Thursday, April 24, 2008

Amid these hills where once we lived I retrace my steps...

By P. Rohmingthanga

Part II

The saying goes - 'Man proposes, God disposes'. I stayed on in Mizoram for another six years, and was given various assignments. I also came back for a short stint some years later, but my plans for a second visit to these places came to nought. So it was that long after superannuation, but still in a post retirement assignment in Delhi, and persuaded by my wife's yearning to visit 'Rih Dil', that I did retrace the route, however fleetingly. So, at March end of 1999, we left for Champhai, accompanied by our 'baby daughter' who had since grown up and Lalthianghlima (Pu Hrangthiauva’s son). At Champhai we were joined by Vanlalsawma, the forest chief of the district. Our first stop was at Keifang where we had a look at the 'Rul Chawm Puk', the cave where a big reptile which used to be fed by some of our forefathers was said to inhabit. I had seen this ‘puk’years earlier, while undertaking the long trek - Seling - Champhai - Thingsai – Keitum, mentioned earlier. Then, it used to be just above the main road (Lam lian). There used to be thick foliages all around, creating the impression that the "Rulpui" was still inside. It was therefore with some trepidation that we had then peeked at the 'Puk'. In fact, we could not see through the foliage properly. This time though, it was completely bare of any growth, not even a blade of grass. Houses had since been constructed in the immediate vicinity. As a result, the wonder and the mystery of the unknown had disappeared, it had become just a small roadside cavity, and one felt saddened as if something of value had been lost. From Seling onwards, all the way to Champhai, we kept looking for the blooms of Vaube and Fartuah - since it was the right season, and a familiar sight on our earlier trips on this route. But it was most shocking to discover that there was no green patch anywhere along the road, not to speak of blooming trees. These disappointments were the first two of a series to follow.

The third was with the once beautiful forest of 'Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang' (the hill where the damsel Lianchhiari was said to be pining for her lover), the forest which since times immemorial enveloped the heart broken maiden and from which she surely must have got some solace. I think there is a song which asks "where have all the flowers gone"? In this case the question is where have all the trees gone, and the flowers too. Obviously, someone had allotted a big chunk for cultivation leaving just a fraction of the forest in the vicinity of the rock. How tragic. It was as if a beautiful woman had been reduced to a mere skeleton because of the ravages of men. Though I was happy that at long last I had come by the road I prepared some 25 years ago, and was actually sitting on the rocky precipice, my joy was shaken by the knowledge that something beautiful had gone forever, never to return.

The fourth was with both the locations of 'Fiara Tui'. In the case of Farkawn 'Fiara Tui', the area above the road, along the upstream, was jhum land, and having been burnt recently, it was completely bare. The foliage below the road was also badly burnt. The result was that the very appearance and environment was unfriendly. One could hardly entertain the thought that the most delicious water in the world could be down there and of course, there was no water, not even a trickle, the forest cover having been so completely denuded. So it was with Vaphai 'Fiara Tui'. The entire area had since been allotted for a garden (huan). No trees are left. But the source being so good, there is still a pool of water at the base of the rock. To add to my disenchantment, a villager let it out that the water was not hygenic - probably as a result of domestic animals drinking from the pool, of which we saw one as we were approaching the spring.

The fifth was at 'Tan Tlang'. The mountain itself continues to be spectacular, majestic and changing colours as the sun moves across the sky, exuding an aura of mystery all around. Sadly though, all the trees, greenery and foliage which, like a woman's sparkling necklace, used to adorn the foothills, had vanished. The rich hinterland, the abode of the spirits, the 'lasis', the birds and the beasts, had been decimated. No wonder the inhabitants had faded away without any trace, probably led by Chawngtinleri herself to greener pastures, perhaps, to 'Buannel Ram', the paradise of the creatures of the forest.

I visited 'Lamsial Puk', and saw the bones still well preserved. The approach road was also good, and I was glad it stopped well short of the cave. We had to walk a fairly long distance through the jungle to reach the cave which, to my great joy, appeared to have remained undisturbed. I hoped they would preserve it that way. I also hoped that at certain steep stretches they would fix some support with local timber materials to prevent someone slipping off the track. But now I would not recommend construction of a jeepable road to reach the ‘Puk’ itself.


Inside Lamsial Puk


I also revisited 'Thasiama Se No Neihna Tlang'. The small hillock was now easily approachable by car, and mercifully it still retained the nearby trees and foliage, probably because it was too steep for cultivation. I made an attempt at climbing to even the score with my wife, but finding the track too steep, I became dizzy and had to give up. However, I was successful this time in discouraging my wife from repeating her feat. We passed through 'Lam Thuam Thum' and saw 'Kungawrhi Puk', the latter was ominously fenced with a barbed wire, which gave an impression that someone might have been allotted a ‘garden’.


Thasiama Se No Neihna


I also visited two sites with commemorative stones recently erected honouring people who were considered to have distinguished themselves by their outstanding achievement in their profession (I was told they were considered to have achieved the status of thangchhuah), and to literature and the arts - the former at 'Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang' and the latter at Khawbung. I also saw the tombstone of Pu Hrangthiauva, who was no more.

