In search of a new lake.

As part of a social media Group, Let’s Walk Gurgaon, every Saturday, we go for morning walks to unexplored green areas in and around Gurgaon. There’s no pleasure that equals an early morning walk.

Today we went to Ghata village which is in Gurgaon tehsil and is one of 38 villages in Gurgaon Block.

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View of the Ghata valley.

Over the years we have seen how urbanisation is destroying the green cover around Gurgaon. Even earlier all these areas around Gurgaon were plagued by illegal mining, which was stopped after the Supreme Court order. But even today we find some aberrations in the Haryana Government’s claim that illegal mining has stopped. During the monsoons rain water accumulates in the mining pits giving it a shape of a lake, which attracts animals like the Nilgai (the blue bull) and lots of different kind of birds.

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Wild flowers look so beautiful.
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There is a riot of colours in the wilderness.
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This morning we were greeted by this beautiful site.
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A beautiful bug.

 

The weather today was awesome with gentle cool breeze blowing which made it another memorable walk for us.

A Holi with a difference

Today I had the privilege of celebrating the Festival of Colours with some members of our society who have been robbed of many colours from  their lives.

Some members of our walkers Group, Let’s Walk Gurgaon visited an internationally recognised NGO, The Earth Saviours Foundation, in Bandhwari Village on Gurgaon Faridabad Road, run by a Karma Yogi Ravi Kalra.

Let’s Walk Gurgaon is an eclectic group of people who enjoy walking. Every Saturday the group goes for walks to unexplored green areas in and around Gurgaon for a morning walk. There’s no pleasure that equals an early morning walk.

Ravi Kalra is a social activist and environmentalist who has been running this shelter since 2008. He is a 4th Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo and has travelled the world coaching various teams. After 5 attempts to give up his life of professional success, he finally gave it all up in 2008 when he set up The Earth Saviours Foundation without any monetary support of either a business house or Government.

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The shelter run by The Earth Saviours Foundation.
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The shelter run by The Earth Saviours Foundation.
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Inmates of the shelter run by The Earth Saviours Foundation waiting.
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Sharing some fruits with the inmates of the shelter.

 

 

Since then he has dedicated his entire life to improve the lives of abandoned senior citizens, victimised women, mentally disabled people and people suffering  with incurable diseases giving them all a chance to lead their lives with dignity.

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Sharing some fruits with the inmates of the shelter.
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Sharing some fruits with the inmates of the shelter.
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Sharing some fruits with the inmates of the shelter.
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Sharing some fruits with the inmates of the shelter.
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Sharing some fruits with the inmates of the shelter.
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Sometimes a simple photo can bring a smile.
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Somebody is really angry.
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The women’s wing in the shelter.
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How happy they are to be in a photo.
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He wanted to have a discussion with us, was not sure of the topic.

We went to celebrate Holi and share some fruits with the inmates of the shelter but we came back with loads of love and respect. It was a truly a humbling experience.

 

May GOD give more power to Ravi Kalra and people like him.

Mehboob-e-ilahi ke darbar mein

Last Friday night I attended a Qawwali festival from the courtyard of Khawja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Bio Diversity Park, Gurgaon. The event was orgainsed by Rumi’s Kitchen, iamgurgaon (NGO) and MCG. After the introductions of Qawwals by Rathhin Mathhur, Chief Bawarchi of Rumi’s kitchen it was a truly divine experience throughout the evening.

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Qawwals getting ready for the program in amphitheater.
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Rathhin Mathhur, Chief Bawarchi of Rumi’s kitchen introducing the Qawwals.

Khawja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, a saint of the chisti order was born on 09 Oct 1236 in Badayun. His mother, Hazrat Bibi Zulaikha made sure that Khawjaji got the very best of education. Fortunately, she was with him till her very end. On her death bed she told Khawjaji  that now she was leaving him in care of God.

Khawjaji was very close and fond of one of his disciples, Hazrat Amir Khusro and was ecstatic to hear him sing the praise of the lord.

Amir Khusroji wrote in a very simple style in the language of the ordinary people. He was the first to create a fusion of Persian, Arabic, Turkish and indian music in the late 13th century, and called it Qawwali. He trained singers in signing qawwalis and called them Qawal Bachche. There are 8 members in a qawwali party including a lead singer. The musical instruments comprise of harmoniums, percussion instruments such as tabla, dholak and banjo. There is also a chorus of 4-5 men who clap and repeat key verses.

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Qawwals in action.

