Changte in South East of Mizoram, 350 kms from the capital Aizwal, is a small town and the headquarters of the Chakma Autonomous District Council. Nongtalang similarly is also a township located in the western extreme of Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. Significantly, both the towns have many similarities. Apart from being nestled in the lush green and dense forest with nature'sbounty, the towns with moderate populations are like oasis of peace, free from all turbulence and disturbance that mark other areas of North East.
Though Changte is virtually lapped in the Lushai Hills overlooking Mynmarese ranges with Bangladesh border, 30 kms down, Nongtalang is just a few metres away from the troublesome borderline. Being close to the border, the autonomous district council and the people, a mix up of Mizos and Chakmas of Changte, keep close watch on Bangladeshi intruder. At several places, hoardings or billboards caution the residence about infiltrator and in case there is any suspect; they are advised to report to the council or to the outposts.
Nongtalang, 60 kms from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, overlooks Bangladesh. ?It is quiet easy to cross over from Bangladesh as the border is jungle-infested and yet to be fenced?, said Holando Lamin, a Council member, but added to say ?all the residents of eight villages under Nongtalang autonomous council are watchful and no Bangladeshi dares to infiltrate?. What makes both these frontier towns with cluster of villages safe is that they are under autonomous councils and free from political interference. No minister or MP or MLA has any say in running the administration. Holando Lamin said, ?a Bangladeshi is easily identifiable and there have been occasions when intruders were simply caught, thrashed and pushed back by people?.
Both the frontier towns and its people live in peace and tranquility. Cross-sections of people whom this correspondent talked to at Nongtalang and Changte spoke in identical tone ?there is no crime. Even thefts are out of place. Our houses have simple doors and windows without grills.? There is no police station at Nongtalang. Changte does have a police outpost to deal with insurgents who often sneak through Chittagong Hills Tract of Bangladesh to move to Mynmar, taking the treacherous jungle route. Otherwise, it is all quiet.
Min Lyngdoh Rad, Headman of Nongtalang, is forthright in his views when he said ?it is our writ that runs across the towns and villages. Our mutual trust and cooperation help us maintain the best of relations for better living?. 80 per cent population of Nongtalang is Seng Khasi who retained their indigenous culture and tradition. They worship Goddess Kali and Lord Shiva. Their annual ?Tiger-Festival? begins with invocation to Kali and Shiva and then follows dance numbers and community feasting. Significantly, the climate of Nongtalang and the cluster of villages is so soothing that the people stay fit and healthy. The imposing 50 bed community health centre in the midst of forested environ with cool breeze is almost empty.
The rain-lashed area for seven months in a year is naturally abundant with seasonal products of oranges, pineapples and jackfruits. But the major occupation and sustenance of the Jaintias are betel-nuts and pann-bagans which grow in plenty. Somerine Pohty, an elderly woman while returning from her pann-bagan said ?we have potential market of our products in the state and even in Bangladesh. This makes our living happy. The place is quite charming with monoliths all around. Football is the passion and obsession with young boys. To be at Nongtalang, one has to take taxi from Guwahati to reach Shillong and then divert down west for Nongtalang, a distance of 160 kms.
Equally fascinating is journey to Changte in Lawngtlai district of Mizoram, silhouetted against hills and dales, 337 kms from Aizwal via Serchip and Lunglei. The zigzag highway cutting through deep sylvan forests of diverse hues terminates at this tranquil, sleepy town with Mizo and Chakma villages. What is striking is that Chakmas who comprise 80 per cent of the population retail their old customs, glorious tradition and faith in Buddhism. People here relish with agricultural products and horticulture. On roadsides, fruit stalls stuffed with oranges and bananas as well as papaya tell the story of success. Women with their harvest of agriculture products and vegetables can be seen waiting for buses to market.
Chakmas take pride in Buddhism and oppose proselytisation of their tribesmen. Rang Mohan Chakma, President of Buddha Ribeng Khude(Universal Truth Buddhist Foundation) said that the Chakmas are committed to the five teachings of Gautam Buddha?to be fair, transparent, truthful, non-violent and teetotaler. The president maintained ?we seek refuge in Buddha. We believe in universal brotherhood?. It is this spirit of tolerance that makes living together happy. Indeed, both Changte and Nongtalang are the sentinels of North East.