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Travelling to Mizoram: Why you must make plans (Like right now!)

The untouched northeast: first-hand accounts of the state of Mizoram are rare. A world of contradictions, it is unpretentious, remote, and yet— in Aizawl at least— modern and ‘accessible’.

travel Updated: Mar 03, 2016 18:15 IST
Sanya Panwar
The untouched northeast: first-hand accounts of the state of Mizoram are rare. A world of contradictions, it is unpretentious, remote, and yet— in Aizawl at least— modern and ‘accessible’. In this photo: The Baptist Church at Zotlang, Lunglei.
The untouched northeast: first-hand accounts of the state of Mizoram are rare. A world of contradictions, it is unpretentious, remote, and yet— in Aizawl at least— modern and ‘accessible’. In this photo: The Baptist Church at Zotlang, Lunglei.(Mizoram Tourism)

Landing through thick cloud and splattering rain at a small hilly airstrip, on a grey afternoon, is an unsettling experience. More so, if the runway is lined with electric fences and the fuselages of other planes whose landings hadn’t gone so well.

But as the wind rattles the steps of Lengpui airport, in far-flung Mizoram, and big, chilly raindrops turn the surrounding greens a shade darker, your thoughts of retreating for home disappear. For you soon realize, heavy showers and bad weather are as much part of life here as blue skies and sun.

Read: When you’re a first-time visitor to Sikkim, the only way to go is up – and to stay warm

Cramped with hills that roll across for hundreds of miles, covered mostly with lush forests and dominated by thick bamboo groves, green paddy fields, admirable vineyards, teeming vibrant wildlife, sheer cliffs and serene lakes and waterfalls, Mizoram is unfamiliar to most Indians.

Cramped with hills that roll across for hundreds of miles, covered mostly with lush forests , Mizoram is unfamiliar to most Indians. (Mizoram Tourism)

Any curiosity Indian travelers may show is rebuffed by the difficulty of getting there— few direct flights from leading metros and no direct rail access. Besides, foreign travelers need a special permit to visit this southernmost outpost in northeast India.

Home to nearly two million people, many of whom remain cut off from the rest of the world, this largely inaccessible and overlooked state is sandwiched between the mighty Himalayan foothills and the plateau of Meghalaya in the far north-eastern corner of India.

Read: Boss, do you need a passport to enter the northeast?

Created out of Assam in February 1987, the state was once a pinch point of grand political ambitions. It saw a remote, rarely reported war for independence from India, on and off, since the early sixties.

Zoologists and botanists don’t call Mizoram a biodiversity hotspot for nothing. Sharing forests, clearings and riverbeds with monkeys and wild dogs are porcupines, buffalos, leopards and at least 40 different varieties of snakes. (Mizoram Tourism)

The gruesome war that left thousands of locals and armed personnel dead is over. But Mizoram is still no tourist destination. For all the cordite and crackle of guns over the decades, though, it is a compelling place with astonishing beauty and austerity.

Although, for eyes accustomed to busy streets, high rises and the fast life, adjusting to the extremes of Mizoram takes time; but over time the power and variety of its landscape and its unpretentious charm become clear.

Read: Nature, faith prop up tourism in sylvan Sikkim

Standing aloof from the adjacent plains of Assam and other neighboring states, Mizoram shares more than two-third of its boundaries with Bangladesh and Myanmar. Its capital Aizawl is one of the few state capitals, where such is the volume of traffic that you can pick up your luggage at the airport, just minutes after you’ve landed.

Standing aloof from the adjacent plains of Assam and other neighboring states, Mizoram shares more than two-third of its boundaries with Bangladesh and Myanmar. Its capital Aizawl is one of the few state capitals, where such is the volume of traffic that you can pick up your luggage at the airport, just minutes after you’ve landed. (Mizoram Tourism)

In Mizoram, there is no sightseeing, actually there is too much of it (if you look in the right places)

If you’re looking for a quite, carefree holiday, getting up-close-and-personal with unique folklores or experiencing a dramatic sea of morning mists unfold, it is a destination worth your while.

A 37-km drive through a densely green landscape rising from a mosquito and leech-infected tropical jungle that blurs hypnotically under peerless blue skies from Lengpui airport (the only one in the state) takes you to Aizawl, almost 870 km from Kolkata.

The most developed city of Mizoram, Aizawl is blessed with a rich, profound history. Set on a ridge, approximately 4,000 feet high, it is over a century old. It offers captivating views of the lush emerald Tlwang river valley in the west and the Turial river valley in the east.

