Northeast India is an exotic land. Being a North-Eastern girl myself, I can vouch for the fact that Northeast India is unique and a land full of surprises. The unbeatable hospitality of the people, jaw-dropping natural beauty, cloud laden landscapes, Eco-friendly lifestyles and enriching history of the land will surely make you wander in the distant land at least for once. Though, north-eastern states have been getting a fair share of the spotlight in the tourist map of India lately, it is still considered as a remote part of India by many. Apart from the famous festivals like Hornbill, Ziro, NH7 Weekender, Orange, Sangai, Bihu, etc., people are not aware of the social fabric and the rich cultural heritage of Northeast India.
This post is everything about Northeast India that nobody told you before. It is a comprehensive guide about the region covering topics like permits, infrastructures, local culture, food habits, mobile connectivity, places to see, how to reach, accommodations, festivals, travel tips and a few mind-blowing facts about Northeast India.
Due to lack of knowledge about this region and inadequate information available on the internet, there are a lot of presumptions about this exotic part of India. Only well-traveled nomads and hard-core travelers have explored the remote parts of this region. Though, states like Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland have become popular due to their famous music festivals, which draw hundreds of music lovers and tourists to this part of India each year. But, Northeast India tourism is not all about the jazz and music festivals. This is a fascinating region, known for its rustic beauty, deep rooted history, age-old traditions and tribal communities.
The way of life of each tribal community is way different from others. The beauty of this far land is that you will get to see diversity at its best. Whether it is the language, attire, rituals, beliefs, or food, every tribal community has their own lifestyle and it is way too different from the rest of them. It is quite intriguing and overwhelming for people who travel to this region for the very first time.
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The biggest river island, lush tea gardens, gushing waterfalls, hidden caves, natural root bridges, monasteries, endangered animals, cleanest villages, wilderness in the national parks, virgin scenic landscapes, stilt houses or gripping story of headhunters and their way of life. The Northeast India can take you on a journey of unique expedition like never before. Bordered by Bhutan, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the Northeast India consists of 8 states –Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura.
Things No One Told You About Northeast India
Before you plan your first ever visit to the blissfully untouched paradise known as ‘the last Shangri- la’, there are a few things you must know and consider before your Northeast India sojourn.
To visit Northeast India, you are required to obtain an ILP (for Indian Nationals & Foreign Nationals) and PAP (only for Foreign Nationals) for a few states, due to its strategic and sensitive locations, bordering with Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. The government has modified rules on permits to promote Northeast tourism in the region. You still need to check on the states for permit information before you plan your first Northeast India trip. However, no permits (ILP and PAP) are required to visit Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.
Apart from these states, other north-eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim require ILP for Indian tourists and PAP for Foreign Nationals. For states like Mizoram , Manipur, Nagaland, Foreign nationals need to register themselves at the local Foreigner Registration Office (FRO) of the districts they visit within 24 hours of arrival. It is to be noted that Nathula Pass and Gurudongmar Lake are off limits to foreign nationals completely. Also, citizens of Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan require prior approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, before entering the state of Mizoram.
The cost of the permits vary from state to state. The basic requirements for ILP and PAP for foreign nationals are copies of passport, visa, passport size photographs, and flight tickets. For Indian nationals, you need to produce passport size photographs and valid photo identity proof (Voter ID/ Aadhaar Card). Read everything about the ILP (Inner Line Permit) and PAP (Protected Area Permit) for Northeast India (All States).
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I highly recommend doing a pre-research before you plan your trip to Northeast India. It is important to know basic things about the place you are heading next. Research always helps you plan your trip better and also to design your customized itinerary. Northeast India can be overwhelming for someone who lands there without any prior knowledge about the region. It is always advisable to do a basic research on the internet, read blogs, articles, ask people who are familiar with the terrain, culture, infrastructures, food habits and the tribal cultures in Northeast India before you pack your bags to explore this part of India. Unlike the rest of India, Northeast India has a very distinctive character and each state is way different from another. Not just that, even the lifestyle of the tribal communities within one state is varying from one another. It is also advisable to consult a registered Tour Agent/ Operator from Northeast India about your travel plans, places you want to cover and other specifications so that they can guide you properly to design your own itinerary.
