Pre Trip Planning (and Associated Pains™)
After having an aneurysm in July, I came to the sudden realisation of how little I’d actually granted my own wishes. 23 working years had slipped by, and as I recovered slowly, I resolved to tick things off my own bucket list. And heading that list was travel to where I wished and whenever I wished. As a family, we are avid travellers, but constraints of syncing holidays and deciding on a destination close enough/cheap enough/convenient enough tripped us up increasingly often. Whenever my daughter and husband left for their respective workplaces, I would open up the laptop and go on fantastically long Google adventures through other people’s blogs.
How wonderful, I’d sigh, and make ten thousand bookmarks. People at fifty were travelling solo. One woman described how to loop your walking shoes to your backpack, which led me on to lists of The Perfect Travelling Bag… it was endless, and very exciting. I discovered couchsurfing, Airbnb, and a hundred hip new things. When it got too unbearable to just sit and read, I realised I’d had a change of heart. I didn’t want to go ‘back’ to my old life. I wanted a new one as a travel blogger. Big dreams start with bold steps, so I kidnapped my husband and took him and my friends off to Mizoram.
Why Mizoram? Few people explore the Seven Sisters beyond the Kaziranga-Gangtok-Shillong circuit. But I had been to Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Assam once earlier and realised that it is a whole new beautiful world out there. If one wanted to see every shade of green, eat food one has never eaten before, meet the most interesting people, the North East has to be it. So I picked a state I had never been to before, the southernmost state of the Seven Sisters, Mizoram.
The first step was buying cheap air tickets from Delhi to Lengpui, Mizoram’s airport, via Kolkata, by Air India for the dates 25th -31st Dec 2015. Step two, was the most important, painstaking and unappreciated part – research. Logging onto the Mizoram government website, I found that there was no substantial information. All travel blogs and tour operators only cited Aizwal and around, as the places to see. Not only was that not enough, but also the questions of how to get there, what costs would be incurred were left unanswered. I wanted to do more, not just visit the regular tourist jaunts but know the culture and people. So I began to search in earnest.
I discovered that an erstwhile colleague’s husband, Mr Umakant, an Indian Forest Service Officer, was posted as the OSD to the Mizoram government. Bingo. Perhaps he could help. I visited the Mizoram House the first time on a Saturday not knowing that it would be closed. My next visit was on a weekday. Having travelled extensively across Uttarakhand, Himachal and Rajasthan, and received inordinate amount of help from their state tourism offices in Janpath, I thought Mizoram House would be similarly equipped. To my dismay there was no proper tourism office, let alone pamphlets, itinerary suggestions or online booking systems.
The minute I told them my travel dates, 25th to 31st December, I encountered dismay – “How can you go? Mizoram shuts down during Christmas. It is our biggest festival season. Everyone will be on holiday and everything will be closed! What will you do? There will be no markets open or taxis available, even the tourist lodges will not be open. Even if they are open, the cooks will be on leave, so no food. Change your dates, Madam.” Mr. Umakant pointed out that even the Mizoram Chief Minister had formally written to the Central Govt, asking them not to send any official visitors during their festival time. I read about the same, a couple of days later.
But it was already too late for me! The tickets weighed heavily in my mind – I had to go, somehow. Additionally, I wondered, how can an entire state shut down? Don’t people need their groceries and buses? We were five people whose tickets were bought, leaves sanctioned and signed off on, and bags readied. Everyone else was looking up to me as the trip coordinator. No way was I going to back out at this stage! I kept my faith in the fact that even in the smallest hamlets on the remotest mountain, there are always other people, and people are kind to travellers.
I pleaded with Mr Umakant to do something, anything. He picked up the telephone, and set the ball rolling. He contacted people, who contacted other people, and word spread to someone in Mizoram that “Delhi se ek party aa rahi hai”. Feeling more reassured, I carried on with my research. This consisted mainly of calling every telephone number I saw (racking up huge telephone bills), emailing every address on a web-page and explaining myself hoarse. Yes, I am going to come. Can you help? The responses that I got were alarmingly lacklustre, and there was a definite language barrier. Hindi, English and Bengali all failed me, until one day when I suddenly struck gold.
I no longer remember where I found his number, but I discovered Pu Zoliana Chhakchhuak, from Omega Travels, who was the first person in Mizoram who immediately said, “Come, come. It will be difficult, but it can be done. Send me your travel dates and itinerary.”
I happily flipped open my notebook full of names of places I wanted to go – Aizwal (of course), Reik Mountain, Champhai, Rih Dil Lake, Blue Mountain, Thenzawal, Murlen National Park and Dampa Tiger Reserve. A note to my readers – I had culled these names from various blogs and pamphlets, determined not to do “the tourist circuit” of Aizwal-and-around. I wanted to see as much as I could. Mr Zoiliana cautioned me that I had to edit my plans to fit into my seven-day window. Murlen and Dampa were not worth visiting, because apart from lack of infrastructure in the jungle, no animals remained, he said. Why?, I asked. Mizos were traditionally a hunting people, and prior to the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act, the population of wildlife had dropped so steeply that it was still recovering. Even today, villagers who live in these jungles hunt small prey. So I was told, very politely but firmly, ‘Don’t expect a Jim Corbett experience’. Blue Mountain was dropped because it was too far off and would require 2 more days. The rest were wrestled into the itinerary.
I negotiated the overall cost of the trip down to Rs 61,500/ for five people. This included the vehicle, lodging in government tourist lodges, breakfast and dinner. The final itinerary was –
Day 1, 25/12/15: Arrival at Lengpui Airport and transfer to hotel Esquire, in Aizwal
Day 2, 26/12/15: Champhai- Zokhawthar which is the last Indian town along the Myanmar border. Stay at Zokhawthar Tourist Lodge.
Day 3, 27/12/15 : Visit Rih Dil Lake in Myanmar. Then, visit Chawngtlai Village. Overnight in Kawlkulh Tourist Lodge.
Day 4, 28/12/15 : Leave for Aizawl, proceed to Reiek Mountain. Overnight in Reiek Tourist Resort.
Day 5, 29/12/15: Trek to Reiek Mountain peak. Overnight in Tourist Lodge in Aizawl.
Day 6, 30/12/15: Visit Thenzawl-Hmuifang. Overnight in Tourist Lodge in Aizawl.
Day 7, 31/12/15: Proceed to Lengpui Airport for onward journey.
The trip had finally taken shape. Inner Line Permits were procured for all five of us from Mizoram House, New Delhi and all that was left was the final countdown to taking off.
I owe the success of this trip to Mr Zoliana, who has always been, courteous, very knowledgeable, extremely helpful, with a passion to promote tourism in his state and the one person who really wanted us to visit his state, and hopefully write about it. Well, here we go!
- Zoliana Chhakchhuak,
Omega Travels-Address: Temple Square, Tuikual (South), Aizawl, Mizoram 796001 Phone:0389 232 3548; 09612951288;
Email-OMEGA TRAVELS <email@example.com>
- The Esquire Hotel:D-51, Sikulpuikawn, Mission Veng, Aizawl 796001, Mizoram, India.
- Mizoram House-Pandit Uma Shankar Dikshit Marg , Behind Sri Lanka Embassy, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Delhi 110021, India