Qawwali has been with us for over 700 years as a form of Sufi devotional music. It is extremely popular in south east Asia. Initially it was performed mainly at Sufi shrines or dargahs but since it received immense popularity the qawwals started performing in public performances too. Some took it international,  the main among them being the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Aki Khan. Other famous Qawwals from are Pakistan’s Sabri brothers, Bahauddin Qutubddin and Aziz Mian.

While in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey it is called Qawwali, in Central Asia it is called Sama and a session of qawwalis is called Mehfil-e-Sama. The word qawwali is formed of 2 words, Qaul, an “utterance (of the prophet)” and the singer.

Most of the words used in the composition of a Qawwali are from Urdu but languages such as Punjabi, Persian, dialects of Brijbhasha and Awadhi also occupy prominent place in their compositions. The main theme of a qawwali is love, devotion and longing (of the Almighty).

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Performing Allah hoo.

Qawwalis start with a hamd (praise Allah , followed by a naat (praise of Mohammed). Next comes a manqabt (praise of either Imam Ali or one of the Sufi saints) to be followed by a marsiya (lamentation over the death of Imam Husayn’s family in the battle of Karbala). Next is a ghazal (love song)  followed by a kafi, a  poem to be followed by a munajaat (a form of prayer, where the singer says his thanks to Allah).

Inspite of singers like Abida Parveen, qawwali has largely reamined a man’s business. Most of the qawwalis are 15-30minutes long but  one qawwali by Aziz Mian was 115 minutes long, called Hashr Ke Roz Yeh Poochhunga. The King of qawwali Maestro Nusrat Fatek Ali Khan has two songs, over 60 minutes long to his credit.

Apart from the Qawwali singers mentioned above, some other famous names are Badar Ali Khan, Bahauddin Qutubuddin, Fatek Ali Khan, Habib Painter, Munshi Raziuddin and Sabri brothers.

Death of the bamboo

It all started while I was visiting Mizoram last week. I posted a picture of a Bamboo tree flowering on Instagram.

On seeing my picture a friend who hails from Assam sent me a message saying find out interesting details about your picture from locals. At that time I was going to Reiek Tlang so I kind of ignored his comments but later in the evening when I returned to my Hotel, I started asking questions. The two staff,  I contacted did not know anything about it but in the morning when I asked the manager he told me the following story.

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Bamboo flowers

Every 48 years a cyclic ecological phenomenon occurs in Mizoram & Manipur and in Chin state in Mynmar particularly Hakha, Thantlang, Falam, Paletwa and Matupi. In local language (Mizo) it is called Mautam.

Both Mizoram and Manipur are covered by wild bamboo forests. When the Bamboo blooms it causes a rat boom, which in turn creates a widespread famine. Locals believe that the flowers which drop on the ground turns into rats which then destroy the bamboos.

According to records these famines have played a very big role in shaping the area’s  political history. In 2006, the Army had to be called in to stop the famine. In 1862 during the British occupation, Mizoram had a famine and again in 1911. The records show that the flowering of the bamboo lead to a dramatic increase in the local rat population which in turn lead to raids on granaries and the destruction of  paddy in fields  and subsequently famine.

As most the population living in far flung areas indulge in farming only, this impacts their lives for years to come.

Now NGOs and Govt agencies are teaching locals to kill/poison rats, built fences etc but it is not enough.

Living so far away from there in Gurgaon, if I had heard this story I would have ignored it as village tales but having visited the area I understand the importance of the problem.  Thank you Dhrubo Borkotoky for making me realise the importance of this menace.

A video of the menace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avH1VIVqBdE

Bara Bazaar, Aizawl

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The market for fresh vegetables.

Whenever I travel to a new city, I usually make enquiries if the city has an old market. It is here that you get to learn the best about the culture of the city.

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Vegetables being sold.
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All Mizos, including children love to chew this – tambool.
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Dry nuts.
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Roasted peanuts.
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Roasted Chana.
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Local Ice Cream vendor.
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Old lady selling bananas and papaya.
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Women selling paan leaves and supari. Both come from Assam.

Aizwal was no different. We spend the full morning in Bara Bazaar, a very popular flea market in Aizawl, which also happens to be the main shopping place for the town.

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Dried fish.
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Dried fish.
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Dried fish.
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Women selling cabbages.
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Brinjals.
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Raja mirchis.
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Breakfast time.
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Local beans.
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Shopping bags on sale.
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Ginger.
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Some local stuff.
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Local vegetable.
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Spice market.
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Local tea stall owner busy in tiding up her make-up.
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A man from Assam making a living in Aizawl.