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To travel hassle-free in Northeast India, you must contact a registered Tour Operator. It makes your trip quite easy in terms of planning and executing. There are many registered tour operators in Northeast, organizing tours across the region. Do check their websites and read reviews before finalizing your tour operator for the trip. If you don’t want to go with a tour operator, you can choose to travel solo in Northeast. However, one needs to have basic understanding of the place and requires a lot of planning to go on a solo expedition. Anything can go wrong from missing your train, bus or shared cab to unwanted occurrences, bad weather, etc. In that case, you will be alone to manage the situation in an unfamiliar land. It is advised to plan your first Northeast India trip with an experienced and reputed tour operator so that if anything goes wrong you have someone to fall back upon. The tour operator helps you to design a customized itinerary for you. You can consider reputed tour operators like, Kipepeo, Root Bridge, Kite Manja, and The Greener Pastures. I personally highly recommend The Holiday Scout for your Northeast India trip. I had traveled with them and had one of the most amazing experiences exploring my own backyard.
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You must have your customized itinerary before you head out to explore the remote part of Northeast India. I would never recommend visiting Northeast India without an itinerary. This region is altogether different from the rest of India. Everything is not easily accessible here. You need to have a proper plan to execute. There are no regular buses in remote parts of the region. You need to check the trains, flights and buses in advance to travel to a few parts of the Northeast. So, it is advisable to plan your itinerary in the most practical way so that you don’t miss much due to mismanagement. Random plans are not encouraged here.
Don’t underestimate the amount of time you would require to travel by road. On top of it, the road condition of a few states like interior of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland is not good. So, expect bumpy ride there. States like Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Sikkim have better road condition for road trips.
Also, the 8 states of Northeast can’t be covered in the blink of an eye. You need proper planning and itinerary to support that. It requires minimum TWO MONTHS to scratch the surface of each state if you intend to visit the popular tourist spots in each state.
TRANSPORTATION & ROAD CONDITION
The gateway to Northeast India is Guwahati, which is well connected via flights and trains from major cities in India. From Guwahati, you can easily visit Meghalaya which is the nearest state. You can visit this state via road by taking Meghalaya state transport buses, private cab or shared taxi.
For Mizoram, either you can take a flight from Guwahati, Kolkata, Silchar and Imphal to Aizawl or opt for a cab. Distance between Guwahati and Aizawl is over 500 km and it will take more than 19 hours.
When it comes to Arunachal Pradesh, there is no direct flight to the state. However, you can choose to fly to the nearest airport to Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, is Lilabari in Assam. Otherwise, you can fly to Guwahati from any major cities in India and take a cab to reach the state. There are trains to a few destinations in the state from Guwahati, but it is advised to opt for private cab or shared taxi.
Nagaland can be reached easily via flight. You can fly to Dimapur from Kolkata and Dibrugarh. There are trains to reach Dimapur from Guwahati as well. You can also opt for bus and cab to reach the state.
You can avail direct flights from Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Guwahati & other major cities of North Eastern states to reach Manipur. One can also opt for overnight bus service from Guwahati to Imphal.
To reach Sikkim, you will have to take flights till Bagdogra in West Bengal from Delhi. New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri are two nearest rail stations to reach Sikkim. Private cabs are available from airport and train station to reach Gangtok. Easiest way to reach Tripura is via flights from Delhi, Guwahati and Kolkata.
There are no Volvo bus services to reach each state in Northeast India. You have to consider the road conditions and distance between states in Northeast before you plan your trip. You should not compare transportation system of Northeast India with Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand roadways and Volvo AC bus services. The road condition is not great in many parts of the north-eastern states, especially Mizoram and Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Whereas, Assam and Meghalaya have the best road condition where you can enjoy smooth driving. So it is highly advisable to choose privately hired cab in Northeast India to avoid any kind of unpleasant situation.
