(Easter) Monday 22 April. Aizawl to Seling. 37km.
Having washed and aired EVERYTHING in our bags over the weekend we set out as clean this Easter Monday morning as we did leaving London on Easter Monday 2018! We departed at 6am with some trepidation about the journey ahead – the heat, the hills, state of the roads etc etc but thankfully it was all unfounded and our day was quite pleasant – albeit short! We had 20km of steep descent to start, which then reversed to 17km of continual climb into the little village of Selling, which was perched on the top of a hill. The descent meant we had to have brakes constantly jammed on, which eventually became painful on the hands, but that soon sorted itself out when we started to climb! The scenery was pretty stunning – a lot clearer than it has been in recent days…
…accompanied by lots of strange tropical forest noises going on from various birds and animals.
Arrived at destination at 11am – our earliest yet! As this area is pretty remote and hilly we are planning to take it slow and steady to the Myanmar border – and we have to take our stops where there is accommodation – hence the short day. The next village is another 35km down into a valley and up into a hill, so from experience over the last week we think it’s probably too far for one day – better to be safe than sorry as they say – and it’s a a chance for us to get to enjoy and learn more about Mizoram and it’s people.
We got a room at the local government resthouse and headed into the village to explore. For such a small place there was an abundance of places to eat but lunch was a very bland affair – fried rice, hard boiled eggs and tea. We returned to the resthouse for a relaxing afternoon sitting outside…
…watching some of the local boys play basketball and people-watching – our favourite pastime which we haven’t really been able to indulge in since arriving on the subcontinent. From the start we had an uncomfortable vibe from lady who looks after the resthouse…she was very curious about our bikes and all our gear, which is normal, but she was very focused on money and how much everything cost – even my wedding ring! And although her English wasn’t great she got her son or his friends to translate, and she was pretty relentless in her questioning unless we walked away. All a bit uncomfortable on what was an otherwise pleasant afternoon.
Foodwise we had more success on the dinner front after a false start with a small plate of noodles. After scoffing the noodles, a few metres down the road we saw a place that had a better menu, so indulged in a second sitting with a selection of various tasty and some not-so-tasty dishes with rice – stocking up for those hills tomorrow!
Tues 23 April. Seling to Saitual. 42km.
We had planned to have a later start this morning but as our room was needed for a VIP later, we had been asked to leave by 6am – but we didn’t really mind as it gave us a good start in the coolest part of the day.
Pretty much the same cycling as yesterday in that we had a downhill start to the first part of the day, followed by a long climb uphill to destination. However it was warmer today so it felt slightly tougher – but the roads were decent, it was very manageable and dare say it? Enjoyable – even if it was hills!
Despite an early tea stop to take in some stunning views….
…we made it to destination around 11am and found a resthouse. Similar to yesterday it was a small one-horse town/village with a little market and lots of little shops to cater for every need.
Because we were starving we ventured out for an early lunch – noodles and hard boiled eggs again, but this time it was followed by cake. It looked nicer than it tasted, but it was still cake!
We got back on our bikes later in the afternoon to explore the local area, as we thought that where we were staying was a village on the edge of a bigger town. Not the case at all – but we still stopped for a snack, which is when I realised I had left our money back at the ranch….so Nigel biked the 3km back to get the money, while I held the fort to demonstrate our integrity as honest-paying citizens! By the time we got back it was time for an early dinner. We still haven’t worked out the food here as the lady at the restaurant said they only had rice, chicken or pork…so when we ordered pork and rice they served it with dal and 2 vegetable dishes, similar to what we had last night. Had we known that we wouldn’t have bothered with the pork, but it was more like smoked gammon and quite nice so we didn’t mind – and needless to say we ate it!
Back to the ranch to relax on the balcony and a chilled evening.
A couple of things to say at this point. We love the people of this region – Mizos. They are super friendly and welcoming and if they don’t greet us with a smile and a wave, the minute we smile at them, they smile back. On the road they wave at us from trucks, cars and sumos and call out in the few words of English they have. In the restaurants or even on the street people stop us to shake our hand and welcome us, which is lovely. And at our tea stop this morning the owner wouldn’t accept money – it was his gift to us for visiting Mizoram. The lady in the resthouse from yesterday was a real exception, which is maybe why she unsettled us so much.
