Millennium Post

Musings in Mizoram

Musings in Mizoram
During my high school years,  spent at the residential (Baptist) Carmel Residential School in Tezpur, Assam, I had the opportunity to make friends with many boarders who hailed from the state of Mizoram. Since quality education still eluded many in the state of Mizoram, these rosy-cheeked Mizos would come in droves to get themselves educated at the renowned Carmel Residential School, which was a name to reckon with in the educational landscape of North East India.

The typical Mizo youth loves Western music and Rock bands like Aerosmith, U2, AC/DC, Mettalica, Guns & Roses and Bon Jovi, which are household names in Mizoram. They are predominantly Christians and fun loving. During our Christmas holidays, instead of heading home, I would pack my rucksack and move to Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, with my Mizo friends.

The scenic charm of the Mizo hills, their love for music, warm and friendly attitude and the elegant modern churches is forever etched in my memory. Even after having travelled extensively all over India and abroad, those memories of sheer tranquility in the Mizo hills, with my guitar and friends for company, and the endless partying, still pulls at my heartstrings.

In spite of its mesmerizing beauty, Mizoram is the least visited part of India, primarily due to inadequate exposure in the media and lack of proper connectivity. The Mizos are a courageous and adventurous lot, singularly free and independent, and scornful of any control. In the days of yore, they would even go to the extent of headhunting to seek revenge, when fearing that they were exploited. Prior to independence, Mizoram was a part of undivided Assam Province. The state was beset with the problem of insurgency for more than two decades.

The violent insurgency movement under the leadership of Laldenga’s Mizo National Front culminated peacefully with the signing of the ‘Mizoram Accord’ in June 30th, 1986 with the government of India. While the government undertook steps for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the underground MNF personnel, the MNF in turn took the necessary steps to end all underground activities. The peace-loving people of Mizoram have for sometime now been exposed to complex, modern civilization. Head hunters were exposed to writing and debates, the hill tribes were initiated into the comforts of tropical and woolen garments, nomadic tribes who had not even handled a bullock cart were trained to drive jeeps and trucks, the practitioners of ‘Slash-and-Burn’ or ‘Jhum Cultivation’ were introduced to permanent cultivation, high-yielding crops and irrigation. And all of this in one or two generations, which has resulted in the average Mizo being well off.

But North East India watchers still view this region as afflicted with one ‘crisis’ or another which has led many fearful tourists to give this region a thumbs down. But let me reassure you from my own personal experience that Mizoram is one of the most peaceful states in the whole of India. The breathtakingly beautiful Mizoram (‘Mizo’ means man and ‘Ram’ means land) is a finger-like extension in the extreme Southeast of India and pokes down between Burma and Bangladesh. Seated precariously along rows of north–south-running mountain ridges, gorgeous Mizoram is perhaps the most picturesque of all the states in the Northeast. Feature-wise, there seems very little to identify this place as India: the population is ethnically more Southeast Asian than Indian and the predominant religion is Christianity.

A visit to a neighboring village on the outskirts of Aizawl city will reveal that land, whether it be a homestead, which is the habitat of the family or land for cultivation, constitutes the lifeblood of the Mizo community, as much in Christian as in non-Christian villages. Particular locations are considered to be the dwelling place of spirits, good and evil, that have to be periodically placated. For the average Mizo, every corner of his home has its significance. The proverbial attachment of a Mizo to his land is a complex web of relationships, which is not only economic but also has something to do with tradition, family ties, religion, etc.

If one is adventurous enough and wants to venture to the outskirts of Aizawl city and into the hilly terrain where many Mizo villages dot the landscape, one can still find traces of ‘Jhum’ or ‘Slash-and-Burn Cultivation.’ In the interiors of Mizoram, Mizo tribes have been cutting down forests to make way for agriculture. When they find it difficult to dispose of the wood after the trees have been cut down, they resort to the quicker way of setting fire to the trunks and then clearing the debris for fresh cultivation. As a result of shifting cultivation, the areas for ‘Jhuming’ are getting reduced.

