Hidden jungle trails, undiscovered caves, action-packed football fields, and villages so clean that you can eat off the ground. Mizoram is your perfect travel destination.
There are places in this world that demand leisurely discovery, that require days of easy wandering and poking into nooks and crannies. Wee places like these, not much visited, hide within them a soul, which can only be experienced by those willing to discover it.
As the twin-engine propeller aircraft starts its descent to Lengpui airport, lush green hilly terrain comes into view with brown patches of agricultural land (jhum cultivation) scattered in a random pattern, as if to put on a spectacular show for those above. Aizawl’s airport started serving the state only 18 years ago, before which the nearest one was 205 km away at Silchar in Assam. An hour’s drive from Lengpui, Mizoram’s capital is an unpretentious and languid hill station, very different from the usual postcard-perfect scenery of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Instead of rows of deodars and pines and rhododendron blooms, you will find dense, impenetrable herbaceous undergrowth similar to tropical evergreen forests. Bamboo trees are present everywhere here along with sub-tropical mixed forests of palms, bananas, ferns and orchids.
Almost all the towns and villages in Mizoram are built on mountain ridges and Aizawl is no different. It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine roads of the city. Commercial establishments are limited to a specific area called Chanmari where all major shops, hotels, restaurants and bank branches operate. The rest of the town emanates a rustic feel and you hardly ever get a city vibe. A common grievance of tourists is that there is not much to see or do in Mizoram, and dare we say that it is the most common misconception that anyone can have about this wonderful state.
It’s true that there is not much to see in Aizawl apart from the exhibits at the Mizoram State Museum and the mesmerising night view of the city from Durtlang Hill. However, it is the perfect hub for day trips to several unique destinations nearby.
The State Museum
Established in 1977, the museum displays a variety of tribal paraphernalia and artefacts, which highlight the culture and traditions of the state. Rare collections of headgear, footwear, photographs, ornaments, musical instruments, dresses, paintings, carvings, weapons, artwork and other objects portray the lifestyle of the various tribes of Mizoram. With more than 2,000 items on display, the exhibits are exhaustive and interesting. From different kinds of smoking pipes and rare minerals like pink calcite to excavated rock scriptures of 1076—the museum has it all. Several taxidermy exhibits of indigenous creatures like the racket-tailed drongo, flying lizard, yellow-bellied weasel, giant flying squirrel, green pigeon, flying fox and clouded leopard make the experience more authentic. The three-storeyed building has five detailed galleries—textile, ethnology, history, anthropology, natural history and an archaeology terrace. Entrance fee is `10 and there is an additional charge for mobiles and DSLR cameras.
Vantage Point—Durtlang Hill
It is the highest peak of Aizawl and promises spectacular sunsets. It’s also the perfect vantage point to see the rustic city. As night falls, the city lights come alive. The entire mountain seems lit up with a myriad small twinkling lamps, creating an outline similar to India’s map! The resemblance is uncanny. Located in the beautiful campus of the Aizawl Theological College, it is considered to be one of the best viewpoints of the state. On the way back from Durtlang Hill is a mausoleum called KV Paradise. It is a three-storeyed structure built by a loving husband (Mr. Khawlhring) in the memory of his wife (Ms. Varte) who died in a car accident. Almost entirely made of white marble, it is now popularly known as the ‘Mizo Tajmahal.’
Trek to Reiek Peak
About 30 km from Aizawl is Reiek—a model village at the base of Reiek Peak. It was developed by the state tourism board to be the epitome of Mizoram’s efforts towards cleanliness. Here you have spotless roads, manicured hedges, colourful houses and blooming flower pots. The trek to the 5,000-foot-high Reiek Peak is through the popular Reiek Resort, where the city’s folk throng during the weekend. The pork momos, stir-fry vegetables and soup served here and in a few small shops in the village are a must-try.
A steep, winding dirt and gravel road through dense foliage and open-ended caves takes you close to the peak. A stone stairway runs on the edge of the cliff, and then along the undulating landscape. A few iron benches at various vantage points help visitors rest up and soak in the surroundings. There is something elemental about the mountains, which reduce most of us to dreamy-eyed spectators. The vastness, the grandeur and the sheer realisation of our size in the cosmos humbles you. The mountains here are wild in the true sense. Tall golden grass and shrubs flourish amidst black mountain ridges. There is no rhyme or rhythm to the topography of Mizoram, and that’s what makes it so special.
Behind the Curtain of Tuirihiau Falls
Travel is a carousel of new, unfamiliar and exciting things. There is always a place, a point, an experience or a conversation that gets etched in every traveller’s memory from a particular trip—a place which defines travelling for you, a place which turns you into a storyteller. Tuirihiau Falls in the picture-perfect town of Thenzawl is one such place in Mizoram. The Vanva river falls off a small, 20-foot cliff and cascades farther into tiny falls off the rocky edges. It is one of the few waterfalls in the world where you can walk behind the falling water and watch the gushing flow from the back. You don’t need any protective equipment and no waterproofing (even for your camera). This rare experience makes Tuirihiau Falls unique. A century-old banyan tree with its quirky aerial prop roots on the eastern side of the falls makes the setting enchanting. Thenzawl is a four-hour drive from the state capital. The way to the falls is short and easy. It closes at 5 pm and the entry fee is `40.
The highest falls in Mizoram, Vantawng is at its spectacular best during the monsoon. More than 100 km from Aizawl, it is difficult to reach the base of the falls, so it’s advisable to hire local guides if you wish to try the two-hour (one way) trek through knee-deep water, rough boulders and dense vegetation. There is no designated pathway to the waterfall. The tourism department has, however, constructed a viewing area just before the start of the trek. From here you can watch the breathtaking 750-foot-high Vantawng Falls in its full glory—especially during the monsoon season.
Sialsuk Tlang—A 360° Panorama
The highest point of Sialsuk village (67 km from Aizawl) is Sialsuk Tlang. It is a popular hangout place for Mizos, especially couples. With the absence of malls and movie theatres, this is the entertainment hub for them. At any point of time, you will find cars parked on hilltops with people enjoying their time with music and food. It is also a preferred place for wedding photography in these parts. It provides an unmediated all-round view of the rolling Mizo Hills. Rows of mountains glide seamlessly into each other. Similar to Reiek Peak, there are several iron benches strategically placed at vantage points to let you gaze at the panoramic view. The road to the top is arduous and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended. If you have time (and guts), you can also trek to the top.
Once you’ve seen all of this, you’re ready to feel something that sticks to you. People in cold places know the worth of warmth, and Mizos are extremely caring. You can experience it only when you stay in someone’s house or befriend a Mizo family (maybe your cab driver or your hotel manager) and pray that he invites you to his home. Even in restaurants and shops, you usually get a polite enquiry about your trip and a sentence or two in praise of the beautiful state. Mizoram is very special. The state’s mix of a distinct culture, the extravaganza of nature and warm hospitality is a rich tapestry woven by welcoming arms. It is on few travellers’ itineraries, reason enough to explore it before it is overtaken by the crowds. Find hidden waterfalls, venture along secret trails, trek to mountain peaks, spot exotic birds and rejoice in nature’s company. This is an experience that you will cherish for a very long time.