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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chp 327. Traveling to Mizoram: A tourist guide

I’m not sure if my Mizo and non-Mizo readers will agree to this, but what I have realized in my 7 years as a blogger is that, when it comes to blogging about Mizoram (from a tourist perspective), it is more helpful to read the blogs of non-Mizos than us locals.

I don’t think there is a single Mizo blog out there with in-depth details about tourist location in Mizoram that can help others who are interested in visiting the place. Hope I’m mistaken.

First of all, many of us Mizos blog in our own language so that doesn’t help people who want to learn more about Mizoram tourism. Secondly, those of us who do write in English, hardly write about tourism.

And thirdly, even if we do write about our experience at a tourist location, we write as a local, as something we’re doing out of fun and leisure. We tend to miss all the small minute details, purely because we are from that place and are used to such sights. Pretty much like the saying, “Don’t know what you got, till it’s gone.” To us, it is something we see every day and we feel there is nothing great in writing about such stuff.

However, from the eyes of a tourist who is visiting Mizoram for the first time, things are very different. He or she will notice a lot of interesting things about Mizoram that many of us tend to miss out, and suddenly one realizes that those small minute details we have missed out are sometimes the things that matter the most!

Even when it comes to photography, there are many Mizo photo-bloggers now, and many of them post really amazing photographs of different tourist locations across Mizoram. Yet what is missing are the descriptions and also important information like how to get there, where is the nearest hotel from that place, how to hire cars to get there, how much does it cost, are there any good restaurants nearby etc, because like I said, such posts are not written for a tourist audience and many authors assume Mizos who visit their blogs don’t need to know about such information.

In today’s internet age, it is a known fact that most of us do our little research first before buying a new product or visiting a new place. Apart from expert’s advice, we also like to know the feedback of people who have actually used that product or visited the place.

When it comes to online search, people look at various travel and tourism sites, and even UGC (User Generated Content) discussion forums like Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and Trek Earth, or more India specific forums like Ghumakkar, India Mike and Kunzum. Information on such sites are reliable.

But the end of the day, what people want to read is more about first-hand experience of those who have taken the particular trip (and not some brochure of a travel agency filled with flowery language). And that is where blogs come into the picture. When it comes to travel-blogging, yes there are quite a number of tourists who have visited Mizoram and blogged about it.

In this post, I would like to list out five recent blogs that I came across, that were written by non-Mizos who traveled to Mizoram. I have selected the five people, not just because they were all recent (after all, who would want to read about an old experience at a location that may probably not exist now) - I selected them because they all came from a different background.

In brief, the five people are:

  1. A traveler from Cochin who planned to visit the entire country to appreciate the diversity and magnificence of our great country.

  2. A hiking enthusiast from Coimbatore who took part in a YHAI (Youth Hostels Association of India) trekking program in Mizoram.

  3. Two brave backpackers from Hyderabad who decided to tour the North East on a shoe-string budget of less than 150 bucks a day! Unbelievable.

  4. An American who came to India to coach players and other coaches about basketball, and suddenly decided to include Mizoram in his itinerary too.

  5. A family from Delhi who are currently staying in Saiha. Most tourists in Mizoram limit their visit to Aizawl (and its neighboring areas). Through their eyes and words, you can see the beauty of Southern Mizoram that’s rarely visited by tourists.

Five people from different parts of India (and abroad), coming to Mizoram for different reasons, each with an interesting experience along the way. Reading about their journey will be enough to answer most of your queries if you are looking forward to visiting Mizoram.

Here are their stories…

1. Suresh Joseph – The Railwayman Who Sold His Maruti.

The name of his blog is a takeoff from “The Monk who sold his Ferrari”, which I believe is quite apt for what he is currently doing – traveling across the country in his Santro visiting every state and rediscovering the finer things of life.

Suresh Joseph is from Cochin, Kerala, and is a proud father of two. He is currently still in Mizoram, as per his latest blog post, and will be on his way to various other places across India. Here are some of his posts. Please click on the links to read the entire posts.