When it comes to infrastructures in Northeast India, it has improved in recent years. States like Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Manipur have excellent road condition. When it comes to hotel accommodations, road conditions, usual electricity supply or ways of living, especially in the remote part, they are still not up to the mark. All the capital cities of the states in Northeast India are connected well via flights, train and bus. Also, they are well equipped with accommodation options ranging from luxury to budget. But, leaving aside the capital cities, once you visit the remote parts of any state in Northeast India, due to connectivity, poor road condition, and lack of proper accommodation, still makes it difficult to travel on your own. It is always better to travel with a tour operator in Northeast for that matter. Don’t expect high speed WIFI connection everywhere in Northeast. In some places, your phone will also not work due to lack of mobile networks. Places like, Basar in Arunachal Pradesh is still relying on BSNL (Post Paid) mobile network. You will not get proper signals if you are having Airtel or Vodafone.
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You will get hotel accommodations in most of the cities in Northeast India. If you are expecting a high standard of luxury hotels, you will surely get in Guwahati in Assam which is the most modern and well-connected city compared to other cities. Tourism has increased in Northeast India in recent years, resulting in more accommodation options. It has also raised the bar of standard and hospitality in the hotels across Northeast. But, if you are moving ahead towards offbeat destinations in Northeast India, you should not expect the same standard of hospitality and accommodation options in the remote places. These places are yet to be accustomed with the norms of hospitality.
You should always opt for Home stays in the remote places. The locals not only welcome you with warm hearts but also make you feel at home. Though, you will get the basic amenities there. But you should not expect a high standard of facilities and amenities in the home stays. You are living with the locals and you need to adopt their way of life in their land. One needs to be open to embrace the changes instead of comparing it with other home-stay facilities across the globe. Places like Mechuka, Basar and Anini in Arunachal Pradesh and Mon in Nagaland do not have hotels. You will only rely on Home stays in these areas. While choosing home stays, you are also helping the locals earn and contributing to the economic development in a small way.
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LEARN ABOUT THE LOCALS
Before you head to Northeast India, you must learn about the locals, their way of life, culture, food habits, etc. It helps you immensely to soak in the environment easily rather feeling out of place in a new terrain. Having basic knowledge about the locals is an important aspect of travelling to a land of tribal communities. Their way of life is way different from our daily life in the cities. The age-old customs, traditions, rituals, festivals, attires, food habits, daily routine, livelihood, etc., are different in each tribal community. The locals in Northeast India are very warm-hearted people. They are timid. So don’t get intimidated by their behavior so quickly. Once you know them well, they become the best of the hosts you would ever come across.
The best way to do that is to do a basic research before your trip or ask your local guide beforehand. Communication is the key for this and it is always great to have a conversation with the locals to know more about them. I always prefer to stay at home-stays with the locals. It gives me a better understanding of their lifestyle, culture and their traditions. Share smiles with them that diminish the boundaries between two worlds. Attend their festivals and try to live like a local. The more you try to understand the social fabric of the communities, the more it brings you closer to the locals.
Northeast India is heaven for food lovers, especially for non-vegetarians. You would be amazed to get the most relishing platter of cuisines across the North eastern states. The authentic dishes like Tangy Fish Curry and Aloo Pitika (mashed potatoes ) from Assam, Smoked Pork from Nagaland, Jadoh – a pungent pork pulau from Meghalaya, Thukpa from Sikkim to Manipur’s Iromba, you will be overwhelmed with the variety of delectable local dishes in this part of India. This is just a few of them from the vast variety of cuisines each state has to offer from their culinary history. Sikkim is where you get the best momo in Northeast India. If you are a vegetarian, you would get basic Daal (lentil soup), Rice and fried vegetables everywhere. So it would not be a major problem to survive in Northeast India for vegetarians specially. Apart from that, you get a variety of fruits in the local markets to depend on. Don’t forget to eat with the locals in the most authentic way.
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I had the best time sampling Galo cuisines in the most rustic set-up in the forest with the locals in the remote Sago village in Arunachal Pradesh. Also, try the pungent home-brewed local beer of each state. The process of making the local beer is different from community to community. There are different names for the local drink in different states. The local home-made beer is called Poka in Basar, Apong in Assam and Chhang in Mechuka, etc. Normally the local beer in Northeast India is served in Bamboo tumbler. You will also find bamboo shoots in a few dishes, especially in Meghalaya. Overall, food in Northeast India is nothing but heavenly.
