I was in the first batch of inward fellows of the National Foundation of India’s ‘Northeast Media Exchange Programme’. It was 1996-97 and I went to Mizoram. My subject was ‘Changing traditional patterns and the youth of Mizoram’. Though this travel piece has nothing to do with my fellowship subject, it is a by-product of that visit. And worth sharing too. Unfortunately, all my original photographs and negatives were destroyed because of a seepage into the store room of my temporary accommodation a few days back. Those are lost, but I thought I must share these tales at least.
With curtains of mist on its blue-green mountains, the land is home to a haunted cliff, a demonic lake and a skully cave. You will actually feel the thrill in your bones as you learn of the ancient lores this tiny landlocked state, Mizoram, is steeped in.
They are grandmother’s tales taking you back in time and place. And as you wind your way up the steep and rolling inclines, the zestful gasps of the clean, fresh mountain air remind you of the once pristine earth. But, to reach the loftiest peak in the state, barely 2,157 metres high, one has to travel down to the southernmost tip of Chhimtuipui district, close to the Burma border.
The sacred peak is believed to be the abode of the gods and Mizos call it the Phawngpui or the Blue Mountain. The Phawngpui commands a majestic view of the surrounding hills and valleys. There is a semi-circular cliff, supposedly haunted, on the western side called Thlazuang Khamm.
Actually, the densely-forested hilltop is a table-land. The famous orchids and rhododendrons of the Blue Mountain are in abundance, and the isolation of this place has ensured the survival of many rare species of flora and fauna. The village nearest to this spot is Sangau. You must hear a Mizo speak the name with a lilt from the top of his/her tongue.
Another flat peak, almost inaccessible because of its sheer steepness, is the Thansiama Seno Neihna, near Chawnglui village in Aizawl district close to the Burma border. The name literally would mean a place where a man called Thansiama saw the calf of a mithun.
A folk tale says the Methusaleh-like Thansiama, while searching for his missing mithun, saw a calf on this hilltop. The animal had apparently climbed the hill, a seemingly impossible task, and given birth to this calf.
About 130 km from Lunglei town is the cave of skulls: Milu Puk. Near Mamte village in Lunglei district, it was in this cave that a big heap of human skeletons was once found. The skeletons were of people considerably taller than the Mizos of today and might have belonged to some other race inhabiting the area before the Mizos came to settle here.
These people were said to have been of a tribe called Tlau. Long, long ago, when independent villages were at war with each other, there was a massive famine. Villagers of one particular hamlet took refuge in the cave, but perished due to starvation. This is a horrific reminder of famine which has frequently cast its dreadful shadow over this teardrop-shaped land in the southern tip of the country’s Northeast.
But, Milu Puk, is not the biggest of the caves. The Pukzing, at Pukzing village near Marpara in the western hills in Aizawl district, is more than 25 km long. The cave was dug out by Mualzavata (meaning, a person who can clear a 100 ranges of forest in a single day). Folklore has it that Mualzavata was so strong that he could dig the cave with only his hair-pin as a tool.
Not all caves tell stories of valour though. The Lamsial Puk, near Farkawn village in southeast Aizawl district, bears testimony to a battle between two villages in which hundreds of warriors were said to have been killed. The bodies of the dead were kept here. The village does not exist anymore, but some skeletal remains are a stark reminder.
The horrors of war apart, these dark caverns also narrate tales of woe. Somewhere between Farkawn and Vaphai villages is Kungawrhi, named after a beautiful young maiden who married a courageous youth called Pnathira. When the couple was on their way to Pnathira’s village after their wedding, she was abducted by some evil spirits bewitched by her beauty. Kungawrhi was held hostage in this cave, but was later rescued by her brave husband.
Sibuta Lun at Tachhip village, about 20 km from Aizawl town, is a memorial constructed more than 300 years ago. A young orphan, Sibuta, who was adopted by a chief, killed his foster father and had a wretched love life himself. The sadist that he was, Sibuta found a scapegoat in Darlai, a young girl. She was buried alive in a pit, over which was erected a stone which was dragged from the bed of the Tlawng river more than 10 km away. The stone itself was bathed with the blood of three people sacrificed for the purpose.
The Phulpui graves are also about a tragic love story. Zawlpala, the chief of Phulpui, married Thenzawl’s Thalvungi, known far and wide for her comeliness. She subsequently was forced to marry Punthia, the chief of Rothai. But she never forgot Zawlpala. Many years after he died, Thalvungi came to Phulpui, dug a pit beside Zawlpala’s grave, and coaxed an old woman to kill and bury her there.
There is another memorial between Baktawng and Chhinchhip villages in Aizawl district. Chhingpui, an extraordinarily attractive woman, married to one Kaptuanga, was kidnapped and killed during a battle with a rival village. Kaptuanga could not bear the loss and killed himself. Chhingpui’s memorial has kept the love story alive.
Another tragic love story haunts Pangzawl village in Lunglei district. Chawngungi was a much sought-after beauty whose mother set such a high bridal price on her that she was beyond the means of any. But the chief’s son, Sawngkhara, won her over using a magic drug. The girl, however, died shortly after the wedding, and Sawngkhara spent the rest of his life mourning her death. The village has many sites associated with the story.
At Champhai on the Burma border in Aizawl district is Mangkhaia Lung, a memorial stone five metres high with mithun heads engraved on it. It was erected around 1700 in memory of Mangkhaia, a Ralte chieftain. Not far away is the tomb of Vanhimailian Sailo, overlooking the vast Champhai plain. The tomb was damaged, but re-erected in 1871.
The largest of the monoliths are near Tualchang village in east Aizawl district. These are essentially rows of stone slabs, the largest of which is three metres wide, one metre thick and 4.5 metres high. The origin of these monuments are unknown, though it is believed they already existed before the Mizos came to live in the area.
The largest of the lakes too, is almost inaccessible – the Palakdil in Chhimtuipui, 130 km south-west of Saiha, the district headquarters. Legend has it that a big village was submerged during either a flood or an earthquake, and the lake was created. Locals, who believe the village still exists under the waters, shun the area since they feel the lake is the abode of demons and evil spirits who abhor visitors. With the exception of some very adventurous people, the lake area is not encroached upon for exploration or hunting. It is surrounded by tropical evergreen and moist deciduous forests.
The Tamdil, near Saitual village in Aizawl district, on the other hand, is a popular picnic spot. Tam is the shortened form of the word ‘antam’ which means mustard plant. A tale has it that there was a huge mustard plant in the place where the lake now is, and whenever this plant was cut off, water oozed out thereby gradually creating the lake.
The Rungdil, close to Suangpuilawn village in Aizawl district, means the lake of the partridge. It consists actually of two lakes, more or less looking the same, separated by a narrow stretch of land. It is said if a pumpkin is cut and dropped in one of the lakes, it will surface in the other one. The two lakes are believed to have a subterranean connection.
And so the tales of villages go on and on. But they are as fascinating as the colourful land itself.
Subir Ghosh is a New Delhi-based independent journalist and writer. He has worked with the Press Trust of India (PTI) and The Telegraph, and handled publications/communications for the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the Federation of Hotels and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). He specialises in Northeast affairs and is an advisory council member with the Centre for Northeast Studies (C-NES). He is the author of ‘Frontier Travails: Northeast – The Politics of a Mess’ published by Macmillan India, and has won two national awards in children’s fiction. His subjects of interest include conflict, ethnicities, wildlife, human rights, poverty, media, and cinema. He blogs at www.write2kill.in