“So Google Maps says we need to keep going straight. But I think we should also just ask someone. I don’t want us to have walked off in the wrong direction. Not on a hilly terrain”, I was saying to my friend when as if on cue, the Universe plops Sangeeta right in front of us. We would learn her name and more, later but it was she who approached us and asked us a question in Mizo that only got her blank stares from my friend and me.
She was bright and pointed her forefinger at us and asked, “Hindi?” which got a resounding yes with the head-nod to accompany it from both of us.
“You’ll are tourists? Where are you’ll going?” she asked in Hindi.
“Yes, we’re tourists and we are trying to make our way to Solomon’s Temple. Could you tell us if we’re on the right road and how much longer it could take us?” I replied back in Hindi.
“Oh! Don’t worry. I’ll take you’ll. My house is on the way” she said, happy to give us company. Though I was the happier one.
Just as we resumed walking, I asked her, “What are you doing in this area all by yourself?” Let it be known that Sangeeta was a 9th grader who looked much younger for a 9thgrader and that’s what provoked my question.
To which Sangeeta said, “I was on an errand distributing milk and that house there was my last stop”pointing into the distance.
“It must be quite the walk for you, right?” I was concerned.
It was one thing that my friend and I chose to walk the 10 kilometres to Solomon’s Temple. We had just 48 hours in Mizoram. And Aizawl was all that we would be able to cover. So rather than trying to get on a must-strike-everything-off-our-to-see-and-to-do-list, we chose to limit our ‘list’ and decided that since nothing compares to walking when exploring a place as closely as one possibly could, we would do just that. Even when 10 kilometres through the zigzag uphill roads of Aizawl’s hills seemed somewhat daunting for us city-bred people.
[P.S.: The 48 hour time-period was pre-decided for us by the availability of cheap flights for the first leg of our northeast trip to Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram. It was an opportunity cost for the overall time saved in getting to and out of these states.
More on how to plan a budget trip to the northeast in subsequent posts. Promise.]
Back to Sangeeta, who on hearing my question said, “The walk is good for me. Anyway, I am so fat. This way there’s hope that I’ll lose some of this weight.”
There was something of a disdain that I picked in her tone.
A disdain towards her body.
A disdain that made me very very uncomfortable.
“But you’re a child. You’re not supposed to feel like this about yourself!” I couldn’t stop myself from blurting that out aloud. But someone had already made her feel ‘bad’ about her physicality. I was a random stranger and I was not going to be able to rewrite her inner narrative!
“So why have you’ll come to Aizawl? Where are you’ll from? Is this your first time?” she had a string of questions for us. It was as if the words I’d uttered to take away the shame she felt towards her body never reached her ears.
And I let it be.
We talked about Big Boss which was her favourite on TV; though it was her filling us in about it since we don’t care too much for TV. Certainly not Big Boss! She talked about school – her favourite teachers, her friends, the extra-curriculars she was a part of.
Pretty neat company to have, if you ask me. It was something of a struggle explaining to her what we did for a living but that was the most challenging it got. Oh that and the extremely steep inclines she took us through to avoid the longer route – via the main road!
After parting ways with Sangeeta, we plodded onwards to Solomon’s Temple. We did miss a turn and made my prophecy come true. But once we reached its premises, I recall being stumped by the magnitude and expanse of the structure!
We had walked 10 kilometres. The incinerating heat was directly over our heads. We were exhausted. But all of it was forgotten when I found myself in front of Solomon’s Temple in Kidron Valley.
With the foundation stone being laid in 1996, this place of prayer and worship is still under construction. Such is the scale of this endeavour that a local I got talking to said that it would be another two-five years before it could be considered complete.
|The altar at Solomon’s Temple | Kidron Valley, Mizoram – January 2017|
|One of the four pillars at Solomon’s Temple with 7 David’s stars|
Cabs and cabbies of Aizawl
The touchdown in Aizawl the previous day marked (i) our arrival in Mizoram – AKA state number three (of seven in the northeast) and, (ii) the realisation that I ever since I could recall, I had been misspelling and mispronouncing the capital city as Aizwal (for reasons I do not know).
Unlike the travel hacks we had to deploy outside the airport at Agartala and Imphal, it was all too straightforward here. Our inner linepermits [ILP] (yes, Indian citizens require an ILP while non-Indians require a PAP to enter Mizoram) had been obtained in Guwahati prior to our departure to Agartala. At Aizawl airport, the officer who initialled our ILP, recommended that we take a prepaid cab from the airport itself as there are no other modes of public transport within and around most of Aizawl.
Seated in our Maruti 800, our driver – Ringa – was a very friendly chap. He was moderately conversant and we exchanged snippets from each other’s lives. Cabbies like Ringa love regaling you with their admiration for their state. And Mizoram is definitely worthy of every bit of admiration. Cruising through the zigzag road from the Airport to Chanmari (where we were putting up for the two nights), I was enamoured by how hilly and green it is.
I was able to stumble on very little information – both in the online as well as the offline world – about Mizoram during my planning and preparation stage for this big trip to the northeast. Which is why I was lapping up everything I could from our conversation with Ringa.
In an extremely kind gesture that neither my friend nor I saw coming, somewhere during our 33 kilometre drive, he pulled over the cab to treat us to some sugarcane juice. We exchanged numbers after we got off at Chanmari so we could coordinate our drop to the airport in 48 hours.
To not feel like our every move was being monitored after four and a half days in otherwise warm Imphal, meant we could be everywhere we wanted to be here in Aizawl. I have held my freedom of movement a lot more dearly since. We mostly just walked around Aizawl market aimlessly, imagining how pretty the state would be during Christmas! I had not known that Mizoram is mostly a Christian state either (just like Nagaland and Meghalaya).
|Being ‘foot-soldiers’ in search of food. Glimpses from Zotes’s Bakery and Fela Fels in Aizawl|
|Streets of Aizawl|
|When Nature tries to blend in…|
We were flying out of Aizawl on a Sunday. As it turns out, the Christian state remains mostly shut as locals are attending prayer services at their churches. The streets that were teeming with people the previous two days was now bearing a forlorn look. Ringa was also at church but he got a friend of his to get in touch with us and arrange for our drop to the airport. His acts of kindness shall remain forever imprinted in my memory.
Kiran, our new cabbie, felt a lot like meeting Ringa’s twin – except the two aren’t even related by blood. They are just friends and like Kiran would later tell us they often pass on passengers when one is busy. It helps business and also mitigates inconvenience for the passengers, he said.
Needless to say, the conversations with Kiran also had me making copious mental notes. He shared his views on how the ILP was a hindrance for tourists wanting to come to the state and how he was in awe of what Sikkim had been able to accomplish for itself in terms of tourism. He spoke of how perhaps because Mizoram is a Christian state, social welfare is a top priority – the government provides free housing to the homeless, environment and ecology are key. He spoke of people from the state being genial without being pushy and how that makes the state quite safe for both locals as well as outsiders.
Kiran also shared with us his dislike for Delhi – where he has worked for some time among other places before returning back to his home state – because he finds it unnecessarily aggressive and competitive!
And before we knew it, we were already back at the airport bidding adieu as if we weren’t strangers who’d just met for the first time 75 minutes ago!
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