The Air India flight from Kolkata to Lengpui, Mizoram’s only airport, is a short one hour flight and the airport is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Set in a bowl shaped clearing, surrounded by green hills, it welcomes all with a beautifully laid out flower garden that boasts colours of Bougainvillea that I’ve never seen before. As our Inner line Permits were checked by the airport police, I glanced around the airport and observed that we seemed to be the only tourists.
Piling onto the Xylo that Mr Zoliana had arranged, the drive from Lengpui to Aizawl took nearly two hours (a distance of 43 kms). Our driver Zira explained that a bridge along the regular route had collapsed and we had to take a longer detour. As we wound through the hillsides, on pretty bad roads, I found to my surprise that the surroundings were quite dry and dusty. The soil was a sandy loam and the vegetation was not the dense evergreen that I had expected, but rather a mixture of bamboo and broadleaved deciduous trees.
In the distance we could see Aizawl. It seemed to be a very large city clinging to the sides of a hill at 3715 feet. As we entered the city, we found every street corner glittering with the prettiest lights and decorations for Christmas. There was hardly any traffic and the city lay quiet with shop shutters down and very few people on the streets.
Every crossing and traffic police island was strung with lights, and all along the road sides there were complex tableaux laid out. I was so pleasantly taken aback! Though I knew that Mizoram was a Christian state, nevertheless, none of my assiduous research told me that I’d find this extravagant celebration and finery, so it was quite extraordinary. We drank it all in.
Dusk was falling by the time we reached Hotel Esquire, which had a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the lobby and a smiling courteous receptionist called Lisa.
After checking in, we decided to make the most of the last of our bodily energies and enjoy the festive ambience all around. Right across the hotel were two policemen manning a traffic island decked in red, pink and blue flowers and lights. I noticed a hoarding cheerfully wishing everyone, Krismas Leh Kumthar Chibai and I made an attempt to replicate the greeting to the two surprised policemen.
Their faces broke into big smiles, showing tambul-stained teeth. We started to converse in cobbled-together bits of English and Hindi. Like always, I peppered them with enthusiastic questions – How is the traffic? How long are your duty hours? Were they having a Christmas dinner? Half their answers unfortunately were beyond my ken, but their warmth and cheerfulness gave me the courage to ask if I could possibly be a traffic cop for five minutes.
They gamely gave me their walkie-talkie, cap, and let me direct the sparse traffic. What fun!
Mizo families who were doing their rounds checking out the decorations, locally known as Kawn Chie, put up by every locality’s Kawn Chie Committee, were surprised to see me, but their giggling was good-natured. This was Christmas bonhomie at its finest. My cop friends offered me paan and tambul, and I in turn, offered them my mixture of supari and zarda. Our little pleasures bring us together. Buoyed by the infectious happiness around me, I struck poses, magnanimously wishing everyone in my mangled Mizo, only to receive gracious handshakes and a murmured Chibai!
Then we walked down to the nearest church, where congregations of people were attending service.
A big open balcony on the first floor wrapped around the church’s inside. We were politely asked to observe the service from there, without disturbing the worshippers below.
Men, women and children dressed in their finery lifted their voices to sing hymns in English and Mizo. Coming from loud, brash Delhi, the dignity and politeness of the Mizo people even during a festive time struck me greatly. No raised voices or honking horns, no pushing or shoving. All around there was only music, chiming and glittering lights, like something straight out of a fairytale.
Suffused with a tranquil Christmas cheer, we returned to the hotel. I popped into the kitchen to chat with the Assamese chef enquiring about dinner. On the menu was rice and an excellent Mizo-style pork cooked with veggies without oil or any masala. Stuffed to the brim, we turned in for the night, ready to venture out to Champhai and Zowkhatar the next day.