Jhuming is a time-honored tradition in Mizoram as it is with other states of the North East.  The harmful effects of jhuming such as large-scale soil erosion continue to grow in spite of the efforts of the Central Ministry of Agriculture to control it by way of contour bonding, terracing and protective afforestation.

The first time visitor to any Mizo village will be completely taken aback by the Mizo people’s tradition of worshipping spirits, both ancestor spirits as well as the deities of the village. The Mizos believe that the destiny of the universe is in the hands of one god – ‘Khazangpa’. He lives in the sky, punishes evildoers and rewards good deeds.

Mizoram is predominantly a Christian state. The impact of Christian missionaries on the Mizo
population is spectacular. They have undergone profound changes as a result of the spread of Christian ideals among them. Christianity taught them the value of peace, tolerance and co-existence. The age-old practice of head-hunting and internecine feuds are now a thing of the past. Christian ideals of universal brotherhood and modern education, as well as the availability of the Bible in the local language, brought the Mizo tribes out of seclusion and isolation. The familiarization of Mizo people with the outside world, have taken them into modern civilisation, with all its strengths and dangers.

Mizo culture – in a significant departure from the rest of the country – has no caste distinctions and women are more liberated than their counterparts in many other Indian states. In Aizawl girls smoke and drink openly, wear modern clothes and hang out in unchaperoned posses, meeting up with their beaus at rock concerts. Mizoram runs to its own rhythm. Most businesses open early and shut by 6 pm; virtually everything closes tight on Sunday. Upon arrival, foreigners must register at the Office of the Superintendent of Police in Aizawl. Domestic tourists require a temporary Inner Line Permit, issued for Rs 120, on arrival at the airport.

Most visitors to Mizoram try to time their visit with the festivals. Check with the Department of Tourism on the exact dates. A majority of the Mizo festivals are in some way or the other connected to agriculture. Their festivals are conspicuous for melodious music and dances like the Cheraw, Khuallam, Sarlamkai/Solakia, Zangtalam and Chailam.

Mizoram’s pretty, green hills get higher as you head east towards the Myanmar border. The long drive from Aizawl through the hilly countryside is beautiful. Champhai is widely considered the most attractive district, where you’ll find the Murlen National Park, known for its hoolock gibbons. For an accessible taste of small-town Mizo life, visit Saitual on the road to Champhai. An incredibly good-value Tourist Lodge in a hilltop garden, 700m north of Saitual market, offers extensive views. There’s little to do but meet the locals.

Traveler’s Fact File

Getting There: By air, the nearest airport is at Lengpui which is an hour’s drive from Aizawl city. It is connected by Air India to Calcutta. Hired cabs are easily available at Lengpui airport. The nearest rail station is at Silchar, in the North Cachar Hills in Assam. From Silchar, it is a 6-hour drive to Aizawl, covering all of 184 Kms. By road, the journey is arduous. You take National Highway 40 from Guwahati to Shillong, the capital of of Meghalaya and from there, you hit the National Highway 44 to Silchar. From Silchar, you drive all the way down to Aizawl on National Highway 54.

Accommodation: The city of Aizawl offers a multiplicity of accommodation options to suit every budget. Here you will not come across the usual 5 star deluxe hotels that are a feature of metropolitan India. The accommodation units are at best sketchy. Apart from the government run Berawtlang Tourist Complex, there are numerous private hotels like Hotel Chief, Hotel Arini, Hotel Clover, the posh Hotel Regency, Ritz, Hotel Tropicana and Hotel Royale, all with attached baths, running hot/cold water, room service and/or in-house restaurant.

For information on Mizoram, contact:
Liaison Officer, Mizoram House Government of Mizoram, New Delhi. Telephone: 91- 011- 23015951 Website: Permits: Inner Line Permits have to be obtained by both the domestic as well as foreign tourists, which is obtainable from the address mentioned above.

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