Can discomfort be fun? Why not, if it propels an unmatched adrenaline rush as you lay your heart open to the benign indifference of nature? And where? In the virgin woods of the Mizo hills, one of the least explored belts in the northeastern part of India.
That "all the difference" which came into the later life of Robert Frost was defined by his decision to follow "the road less travelled," has now become the mantra for many adventure-seekers is a well known fact, but the road trip of our subject too finds "two roads" diverging "in a yellow wood". The traveller is left with the choice to either follow the routine path that leads to Aizawl, the happening capital of Mizoram, or to tread along "the road less travelled" and discover the unseen majesty of the Mizo hills.
The moment you choose the latter, an overwhelming feeling of being in the heart of nature grips you and the countless surprises that follow along the way together make for a fulfilling experience.
My almost 13-hour long road trip from Aizawl airport (located about an hour away from the main city) to the town of Tlabung -- 2,802 feet above the sea level -- was mostly covered during the night and much to my amazement, it turned out to be the best way to discover the region.
Fancy this: On a chilly full-moon night, you are driving along a route that has more twists and turns than you had imagined, the trees and the wilderness are canopying along the immediate ends of the road and suddenly out of nowhere emerges the eerie sight of a graveyard, located along the slopes of a valley. With the bright full-moon glowing in all its glory, the graves seem almost magical -- straight out of some Hollywood horror movie -- while the sky adorns a milky attire. Let your creative juices flow and you can almost imagine a demon staring down at you from the bushes at the top of the hill!
It takes you almost two-and-a-half hours to cover the first 40 kilometres and then you reach Hmuifang. The small town -- undisturbed by even the slightest bits of urbanisation -- is an ideal location for your first stop. There is a tourist lodge and a park on one side of the road while you can stop at one of the shops on the other to savour some local cuisines and tea.
Almost 60 kilometres from Hmuifang consume another three to four hours and you reach Thenzawl, the site where Mizoram's highest waterfall is located. The Vantawng Falls is located in the very heart of the wilderness, five kilometres south of Thenzawl and is a must-stop. At night you see the waterfall cascading from the hill-top in all its majesty and it almost invites you to take a dip. But be warned, it's chilly and there are numerous poisonous snakes doing the rounds.
Another two hours of drive and you reach the small Jerusalem market. At almost midnight, one can find women selling fresh organic vegetables waiting for the last bus that passes through the road. It's a sight to behold. Not very far away from here is the "Honest Shop", where there are no shopkeepers and the buyers are expected to leave behind the right amount at the shop. And then you reach Lunglei.
This is where one should make the stop for the first night. The government-run Tourist Lodge offers decent accommodation for both budget as well as high-end travellers.
Wake up early the next morning and head towards Tlabung, the most challenging part of the trip as the roads are in very poor condition. It's almost an off-road experience as the next 90-odd kms, the last leg of your journey, will consume more than six hours. But the sights along the way are worth all the pain. You come across numerous wooden bridges and the fear of dropping down -- straight 200 feet into the river -- pumps the adrenaline.
Also along the way are numerous small eateries, all selling authentic Mizo cuisine. At most shops, you can have a wholesome meal for a mere Rs 130. On offer is boiled pork, bamboo shoots, pumpkin leaves, boiled brinjal, chicken and crabs.
Spend the next day in Tlabung and indulge in the many ethereal experiences that it offers. There are no tour operators and you have the ultimate choice of taking a peep into the lives of the local people.
The Khawthlangtuipui, also known as the Karnaphuli river, is the perfect option for boating. With Bangladesh on one side and India on the other, it takes you right into the heart of local communities by showing their lives from an unexpected proximity.
It's time to head back. Worried about the long and tiring journey? Do a reversal of plans and the entire experience will again be memorable. Take a day-ride as you return and the expectation of unexpected will always lurk around the corner. You will hear the crickets chirp, see the birds fly in strange formations, witness the locals living in their authentic style and you will be left with a craving for more.
1.There are several flights to Aizawl from Delhi and other major cities 2.Hire a local taxi at the Airport for the road-trip 3. The internet connectivity is almost negligible 4. Carry warm clothes, umbrellas and gumboots (Saket Suman was in Mizoram at the invitation of World Vision India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)