Northeast India is shrouded in mystery, being one of the least visited places in the country. But thanks to the efforts of the respective state governments, tourism has slowly blossomed in the last decade. The majority of the Northeast is inhabited by tribals with distinct culture and traditions. That in itself presents an interesting aspect for keen travellers. For me, touring the Northeast was like visiting a foreign land.
The problems and difficulties of the Northeast are far too serious to go unnoticed. Apart from inaccessible roads, the insurgency problems have repelled many people from entering this region. In some states like Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, etc., issues of insurgency don't come up, but these states are also marred by generalisation and superficial knowledge of the Northeast region. Most tourists simply refuse to put their life at risk.
While travelling through the eigth northeastern states, I learned that the area is not as inaccessible as it has always been projected. I covered around 8,000 km by road, mostly on bumpy roads. The roads are taunting and present a challenge for any traveller. But once you reach the destination, you forget all about the roads.
Here are some things to be kept in mind while travelling in Northeast India:
1. Stay in a government guest house, if you can find one. They offer a cheaper and better option.
2. Never trust Google in calculating distance and time of travel. It does not work in this region.
3. Be nice to people, and they will do likewise. Good Samaritans are everywhere.
4. Always visit the State Tourism Department on the first day of arrival. They have the most authentic information.
5. Be ready for long roadblocks and vehicle breakdowns. Food options can be severely limited at times.
6. End early and begin early. At most hill-stations, shops get closed just after sunset.
7. Carry enough cash. You could be stranded in places without ATMs.
8. Carry an identity card at all times.
9. Be patient, as the roads are slow.
Here is a quick look at the challenges and tourist attractions in each state:
Assam is the most accessible and one of the largest states in the Northeast. The Brahmaputra River runs through the length of the State and becomes an important part of the state. On my travel I followed the river upstream from Guwahati to Dibrugarh. By the end of the trip I was very much acquainted with the largest river in India. To me the river became the biggest attraction. Assam has a rich biodiversity and the state is known for the popular one-horn rhino found only found at the Kaziranga National Park in India. The park is home to great number of animals like tiger and elephant. Assam has some of the best tea gardens in the country. A visit to a tea garden and tea factory at Jorhat or Dibrugarh is a must thing do in Assam. No permit is required while travelling in Assam. Assam can be easily travelled by road.
Nagaland is a tribal state with major insurgency problems in the past. But the introduction of Hornbill Festival 10 years back seemed to have changed the face of Nagaland tourism and people's outlook towards Nagaland. The Hornbill Festival is one of the fastest growing festivals in India. This annual festival, held at the Kisama village in the first week of December, receives a large number of foreign tourists. Hornbill festival showcases the various tribal cultures and traditions of Nagaland.
Nagaland, being a hilly state, is not easy to travel. There are many remote places even today, which present an exciting aspect of tribal tourism. Travellers here can visit the indigenous villages and see their lifestyle.
Manipur is the easternmost state of India on the border with Myanmar. The capital of Manipur, Imphal, is a valley surrounded by hills on all sides. Manipur is best known for Loktak, the largest fresh water lake in India and also the only floating lake in the world due to its floating phumdis. It is also known for Sangai, an endangered antler found only in Manipur. Manipur was an independent kingdom before it became a state in the Indian union in 1972. The Kangla Fort, the king's palace, is now a major tourist attraction. The Ema market at Imphal is also the largest market run entirely by women in India. The hills surrounding Imphal Valley are inhabited by tribals. To get a glimpse of the rich culture and tradition, the best time visit Manipur is during festivals.
I found it quite surprising that Mizoram is one of the least travelled states in the Northeast. Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, is a well developed city with good hotels and restaurants. At night the city sparkles and I had never seen such a beautiful city in India. Government-run guest houses can be found at almost every tourist destination and they are well maintained. It makes travel so much easier in Mizoram. There are many unspoiled forests and hills in Mizoram, and the rich culture and tradition of various tribals living in Mizoram make this state a good destination for tourists.
Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most remote and geographically the largest state in the Northeast. A large part of the state is under forest cover. Steep mountains and thick forests makes it hard to travel from one part of the state to another. Traveling from Along to Tawang was like travelling between two different countries. The topography changes completely from evergreen forests to snow-covered mountains! Arunachal Paradesh is also inhabited by various tribals. The Tawang Monastery, the largest monastery at Tawang, is a big attraction. The Ziro Valley is a beautiful valley inhabited by the Apatani people, a unique tribal people. There are as many as 10 travel circuits in Arunachal Pradesh. It shows the scope of tourism in the State.
Tripura is surrounded by Bangladesh on the west and the south. A little closer to the tropics, Tripura is warmer than other Northeastern states. Tripura is remotely travelled, and the large number of immigrants have added to the problem as the tribals inhabiting the state have been pushed to the fringes. Places like Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary and Dumboor Lake present a rich diaspora of wildlife and nature. Historical monuments like the Udaipur palace and Neermahal are important destinations in Tripura.
Sikkim is no doubt the best tourist destination in the Northeast. Though this is entirely a personal choice, the state has good affordable hotels and good food. The scenic beauty is unmatched and the locals are quite friendly. Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, has some beautiful monasteries and the popular Rumtek monastery, which is 24 km from Gangtok. North Sikkim is entirely covered with snow during winters, and more than half of the year, it is close to the outside world. West Sikkim, especially Pelling and Yuksom, has some of the most scenic waterfalls and the view of the Kanchendzonga mountains. Yuksom is the starting trail for hikers camp base. The khecheopalri Lake, sacred to the Buddhists, is one of the most serene places in India. In Sikkim, everyone speaks Hindi, which makes it a lot more easier to travel.
The land of clouds is definitely one of the most beautiful places in the Northeast and India. The state boasts of some popular tourists destination like Cheerapunji and Mawsynram, the rainiest place on earth. Shillong is also the land of grassland plateau, steep cliffs and many waterfalls. Shillong, which is also called Scotland of the East, is a stunning city on a plateau. The city is poorly planned and traffic woes are common, but there are many places to see in the city itself. Mawlynnong, a small village in Meghalaya, has been declared Asia's cleanest village.