Mizoram – land of blue rolling hills and the hidden pearl of India’s North East is a landlocked state, but once you reach there, paradise awaits! However, this beautiful state is also the least visited of all the states in the Indian Union, largely due to the travel media’s lackadaisical approach as well as poor connectivity.
Having spent my formative years in a Christain missionary school in the remote North Eastern riverside town of Tezpur in Assam, I grew up in the company of tribals – Manipuris, Kukis, Nagas and the quintessential Mizos. Let me tell you, the influence of Christianity is very palpable in India’s North East and Mizoram in particular, with more than 98% of the Mizos being Christians.
Western culture is a way of life in Mizoram and the Mizo youths’ love for music is legendary. The state is home to some of India’s best known rock bands. Nazareth, Mettallica, Guns & Roses, Scorpions etc……have huge fan followings and enjoy almost demigod status.
Legend has it that way back in 1894, Rev J H Lorrain and Rev F W Savidge were the first missionaries to set foot in Mizoram on January 11th 1894, that consequently led to the conversion of the entire population of Mizoram to Christianity. Every year the day of 11th January is observed as “Missionary Day” with local churches holding congregations.
Aizwal – the picturesque capital city of Mizoram used to be my favourite haunt, especially during Christmas/New Year’s Eve - rock shows, staying in Mizo homestays, gorging on Mizo cuisine consisting of Koat Pitha (fried fritters), Misa Mach Poora, Paanch Phoron Torkari and what have you….
The city is replete with churches, big and small, that cater to the religious sentiments of the Christians and every evening Aizwal is agog with a spiritual hallow, with hymns and prayers being performed in the churches.
The bazaars are bustling with activity – Bara Bazzar, Ritz market, Burma Lane, Thakthing Bazaar, New market and Solomon Cave are choc-a-bloc with electronic items and gizmos that compliment the native handcrafted items made of bamboo and cane.
The ambience of Chanmari, the trendiest neighborhood of Aizwal, is replete with hip restaurants serving lip smacking Oriental delicacies. Dining at Bejeing Blue could be a revelation offering an eclectic mix of Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
However, real Mizoram lies in “Village Mizoram” where there is more authentic innocence, rather than the cities that look Dickensian! The village of Falkawan (12 Kms.), Durtlang hills and Reiek Tlang are unputdownable.
The surreal sight of beautifully attired Mizo tribals living in bamboo huts, usually located strategically near water bodies and their innovative but ancient indigenous system of piped water supply through bamboos is worth going miles to see.
Mizo women are believed to be amongst the most beautiful in India’s North East and first-time visitors are awestruck by their feminine grace – the sight of Mizo damsels carrying intricately woven baskets on their backs, for instance, is straight out of a fairytale kingdom!
Mizoram comes alive in a riot of colours during the time of festivals and visitors would do well to visit this speck of paradise during festival times – Chap Char Kut, Mim Kut and Pawl Kut. Mizo festivals are harvest-oriented and their folk dances have remained unscathed by the influx of modernity.
North East India has always been a sensitive region and the socio-political landscape has undergone paradigm changes after the II World War. The state was torn apart by the two decades long armed rebellion of the Mizo National Front from 1961 that ended peacefully with the signing of the Mizo Peace Accord with the Govt. of India in 1986.
The meteoric rise of Mizoram from the ashes of jungle warfare and terrorism to the forefront of development is the stuff of legends, and today, Mizoram is considered to be one of the most peaceful states in India’s North East.
The metamorphosis of modern Mizoram from the days of head hunters, transition from their nomadic past to embracing the comforts of the contemporary world, the shift from indigenous “Jhum Cultivation” to permanent high-yield cultivation, flabbergasts today’s discerning traveller to Mizoram. Added to the fact that the state has achieved a literacy rate of 91.33%, in spite of being landlocked deserves kudos.
The Mizo people’s belief system in the existence of “Khazangpa” – the one god who lives in a celestial region of the universe, reprimands all wickedness and blesses all those who indulge in goodness is every bit fascinating. No wonder that “Spirit Appeasement” and “Ancestor Worship” are trademark features of society.
Mizo people’s obsession with Israel and all things Israeli is legendary. How desperately they wish that the rest of the world grasp their fate, very similar to that of the Israelis – both are surrounded by hostile Muslim countries (Bangladesh and Myanmar in case of Mizoram) and the spectre of terrorism looms large – Israel viz-a-viz Jihadi Muslim organizations and Mizoram with North East guerrilla outfits.
Legend has it that Israel’s “Lost Tribes” were banished from ancient Israel by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. The momentum for identification of the “Israel’s Lost Tribes” began in the 1970s. Rabbi Avichail was travelling all over the world in search of the ‘Lost Tribes’ and somehow stumbled upon Mizoram’s tribes, found a lot of similarities in their rituals and traditions, which led him to designate them with the “Bnei Menashe” tag, literally meaning “Son of Manasseh” or one amongst Israel’s lost tribes.
Already 20,000 of the Bnei Menashe tribes of Mizoram were recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbi back in 2005 to be one of the “Lost Tribe” have already migrated to Israel. In 2021, a group of 218 members belonging to the Bnei Menashe tribe immigrated to their promised land after undergoing a purification ritual and were transported to Israel by chartered flight after clearing all COVID-19 tests.
The former Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu too had endorsed the Jewish antecedants of Mizoram’s Bnei Menashe tribe and was quoted as saying:
There is among us a living bridge; the wonderful Bnei Menashe, whose members have and are making Aliyah from India to Israel. And, with their love for Israel and their great humility, and through impressive efforts, they are absorbed into Israeli society. But, they also create that living bridge between our two peoples.
To make the process of transition from India to Israel hassle free and ease their integration within the Israeli society, the Government of Israel has provided the Bnei Menashe tribes with rights to residency in the northern part of Israel’s Carmiel region. What is more, since the Bnei Menashe tribes are renowned for their power of endurance, they are also being recruited in Israel’s defence forces.
Today, Mizoram is at the crossroads of culture. Mizo society is in flux and yet the resilience they are showing to safeguard peace, stability and harmonious co-existence is exemplary. We are living in an era where terrorism is eating into the vitals of human civilization and both India and Israel are amongst the worst affected.
In the US-led military campaign – “Global War on Terror”, India and Israel are natural allies and with Israel giving official recognition to little known Mizoram and its Bnei Menashe tribe, geo-political experts worldwide are waiting with bated breath how the story really unfolds at the global arena.
The North East of India has been on the radar of anthropologists for a long time and it is a fact that the region, being blessed with more than 250 tribes, makes it a top contender to be rated as the world’s Anthropology Hotspot. Thus, in the coming days, if anthropology is the index of judging the “Lost Tribes of Israel”, the North East of India has many other tribes- the Nagas for instance, who claim to be descendants of ‘Danites’, also considered to be one of the “Lost Tribes”.
The stage is set for the world to witness a dramatic socio-political awakening with India’s North East being the epicentre! From a purely tourism point of view, indeed, there is no denying the fact that Mizoram is exemplifying that tourism is too vast an industry to be swallowed by terrorism!