Day 15, Golden Trail and Suffering Stomach

We’re up quite early after last nights party as the boys are off on their long journey back to home in Utturakhand on the other side of the country (a good 2 and a half days travel). They have to get back for their studies but both want nothing more than to stay dig trails and learn more about mountain biking. We take the obligatory group photos and say our goodbyes, hopefully the next time I see them will be either in the UK or back where they live in the Himalayas. They are both quite tearful but they’ve had one hell of an adventure in Mizoram.

The boys set off on their long journey to Munsyari

Sam and I drive to Lungdai to walk the revised lower part of the trail which has now been amended whilst I was away to avoid the steep and impassable areas and for Sam to walk me through some of the ideas they’d come up with.

We bump into a lady and her husband coming back from church, she invites us to her home on a small farm for tea. We talk for an hour about the area, what we think of Mizoram, how tourism may affect the village and travel to other parts of the world. She says she hopes it doesn’t change the spirit of the village, I say I don’t think it will as the numbers will be modest. She tells us she loves to travel but is not able to now with her farm and being married. It was good to talk but we have to crack on to finish the trail walk so we say our goodbyes.

The route adaptions work well avoiding any steep up or downs. A couple of fairly serious bridges will be required to be built to span the gulleys and streams in a few spots. Half way around the walk I start to feel really bloated and nauseous, like something isn’t right in my stomach.

On completing the walk we take the bike up to the top of the trail to see what the team have built in the time I was away. It’s looking amazing, you visualise how it will be but this looks even better due in part to the bright orange/gold coloured dirt which really stands out against the green, it looks stunning in the evening light.

Golden dirt of Mizoram

We test ride a few sections and film each other riding the switchbacks but I’m feeling awful and really sick every time I try and ride and exert myself.

We finish in the dark and roll back to the village where we’re offered dinner, I can’t entertain the thought of eating, I feel terrible now.

It’s a long hours drive back to the hostel concentrating hard all the way not to throw up which is not easy when the longest straight on the road is around 50 metres. The rest is a never ending series of twists, turns, potholes and chunder inducing bumps.

I go straight for my bed with a fever and all my clothes and jacket on, I get no sleep due to the strong nausea in my stomach clawing away. It’s a long and uncomfortable night.

Day 14, Back to Mizoram

Up early and off to the airport, I’m flying direct to Aizawl. I enjoy the flight as I have bagged a window seat and get to track the Himalayas on the horizon right across the country, did you know that over 70% of the Himalayas are found in India?

I land in Lengpui Airport and it is a beautiful sunny day and very different to when I arrived the first time.

I meet my taxi driver and hop in his little Maruti Suzuki (as are almost 90% of the cars here) and go to put my seatbelt on, he stops me and says ‘ no you don’t need, we only drive maximum 40km/h’ whilst true, the speeds are slow here due to the roads, it made me chuckle that he seemed concerned I would be uncomfortable wearing a belt.

Coming straight from a city of 22 million to an entire state that has just 1.16 million is another marked step change and I enjoy the relative peace and tranquility on my drive from the airport to the city. It feels good to be back.

I meet Michael and Sam for a coffee and catch up, it seems a lot has happened in the short while I’ve been away….

Sam had woke up one night to the bed and wardrobes banging against the walls and an earthquake of 5.2 magnitude, quite an experience! Luckily the epicentre was a pretty long way away in the state as I wouldn’t want to chance my bets that the buildings in Aizawl would stand up to much in the way of shaking around. Sam said this one was scary enough.

The night before I arrive Pankaj and Abhinash had crashed the scooter riding back from the trail getting sandwiched in between two oncoming cars, luckily they only suffered scrapes and bruises.

I heard Michael had crashed into the back of a wealthy owners car too and had charmed his way out of the situation, as he does. That’s one thing I’ve come to learn about Micheal, you can be sure of never a dull moment, he throws himself head first into most situations openly without reservation or concern, but always seems to be able to work his way out of any problem.

Pankaj has learnt tenfold more English than when I left, amazing what you can learn with a little motivation, he has been flirting on the phone with local Mizo girls who speak only Mizo and English and not Hindi. Hell of a carrot on the end of the stick.

Sam told me he had to drive everyone home the one night as the others had rendered themselves unfit by eating some local cakes that were laced with some mind altering substances. All this and I was only away just over a week!