MOBILE CONNECTIVITY & WIFI
The mobile connectivity is one challenging aspect of Northeast India. Though you get fairly good connectivity in the capital cities of each state and a few other places as well. But if you are expecting a high speed WIFI in your hotel, you are in for a disappointment. Once you are out of capital cities and head towards the remote part of the region, the mobile connectivity is not that promising. However, if you are using BSNL postpaid, it will work fairly well in Northeast India. Airtel and Vodafone also work well in Northeast India.
How to reach Northeast India?
The gateway of Northeast India is Guwahati, the capital of the state of Assam. Guwahati is well connected via flights and trains from all the major cities in India. You can take a flight from Guwahati or Delhi to other Northeastern states like Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Sikkim, etc. The closest state to explore from Assam is Meghalaya. It takes hardly 3 hours to reach the Abode of Clouds via bus, private hired cab or shared taxi. If you wish to visit Arunachal Pradesh, you can either opt for a road trip via Assam or take a direct flight to Dibrugarh from Delhi and embark on a road trip to reach the state. The Harmuti train station in Assam is the nearest train station connecting Arunachal Pradesh to other major cities of India. One can fly to Dimapur from Dibrugarh (Assam), Delhi and Kolkata. Otherwise, you can take a direct flight to Guwahati and then opt for a train journey to Dimapur. You can take an overnight bus from Guwahati to reach Dimapur as well. (Read TRANSPORTATION & ROAD CONDITION section above for complete details)
When to visit Northeast India?
The best time to visit Northeast India is from the month of October to April. You get the best weather to accompany you during this period. The rain drenched nature looks absolutely mesmerizing after the monsoon. I suggest October month to travel in Northeast as the winter just begins to set in and the weather is just perfect to wander around.I strongly advise not to plan your Northeast Trip during the monsoon. Due to heavy rains, many places in Assam gets badly affected and causes flood situations and landslides are also very common during this season. The best way to explore the beauty of this region is to plan during various festivals in different parts of Northeast India which are mostly scheduled from September to April.
Which are the popular upcoming festivals (2020) in Northeast India?
(I have included festivals that are celebrated between September to April only)
- Ziro Music Festival, Arunachal Pradesh
- Anthurium Festival, Mizoram
- NH7 Weekender, Shillong, Meghalaya
- Mechuka Adventure Festival, Arunachal Pradesh
- Sangai Festival, Manipur
- Wangala Festival, Meghalaya
- Nongkrem Dance Festival, Meghalaya
- Hornbill Festival, Nagaland
- Basar Confluence Festival, Basar, Arunachal Pradesh
- Orange Festival, Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh
- Losoong Festival, Sikkim
- Magh Bihu Festival, Assam
- Losar Festival, Arunachal Pradesh
- Rangali Bihu Festival, Assam
- Aoling Festival, Nagaland
- Mopin Festival, Arunachal Pradesh
Where to go in Northeast India?
The best way to start your Northeast India expedition is from Assam as it is the gateway to this region. Whether it is Kaziranga National Park, famous Kamakhya Temple, silk town, the biggest river island named Majuli, Tea gardens and the bungalows, Satras (Monasteries), you will be introduced to the rich cultural heritage of Assam on your very first visit.
The closest state to Assam is Meghalaya where you will be mesmerized by the cloud-laden landscapes, hospitality of Khasi tribes, cleanest village, Root Bridges and the second wettest place on earth called Cherrapunji. Continuing your sojourn to Nagaland, the land of tribal communities, to observe their unique way of life and the village of head hunters in Mon, capital city Kohima, trek to Dzukou valley & visit to green village named Khonoma.
Close to Nagaland is Manipur where you will be surprised to see the floating garden, named the Loktak Lake. Don’t miss Ima keithal in Imphal, a market run by women only. There are tranquil places like Ukhrul, Thoubal, Senapati in Manipur, which are worth a visit.
Sikkim offers a lot, from monasteries, snow-capped mountains, tea gardens to one of the highest mountain passes. You will be spellbound by the compelling views in the state of Sikkim. When it comes to Arunachal Pradesh, this is the biggest state geographically in Northeast India. From Itanagar, Tawang, Ziro, Dambuk to Mechuka, you will be stunned by the eye-arresting beauty it offers. With more than 100 sub tribes and 26 major tribes, this state is a paradise for people who love to explore ethnic culture in Northeast.
