A light drizzle was falling one Sunday morning in the border town of Rih Khaw Dar in Chin State. When I looked out the window of my motel room, I saw a red and white bridge over Ciau Creek with the border trade zone of India's Mizoram State in the background. Plantations dotted both side of the creek, and crows of roosters echoed through the hills.Myanmar, Jun 8 : Perched on a hill on the Indian side and shrouded in dense fog, Zokhawthar village lies west of the border trade zone. Then I spotted two vehicles coming out of Zokhawthar and probably heading to Rih Khaw Dar. But strangely there were no cargo trucks inside the border trade zone. I found the answer during my breakfast at a teashop: most ethnic people in Chin State go to church on Sundays and so do the Mizo people of Mizoram State. So the trade zone was a bit quiet.
At the border crossing, Myanmar security officers told me that Myanmar nationals can cross the border freely without showing any identification and we could ride our motorcycles through the border crossing. Their only warning was that India uses left-hand traffic and that we need to put on a helmet.
Things were quite on the contrary in Moreh, an Indian border town in Manipur State just opposite Myanmar's Tamu in Sagaing Region. While Mizoram is relatively peaceful, everyone cast a suspicious glance at me when I was entering Moreh during my last visit.
At the border crossing, there were inspection gates on each side of the border. But we were not stopped for questioning. We went through the gate with our motorcycle and drove up the hill to Zokhawthar. Although Zokhawthar is only a village, it looks better than Rih Khaw Dar as it has more buildings, better road and electricity.
"Hey, drive on the left," shouted my friend on the pillion.
Two policemen whizzed past us on their motorcycle on their way to the trade zone. All roadside houses and shops remained closed. We saw some Mizo people going to church. We had no idea where to go and so we drove along the main road without turning to any street. We saw a signboard written in English with the word "Taxi". It must be a taxi stand, but no vehicles were in sight. There were stone pillars written in English and Mizo just opposite the taxi stand. Next to the taxi stand was a bus stop. We saw some people with their luggage but we could not speak Mizo and they could not speak Myanmar, so we ended up exchanging a smile.
A convenience store was open nearby, so we went in to buy things. The shop owner greeted us in Mizo. When we asked whether we could buy some drinks in the Myanmar language, the old woman said "yes" in Myanmar. We were glad to meet someone who could speak our language. My friend bought some snacks made in India. It was only then that we noticed that the store sold both snacks from Myanmar and India.
"Can we buy with Myanmar kyats?" I asked.
Sone Ban, the shop owner, said we could buy with either Myanmar or Indian money. In fact some shops accept both currencies while other shops only accept the Indian rupee. She said products from Myanmar were more profitable than Indian products. She calculated all items we bought, changing the prices in rupees into kyats. The exchange rate was Ks17 for one Indian rupee. The friendly shop owner also provided money transfer service extending as far as Kalay in Myanmar and Imphal in India.
She told us that she used to live in Myanmar where her husband was a soldier. Since her husband passed away, she had lived in Zokhawthar for over 40 years. All of her children lived in India and some of her relatives and friends still lived in Hakha (Chin State) and Kalay (Sagaing Region). It had been a long while since she last spoke Myanmar, but she could speak fluently and seemed very happy to chat with us. Her children grew up in India so they could no longer speak Myanmar.
Visitors can travel all the way to Champhai [in the same state] from Zokhawthar without the need to show any travel documents. A taxi ride to Champhai from Zokhawthar costs between Ks 15,000 (US$13) to 20,000 (US$19) and takes one hour and a half. It's possible to make a day trip to Aizawl [in the same state], but visitors need to have their passport stamped at the border gate.
I noticed the difference between Manipur State and Mizoram State. Border security is tight at Manipur and visitors are banned from taking photographs once inside the state. Sometimes you are subject to unexpected inspection. It's more laid back in Mizoram. Everyone greeted us warmly and we could take photos as we liked. It is truly a state with a refreshing sense of independence.
Just as I bid farewell to Zokhawthar, I was thinking of coming back again to observe how a country's principles impact on its socioeconomic development as well as health and education of the people living on either side of the border.