I was also updated on some of the challenges faced with the project. No trail works had started in Muthi yet due to difficulties getting all the landowner permissions in place, this was quite a big blow as we had planned to be midway through the build by now. Things had been more productive in Lungdai though with the main switchback section, the most challenging part of the build, already completed. I’m also told the coming week was going to be slow going due to the disturbance of the local election taking place at the end of the week, meaning that people will not be working.

As tonight was the last night we are all together before the boys go back to Munsyari, the villagers of Lungdai had organised an evening of culture in the village hall. We are treated to the Mizo traditional dances, including the Cheraw or ‘bamboo’ dance where the girls dance over a moving grid of bamboo controlled by the guys, it’s brilliant. Predictably we are soon dragged up to join in and dance. There’s a lot of amusement on all sides, language barriers, dance barriers and blokes with two left feet make for a lot of laughter!

Pankaj and Abhinash then connect their phones and play some Hindi sounds, turns out they’re right dance floor pro’s, moving from dance move to dance move and getting the Mizo girls involved. Safe to say they are in their element and don’t want to go home, after a couple of hours we have to drag them away.

Next on the agenda is dinner at Silo’s house with a few village members including the village council member Pozara we have been working with. As soon as we sit down in her home two bottles of local moonshine are revealed and poured into glasses. We are given little choice if we are involved in the celebration or not. Things quickly escalate, it’s Pankaj and Abhinash’s last night so they are going big, in Pankaj’s own words ‘I am full alcoholic tonight’. The rice spirit is flowing, people are called up one at a time to down their portion with Pankaj excitedly playing master of ceremonies and counting down ‘3,2,1 drink!’.

2 bottles of local spirits, 1 bottle of whisky and some high strength beer later and everyone is well oiled with the two youngsters completely finished. It’s been a blast sharing the Mizo ‘culture’, of course it’s safe to say most cultures and people are exactly the same and like to let their hair down once in a while.

Sam has managed to dodge the most of the enforced drinking and therefore is the only person who should drive us home, these roads are twisty and sheer so a steady slow drive is needed. We all agree that Michael should not drive!

We’re half way back to the city when Pankaj finally cracks and says in his new found English tongue ‘sir, you are continue driving and I am slowly vomiting’, we take that decision out of his hands and pull over for him to ‘get some fresh air’ all over the side of the truck, it’s overdue a wash anyway. It’s been quite the reintroduction to the project.

Day 13, Back to Delhi

After two weeks at home, it’s come around super quick, today I’m setting off back to Aizawl for the second stint of the MTB project. I’m flying with Liz my wife to Delhi and then we’ll go our separate ways as she’s planned out her first experience of India and quite bravely will be travelling the country alone.

Upon landing I get a message from the airline to say that my onward flight to Aizawl has been cancelled and will run the next day. I speak to Michael and with limited options agree that I’ll stay on the extra day in Delhi. It’s a perfect opportunity to spend a day exploring together with Liz and we tick off most of the historical places of interest around the city, taking a pedal rickshaw together with a guide (who is excellent) through the busy streets of old Delhi, including a stop to walk around the incredibly potent spice market where simply breathing makes you cough and burns the back of the throat!

Liz’s backpackers hotel, is in the heart of New Delhi, an area that is a rush for the senses with cows wondering up the streets alongside bikes, rickshaws and taxis. Masses of electrical cables hang overhead of the street stalls and sellers that fill the narrow streets. It takes a while to readjust after being back in Wales!

Throughout the day we get countless persistent requests for selfies with people which was amusing if not puzzling, I guess being so pasty white puts you in the freak show category here and everyone wants a piece of the action for their social media account.

We dine in the hotel that evening, it’s a basic place but the staff are friendly and the food is good. We watch over the bustle of the city from the rooftop terrace, it’s been really nice to spend the day together and for Liz to have some company before going it alone.

Day 12, Homeward Bound

I’m starting my travel back home today and wake at the crack of dawn to go and see a waterfall on the edge of the city. The water has carved a plunge hole through the soft rock creating quite a unique fall as the water cascades through the opening, dropping around 30 feet and seemingly appearing to come from nowhere when you’re stood below.

Refreshing 6am shower

The river bed is a maze of pockets and holes making interesting shapes carved into the soft stone by the eddies and swirling water.

