5 Remarkable reasons to travel Northeast India
I don’t need any encouragement to want to travel Northeast India. As I have stated before, India is like lots of countries that share one border. One state is often radically different from the next, which is one reason keep coming back. The northeast is no exception. The area is known as the seven sisters. It must be a surprise to no one to know it is made up of seven states. Not only are they vastly different from the rest of India but also different from each other.
Until relatively recently, even getting the permits to visit here was almost impossible. Now the government is opening up this part of the world to tourism and its one of the only places I know of where you can expect a raw, unadulterated adventure. There are parts of this place that are very far off the tourist radar indeed. There is so much to discover here for those who take the time to find it.
The first time I ever came up here, I fell in love with the place. The diverse landscapes, coupled with timeless cultures, was enough to get me hooked. The good food and hospitable people finished it off for me. I can not advocate this place enough for the more adventurous of you. I will most certainly be back again and bring you even more ideas for places to visit. So let’s take a look a closer look at what makes it so very special here.
About the Northeast.
When people talk about India’s northeast, they are talking about the seven states that make up the little bit in the country’s top right-hand side. Those seven states are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur. It may not cover a huge space, but the diversity of its people and landscapes are staggering.
The northeast of India is a country unto itself. Guwahati is the capital of Assam and the gateway to your adventure. For me, this is the last town that bears very much resemblance to mainland India’s big towns. Once you leave this bustling metropolis, you will find a whole new world of untamed jungles and lofty mountains.
The Landscapes vary from the steaming jungles of the south to the snowy white peaks of the Himalaya in the north. Whole mountain ranges sit hardly explored by outsiders. It is a place where the ancient ways of the tribal people meet the modern, and where animals have to live side by side with emerging development. Its a land of contrasts that is sure to be one of the most intense places you will ever visit. Welcome to travel in Northeast India.
I will be honest with you that everything takes time here. A good piece of advice would be dont budget too much into your independent trip in this part of the world as things won’t always work the way you want it to. The challenge is half the fun, though, right?
It is also important to note this a major earthquake zone as it sits right over three converging tectonic plates. The Eurasian, Indo and the Burmese plate all play a role in making the ground shake from time to time. It is certainly something to remember as the last major earthquake was in 1950. Personally, I always check for escape routes every time I book a hotel, and that may just be me being paranoid. However, it is a small but very significant risk to think about.
The climate in Northeast India.
The climate is a fickle subject to talk about as there are so many contributing factors. It is broadly speaking a subtropical zone, but the peaks of the Himalayas are definitely not tropical. In the areas above 2000m, it will almost certainly snow in the winter months. Many roads will shut down completely as they get snowed in. It is a good idea to avoid these areas in the winter as you may be putting yourself in a situation you dont want to be in.
In the monsoon season, it gets wet. The Brahmaputra river often breaks its banks, causing widespread flooding. Rainfall can become a real issue as it can create a deluge. In fact, the wettest place on earth is right here in the northeast. Cherrapunji once saw more than 18m of rainfall in a year. That is a mind-bending amount of rain, and your umbrella won’t save you in the slightest if you come in the monsoon. Disease flourishes at this time as well with outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever becoming ever more common.
The summer months can become baking hot out on the flood planes of Assam, but you can’t have it all. For me, the best time to visit is between October and April depending on what you are looking for when you come. The worst months are June and July when heavy rains bring everything to a cruel grinding halt.
Think about these things when you plan your trip. Make the most out of your time and avoid any unnecessary hardships. The lack of infrastructure makes it difficult enough to travel here without making your own journey harder.
5 Remarkable reasons to travel Northeast India.
With so many good reasons to come to this newly arriving superstar, it won’t be hard to write this post. I think it is evident from the pictures that the subcontinent’s wildlands are rewarding in the extreme to travel in. Shielded by hard to obtain permits, the cultures have had minimal interaction with mass tourism until now. So whatever you choose to do is do it responsibly. Because your actions really count.
The people of Northeast India.
