We've arrived in beautiful Thenzawl, and couldn't be happier - the natural landscape and the people we're meeting in this weaving village in the Northeast of India are making our experience something special.
The drive here was spectacular. The surrounding area is made up entirely of mountains covered in tropical jungle, and the road twisted around and up and down all the way through. Every now and then, we would be treated to a spectacular view of the valley, with little thatched houses perched precariously on stilts that were scattered around the road's edge.
In Thenzawl, we wandered through the training centre and village streets, popping our heads into open doors and windows to see who was home. We knew we were going to a weaving village, but we were surprised that there was a loom set up in what seemed like every house. For a village so small, that's a lot of weaving, and the craft an important source of income for the women who live here.
As we went, the women continued to work steadily on their weaving, their hands moving quickly to braid and pull at coloured threads, wit the clunk of the foot pedals occasionally interrupting the flow of conversation. They were generous with sharing their stories, and told us about their lives, their families, and their love of and hopes for Mizo weaving methods, as well as the struggles that they face in securing better living conditions in the training centre, and steady income.
One woman, Rothangpuii, really stood out for us. Rothangpuii used to live with her husband and two children out in the country on a farm. Her husband died very suddenly, leaving Rothangpuii as the sole provider for her family. She isn't too sure what the cause of death was, but that's not necessarily uncommon in an area where many people don't know they have medical conditions that needs attention until it becomes an issue, or is too late.
With two young children to care for, Rothangpuii decided to move to Thenzawl to weave and was given accommodation on the training centre. Even though she was newer to weaving than most of the other women we spoke to, she was obviously immensely talented. She worked quickly, her hands moving with great precision to pull the coloured threads across and through each other to create the patterns on the puan. With no family nearby to help her look after her children and do housework, she said she only managed to get in about four hours of weaving each day. Ideally, she told us, she wants to double her hours weaving so that she can improve her skills and increase her income.
Outside of the homes, the land was so steep that cultivating crops and farming animals seemed unimaginable, yet here were all the street side stands with farmers selling their produce. Farming on this land is dangerous; put one foot wrong and you could easily fall off the mountainside to your death.
The unforgiving slopes are often made worse by the unpredictable weather. As the afternoon wore on and as we started driving back to the guesthouse, the sky became heavy with the threat of rain and before long, the mountainside was completely immersed in fog.
Overnight, there were landslides, and massive trucks were abandoned banked up at the very edge of the road, with the land falling away dangerously at their sides. Driving through, you could feel just how little traction there was on the road. At one point, our tyres spun out and skidded towards the edge of the road, mere centimetres from dropping down the mountainside. But we live to tell the tale.
While it was the biggest landslide we saw on our trip, it pales in comparison to some of the others that occur in the area. The natural disasters make it hard to earn money, and there's little stability in their day to day lives. As you've probably seem in the news, this year's monsoon was particularly destructive across South Asia.
All in all, a fruitful trip exploring remote Mizoram. Next: Assam!
Bella and Charlotte.
Bella and Charlotte are working on setting up a new production unit in Mizoram with our local partner Siami x Siami. You can donate to our Mizoram project here.