It would be a natural wonder, we’ll it is, but it’s certainly spoiled by one thing, humans. The amount of rubbish and plastic that has washed down stream is saddening as it changes a quite spectacular feature into something that feels a little depressed.

The tourist board have plans underway to develop this area, with a rope bridge over the waterfall and viewing platforms. I’m assured they will clean up the area, I think its going to be a real challenge for them to do so and to keep it that way, but one that would be worth it.

Plastic is such a problem worldwide, no matter what country you are in and it is depressing seeing these beautiful areas spoilt by littering as well as the ocean being gravely affected by its proliferation. We really need a biodegradable packaging solution for the good of the planet.

The airport is small and therefore reasonably efficient, I notice a sign kindly reminding the reader not to pay a bribe. I wonder if it’s aimed at passengers or staff?

I have to pay excess baggage charges and in doing so am taken through into a small back office. On the wall I notice a piece of paperwork for dealing with bomb scares called a ‘Bomb Threat Report Form’. The questions on the form tickle me, I imagine the scene ‘Dave, have you got any BTRF’s printed? We seem to have run out….’. Well I guess you need a process for everything; I sneak a photo of it while the attendant is looking elsewhere.

Zoom in on the questions on the BTRF!

I fly Aizawl to Guwahati, Guwahati to Delhi and see a red sunset as I come into land in Guwahati. The light still illuminating the ground below, I can see the change from what feels like the never ending hills of Mizoram to the plains around Guwahati and the paddy fields of rice.

I switch flights on the runway and transit into Delhi, with some time to kill I meet up with Sourav. We drive out for some food and he offers to take me back to his home to meet his family.

Driving back through Delhi, it’s a real change of pace and such a busy place in comparison to Mizoram, I see what at first I thought were big dogs but turn out to be large pigs roaming the streets, scavenging scraps and rubbish. Men ride past us on horse back, anything goes and everywhere you look there’s something to see.

We drive on into Souravs suburb, made up of many individual designed houses. They have a lovely home spread over 4 levels and after some coffee and being fed homemade sweets by his family we head up onto the roof terrace to admire the aerial view over the city and the many lights on the homes and buildings left from Diwali.

The families warm hospitality brings to an end a great experience of my first trip to Mizoram for this MTB project. I’ll be home for two weeks whilst Sam continues the works onsite and then I’ll return to progress things further.

Day 11, Village People

Today we’re heading back to Lungdai to see how the smaller teams had gotten on under Abhinash and Pankaj’s guidance.

We head up the hill and can see it is working well, smaller groups who know what they need to do and are more motivated to do a good job. It’s early days but the short piece of trail completed looks pretty sweet.

We walk the lower Lungdai section below the motor road, which divides the trail into two parts.

The route cleared has parts which are impassable, too extreme or steep and so we come up with a plan to try and avoid these problem areas by adding distance to the route taking it further around hills and the land contours and in doing so hopefully avoiding the need for any real steep sections.

Along the trek we meet some first rate people who are working on or tending to the small holdings where they grow food for market.

The first lady I speak to asks what I think of Mizoram. I tell her that I think it’s a very lush and green place, unspoilt and with good people.

She replies that she’s very happy here, she says ‘We don’t have to be afraid here, no need to worry about the winds or the floods, we are very safe here’.

I tend to agree with her, they’re pretty safe since they abandoned their tribal headhunting days, safe from everything bar the missionaries it seemed, but with that they embraced them with open arms and have found a way of life they are very comfortable with and incredibly devoted to.

At the next ladies farm we encounter she offers us large bitter lemon type fruits from the tree, they have quite a unique taste, I can only describe it as equivalent of eating frankincense, if you can imagine that? She has papaya, mango, and passion fruit around her modest small plot as well as countless vegetables. It’s a lush area for growing.

We push on with the walk, the trail is going to require at least two bridges to cross steep water gulleys/streams, climbing steeply out of the second we come to another little old lady tending to her immaculate small farm. She pulls out 3 small stools and insists we stop and have chai with her. She doesn’t speak any English but is happy and friendly such is the way of the people here, they are open and generous, I think to myself that I couldn’t imagine a farmer back home offering us into their house for tea if we’d been traipsing through their land unannounced.

The lady has a small palm tree plantation which we would like to cross through, the palms are valuable to her so a route that avoids damaging her crops is essential – as it is to most of the landowners, only those that have given up on their land are more relaxed about where the trail is located.