People have been settling in this incredibly fertile corner of the country since about 500BC. During this time, countless empires have risen and fallen. Each one has left its own mark on the cultures of the Northeast. I say the plural as it is tough to define the common culture as there are vastly different elements to consider.
As well as an eclectic mix of Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists there are also an astonishing 200 distinct tribes that also share this modestly sized space.
Unsurprisingly, India’s Northeast is so culturally diverse as many different countries surround it. It is only connected to India by a skinny wafer of land. To the north, you will find the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan and Tibet. To the east, you will find Myanmar and to south Bangladesh. To the west, you will find more of Bangladesh and Nepal. It is not hard to work out how all of these factors created the cultural Keheldeoscope you see before you. There is no other way to word it guys; discovering this for yourself is a delight.
The culture is reflected in many ways, and nothing is as colourful or vibrant as a good old fashioned festival. There are plenty to choose from here, so try and time your visit. Honestly, there are too many festivals to list them all in this post, so when you decide where you want to go, I would suggest using google to see if you can make it happen. It will make a world of difference to your experience. There are the fierce war dances of the Naga tribes to the elegant displays of the Missing people. Do not miss these events if you can as these memories will last a lifetime.
Here is my video on this topic for those of you who would rather listen to a blog than read it.
The wildlife of Northeast India.
There is a beguiling number of species to be found in the Northeast. The whole region is considered a global biological hotspot. The Numbers are astounding by anyone’s standards. 300 hundred species of mammal can be found here, and 10 are found nowhere else in the world such as the pigmy hog. This little creature could not be cuter even if it tried. There are 15 species of primates alone for you to discover.
Bird watchers rejoice! There are 836 species of avian beauties to be spotted in Northeast India. Even if you are not an avid ornithologist, you will be blown away by the sheer diversity even if you dont like birds. It’s seemingly impossible not to be taken aback by the Rufus hornbill’s beauty or the rugged splendour of the lesser adjutant. That’s right folks I am a bit of a twitcher myself and visiting places like this could do that to you in no time.
There are also 29 species of amphibians, 23 species of lizards, 29 species of snakes, 21 species (all found in Northeast India) of freshwater turtles and tortoises and a single crocodile species. That species is non-other than the critically endangered and distinctly odd gharial. For any nature lover, this place will send you to heaven and back. An amazing documentary series called wildest India covers this area if you need to whet your appetite further. I honestly recommend this series wholeheartedly.
All of this incredible biodiversity is spread between 28 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Or you may just see some of these natural wonders on the side of the road. The seclusion of this area that geography provides has provided a refuge from mass development, and there are still vast swaths of land dedicated to the natural world to thrive.
Some grab the headlines like Kaziranga national park. With its huge numbers of earth megafauna, it attracts wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world to see such marvels as the One-Horned rhinoceros you see in the picture above. Some national parks bearly get a whisper and remain far of the tourist radar like the Hollongaper Gibbon reserve in Assam. Make no mistake that they all have a lot for you to enjoy, and it is impossible to see it all on just one trip.
The incredible landscapes of Northeast India.
Broadly speaking the northeast consists of the foot hills of the Himalayas to the south and opens out onto the flood plains of the Bramhaputra river. Then elevation begins to climb dramatically towards the lofty height of Tibet. It is this range of elevation that has given rise to the diversity of just about everything here.
From the emerald green rice paddies of Majuli Island to the steaming jungles of Meghalaya, it is hard not to be taken aback by the astonishing beauty of this place. It is deeply lush and fertile until you increase the elevation, then you get the dramatic snowy peaks of the Himalayas. If this is what you come to experience head to Sikkim or the north of Arunachal Pradesh. Whatever the case is, I recommend you take as many soul charging walks into the pristine wilderness as you can. No matter if it is the tea plantations of Assam or the high reaches of Tawang, it is sure to be rewarding for you.
The extraordinary food of Northeast India.
As I am sure, you can well imagine the food is as mixed as its people. From centuries of influence, it is tough to define what northeastern food is? Not all of it is delicious by any stretch of the imagination. For example, the bbq forest Rat is regularly consumed by the Aptani people of the Ziro Valley people in Arunachal Pradesh. This is umm an acquired taste, and it does not represent the food in the Northeast in the slightest.