The market is on many levels like the city and is full of colorful clothes, vegetables, meat, fresh produce and handmade wicker baskets being sold by villagers from nearby villages. With so much on offer, no wonder it is the most popular place in town.

 

Mizo Food

For non vegetarians visiting Mizoram, food can be a big attraction as Mizo cuisine offers mainly non-vegetarian delicacies. It is not as if the people do not eat vegetables, but they prefer to add some meat to each and every dish they prepare. Rice is the staple food of Mizos but it is of a different quality of rice as we know in the north. The main non-vegetarian item is fish and pork. Fish comes from Assam.

Dog meat is considered a delicacy and is priced accordingly.

Due to its location between Bangladesh and Burma, the locals cook with jungle produce—leaves, roots, nuts and mushrooms. This gives their cuisine a unique identity. Locals also grow edible plants in small kitchen gardens, giving a absolutely new meaning to farm-to-table concept. Spices such as cardamom, clove, pepper and cinnamon are almost not known to Mizos so their food is quite bland but their cooking with leaves and roots provides it with a unique earthy flavour. Sa-um (fermented pork fat) is frequently added to vegetable dishes. Locals dry and smoke their meats (pork, chicken, mithun) and vegetable produce (bamboo shoot, yam leaves) to ensure their easy availability regardless of season.

The most common cooking medium is mustard oil. They however do not like oily food so all dishes are cooked with very little oil. Most Mizo delicacies have ingredients like bamboo shoots.

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Chicken and cabbage salad. Very yummy.

Some very well known Mizo dishes are Bai, Vawksa Rep, Misa Mach Poora, Panch Phoron Taarkari, a grilled preparation of shrimps, dal with eggs, Poora Mach and Koat Pitha.

To be honest Mizo food is very different than any type of food in India.

Bai – is made of steamed vegetables with pork, spinach and bamboo shoot, and spiced with local herbs. Mizos prepare it with pork sauce (pork and mustard), but it can be prepared with butter too, to make a vegetarian dish.

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Smoked Beef Stew.
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A typical everyday Mizo meal was cooked by our local friend’s wife. Dal, rice, salad, non veg curries.
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Savage Beer bottled in Meghalaya.

Vawksa Rep – Every North Eastern state prepares pork in a different way but the Mizo prepare it, will blow your mind away with its chilly flavour, local herbs and fresh leafy greens that complement the pork. The pork literally falls off the bones. Smoked pork is used to prepare it.

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Smoked Pork and coriander soup.
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Usia curry.
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Mizo water bottle (made of bamboo).
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Drink made out of herbs.

Koat Pitha – are deep fried fritters with crispy outer and a soft inner made with rice flour and banana but with the addition of fish. Goes very well with Mizo chai, Zu.

Sanpiau – a local street snack made with rice porridge and served with fresh coriander paste, spring onions, crushed black pepper, fish sauce and finely powdered rice.

Misa Mach Poora – is cooked with shrimps, onions, coriander, peppercorns and lime juice.
I really enjoyed Mizo food and would heartily recommend it to all including some fabulous bakery products available in Aizawl such as Beef Burgers and Cakes.

 

If you like Beer try the Savage(German) brewed in Meghalaya.

Chap Char Kut Festival 2016

Mizoram practices jhum cultivation which involves burning the jungle and clearing the remnants of earlier crop before new crop is planted. Usually this takes time, so between 1450 -1600 A.D. while the Mizo forefathers inhabited Lentlang, they started a festival and called it Chap Char Kut. It is believed to have been first celebrated in a village called Suaipui. In old days this could last for days and in the run up to the grand finale, there are well laid down steps to be followed. Everyone in the village have a role to play with the youths, involved in every stage of the preparation of the festival. There would be singing, dancing and merry making. It was a festival of joy, all disputes and differences within the community had to be sorted out. Even disputes between the married couples was considered a taboo. There was an abundant supply of meat and home brewed liquor.

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Spectators in the ground of Assam Rifles where the festival is held.
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Participants.

Then came the Christian missionaries who frowned upon this and the practice was stopped. However in 1973, it was revived again but consumption of alcohol was not permitted. To attain a position of distinction, a Mizo had to go through a series of ceremonies and perform many feats of heroic deeds. These ceremonies are always accompanied by a feast and to this feast, friends from nearby villages were invited. Among the various dances performed is Cheraw or the ‘bamboo dance’ where the men folks tap the bamboos and open and close in rhythmic beats as the dancer steps in and out gracefully to the beats of the bamboos. It is the most colourful and distinctive dance of the Mizos.