DAY 47 – Silchar to Aizawl

From the Mizoram border to Kolasib the road was good. After that the condition was bad, particularly the road to Sairang. Just short of Kawnpui I had my first accident of the trip. A biker took a longer loop to negotiate a curve and I was blinded by bright sunlight. There were a few huts by the side of the road and I expected them to aggregate at the site of the accident. No such thing, as would happen in Kerala, where every passerby would have his opinion on the accident. The damages on either side were negligible. Hence, we parted amicably. At Thingdawl there is a church of St Alphonsa.

DAY 48 - In Aizawl

The Mizo society is virtually free of caste distinctions and women appear liberated; they smoke openly and are quite westernized in their preference for clothes. Women are also very visible in the work place, whether in offices or in shops. The Mizos have two main meals, the first by 9 am before they go to office and the second by 7 pm. During the ‘lunch break’ they have tea and snacks.

By 6 pm, I was taken to a view point near Thuampui. It is one of the most glorious night views of a city that one can see. From the view point, Aizawl looks like a city of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. I mentioned yesterday that the hills have been completely built upon. The properties are not less than three storeys high. They look like huge skyscrapers in the night when the lights are on. Those of you who plan to visit Aizawl must definitely factor in an evening at the Thuampui view point close to the “Pushpak House”; it may not feature in most tourist guide books.

DAY 49 - Aizawl to NE Khawdungsei

Me: How long will it take to reach Imphal from the border of Mizoram?
He: It depends, Sir.
Me: It depends on what?
He: It depends on how fast you drive, Sir. You will reach early if you drive fast, Sir.
Me: How long do you take when you drive to Imphal from the border?
He: It depends on when I start, Sir. If I start early, I reach early, Sir.

At this point I forced a smile and turned away for fear of losing either my sanity or temper, and in all probability, both.

(lolz! )

DAY 50 – NE Khawdungsei to Manipur border and back to Ngopa

Thomas confirmed that the Young Mizo Association (present in every village) and the Synod (in Aizawl) are the most powerful influences on society and politics. The YMA collects Rs. 30 as contribution from every family annually. When a member of the family passes away, YMA makes available the coffin and the burial is done by the Church without any cost to the family. The cemeteries are common; unlike the practice elsewhere, all churches provide a common burial ground. Every earning member in a village contributes a tenth of the earnings to the Church as tithe. The Church accounts, published annually, mentions all the contributions made. Besides, the Church also collects voluntary contribution of rice from families, auctions it and replenishes the church coffers.


2. Senthil Subramaniam – The YHAI dude.

Senthil hails from Mettupalayam in Coimbatore district, not very far from where I did my BE in Computer Science – PSG Tech. He’s taken part in a YHAI trekking expedition, and as I publish this post, he is still updating his blog with new posts about the trek in Mizoram.

Even I used to be a YHAI member a long time ago, and YHAI conducts trek like this many times across the country. It is for the true trekking enthusiast only, and not for those of you looking forward to a nice cozy and plush hotel room with hot shower and 5-star room service. If you love adventure and itching to explore the unknown, then you better sign up with YHAI and wait for the next trekking and caving expedition in Mizoram.

What I love about Senthil’s journal is that, he has got a lot of facts about Mizoram correctly, based from mere observation alone, and everything is written down so simple and straightforward.

Here are his posts so far. Please click on the links to read the entire posts.

Mizoram Trek-YHAI

The airport was small and beautiful and people were found to be already in very relaxed mood. On the road to hostel, I found the terrain and the weather much similar to western ghats. The houses were small and mostly made of bamboo. People reside mostly near to roads and it was a nicely built road by Border Road Organization (BRO). The whole Mizoram have lot of maruti 800 and no wonder Aizawl is called as city of Maruti.

We were welcomed by YHAI Mizoram state secretary Mr Sailo and the President. We were the first to report and they were giving suggestions around Mizoram to view. We had 3 days to spend before we start trekking. They were suggesting to go to Ridhil lake. This lake is supposedly sacred for ancient Mizos, where they believed all souls will reach this lake after death on their journey after death. Also this lake is in Myanmar and we can cross the border without a Passport! It is about 225 KM from Aizawl. YHAI booked everything for our journey and Mr Sailo was very helpful. We were required to take a bus to Champai by 5 PM.

