Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mizoram An Unpleasant Surprise In North East India

After encountering some amazing experiences in the rest of the North Eastern states we were way too excited for our trip to Mizoram and Tripura. We started off with Mizoram, the short flight from Kolkata to Aizwal was slightly delayed and we were not able to hold back our excitement. As the Captain announced that we are fast approaching touchdown we looked out of the window and were greeted by lush green thick forest. Thanks to a Mizo who willingly exchanged her window seat with us looking at us jumping to catch glimpses of Mizoram. As the tiny "Lengpui Airport" runway approached, apart from a strip of tarmac the rest was massive jungle. We saw the amazing Tlawng river crisscross the virgin land. The runway is pretty small as it is one of the smallest airports in India and for a second you might wonder if the flight might crash land in the middle of jungle.

It was raining when we landed and we did not think much of it considering it to be a one off scenario as it was summer. While we were waiting for our baggage, we simultaneously took care of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) formalities. We were given 2 forms asking for our basic information and contact details. Do carry passport size photos. The procedure is extremely simple. Please note that the permit is issued for a period of 6 days and any extension has to be done at the DC office in Aizwal. We were charged Rs 170 per person for ILP. We found this extremely expensive and quite shocking being an Indian citizen and requiring an ILP in itself is perplexing and to top it all being charged Rs 170 for 6 days did not make a lot of sense.

A very user friendly pre paid taxi booth is made available in the Airport premises. We were provided a receipt and charged Rs 1000 for the 30 km drive from Airport to Regency hotel in Aizwal. The drive from airport was awesome with only a few bad stretches. Bamboo is abundantly available in these parts and most of the homes are supported by this grass. A heart stopping, gut wrenching moment was when we saw a massive landslide on the way. The climb gets really steep for the last couple of kilometers. The narrow lanes of Aizwal meant massive traffic jams but there was no unnecessary honking or rash driving. The folks were very civil and tried their best to minimize time spent on road. A lesson or two to learn from here. They follow lane discipline and hence show great character.

After checking into our hotel, we got to know that it has been raining for the last week. Not to let rain dampen our spirits, we hoped that the next day would be bright and sunny and went out in the evening for a stroll. We also wanted to check out nearby places and figure out transport for the famous Vantawng Waterfalls. We were very surprised to know that most of the local taxis do not play to these places. Almost all taxi operators told us they could not help us. There was also language barrier but that never seemed to be a problem in any other part. Here, it more looked like they were unwilling to even think beyond for their own business.

Call it over expectation or a letdown the first issue that we faced was language barrier. Though we were able to manage language issue and have a gala time in Nagaland and Meghalaya. Things were a little different and difficult here. Though Mizo has high literacy rate and English is widely spoken we had an extremely difficult time pronouncing the names of local places and tourist attractions. Pubic transport connectivity is non existent. Not everybody could afford to hire private taxi for several days together or for far away destinations. The shared sumo services were also not available for Reiek or Hmuifang Village. This made a budget travelers life very difficult. Neither the hotel 's travel desk nor the shared taxi operators were of great help when it came to figuring out how we could reach far away destinations.

Agreed while traveling we encounter bad experiences and we tend to overlook them and enjoy the place but in this case overall the entire place gave us a feel of being unwelcome. One particular instance that made us feel so was when we went to a taxi operator and inquired about hiring a taxi to go Reiek, which is only 29 km from Aizwal. Of course, we not being locals had difficulty in pronouncing the name. After a lot of struggle we made the girls running the shop understand the place that we were talking about. They found it funny that we were pronouncing it wrong but its a different thing to laugh with us than at us. They went on mocking us and imitating us and laughing at it for a good 5 minutes while we waited patiently to know if they ply taxi to the place. In the end they just shook their head saying no service and continued with their giggle and laugh. It was disrespectful not just because we were tourists but it also talks about how professionally they were running their business.

The others were also the same and were not keen on giving any information. The few that were able to communicate with us were not locals but from other states who had set up their shop here. However, since there was no public transport available and we could only hire a private taxi, they were charging a bomb for visiting these places and it was a total rip off and we felt it was just not worth it.

Another instance where we felt we were being overcharged was because we were tourists. We wanted to visit Solomon Temple and it was around 8 km from our hotel. We stopped a taxi and told him we wanted to go to that specific temple, he said ok and when we asked him how much he said Rs.2000. We were shocked and thought he heard it wrong. After communicating clearly and mentioning it was only 8 km and even showing a picture of the temple, he stood his ground and told us it was 28 Km away and so he would charge Rs.2000. It was funny as we were showing him maps showed only 8 km but he refused to agree. We walked away and took another cab. We totally understand that touristic places will charge a bit extra as they rely only on tourism but this place hardly sees any tourists and it is maybe still acceptable to charge a little extra but ten times the amount is robbery.

After having spent so much time, money and invested so much energy in reaching a remote part of India, it was disheartening to see our enthusiasm shattered. After facing disappointment and dead end and with the news that pre monsoon had kicked in the states of Mizoram and Tripura and with landslides cutting off the state from the rest of the Nation, we decided to change our itinerary and headed to Delhi. So with a heavy heart we decided to cut short our Mizo plan and beat the heat in Himalayas. Perks of being jobless and living a life of a Fakeer.

One thing we enjoyed in Mizoram was its pleasant climate. While we spent 4 days here we leisurely checked out the Mizoram state museum which housed quite a few interesting exhibits and was very well kept. Entry fee is Rs 20 per person. A bullet ridden lamp post, reminding the struggle and violence this part of the country has witnessed.

Promoting Solomon temple as a tourist attraction was a very desperate attempt. The Church which was built in 1996 was we guess under renovation or still not functional, we are not sure. There was work going on and the Church was totally empty inside and we felt it was just not worth the visit. We did what we love go for long walks around Aizwal.

We had checked into hotel Regency which seems to be a landmark in itself. It is one of the best properties in Aizwal. The rooms are very spacious, clean and loaded with modern amenities and the staff are very courteous and kind. They were very helpful in modifying our reservations also. The only drawback is if you get a room facing the road the road traffic is quite annoying.

If you still decide to come here we would recommend "Hotel Floria" in Bara bazaar just walking distance from Hotel Regency. The tariff of both the hotels is exactly the same but in every aspect Floria beats Regency by a long mile. The food is amazingly good here. Only drawback with Floria is they do not have parking facility.

A lot of people ask one particular question that we find very hard to answer "What is the least favourite place you have ever traveled to?" At-last we finally have an answer which is going to shock a lot of people- Mizoram. Yes you read it right 'Mizo!' One of the most decorated states of India and this is just our opinion.

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