North East India – Travel Guide
The North East region of India is fast emerging as the top destination for off the beaten track experiences. One of the last sanctuaries in Asia for anthropology, endangered wildlife, daunting mountains and landscapes, here people’s lives are dictated by the rise and folds of the mountains and ebb and flow of its rivers.
The least explored part of the country, and perhaps the most beautiful, comprising the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland, called as the “Seven Sisters”, the region was ravaged by separatist violence for many decades. But in recent times, peace has returned and more and more people are now exploring the region although impact of tourism in the region is still in its infancy.
In this North East India Travel Guide we focus on the essential things you should know before your trip to this wondrous region.
How to get to North East India?
The city of Guwahati, also known as the gateway to North East India has a well-connected airport with several flights to and from the major Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai. There are also direct flights from Guwahati to Paro, Bhutan. The other airports in the region with flights to most of the metro cities in the country are Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Aizawl, Imphal, Dimapur and Imphal.
During the Sangai Festival held in Imphal in the last week of November a special charter plane flies between Imphal and Mandalay, Myanmar.
The region is also well connected by railways and Guwahati is the most well connected train station in the region. The best way to get here by rail is to reach Guwahati and then take local trains to other cities in the region.
The most preferred way for travelers to get around the region is by way of hiring private vehicles from Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Jorhat or from the city where you start the journey. The states of Assam and Meghalaya have very good roads and are well connected. Travel to some of the interior places in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh will involve bumpy rides due to poor road conditions. Travelling by road to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh involves high altitude and winding roads. Bad weather during monsoons sometimes causes landslides and road blockades. The good thing about travelling by road in this part of the country is much less traffic and the opportunity to get to some of the most amazing landscapes.
Permits to visit North East India
For foreign tourists, Protected Area Permit is needed to travel only to the state of Arunachal Pradesh, this requirement has been lifted in the other states of Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. However, Indian tourists must obtain Inner Line Permit for Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
The Protected Area Permit (PAP) for Arunachal Pradesh is issued to tourists and there is a requirement of minimum 2 persons travelling together. The fees is a royalty of USD 50 per person and the permit has a duration of 10 days, which can be further extended. Local tour operators help arrange PAP. The Inner Line Permit for domestic tourists can be obtained online or through a travel agent.
What is the Best Time to Travel to North East India
The best time to travel to the North East is between October and April, as the monsoon season will have run its course by then, and the region is dry, with a mild and pleasant, albeit slightly cold climate. It is better to avoid travelling to this region during the monsoon months due to heavy rainfall causing floods and landslides.
What’s the Climate like in North East India?
The climate in the Northeast is very diverse, due to a varied topography as you travel through the region. During the winter months, the weather is mostly dry, sunny, cool and pleasant with temperatures ranging between 6-20o C. The temperatures in the Eastern Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh goes well below minus during the winters with snowfall. The summer temperatures in the region range from 25°C to 27.5°C and the plain areas of the region can be quite hot and humid.
Temperatures are certainly much cooler than the rest of the country. It rains heavily in the Northeast during the Monsoon season, which runs from June to September. Some of the places such as Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya get more rain than any part of the world.
Accommodation in the North East
For a more personal and local experience one can opt for homestays in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. A heritage tea garden bungalow stay, award winning forest lodges in Kaziranga National Park or a city hotel when in Guwahati, Shillong, Imphal or Dibrugarh. However, largely the region is yet to catch up in terms of infrastructure and a large number of quality accommodation which at certain places may be basic and one should be prepared for it.
Food in the North East – What Should You Try
‘Exotic’ is how best North East Indian cuisine can be described as. It is very different from the other parts of the country as it uses less spice and oil. Instead there is use of herbs and fresh local produce. In most of the hill areas chicken and meat is used in all dishes, especially in Nagaland, it can be a little difficult for vegetarians. In the plain areas fish is a staple and is prepared in different ways, like steamed in wrapped banana leaf, roasted in bamboo and is always very flavoursome. You should definitely try out some of the delicious and sumptuous Northeastern dishes such as Assam Laksa, Assam Steamed Local Grouper, Masor Tenga, Thukpa, Roasted Duck or Poora haah, Bamboo Shoot Fry, Grilled Shrimps and Momos. Also note that some of the hottest chilli comes from this region- the Naga Chilli and the bhoot jolokia and these do find their way in some of the more exotic dishes.
Attractions in the North East India?
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Kaziranga National Park is where you come to see the endangered One Horned Rhino, where successful conservation efforts have seen its population increase from a few hundreds to around 3500 currently. The park is also a tiger reserve and home to other endangered species such Asian elephants, pygmy hog, sambhar, the Indian bison and over 250 bird species. Wildlife spotting is done by way of jeep rides and elephant rides and both of which are magnificent experiences.
The Best Treks – Living Root Bridges, Meghalaya
Living Root Bridges are man-made natural structures made by the Khasi tribes of Meghalaya, which are grown from the roots of rubber trees with the help of areca nut trees that are used as root guiding system. Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya is known to receive highest rainfall in the world and the number of streams and rivulets swell up during the monsoons. In order to facilitate navigation and help cross over to the other side, the indigenous War Khasi tribes found an ingenious way of building these bridges that could withstand the onslaught of rain, weather and time. While it takes around 30 years for these bridges to be built they stand strong for centuries. Building these bridges are a part of the tradition of these people and skills are passed on across generations. The Double Decker Living Root Bridge, which is two of these bridges stacked one upon the other, is definitely worth a visit.
Best for Birdwatching – Eagle Nest, Arunachal Pradesh
The Eagle Nest is a vast bird sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, which is spread across an area of 218 sq. km. and is fast becoming one of the top birding destination. What makes this a unique habitat for some of the most exotic birds is an entire elevational range containing a huge diversity of species. It is also home to many other different species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Eaglenest as a sanctuary got its main recognition after the discovery of new bird Bugun Liochicla in the year 2006. The other bird species found here are Ward’s Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Barwing, 7 species of Wren Babblers, 4 species of Shortwings, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, 3 species Trogopan’s, many species of Laughing Thrush, Great/ Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill.
Best for Spiritual Experience – Tawang Gompa, Arunachal Pradesh
The Tawang Gompa is the second largest Buddhist monastery in the world and the largest in India. It is nestled in the Tawang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh at an altitude of 10,000 feet. It was built in the 17th century, is home to over 500 Buddhist monks and is famous for its large library, which is full of important religious texts. This is a great place for a few moments of calm self-reflection, meditation and contemplation.
Also Worth Visiting – The Tea Gardens of Assam
Assam Tea is popular all around the world. Want to see how it is made? Visit the tea gardens of Assam with a tea tasting tour. You can couple this with a stay in one of the heritage grade tea bungalows reminiscent of the colonial days. The tea gardens of Assam are the most beautiful natural surroundings you will ever see. Learn how tea is grown, harvested, selected, manufactured and marketed.
Festivals of North East India
It is a good idea to time your travel around a festival when in North East India, with 220 different ethnic tribes there is an interesting festival taking place in some part of the region throughout the year. Most of these festivals revolve around agriculture, harvest, New Year or religion. Some of the popular festivals of the North East are Bihu Festival of Assam, the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland, the Dree Festival of Arunachal Pradesh, Yaoshang festival of Manipur and Wangala or Hundred Drums Festival of Meghalaya. All festivals are celebrated with much gusto and enthusiasm with the various tribes exhibiting their beautiful traditional costumes and displaying ancient rituals and customs. Feasting is always a huge part of any festival in North East.