In Mizoram, don’t miss places like Aizawl, Champhai, Thenzawl, Hmuifang, etc. Don’t miss the Ujjayanta Palace in Agartala whenever you plan a trip to Tripura. Apart from that, Sepahijala wildlife Sanctuary, Neermahal Palace, Unakoti and Jampui hills, should be on your bucket list.
What to carry?
The weather in Northeast India is unpredictable. You can be welcomed by rain anytime anywhere. So it is advisable to carry a raincoat and umbrella with you always. If you are planning to travel in winter season, don’t underestimate the cold in this region. In some of the places it gets ice cold. So don’t forget to carry heavy woolens, cap, hats, gloves, woolen socks, two pair of walking shoes, etc. You can’t afford to miss mosquito repellent in your bag. Also, since you will be travelling to the protected areas in Northeast India, don’t forget to carry your IDENTITY PROOF (passport/voter ID, Aadhaar card, etc.) as you can be stopped anywhere for checking your documents. I don’t need to remind you of the basic travel essentials.
Travel Tips for Northeast India
- Be respectful towards the people of the region.
- Don’t involve yourself in any kind of arguments and altercation with the locals.
- Dress moderately when you visit the remote corners in the region.
- Don’t disturb the Ecosystem of the place.
- Kindly follow the house rules when you opt for home-stays. Every tribal community has certain house rules and it is important to follow them when you stay in their household.
- Don’t judge the communities based on their food habits and lifestyle. Try to embrace the lifestyle during your stay.
- Don’t wander around to unknown terrain alone. Always step out with a local.
- In case of any emergency, take help from the locals and communicate the same to your tour agent.
- Don’t expect city luxuries in the villages in Northeast India. Rather, enjoy the luxuries of unparalleled views of the mountains, unpretentious nature of the humble people and unbeatable hospitality of the locals.
- Don’t litter and throw garbage anywhere.
- The communities in Northeast India are predominantly non-vegetarian, albeit you will find basic Daal, Rice & Mix Vegetables,etc., there. If you are a vegetarian, make sure that you are aware of the food habits of the places you are heading to. It is pointless complaining about the food after you reach the destination. If you can’t compromise on the food, you must re-consider visiting this part of India.
- When in Northeast India, try to live like a local.
Mind-Blowing Facts about NORTHEAST INDIA
- The Northeast is the only part of India, which the Mughals could not occupy during their reign.
- The Ahom Dynasty of Assam is the longest unbroken dynasty in Indian history.
- Mawsynram in Meghalaya holds the Guinness World Record of being the wettest place on Earth.
- Around 220 languages are spoken in the states of the Northeast.
- The world’s largest river island, the Majuli, is in Assam.
- Arunachal Pradesh is the easternmost state of India, which witnesses the first sunrise.
- The world’s smallest inhabited river island in the world named Umananda is in Guwahati, Assam.
- Mawlynnong in Meghalaya is the cleanest village in Asia.
- Digboi in Assam has the oldest oil well in operation in India.
- Assam is the largest tea-growing region in the world.
- Mizoram and Tripura have ranked 3rd & 5th on highest literacy rate in India.
- Golden/Muga silk is produced only in Assam and nowhere else in the world.
- Meghalaya has the matrilineal society where women inherit land, children take their mothers’ names, and men start living with wife’s family after marriage.
- The Siliguri corridor joining the rest of the mainland India with Northeast is called the Chicken’s Neck.
- The Barter System is still practiced during Jonbeel Mela only in Assam.
- Nearly 70 per cent of the country’s orchids are found in Northeast India.
- Northeast India is a dowry-free region in India.
- Tawang Monastery is the largest Buddhist monastery in India and the second largest in the world.
- Longwa village, home to Asia’s oldest headhunting tribe, Konyak, is situated in the Mon district of Nagaland. The village sprawls over the border of Myanmar. The chief’s house lies partially divided between Nagaland and Myanmar.
- Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, is India’s first city to adopt a’No-Honking’ policy.
- Assam Rifles had been the country’s oldest and largest paramilitary force, founded in the year 1835.
- Orang National Park in Assam has the highest density of tigers in any national park in India.
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