The food in Assam is out of this world, and some of the dishes can trace its roots right back to the Ahom Kingdom hundreds of years ago. That is a long time to refine your dishes. In other states, you can really get a sense they are infusing with south-east Asia as you begin to see the use of ingredients such as lemongrass and galangal. Pork also features a fair bit on menus in some of the states, which is seldom seen in the rest of the country. I have to say I think the Khasi people of Meghalaya do some of the best pork out there.
It is a real mixed bag when ordering food, and sometimes it is not optional to eat things you might not normally. It depends on where you are and how far off the tourist path you are. Remember that its all part of the experience.
On the other hand most of the time, you will find that the food is a delight and quite unlike anything you have ever tasted before. The food in Sikkim is distinctly Tibetan, with dishes such as Thukpa and momo featured all over the menus. Who doesn’t like a good momo? Fish features heavily in Assam, and that is hardly surprising given the massive river that runs through the middle of it. Whatever you order get ready to travel your tastebuds and sample the exotic.
The incredible sights in Northeast India.
While the northeast is not famous for its grand monuments like elsewhere in India, it certainly has plenty of its own attractions, and some are out of this world! The mythical looking root bridges of Meghalaya you see in the picture above would impress even the most hardened of travellers. The massive Gompas of Sikkim or Arunachal Pradesh will leave you speechless.
Some states are heavier in attractions than others, as is the case in Sikkim. In Assam, there are countless historical wonders such as the Satras of Majuli or the mighty Ahom kingdom’s remnants that reigned here for over 600 years. Tripura also boasts its own Udaipur although you will be hard-pressed to spot a backpacker anywhere. Many states still have grand buildings left over from the British Raj era, and they seem so out of place in this subtropical world. However, They are no less grand for it.
Some states have very few physical attractions like Nagaland. This is not an issue as the whole state is one large wonderland. With timeless cultures and prehistoric-looking landscapes abound, you are unlikely to feel short-changed. As with everything else here, it will take time and research to discover them. There are no hordes of other tourists to draw information from, and sometimes they dont get very much attention in the guidebooks.
In summary of my post on travel Northeast India.
Since the Indian government has abolished most permits for tourists, it has never been easier to discover this little slice of heaven. Foreigners still need a permit for Arunachal Pradesh, and Indians still need a permit for Nagaland. Dont ask me why? Aside from that, it is all an open book that’s hardly been read.
If the government open the border between Manipur and Myanmar, it will bring streams of party-goers on the South-East Asian circuit to these fragile lands. They are fragile because the 200 plus tribal cultures that call this place home are having to meet the modern world. Fragile ecosystems hang in the balance against the development of the modern world. Your actions count more than you know. So please be mindful when you are exploring one of the last truly wild places left on earth. Quite frankly I still can’t believe we are allowed just to walk around up there where ever we choose.
While all that is true, that does not mean you shouldn’t come. It just means its only right to be mindful. Your money will support communities who tend to only ask a humble amount for irreplaceable memories. Before I wrap this up, I must point out it is not the cheapest part of India to travel in. Hotels can set you back a pretty penny in the big cites. If you are from a foreign country, bear in mind many hotels will not want to give you a room. This has been a problem for me countless times up here.
If you can not spare much time, then I would suggest you consider taking a tour. Due to the unpredictability of travel to the northeast of India a tour operator could well be your best option. Dont get me wrong nature doesn’t care if you are on a tour or not and lands can slide either way. However, a good tour operator can help you avoid any unnecessary pitfalls. Again check the prices and reviews online as tours run up here at competitive prices depending on where you are. A good guide will help no end in all fairness, as there can be a sizable language barrier at times.
Okay, that’s a good introduction to the Northeast and should whet your appetite if it wasn’t already. I have had made extensive travels here, so I can help you plan your dream trip. If I can, I will, but I will never claim to know something when I dont. If you do have any questions, just leave them in the comment box provided. So with that said I will see you next time my fellow intrepid travellers.
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