All this and much more were covered in the course of a day, and when we came back we had a good night's rest. The next day we went down to Tiau (the river which flows near Thingsai and gave me so much enjoyment in my youth) by the newly constructed PWD road, hence the drive was smooth and relaxing. On the Myanmar side of Tiau, our papers were cleared in no time thanks to our escort, a DSP from Champhai. From there we were transported by a noisy old one tonner. My wife and myself shared the front seat, the rest of the party were at the back with an escort. The drive itself, initially along the river followed by a steep climb, was rock and roll at its best, still much better than the ride to Hnahlan some 25 years ago.

At last, 'Rih Dil' came into view. Even though there was a village close to the lake and the adjacent lands on one side were cultivated, the first view of the heart shaped lake struck one with its sheer beauty and the stillness of its waters. The surrounding environment was, however, bereft of its original greenery. One had to close one's eyes to imagine the landscape of long ago, of dense forest and rich animal life, including the legendary 'Rih Ar' whose eggs could immobilise anyone who dared try taking them away. It was no wonder that for people who lived in constant fear of evil spirits residing in all manner of things, and spent a great deal of their lives in propitiating them, the lake was revered as the passageway of the spirits of the dead on their way to 'Pialral' and 'Mitthi Khua'.

I had always been apprehensive of swimming in the lake because of the myths and stories associated with it, told to me so many times by my grandmother. But tempted by the sight of a few boys swimming in the lake, I also took off my clothes and joined them. To me it was a record of sorts, even if it might not have really measured up to my wife's.

On the way back, we took a detour to the new Hruaikawn village. The villagers directed our attention to a red tinged mountain far across the river Tiau, which they said was 'Buannel ram' the abode of the birds and the beasts. Having left the vehicles in the village, they also took us downhill for about a kilometer to see 'Rahbuk' and 'Lungloh Tui'. I must confess that for a moment, I suspected the authenticity of the site because I had always regarded 'Tiau Ral' as being on the eastward side of the river and it seemed to me unlikely that the spirits of the dead would retrace their steps after having crossed the river Tiau and reaching 'Rih Dil'. But then I realised that our ancestors could very well have regarded the westward side of the river as 'Tiau Ral' since they had migrated steadily from Myanmar towards the present Mizoram. And I know that the debate about the location of such mystical places could never be satisfactorily resolved.

I recalled that some time in the mid 70's, the then headmaster of GMHS, a culture buff, reported that an expedition led by him had discovered 'Rahbuk', and apprehending mischief including theft, broke the stone in two pieces, removing one piece to the school museum. Though I did not say a word, I was a little upset with what had been done to the stone, but it was too late in the day and in any case, I realized it had been done with the best of intentions. The other half was still in place. Close to the stone was 'Lungloh Tui', a tiny pool of water formed by seepage through the rocks. Enroute, we were also shown what they said could be the spot where Pawla stood with his pellet bow. The lay of the land was, however, such that it was difficult to visualise the spot as the convergence of the seven trails. There were 'Hawilo Par' among the foliage. This is a flower which the spirits of the dead plucked and wore on their head; and just like Lungloh Tui, they then lost all their desire to return to earth. The forest around was still in good condition, except for a small patch. The advice to preserve the forest was repeated. The villagers also wanted a motorable approach road, but this time, I responded with reservations. We also stopped at Ruantlang, where we found the main 'Chhura Farep' had since been shifted and erected in front of the YMA office.


Chhura Farep


P. Rohmingthanga is a distinguished bureaucrat, having worked under the governments of Assam, Mizoram, the Delhi administration and the Government of India. He was the District Commissioner of Aizawl in the early 70s, Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Mizoram in the latter half of the 80s, and superannuated in 1996 from the post of Secretary to the Govt. of India. His post retirement assignments were State Election Commissioner (for some UT adminstrations), and member of the Delimination Commission of India (representing Mizoram).

Picture credits: Marii, 2005


An interesting link here on Chhurbura and the impact of his legend on Mizo life and language.




4 comments:

feddabonn said...

what exactly is "chura farep", and what are the carvings on it?

Storyteller said...

Chhura or Chhurbura is a famous figure in Mizo folklore, noted for his foolishness. Something of a Quixotic figure perhaps. Stories of his peccadillos are legendary, one of which has him barbecuing a Phungpuinu's children which explains the term Chhura fa rep. The carvings are ancient Mizo hieroglyphs telling the story of Chhura's smoked infanticide. Long before Mizos could read or write, hieroglyphics were apparently often used on memorial stones.

feddabonn said...

never heard of that before! how old are these hieroglyphics? are there more? wow!

Storyteller said...

Hang on, I may have used the wrong word when I called them hieroglyphs because they're nowhere as sophisticated as the Egyptian ones, but are actually very primitive, crudely etched images.

They date back to pre-Christian times (the first missionary arrived in 1894) - some possibly the 18th and even 17th centuries. The Chhura fa rep stones (of which as many as 3 or 4 different ones exist, which is why Pu Ro-a here specifically refers to the main Chhura fa rep) are different in that the surfaces are hewn smooth so that the figures stand out prominently in a kind of embossed effect. Most Mizo memorial stones have simply drawn pictures of animals etc carved into the stone so anthropological studies have concluded that the Chhura fa rep stones may have been the handiwork of artisans from the neighbouring state of Manipur.