The other thing is that I have been out of sorts for the last few days…feeling homesick and a bit teary. A Skype call with family on Easter Sunday didn’t help….and that wasn’t just because I was jealous of my nephews’ Easter egg mountain! Maybe it was the Easter break and getting pics from friends enjoying the weather in their gardens made me feel like I was missing out on festivities in London or Ireland? Or maybe Easter was the year reminder of being on the road and I just felt far away from home? This pic shows our location in the middle of the hills in a very remote part of India…so you can see why it feels far from home…!
I was starting to question what we were doing and in the last couple of days I actually felt quite nervous on the bike – as if I had lost my cycling confidence. Dunno, but I am glad to report that by lunchtime today it has passed and I was actually enjoying riding into the hills – with all the amazing views it seemed a shame not to!
Photo of the day… what could possibly go wrong??
Wed 24 April. Saitual to Kawlkulh. 43km.
Did I say yesterday that I was enjoying the hills?!? Scrap that. It’s only because the roads were nice for the last couple of days. Today they were bloody awful…about 5km into our journey the road turned into a dusty gravelly track with sharp jagged stones. Absolutely horrendous.
I actually think that cycling downhill on bad roads is harder than going uphill (within reason) as I don’t feel as in control of my bike, so it was a slow slog with brakes jammed on and my right foot unclipped from the bike if I felt I needed to stop suddenly. It was like navigating an obstacle course of trying to find a few inches of actual road to give ourselves a break from the potholes and stones. I lost one of the screws from my front pannier with being shaken around so we had a repair stop, which in a way wasn’t a bad thing, to give us a mental break from having to concentrate so hard – as well as a physical break to check that all our teeth were still intact!
The quality of the roads improved marginally on the uphill bit and 9km from destination a lovely tarmac-ed road appeared – just like that!
There was even a tea shop so we could stop to celebrate!
Today is the only part of our journey that we couldn’t see an accommodation option for the night on Google, but last night Nigel had found a Trip Advisor review from 2017 that mentioned a tourist lodge in Kawlkulh, which we were hoping was still there. On our tea break, a local confirmed that it was indeed still there, so between that and the road quality we were positively euphoric for the last hour of our journey! We saw a government restaurant just before the last hill climb into Kawlkulh and thought we would ask about the location of the lodge, before groaning up the hill. And good job we did – despite being advertised as a restaurant it was also the lodge! Room with balcony acquired, lunch, snooze, change brake pads on Nigel’s bike, chill out and dinner was how we spent the rest of the day.
I was feeling particularly tired and couldn’t understand why, when we had only done 43km…until Nigel reminded me that we had cycled for 6 hours to do that distance!
Thurs 25 April. Kawlkulh to Khawzawl. 38 km.
The hill that we avoided yesterday because our accommodation was strategically at the bottom of it had to be tackled first thing, but we were on good roads again so it wasn’t bad at all – and we had a lovely journey for the rest of the morning. We both commented that we could have been on English country roads – apart from the temperatures (in the 30s by 11am!) and all the different sounds and noises coming from the forest. They are nothing like you would hear at home – even though we did hear our first cuckoo of spring, which we hadn’t expected!
Because the roads were good it was a short day and we arrived at destination at 11am…another little village with lots of wooden and tin shacks on stilts perched on the side of a hill, which has been fairly typical in this area.
We stopped for a tea in the centre of the village and got directions for the local rest house. Not the easiest for us to find but we eventually got there….it was a very basic port-a-cabin owned by the local educational department, but cheap and clean (relatively!), so it suited us fine. When we went to the office to pay our rent we got chatting to a lovely lady called Melony, who gave us lots of interesting information about the area and the Mizo culture. She’s catholic and suggested we visit one of the nearby schools with her, so after our mandatory nap, off we went. Turns out the children had all gone to the bigger school a few kilometres away for sports activities, but we met the local Parish Priest who then invited us to follow him on his motorbike to the bigger school. What he failed to tell us was that it was at the bottom of a very steep hill, which meant a sweat-a-thon to get back to base! But saying that we had a nice hour or so meeting the staff and mostly very shy students….and were then invited to the priest’s house for tea and swiss roll! (The Parish Priest is the one in the paint-splattered b,he shirt on the left hand side of the photo!)
