Day 5: Reiek Mountain
Dawn breaks very early in Mizoram. By four am, it is light. By five am, the sun rides high over the hills and valleys. As I sat up in bed and blinked at the walls of woven bamboo I couldn’t immediately recognise where I was. It is the most pleasant sort of confusion one often feels while travelling, in that twilight between sleeping and wakefulness. The pleasure comes from realising that one is far away from home, on an incredible journey. After my customary mug of tea which I improvise with a steel glass and a tiny immersion rod, I roused the rest of my group.
Today we would attempt the famous trail that leads up Reiek Mountain. The five of us set out under a sky that shone a clear azure. The stillness and quiet was broken only by the sound of the wind rustling in the trees and the occasional cry of a bird hidden deep in the foliage. The thickly forested trail meanders up the hill at a gentle pace. Going uphill, panting slightly, we chanced up a fantastic geomorphological formation. The hillside overhung the path so closely that it looked like a huge stone spaceship had landed on the mountain, its rim sticking out and curving along the path. At intervals there were little grottoes, like portholes into the mountain’s body. The geographer’s instinct inside me said that these were erosional features carved out by water. As we walked the rock shelf ran along over our heads, and looking up we noticed that it was pitted with more marks of erosion.
We later learnt that this complex of grottoes and caves was named after the great Mizo warrior Khuangchera of 19th century, who was famous for his stubborn resistance against the British army. The legendary Mizo hero used these caves and hillside ravines as his hideouts. In a guerilla war with the British, in which the brave Khuangchera fought armed with only a knife, he refused to abandon his wounded friend and was mercilessly gunned down by the British soldiers. The hillsides seemed to echo with the faint ghosts of resistance past, lending the wind a melancholy air.
The incline increased towards the top and everyone huffed and puffed on the last few metres uphill. At the top of the Reiek Mountain is a beautiful table-like clearing, and through the cracks in the bare stone grows a species of grass that can reach a man’s height. The forests on the mountain side cover nearly 200 square kilometres, and the locals assiduously protect the dry grasses and sparse trees from sudden forest fires.
On a clear day one can see Aizawl from the summit, and, if one is really lucky, the adjacent plains of Bangladesh. The cliffs were home to the peregrine falcon, which is the fastest animal on earth – when it dives from the sky, corkscrewing through the air it, reaching speeds of over 322 kmph. The poor prey it hunts has barely realised what is happening before it is snatched away. Despite our excitement and frantic peering, we couldn’t spy a single one today. They were probably riding the hot air currents rising from Reiek Mountain.
The seven and a half kilometre trek up and down the Reik mountain from the Tourist Resort had taken us around one and a half to two hours. We staggered in to the welcoming arms of the resort one by one. The five of us fell upon the excellent breakfast of aloo parathas that awaited us. Sitting around in the courtyard, we soaked in the sun and chatted away with the staff.
Around half past twelve, we bid farewell to Reiek and started on our leisurely way back to Aizawl, where we would be spending the last two days of our trip. On our way, we stopped at Millennium Mall in Dawrpui, Aizwal. We’d been told it was the place to pick up fashionable western wear. Just at the mall’s entrance, a stage had been set up and a local band were setting up and getting ready for a performance. This is an observation I made – Mizos love their music. Music in English and local languages is to be found everywhere, and Zira (our driver) who did not really speak a word of English, nonetheless hummed along to the country music that played in his car. Churches rang their bells and hymns drifted out from within, giving us a clue to how important this institution was in Mizo life and culture.
Strolling around the mall and window-shopping, I have to admit we were disappointed because all the clothes were exorbitantly priced. Like in the markets in Siliguri and Gangtok, the clothes seemed to be imported, but the friendliness of the shopkeepers was missing. Accustomed to the garrulous and persuasive shopkeepers of Delhi and Kolkata, I found their indifferent attitude surprising.
We left the mall empty-handed and went for lunch to Hotel Floria, which was supposed to be very good. The foyer and reception of the hotel were beautifully decorated. At the reception counter were two young girls dressed in traditional clothes, obligingly posing for pictures with the visitors.
Sadly, the restaurant’s food and service were a huge disappointment. A simple order of Chicken Chowmein and Kung Pao Chicken took nearly an hour to arrive as the staff hurried and bustled behind the group of politicians from Maharashtra who though arriving later than us, enjoyed priority service. As elsewhere in India, politicians take priority over the common man.
After lunch, we walked around the Bara Bazar market. As it began to get dark we checked in to the Chaltlang Tourist Lodge. It was located a little away from the main hustle and bustle of Aizawl at a distance of around four kilometres. I think we’ve been very lucky in that we’ve got to see some fantastic Christmas decorations wherever we’ve travelled, and this Tourist Lodge did not disappoint.
After a long day of trekking, travelling and traversing the markets, we had a quiet dinner and retired early.