Day Four: Kawlkulh to Reiek Mountain
Perched on the hill side surrounded by temperate moist forest it seemed that the Kawlkulh Tourist Lodge (actual name: Highway Restaurant Kawlkulh), was set in the middle of nowhere. There were no settlements in sight. A bridge-like path led from the road to the lodge. The rooms were large and airy, facing east. The best part was the large attached balconies which looked out onto the forest of the countryside, a perfect place where I could sit and write. A central veranda went all around the rooms. Apart from the sound of the wind rustling in the branches of Amla trees which grew aplenty, I heard the chirping of birds for the first time since leaving Delhi. It was so peaceful.
It had taken us two hours to drive from Chawngtlai, the historical village, to Kawlkulh. Last night when we reached Kawlkulh, we had faced the problem we’d heard about but had luckily escaped so far, the dreaded ‘no electricity’ problem . However, the very friendly and helpful staff made sure that we were made comfortable with lots of candles and even supplied us with torches for our rooms. This lodge was one of the loveliest we’d stayed in so far. Sipping tea on the verandas we soaked in the sun and and in our heart of hearts we never wanted to budge again. Of course, we’d eventually have to. If one has to see a lot of places and at the same time absorb as much of the culture as possible then lolling around and doing nothing can prove to be an expensive loss! Hence my lifelong disdain of those who go to fantastic destinations just to enjoy five-star facilities – I’d always considered that a waste. Ahead of us lay the journey to Aizawl and then further on to Reik mountain.
We started at 10.30 am. It was a beautiful drive, the forests were green and flowers bloomed in front of every village house that we passed. However, we frequently came across large areas on the hillsides where the forest had been set fire to as part of jhum cultivation. Though it was a sad sight, I understood that for an erstwhile warrior and hunter civilisation, generations would pass before they became skilled farmers in the terrace cultivation process, which is practiced with such apparent ease in India’s northern states, which are much more hilly and rugged.
Reaching Seling, we saw for the first time in our trip, a local market which was open. It was 27th December, and people were slowly rejoining the economic life. Fresh vegetables, never-seen-before varieties of beans, herbs, oranges, bananas, pineapple and the absolutely wonderful limes were being sold in the Seling market. As is my nature, wherever I travel, I bring back with me some of the fresh produce of the region. So I bought a kilo of large limes for Rs 20/, packets of fresh bamboo shoots preserved in brine for Rs 10/ each and was given free two fresh green tamarind and amla mixed with spices to be had as a chutney/ pickle packets. We also picked up some excellent rice beer from a local villager, on the recommendation of our driver.
We reached the heart of Aizawl at 3pm ( if one doesn’t make halts, the drive can be done in three hours) and encountered for the first time, Aizawl’s famous traffic jams. To us jaded Delhiites, a scene where cars, small or big, waiting patiently in their lanes, without honking, without swinging out of lane and making a new one on either left or right and thereby add to the mess, all along half a kilometer long pile up, was amazing and it struck us how patient and traffic rule abiding the Mizos actually were.
It had been a long drive and famished we searched for the highly recommended restaurant, Curry Pot where we were going to halt for lunch. Readers, please note: if ever in Aizawl, this place is a must visit. The food was excellent in taste, reasonably priced and friendly courteous staff gave great service.
Back on the road after lunch, we drove straight and this time without stoppages, to Reiek mountain, located around 20km from Aizawl town and checked into government run Reiek Mountain Resort. This resort has beautiful twin bedded cottages.
The office and dining hall are in the centre of the property and all around were lush green forests. The cook, Pradeep from Kokrakhar, Assam, rustled up an excellent Mizo meal. His ‘bai’ and pork curry was the best I’ve had so far. Outdoors it was very cold, Reiek is at an elevation of around 1500 metres and there was a strong biting wind. The friendly staff voluntarily provided us with room heaters and extra blankets. Warm and snug at last, we tucked in for early, for next day we’d be trekking up the Reiek Mountain.
I have always felt that reaching the destination is not as important as the journey itself. The latter is tiring but then, the road travel opens up vistas one otherwise wouldn’t get to see. Stopping whenever and wherever you want, either to mix with the locals, visit the local markets, soak in the scenery are only some of the advantages if one is travelling by car and in spite of the continuous urge to dose off (which one must never give into), I feel it is the only way to travel.