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Participants
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Participants
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Participants
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Traditional singers

Then there is, Khuallam, the dance for the visitors or guests, the ‘Chheihlam’ is another community dance performed by both men and women. Solakia is the war dance, a prerogative of the male population of the community. It is accompanied by rhythmic beating of the drums.

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School kids performing.
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Traditional singers.
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Girls in a band.
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Band in action.
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The singers.

These days school children also take part and perform various dances. Local music bands and singers are also part of the festival. The whole Aizawl town is in festive spirits and the enthusiasm of Mizos is to be seen to be believed.

 

Great time to be in Aizawl on that particular day.

The land of the hill people

Our holiday to Mizoram started with an early morning flight to Calcutta and 3 1/2 hours later another flight, from Calcutta to Aizawl, capital of Mizoram.

The word Mizoram is built up of 3 words, Mi (people), Zo(belonging to the people of Lushai hills) and Ram (land) and means land of the hill people in local dialect. It is the second least populous state in the country with an area of 21,087 sq kms with 91 % of the state forested. The population is 95% tribals from various tribes of people who migrated from South East Asia. It was a part of Assam till 1972, when it was declared a Union Territory. On 20 Feb 1987 it became the 23rd state of India.

The economy is highly literate agrarian but suffers from poor crop yield due to the practice of slash and burn type of farming, jhum. This is celebrated as a Chap Char Kut Festival immediately after winter. National Highway 54 runs within the Aizawl city connecting it with Assam.

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Aizawl Aiport, Lunglei, Mizoram
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Aizawl Theological College, Aizawl.
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Aizawl town as seen from Aizawl Theological College.

Though I was travelling within the country, the moment we crossed Calcutta, I felt as if I am in an another country and I realised how we, the people in the north have become slaves of the time. Here everybody was at peace with himself with absolutely no hurry in finishing any chore.

After 10 hours on being in air and land we finally reached our Hotel at 3pm. From Lengpui airport the city of Aizawl is 32 kms but due to bad roads it took us 2 1/2 hours to reach our Hotel. Sadly we couldn’t do much that day as not only were we very tired but the shops close at sunset in Mizoram and the sun sets by 6 pm. After that the whole city comes to a standstill.

Next morning we headed straight to Aizawl Theological College, which is at a height a for a view of the city. Next stop was the Mizo Taj Mahal, built by a local in memory of his wife Rosangpuii Varte, who died in a road accident. We could not go inside as it was closed that day. I am told it is built in Greek Church style.

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Steps leading to Mizo Taj Mahal.
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Mizo Taj Mahal. (picture from the internet, as we could go in)

After lunch in the city we headed to Khawh Pawp, a beautiful waterfall in Aizawl. The water currents here are so strong that they have drilled a hole in the cliff. I was told in the monsoons, when there is lot of water after the rains it looks really beautiful.

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Khawhpawp water falls.
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Khawhpawp water falls, another view.

Next day we visited Solomon Temple, a beautiful church built by Kohhran Thingahlim (The Holy Church), a non denominational church covering an area of 3025 sq meters at a cost of US 3 M Dollars. It took 20 years to complete and renovation work is still going on when we visited it. It has 4 pillars, each carrying 7 David’s stars indicating 7 angels and 7 Churches in Revelation.

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Solomon Temple.

We also visited Reiek Tlang (mountain) which is about 30 kms from Aizawl at an altitude of 1548 meters. The roads are quite bad and it takes almost 2 hours to reach the base from where you start your trek. There are two remote villages there, Reiek and Ailawng.

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View from the top of Reiek Tlang.
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On top of Reiek Tlang.
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View from the top of Reiek Tlang.

According to a folk lore, the spirit goddess Khawluahlali ruled over Reiek mountain. When the spirits in her dominion waged a war with the spirits of Chhawrpial mountain in the west, the Chhawrpial spirits threw a huge boulder to crush the spirits of Reiek, who turned themselves into swallows and took the battle to the air. The battle lasted long, and by the end of it there was much blood which drained into the Tlawng river. The river got angry at the desecration of its waters, and it pushed with tremendous force against Reiek mountain, intending to split it into two. But the spirit goddess Khawluahlali requested the river spirit to relent, and so he turned northward. That’s why from Tlawngnuar (a spot), Mizoram’s longest river runs headlong into the base of Reiek mountain before turning northward and continuing its journey to Assam’s Barak Valley.
The local Bara Bazaar also offers an interesting insight in to Mizo culture.
After attending the Chap Char Kut festival we headed home satisfied after a great holiday.

(to be continued with my Blog on Chap Char Kut Festival and others)