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Where the Clouds Roll Along
... the hill paradise of Mizoram
Text and photographs: Sanjay Singh Badnor
Strolling down the streets of a town stirring to life offers great pictures. I discover that the Mizo people are health freaks and young and old are out for their morning exercise. Keeping fit, it seems, is a state-wide obsession. At every corner one bumps into bare-chested youth, flaunting their well toned bodies.
I spent the afternoon at a Mizo village on the outskirts of Aizawl. Mizo society is by and large Christian. The missionaries had a field day when they arrived in this hill state about a century ago and the population of animists and Buddhists is tiny. The people follow many Western customs. English is widely spoken. And looking from the outside, Aizawl could be any other South East Asian city.
But, in spite of the ubiquitous jeans, guitars, motorcycles and the the pop culture, the locals zealously guard their customs and traditions, especially Tlawmgaihna, the code of ethics. Mizo communities still follow traditional tribal customs and villages still have their chiefs and participate in their pre-Christian rituals
Dinner at the Ritz dining room was good. They serve excellent Chinese, and rather strange but not unpalatable North Indian cuisine! The next day I request my host Siami, an officer at the directorate of public relations, if I could photograph some Mizos attired in their traditional costumes. I thought I would be taken to another village and I wait in anticipation.
However, to my surprise, two young, trendy Mizo students -- a girl named Nanoi and a boy named Mama --turn up with an armful of clothes. I have been sent two of the city's top models. To conceal my dismay, I begin photographing these teenagers. I end up doing a photosession with the models who rather professionally display for me the typical Mizo outfits. Mama wears the paundum and Nanoi wears the exquisite puanchei for the camera's benefit.
Some 20 reluctant frames later I head for the Bara Bazaar, Aizwal's main market. It's an ideal opportunity to sample authentic Mizo cuisine at the numerous wayside eateries with exotic names like Solomon's Cave. Mizo cuisine is delicious. And exotic.
The local dishes are usually served up on a fresh,, broad green banana leaf. The tasty chhum or freshwater fish boiled with herbs is great. And there's bai, a combination of several herbs cooked with string beans and edible ferns. And eaten with soh, a delicious recipe made of banana flowers and bhuban or rice cooked in banana leaves.
Bara Bazaar is a good place for buying traditional Mizo shawls and local handicrafts. Pauns or the long loin cloths worn by Mizo women, paundum and puanchei the other traditional Mizo garments are available.
The 95-year-old Raj Bhavan is another interesting landmark. Presently the home of Mizoram's governor, it was the home of the British superintendent of the Lushai Hills district during the Raj. I meet the aide-de camp to the governor who not only grants me permission to photograph the building, but also very kindly arranges an appointment with His Excellency.
The gracious Raj Bhawan built with standard Mizo jungle timber by Colonel J Shakespeare -- who was also its first occupant -- in 1899 covers 33,740 square meters! At the end of my guided tour I keep my appointment with Governor P R Kyndiah and his wife just before they go for their evening constitutional. They are a charming couple full of characteristic Mizo warmth.
The mist-laden valleys look heavenly as I make my last trip the next morning from Aizwal towards the Tuirial airfield. The airstrip is covered with an enormous blanket of mist. Within an hour, just before my flight arrives, the fog lifts from the tiny airport.
As the tiny plane noisily soars into the sky, I bid adieu to this lush land with its warm, gracious and hospitable people who are full of zest for life, music and cheer.
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