Although, for eyes accustomed to busy streets, high rises and the fast life, adjusting to the extremes of Mizoram takes time; but over time the power and variety of its landscape and its unpretentious charm become clear. (Mizoram Tourism)

But the stunning vistas of nature apart, the city houses Zarkwat, a museum in the heart of the city, which portrays culture of Mizoram through a rich collection of traditional costumes, artifacts and historical relics. A popular temple complex, Solomon, located in Chawlhhmun locality of the city, is also worth a stopover.

Aizawl is dotted with modest timber houses, but the most striking buildings in the ramshackle city are its churches. Missionaries from the US and Europe have been hugely successful in turning even the most ardent Mizos into devout Christians.

Read | From the archives: Ready for the longest train journey in India?

It is slow to shout about its charms, but a visit to the animated Bara Bazar, will leave you wondering why Aizwal is not rammed with coach-loads of tourists? At the city’s main shopping centre, you don’t just get to see the unedited version of local life, you live it!

Home to nearly two million people, many of whom remain cut off from the rest of the world, this largely inaccessible and overlooked state is sandwiched between the mighty Himalayan foothills and the plateau of Meghalaya in the far north-eastern corner of India. (Mizoram Tourism)

Here, chatty women vendors, armed with Chinese mobile phones and American Bibles, sit on the floor rebalancing the fruits from their farms in the shades of their umbrellas. As you cross shops selling traditional garments, footwear, as well as products sourced from Thailand and imports from China, brought via Myanmar, men and women, of varying age, soak up pints of traditional alcohol.

Vineyards in Champai to ‘world’s largest existing family’ in Baktawng

Also known as ‘the fruit bowl of Mizoram’ for its vineyards, Champai, 150 km from Aizwal is another interesting attraction. The bustling commercial hub is strategically located along the Indo-Myanmar border.

But if you’re set on covering the real Mizoram, you could consider moving out of the confines of these semi-urban spaces and go where very few Indians have ever stepped foot.

You can drive on a very steep (sometimes muddy) road and hear the birds sing, monkeys jeer as you boat at the desolate Tamdil Lake. (Mizoram Tourism)

You can trek the flower-bedecked hills and abrupt ravines of Hmuifang, discover the splendour of Mizoram’s highest waterfall Vantawang amid a vast stretch of bamboo forest or drive on a very steep (sometimes muddy) road and hear the birds sing, monkeys jeer as you boat at the desolate Tamdil Lake.

Zoologists and botanists don’t call it a biodiversity hotspot for nothing. Sharing forests, clearings and riverbeds with monkeys and wild dogs are porcupines, buffalos, leopards and at least 40 different varieties of snakes.

Read: Northeast being promoted as potential tourism hub

A 70 km drive from Aizwal, you’ll cross one magnificent hilltop village after another, which have barely changed since your imperial grandfather’s days and reach Baktawng. Apart from encountering traditional village ways of life, a good reason to visit this small hamlet— ‘the world’s largest existing family’. Pu Ziona lives here with his 39 wives, 94 children, 14 daughter-in-laws and 33 grandchildren!

If you long for an exotic holiday, here it is. Although don’t expect gleaming hotels, reliable transport. But what you can expect is the chance to get to know a forgotten people, their history, wars, culture, myths and hopes.

It is slow to shout about its charms, but a visit to the animated Bara Bazar, will leave you wondering why Aizwal is not rammed with coach-loads of tourists? At the city’s main shopping centre, you don’t just get to see the unedited version of local life, you live it!

Getting there
Mizoram’s capital Aizwal is about 870 km from Kolkata

By air: 32 km from Aizwal, Lengpui airport is connected by daily flights with Kolkata and Guwahati and three flights a week with Imphal.

By rail: Silchar in Assam, 184 km from Aizwal, is the nearest railway station

By road: national highway 54 connects Aizwal with the rest of the country through Silchar. Aizwal is well-connected to prime north-eastern cities like Shillong (450 km), Guwahati (506 km), Imphal (374 km) and Kohima (497 km)

A 37-km drive through a densely green landscape rising from a mosquito and leech-infected tropical jungle that blurs hypnotically under peerless blue skies from Lengpui airport (the only one in the state) takes you to Aizawl, almost 870 km from Kolkata. (Mizoram Tourism)

Places to visit
Aizwal, Champai, Tamdil Lake and Vantawang

Best time to visit
Between October and March

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