As we hadn’t had proper lunch we were starving by the time we got back to the village, so we returned to our earlier snack base and were served by the same lady, who we think was the owner. Thinking ahead, we asked her about dinner options – and because she closed her restaurant 5-6pm and couldn’t accommodate us there she invited us to her house nearby for dinner – which we accepted. Dinner was a tasty dal, stir-fried cabbage and rice. Probably some of the tastier food we have had in the last couple of weeks but it reminded me of how vegetarians probably felt in Ireland about 20 years ago…because there was no meat on the plate, she really seemed to struggle to understand how we could possible be full after eating loads!
All her family were there, including her mother, sister, brother-in-law and their children so it was a busy and lively house with lots of friendly people – but we were the only ones sitting for dinner!
After we finished eating she pointed to the sink and said “wash”….she had left our empty dinner dishes there so at first I thought she was telling us to do the washing up. We wouldn’t have minded to be honest, but she did only mean our hands….and when we turned around from the sink, the seats we had been sitting on were stacked neatly on the corner, so we guessed that was our cue to leave. Righto! The gaggle of kids walked us home and wanted to see our bikes to have a go on them. We weren’t too keen on the idea to be honest but didn’t want to refuse as we had just had dinner at their house, but we kept a very close eye on them as much for their safety and the health of our bikes – and apart from a minor groin injury for one of the bigger kids who was trying to take off down the hill on a bike that was too big for him, with me blocking the way, it was accident-free!
Oh yes….and I was told that someone thought I was a man when they saw me cycle through the village earlier…not sure how I feel about that…..!
Friday 26 April. Khawzawl to Champhai. 40km.
Got up feeling a bit jaded this morning….although we aren’t cycling big distances, the hills are obviously taking their toll on me and I couldn’t decide if I was tired or just didn’t feel like getting on my bike. But nothing for it but to get on with things but we did start the day with a tea in our lovely lady’s cafe, which opens at 5.30 as they set up for the day. We never did get to find out her name, which is quite bad as she was our guardian angel for our time in Khawzawl!
The roads today alternated between shockingly-bad and OK, but nothing like we had experienced on Wednesday thankfully. We had a climb of about 20km into Champhai and the final ascent was pretty steep, so we were hot, sweaty and pretty shattered when we arrived at our hotel around 11.30. This is the outskirts of Champhai at the top of this hill, why gives some idea of the climb we had…
Our AirBnB host from Aizawl, where we had spent Easter, has in-laws here and she had put us in touch with one of them, David, who had booked the hotel for us. He is well-known to the hotel staff so they couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful on our arrival. When we saw our room my first reaction was that it was “really good”….Nigel commented on how our expectations have definitely changed over the course of our journey, as this hotel would probably be closed by authorities in the U.K. or else lack of business because of bad reviews…one of the windows in the room had a chunk of glass missing (mozzie alert!!), there were cigarette butts on the windowsill in the bathroom and the smell of stale smoke throughout….but the beds were clean and it had a western toilet with toilet roll provided so that’s me happy!
Anyway, we did a few chores, had a decent lunch in a nearby restaurant and later in the afternoon David came to see us at the hotel. What a lovely, helpful and friendly man he was….and he has already been in touch with people he knows at the Myanmar border to get them to help us on our onward journey from here! He owns a small private school in Champhai and said that had he known more about our trip before he met us he would have liked to have invited us to his school to meet the children. Because of how helpful he has been, we felt incredibly guilty that we couldn’t return this help in any way as he was definitely more than deserving of our time. So who knows, maybe we will be back in this region and we would definitely oblige!
We are currently only a day away from the Myanmar border, which incidentally is still referred to as Burma by the locals, so a few observations about our journey through North East India over the past 5 days. On the days that the roads have been good and we had a fairly easy journey despite the hills, we questioned whether we could have/should have gone further. We thought that maybe we were being too cautious in our distances and even felt a bit guilty for arriving at our destination and slobbing out for the rest of the day. However on a challenging day like today we realise that we have made the right decision and that our plan was a good one. We are tired after 5 consecutive days of climbing monster hills but we haven’t been broken – and our bikes and kit are in pretty good shape considering the pounding they have taken. We are feeling pretty proud of ourselves to this point…and let’s see what Myanmar/Burma has in store for us!