Day 2 Aizawl-Zokhawthar.
The next morning, I woke up early. It was around 6 and the sun was high up in the sky, a welcome difference from the grey skies of Delhi. From my hotel window I could see the same traffic island where I’d held sway for ten minutes. The streets were empty. Just below my perch, I was surprised to see that a man had set up a table with a freshly-slaughtered pig and was busy selling meat to the few early morning buyers. Right opposite him there was a woman selling rohu and basa fish to a few regular customers.
Today, our destination was Champhai and then further on to Zokhawthar, the last town on the Indian border. We had breakfast in the hotel and left by 9.30am. The shutters were still down in the markets but people were milling about dressed in their finery – we learned that the day after Christmas was the feast day or “Burra Khana”. On the streets were young people who were impeccably dressed going to and fro from morning service, in nearby churches. Every young woman had her beautiful straight hair coloured, and some sported fashionable heels while others wore the traditional pandu and carried adorable sleepy babies in slings across their backs. As we left Aizawl town, the landscape remained similar, but with houses clinging to the hillsides on stilts, trailing colourful flowers growing on their porches. The most amazing Poinsettias both red and yellow dotted the coutryside.
Villages came and went along the twisty road which was surprisingly in quite good condition. Each house had a hen coop and a pigsty in front.
There were a lot of dogs on the streets (though I’d heard that dog meat sold for Rs 350 a kilo). We found many small graveyards along the road.
We passed swaying bamboo groves, banana plantations and broom grass cultivation (phuljhadu grass)
We were parched for a cup of tea because of the lack of roadside tea-stalls. Luckily, we’d come prepared with a packed lunch of aloo paranthas, a strategy I’ve learnt over twenty years of travelling in the hills.
We reached Champhai at around 3 o’clock.
Champhai is one of the few places in Mizoram that boasts of a flat terrain and is famous for its paddy crop. One of the only legal wineries in Mizoram is also located here (Champhai Grape Growers Winery) and is usually open to visitors, but was closed that day (26th December). Rice cultivation is the main source of livelihood here, and it was our first sight of structured cultivation apart from the banana groves.
Unlike the Northern Himalayan states, I was intrigued to see that there was no terrace cultivation practiced here. Instead, people rely on jhum or slash-and-burn, which has unfortunately destroyed the natural vegetation cover despite the seven years given to each plot of land for recovery.The forests never come back to their erstwhile form, which is mainly because of climate change.
By now desperate for a cup of tea, we knocked on a stranger’s door and begged for some. The family was warm and hospitable and ushering us inside, offered us hot , sweet tea with lots of biscuits.
It so happened that we had barged in while they were entertaining their own relatives, who had dropped in from Myanmar. My curious eyes and ears noticed that the house was a long hall-like structure with partitions created mainly with curtains. The TV was playing Korean and Filipino channels, which I learned later was because Mizo people were quite attuned to Southeast Asian music, movies and fashion. In front of my host’s house like the thousand of houses I had already seen were the ubiquitous extremely hot red chillies drying.
The family graciously extended our tea invitation to dinner, and wandering over to the kitchen I found a generous amount of pork boiling away merrily with mustard leaves and salt, intended to be had with rice. My hostess had six children and I wondered for a moment how the food would suffice for the family, leave aside unexpected visitors like us. Her generosity really touched us and being unable to reciprocate with anything other than our profuse thanks, and decline her offer of dinner, we gave the lady of the house a box of sandesh we’d brought from the airport as a token of thanks.
Back on the road from Champhai to Zokhawthar, which is 12 kilometers away, we bumped and bounced along on the startlingly potholed stretch to the Zokhawthar tourist lodge after an hour. We were welcomed by a young man called Thlinga, who said he’d trained at the ITC Sonar Bangla in Kolkata after he heard we were all Bengalis. Our friendly manager took us to the very large, airy rooms that had huge balconies overlooking a river that actually formed the Indian border with Myanmar.
Apart from the lights that indicated dwellings on the hillsides we couldn’t see much as darkness had fallen. We had travelled many miles and over a nightcap, we found ourselves mulling over our experiences. Mizoram had so much to offer and after a day’s journey away from the capital, Aizawl, here we were at India’s last border town, Zokhawthar, a stone’s throw from another nation, Myanmar.The thought that next day we’d be traveling into another country absolutely thrilled me. Tuckered out, we had a simple dinner comprising of rice, daal, broad beans, chicken curry and happily crawled into bed, looking forward to the next leg of the journey, to the historical Rih Dil Lake.