Mizoram – Continued

All over Mizoram it was amazingly calm and peace. Most of the places women work and very few shops had men working. Mizo is a open society and they give equal status to women. I found few condom disposal dustbins inside a college, which surprised me. There are a lot of HIV patients in Mizoram. They are well educated but not in English. They are very clean and I have seen people washing the floor even at night. There is quite lot of traffic in Aizawl but they don’t honk like other places in India.

Women smoke in public and there are dustbins all over the place. Even small villages have dustbins and people throw their garbage only there. Same is the case for urinals. There are a lot of public toilets and people use them. Each house has facility for rainwater storage. Even Mizoram receives lot of rain and because of the terrain there is scarcity of water. So people have really big rain water tanks in front of their house. They love music and are highly fashioned. There are a lot of Yamaha bikes too. It’s very difficult to spot old people. Do they look young or they die early? People are relatively short compared to other Indians.

Mizoram Trek Days

We had lunch on reaching the road. After lunch, we were following the main road to the Ailwang village. We gave few chocolates to the children in the village. The village was small and few people enquired about us. We followed to the top of village and a water tank. The campsite was near to the water tank. We were welcomed by the camp leader with Tea and hot bondas. After everyone reached the campsite, we were taken to the cave.

The cave has a story. The cave was considered as evil by the Mizos at old time. The first person who explored the cave had lost his hair when he came out of the cave and later died mysteriously in few days.


3. Ajay and Inder - Hitchhikers with a difference.

We met through Twitter when they were about to embark on a noble journey of traveling across the North Eastern states on a budget of less than 150 bucks per day. Their twitter hashtag #150aday was quite popular too.

They were looking for people across each NE state who could guide them etc, and when it came to Mizoram, my name came to their attention. Even though I was in Mumbai, I did manage to arrange some contacts for them. My friend Mazami in Aizawl did a great job showing them around and making sure they had a great time. And at the end of their journey, it was really nice of them to thank all of us for making their trip successful.

Here are some of their adventures while they were staying in Mizoram. Please click on the link to read the complete post.

Journeys in the Land of the Highlanders (Mizoram)

Can you help but feel that you are in paradise when you have views such as this one, every morning you wake up? I still remember what Nicolitta said in “One crazy ride”, something about how paradise or heaven is always described as a place above the sky and how she had actually seen it on her trip. I can say that about every morning we woke up in Aizawl.

We landed in the city from Silchar late in the afternoon – about 3pm or so. And what do we see – tons of school kids! Of course, we had already read that Mizoram is the second most literate state in India (literacy rate nearly 90%), but seeing is another thing. After washing up, we thought we would go out for a stroll and see the city and we got another surprise. Most of the businesses close early in the evening – by 6pm almost everyone is home and the streets are empty. We found the reason a few days later – they open very early too – it gets bright by 5am and the markets are full by 6am.


We got an opportunity to see how YMA helped rural communities first hand when we visited a couple of villages on our way back from Tamdil lake. They were building a community recreation center for the residents of the nearby areas. Generate employment and at the same time build something useful for the community! In addition to looking out for each other, Mizos also treat their guests with a lot of respect too. I think a simple thought put into action properly can make a lot of difference – and YMA is doing exactly that!

Back to School in Mizoram

But, the experience from meeting the Principal (of Govt. Higher Secondary School) is the best we could get. He was so supportive in what we are doing and when he said that he was envious of what we are doing, we were over the clouds. When we told him that we are heading to Arunachal Pradesh next, he became nostalgic and shared with us that he studied there and he still has friends near Itanagar. What’s more, he gave 1000 Rupees as pocket money to us!

Postcards from Mizoram

(I’m hot-linking this directly from their site. Please visit the link above for more photographs such as this.)

Journey from Aizawl to Guwahati - Trucks and Trains!

Our stay in Mizoram had been amazing thanks to the ever hospitable Mizos. Alas, all good things must come to an end and we travelers had to move on to our next destination. After getting rejuvenated in Mizoram, we thought we should go to Arunachal – the most touristy of the north-eastern states. We were ready for the arduous journey ahead – nearly 800km – going down from the hills (Mizoram) to the plains (Guwahati) and climbing up treacherous roads in the hills (to Bomdila and Tawang) again.

