5/4/2011 to 5/6/2011 | India , Mizoram

Tlabung: Where Fairytales Sometimes Come True

Even before I had set foot in Tlabung (pronounced claboong) I had heard the story.  It had been first relayed to me back in Aizawl by a friend of Himpuii who held senior position in the forestry department, and was based in Tlabung.  It would be relayed to me again and again both as I approached the village, and once I finally arrived in this remote market town; though “town” may be too “urban” a word for Tlabung, which might more accurately be described as a sprawling village along the river bank a short distance up river from the Bangladesh border.  Despite arduous overland journey by which I eventually arrived, Tlabung in the late 19th century was actually the most accessible area in Mizoram reached by river from what is today Bangladesh.  It was here that the British established there first outpost in Mizoram.  As such it is home to Mizoram’s first police station, first post office, and circuit house, all constructed in the late 19th century and standing in mostly original condition.  But the story I heard repeatedly was not of these first foreign visitors but that of a much later one.  An American working on an aid project in the region had come to Tlabung for a short stay.  He was housed in the circuit house, where government officials often stay when on official business.  Some of the local women were hired to prepare and serve the food.  In scene fit for the plot of a Bollywood movie he was immediately taken with one of the local girls who served him his diner.  A “love at first sight” moment and he returned to marry the local girl.  Apparently the happily ever after in this Cinderella story continues and I was told that the couple still lives with there children back in the states and returns every few years to visit.

My first invitation to a meal in Tlabung was not from one of the village’s young women, hoping for a repeat of the aforementioned story, bur from its middle aged veterinarian, who I had been introduced to by Himpuii’s friend in the forest department. He had invited me to join him for breakfast at his residence adjacent to the Tourist Lodge where I was staying.  On the menu, boiled dog meat (a common dish the tribal areas of the northeast), an assortment of vegetable dishes, and of course rice.  With the “when in Rome do as the Romans” I partook in the meal.  It was not the first time I had tried dog meat though it was the first time I had knowingly eaten it.*  I just hoped the dog in question had not been a former patient of the man serving it.  It tasted very similar to beef, with smaller bones of course.

My next invention to dinner was by a young girl who spoke English particularly well having worked at a call center in Bangalore previously but was now back in Tlabung helping her mother with the family shop.   I won’t flatter myself by saying the invitation was anything more than a hospitable gesture and an opportunity for her to use her English, rather than a hope for a repeat of the aforementioned Cinderella story.  Though Himpuii would try to convince me it was that latter, noting it was custom for Mizo girls to invite boys she was interested in for dinner.   Places to go on a “date” were not really an option in Mizoram especially when everything except the church closes by 6:00 pm.  In any case Cinderella did not strike twice though I enjoyed the hospitality and the cultural experience of the evening.

My principle reason for coming to Tlabung was not to find a wife, perhaps to my mother’s disappointment, but rather to see the culture of the Chakma, a Buddhist tribal group that inhabits the border region between Mizoram and Bangadesh.  A stroll through the large Chakma village across the river was my first exposure to the Mizo Chakma.  I had visited Chakma villages in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh a few days journey down river from where I was now.  Caught between Muslim Bangladesh and the ardent Christians of Mizoram the Chakma have managed to maintain there culture, though not without persecution from both sides of the border over time.  There is now a Chakma autonomous region in the southwest of Mizoram but it is still the least developed area of the state.  Whether that is a result of miss-management by the Chakma Autonomous Council or a result of discrimination by the majority Mizos is a matter of perspective.  My next destination was the heart of Chakma country and the Headquarters of the Chakma Autonomous Region, Chongte.


*The first time was in northern Vietnam when I had kebab from a street side vender and later found out the meat was dog meat.

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