaper, coming at ₹ 25 per kilometre and ₹ 1000 per overnight stay.

However, our driver admitted that it was impossible to compete in that rate with other drivers of India because in Mizoram we drive on bad roads at 1st and 2nd gear most of the time, hence consuming a lot more fuel, whereas in the plains, they can drive at top gear covering double the distance in half the time. True indeed.

Chhana from "TBC Car Rental" told me that the rental rates are negotiable if you call him up at +918974626947 and mention that you stumbled across his car rental agency through my blog update. :)

So that is it. How to reach Dampa Tiger Reserve, the correct one. :)

In my next updates, I will write about the facilities at Teirei IB as well as some of the conservation work Lalani and her team did at the location, so stay tuned for my next update. Until then, take care everyone.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Chp 849. Valentine's Day 2021

I took a break from the online world due to the unfortunate passing of Lalani's mother last month. I even wrote two blog posts dedicated to Nu Mahlimi's sad demise, but I didn't post those links on my FB timeline or WA status.

If you're interested, you can read about my humble tribute to Lalani's mom in these two posts - Chp 847. In Remembrance of Nu Mahlimi followed by Chp 848. The Final Day of Nu Mahlimi.

Now that I'm finally back online again, here is my blog update dedicated to Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day is a day of celebration for most lovers across the world. Of course there are the cynics who don't believe in a man-made occasion to celebrate their romance, as well as the sceptics who claim "eVeRy DaY iS VaLeNtiNE's dAy fOR uS!" whenever they see couples taking an extra effort to make each other happy on the 14th of February.

Well, for us, Valentine's Day was a significant day because it was the one month anniversary of Nu Mahlimi's demise. And in our Mizo custom, close friends and family members usually get together on such a day to commemorate the solemn occasion.

But we did manage to find some time for love. Lalani and her cousins made this cute decoration set-up to celebrate Valentine's Day, and also to take their minds off sorrowful thoughts. This was really sweet of them to do this.

Since we couldn't spend Valentine's Day together alone because of the family dinner and function, we decided to dine out the previous day instead. We went to "MoMo Cafe", situated at Canteen kual. Their momos were obviously delicious.

However, they're known for their other cuisines as well, like for instance, their Alu parathas were to die for.

I ordered the "Pork Nepali thaali", but when I saw the amount that was served, I immediately regretted eating that plate of momo earlier because the thaali quantity was huge!

Special mention must be made about their Chilly Pork which came with the Thaali. It was definitely the best Chilly Pork I had in Mizoram so far!

Lalani ordered the Veg garlic noodles and it was scrumptious as well.

Overall, it was indeed a great and satisfying Pre-Valentine's Day lunch. The Nepali dishes are all authentic because the establishment is run by Gorkhalis who have been living in Mizoram for a couple of generations now. They all speak fluent Mizo.

I highly recommend the "MoMo Cafe". The only negative part is that it is situated right at the center of one of the busiest traffic intersections of Aizawl, so you'll have to park at the other side of the roundabout (if you happen to find a parking space).

We utilized our long walk to and from the restaurant by walking on the footbridge, and it was my first time on that skywalk.

Yeah we definitely behaved like a bunch of tourists visiting Aizawl city for the first time. :D

It was so much fun walking hand-in-hand above the bustling traffic, watching the crowd below engrossed in their own hectic schedules while we held hands above together as if we had all the time in the world. We took selfies every few steps to commemorate the occasion. :D

The footbridge was quite empty because most people were still crossing the roads below, probably because they were too busy to waste a few minutes to climb up and down the footbridge. One person did climb up the footbridge and looked at us happy couple quizzically, and so I explained to him that I was from Neihbawih visiting Aizawl for the first time. He grinned back and wished me a memorable visit.

We soon headed back to Lalani's house. Lalani wanted to visit her mother's grave as it was the eve of her one month death anniversary, and so Natalia, Lianzuali and I accompanied her. We went in two scooties.

It was around 20 minutes drive from her house to the cemetery.

Here's a short video clip of our drive to the cemetery.

Once we reached the cemetery, we sat next to Nu Mahlimi's grave.

Natalia brought a few snacks like sunflower seeds and other eatables, and we spent our time slowly munching on them and talking about Nu Mahlimi. It was a very teary-eyed moment for Lalani.

We sat by Nu Mahlimi's grave till the sun had completely set (don't be fooled by the brightness in the above photos, they were actually taken in "night-mode" when it was already quite dark).

Soon it was time to head back to Lalani's house. Once the rest of her family had eaten, Lalani and I had a candlelit dinner together, without the candles.

A short comic break. :)

I went home soon after, closing a memorable day spent together.

The next day, Valentine's Day, I woke up early and completed writing my previous blog update. I published it once I had copy-checked it and then joined my family for breakfast. Even my breakfast was in a lovey-dovey mood that morning. :D

After that, I headed for Lalani's house. Even though it was a Sunday, our State Govt had lifted the Sunday curfew restriction earlier this month and so I was able to find a cab easily.

At Lalani's house, I was busy helping her family members prepare dinner. I realized I didn't take any pictures at all of our preparations, as I was busy doing different chores, and I was also still shy about taking photos of her relatives (most of her relatives only got to know me during her mom's demise).

This was the Valentine's Day decoration that Lalani and her cousins had made the previous night. So adorable, right? :)

And so it was time to celebrate the moment. :D

Gift exchange time. :)

We exchanged our gifts the proper Mizo way, you know, with all the handshake formalities and stuff, while Baby-i and Lianzuali clapped their hands in the background. :D

Lalani with the two Valentine-less Valentinas.

Much thanks to them again for helping with the cute decorations.

Soon our short family function in memory of Nu Mahlimi started, which was followed by dinner immediately because of the 8:30 PM curfew time. We had a great dinner that night.

Yummmm. :)

After dinner, Mami (Lawmzuali) came to the house and delivered the Lamington cakes that Lalani had ordered for dessert, and she even presented Lalani with a complimentary donut bouquet! Lianzuali and Baby-i immediately posed with that bouquet. :D

Mami's homemade Lamingtons were absolutely tasty, and in case you want to place an order, you can do so from her IG page - Crave Corner.

While Baby-i and LZ-i were fixated with the donut bouquet, we on the other hand opened our respective presents. Those were special presents we will cherish forever.

But the greatest Valentine's Day present Lalani will ever receive is the one from her mother 6 years ago. Nothing can and will ever beat this one in her entire lifetime.

"For my beloved and only daughter, Lallianpuii Kawlni. Mom." The sweetest words ever inscribed in time. The perfect gift to last an eternity.

To quote my favourite passage from the Bible about love:

"Love is always patient and kind. It is never jealous. Love is never boastful or conceited. It is never rude or selfish. It does not take offense and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people's sins, but delights in the truth. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes."
                                                – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Amen to that. Being the one month anniversary of Nu Mahlimi's passing, it was even more poignant to look at that gift again. A part of me was smiling deep inside because I knew Nu Mahlimi was up there looking down at us and happy at the way things were running at her house.

It was a beautiful end to the most perfect Valentine's Day, and here's looking forward to many more such moments spent in the future.

Hope you all had a beautiful V-Day too. Sorry for posting this a bit late as we had travelled to Dampa Tiger Reserve at Mamit district the very next day, and I'll be updating my blog about that in my next post, so do stay tuned for that. Take care everyone. Bye.