After a hot black tea, we agree the trail line and continue. Walking the route with two locals means you see and find things along the way that we would have missed, like root ginger in the ground which we pull up and taste, some incredibly sour and bitter small fruits which then taste sweet when you drink water?! They’re said to boost health and immune system if taken daily. We also pass a number of snares in the woods that have been set by the villagers, one has caught a small grouse like bird and the villager happily bags his quarry for dinner.

It’s getting dark as we walk back up to the village and as I’ve become accustomed to now, it’s another belter of a sunset.

Tonight we’re having dinner in the family home where the boys have been staying. As people have gotten to know us in the village they have become more and more friendly and generous.

After dinner, Silo another of the locals shows us her new house which is under construction. The hillside is so steep, you enter on the ground floor from the street and it has 3 storeys of concrete supports below it to build up to ground level from the slope. The view out from the rear windows will be pretty incredible when it is finished, looking out over the jungle and valley below.

Day 10, The White Man Cometh…

Whilst not celebrated here in Mizoram, today is Diwali and a national holiday so the roads are relatively empty for Sam’s first day to start to get to grips with the project.

Sam with Muthi hilltop in background

We head to Muthi to walk the route concept with the village council rep so he could advise us where we may be able to take the trail and where we needed to avoid for various reasons. He would then meet with the villagers and landowners to gain consent for the works. After half a day hiking the hill we head to the village for a break. There’s a wedding on today with everyone from the village involved and dressed in their best, the vibe is nice here.

The afternoon is spent refining and finalising the trail line as well as my first opportunity to ride a bike since arriving. The final part of the trail is to adopt a section of Singletrack and we need to check that the gradient and difficulty is appropriate when on the bike. We shuttle the bike to the top in the easiest way we can with the jeep, you take it in turns to sit on the bonnet of the jeep holding the bike on your lap, hell this is India and you can do what you want.

The trail rides well, it’s really fun in its current condition but requires works to improve safety and make a little easier to suit the project.

Shuttles India style

We’d been watching a pair of peregrine falcons soaring and hunting around the hill all afternoon, as the sun sets things crank up a notch and Sam and I are treated to a display of hundreds of swallows and now two pairs of peregrines all feasting on thousands of large flying insects that had suddenly all took flight in the orange glow of sunset.

Watching the aerial displays of the hunting peregrines

Day 9, Are we Digging?

Finally, today we are able to start the build of the first trail in Lungdai as the consents have come through.

With things a little behind schedule we decide to take the full compliment of the villages labour force with over 30 workers.

Up on the hill this proves a challenge to manage such a large group with a significant language barrier.

We split up into teams and each start to work on a section whilst teaching the principles of building, ensuring we have the organic material removed, the mineral soil fully bench cut to the right width, shape and profile to support the rider whilst allowing water to leave the trail.

It’s a crash course and it proves to be relatively unproductive given the amount of people onsite; some guys don’t know what to do, some don’t really want to be there, whilst others are keen to learn and progress.

Too many bodies onsite made for a challenging start
Nice to end day one of building with some finished bench cut

Any given opportunity the builders will stop and sit for a cigarette break – the Mizo people love to smoke!

I’m feeling over tired today so the challenging start and lack of overall productivity has me a little downbeat. That said the hardest thing about any project is starting and getting going, then you find a rhythm and we’re super pleased to see some trail built on the ground. I plan for a full nights rest and tackle it head on tomorrow with a revised plan for fewer, smaller teams that will be able to work more productively.

We finish work and head back to the village with the team for some chai, speaking to the village leader he states ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’. He says Mizo people take lots of breaks but will work hard in between. Their working days are very short too, but we’re in their culture so we have to adapt and work with it.

Abhinash and Pankaj have decided to spend a couple of nights at a home stay in the village. We go into the house and meet the owner, an old blind man and his wife who are very warm and friendly though they like most other Mizo’s I’ve met ask if I’m a Christian and are disappointed if you don’t respond with an emphatic yes. I’ve learnt to give a diplomatic response. The boys will be staying in the attic of the family home.

By the time we get back to Aizawl Sam has arrived from the airport, we head into the town for food and start to fill him in on the details of the project so we can get going tomorrow.

Lungdai village
In the family homestay
Sam has joined the team!