5/7/2011 to 5/9/2011 | India , Mizoram

Chongte: land of the Chakmas

Chongte, a city not just divided once but three times.  The merging of two rivers at the center of Chongte, divides the city not just geographically into three lands bound by water but culturally and politically as well.  The rivers form the boundaries of the three districts that meet at the center of Chongte.  The Chakma area in the southwest of Chongte, known as Kamalanagar, and headquarters of the Chakma Autonomous Region was the area I was most interested in.  The segregation between these areas was stark, just walking across a bridge would replace the white washed steeples of churches with the golden spires of Buddhist temples and monasteries.  While Sundays brought total closure of all shops in the Mizo areas of Chongte as elsewhere in Mizoram, in Kamalanagar business continued unaffected.  I stayed in the Chakma House, used predominately to host government officials on business and the only place to stay in Chongte.  Though demand in the region did not seem particularly high, I was its only guest for the few nights I was in town.  On Saturday morning Chakma villagers descend on Chongte’s sprawling market.  I spent a couple days visiting the local monasteries, and walking to villages outside of town despite the heat, which was oppressive especially in contrast the relative cool of the Mizorams hill regions.  The villages were much more traditional, and poorer, than the metal roofed buildings which cover most of Mizoram.  People were friendly and amused to see a foreign tourist, a far from common sight in this region.

The Buddhism in this region is similar to that found in Burma, and the elder monks at the monasteries in town were invariably Burmese.  Like Thailand, young men sometimes don monks robes and live in the monasteries for any where between a week and a month.   I talked with one such monk, who was doing his yearly duty.  He didn’t hide the fact that he found life in the monastery particularly boring, and I got the feeling he was counting the days to his freedom.

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