So long and thanks for all the fish

After exactly one month of starting, our hitchhiking trip comes to an official end today. This trip would not have been possible without the help of friends we made. The following list may not be comprehensive, but is an attempt to thank all those who helped us –

  • Mr. Kima (Mumbai)
  • Ms. Mazami
  • Ms. Ruth
  • Mr. Ngaihtea

( Thank you thank you Ajay and Inder. Hope you guys do something like this again in the near future.)


4. JD Walsh - Slam dunking the funk in Mizoram.

JD Walsh is a former University of Maryland basketball player and founder of JD Walsh Basketball School. Founded in 1998 with the simple intent to teach local kids in the New York metro area, it has now evolved into a global enterprise that has operated in eight countries, on three continents and has touched over 18,000+ lives--and counting.

JD Walsh has been associated with India for 3 years now. Two weeks ago, after continuous requests from one of his students from Mizoram - KC (who also happened to be my friend and teammate during my basketball days), JD Walsh finally came to Mizoram!

What’s even more surprising was to see so many other friends I used to play basketball with in his videos! Lolz. They are all coaches (or training to be coaches) now. Here are some excerpts from his blog. Please click on the link below to read the complete post and view the photographs and videos.

JD Walsh: Mizoram

The mountains were truly breathtaking and it was refreshing to see there no Ashrams, or westerns walking around in maroon robes, no 7 star Oberois, no McDonalds, and no Thomas Friedman’s — there world here is still ROUND and I suspect remain unchanged for a long time. I kept thinking where am I ?

During the drive, host Charla was singing the Beatles “long and windy road” when Mala’s cell phone would ring (that like every 2 minutes) ring tone Kanye West “stronger” as we rode the windy roads. I kept thinking where am I?

The topography changed distinctly as I entered into the city limits.

Mizoram is very different than any I have traveled to in India. I saw no one dressed in kurta, very few Hindu statues or banners with politician’s faces. Very Few cars honked as they sat in traffic. It is the # 2 most literate state in India and a dry state. The Mizos have an Asian type look and are very up to date with American fashion and music.

A lot of hilly walks, the traffic is so bad here – best to take a two wheeler – um, down THAT hill? The shower had hot water for like 18 seconds (and it took me two days to figure out how to get it started) but after the Westerness rubbed off I realized — this place is AMAZING! India always brings me back to a sense of humanness.

After a short respite in a modest hotel – with amazing chai (some of the best in India!) We hit to the courts.

What I found was what the Mizos lacked in height, they gained in endurance and speed. There basketball were worn, there shoes were worn – these guys loved to play! Unlike all my India stops, I can see from the initial ball handling drills they have seen them all before and the have been practicing.


5. Roshni and Nimesh – A home away from home.

Last but not the least, we have two bloggers Roshni and her husband Nimesh from Delhi who are currently staying in Saiha. What is unique about their blogs is that, unlike most outsiders who write about Aizawl and places close to the city, Roshni and Nimesh focus on Southern Mizoram, a place that not just outsiders but many Mizos from the capital have not visited yet.

My memories of Saiha are quite foggy now as it’s been around two decades since I’ve been there. But reading through their blogs really brings back a lot of memories.

They blog about the daily life in Saiha and its surrounding areas, both as a local and an outsider at the same time, hence making sure that some of the important details are not left out.

Since their blogs are filled with their experience in Southern Mizoram, I will not be highlighting specific posts and instead link their entire blogs.

Roshni: A Year To Myself

Nimesh: Mizoram Samrakshan

Trust me, you will enjoy going through their blogs, regardless of whether you are a Mizo or non-Mizo. And there are a lot of photographs on their blogs too, all depicting the life in Southern Mizoram.


To sum it up, I really hope this post saved you a lot of time from Googling, especially when all these damn travel sites use certain search keywords you would use, hence making your search a futile attempt.

If I have left out any blogs that are similar to these, or if you think there are certain blogs that should be highlighted here too, please do notify me and I will do the needful.

All in all, if you are looking forward to visiting Mizoram, I really hope the posts I have linked above answered all your queries. In case of any other doubt, do get in touch with me via twitter: @Mizohican or mail me at silv_kim[at]yahoo[dot]com