Abhijeet Deshpande, author of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey, shares some ideas about places to see and things to do that make up for compelling reasons to visit North East India – sooner than later.
Sometimes, the challenge of sorting through gems and picking up a select few can make those left behind, exclusive. It is particularly true of Northeast India and it is what makes the region evermore mysterious. The possibility of discovery accompanies every visitor’s footsteps, and follows every story from the region. Go on, see for yourself!
For those who do not know, Northeast India comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles her people follow. That NE India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.
Reasons to visit Northeast India – let’s break it down!
With over fifteen national parks, including Loktak – the world’s only floating national park, and even more wildlife sanctuaries, North East India is home to a variety of fauna – be it birds, reptiles, or mammals. Ready for a safari? Your prize could be mightier than you think!
The Siberian Amur Falcon, on its way to southern Africa, makes a pit stop in Wokha, Nagaland. Besides, kingfishers, hornbills, and storks are at home here. The Sangai deer (also known as the dancing deer) and other antelopes, water buffaloes, elephants, the endangered red panda, Bengal tiger, gibbons, golden langur, and many more mammal species can be spotted in North East India.
02. Nature and landscape
With a substantial percentage of its area under forest cover, North East India may easily be referred to as lungs of the east. From the snow-capped, third-highest mountain in the world, to highlands, to plateaus and plains, to mighty rivers, waterfalls, and lakes, to the world’s largest inhabited river-island, North East India packs all this and more in a relatively small area.
If you ever get tired of all that, the lush green rice paddies or perhaps a cup of classic tea might keep you in for longer! Norttheast’s stunning landscapes would likely make you breathe in mindfulness.
Visit Moirang (Manipur) to witness the ground where Indian National Army, led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, defeated the British and formed the first provisional government of independent India. Or, go to Agartala, to see the Ujjayanta Palace, a museum now, to experience the erstwhile royalty of Tripura.
Learn about the legends of the region. Did you know that the Mughals suffered utter humiliation in northeast India? When you cross the Siliguri corridor, you are knocking at the gates of erstwhile Ahom territory. At nearly 600 years, it was one of India’s longest reigning kingdoms. Lachit Borphakun, its famous commander, had delivered a demoralizing defeat to a more powerful Mughal army in the battle of Saraighat. The Brahmaputra river hosts a tall statue of this braveheart and his soldiers. There’s more history to Northeast India than meets the eye.
Do you like visiting archeological sites and relics or an era gone by? You are spoilt for choices in Northeast India. How about the 14th century Malinithan Temple in Arunachal Pradesh? Or how about a garden of monoliths that once served as a marketplace? This lesser-known but nonetheless significant site is located in Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. These are not the only northeastern states to look for relics.
Legend has it that ten million Gods and Goddesses once assembled in Tripura. In the Indian counting system, ten million is one crore or a koti in Bengali. After a fallout, Shiva, one of Hinduism’s Trinity of Gods, had cursed them, casting them into stone. Some believe that the relics of Unakoti (one less than a koti) in Kailashahar refers to this mythological event. Elsewhere in the state, artists fleeing persecution in Bangladesh stopped by Gomati river and left a legacy of mysterious rock carvings at Chhabimura.
05. Places of worship
Every state of North East India offers sites for the devoted. Listen to the pealing of church bells in the states of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, observe yourself in the silence of monasteries in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, or learn about the indigenous beliefs of various communities.
Did you know that divine feminine power, Shakti, is revered in North East India? Visit the famous Ambubachi festival during the monsoons and experience one of the grandest celebrations on earth for a beloved goddess. Or just witness the vibrancy in the temples of Assam, Manipur and Tripura. In a country of seekers, you do not have to go too far to visit a place of worship.
Tourism festivals offer a window to the communities and are ideal events to learn about their lifestyles. What do you expect when drums, chorus singers, and artists gather? North East India knows how to celebrate. It seems as if breaking the monotony of everyday routine is itself a routine here.
Besides, there are state-specific local and religious festivals. Some of the best performers and talented artists showcase the culture, culinary delicacies, and crafts. These northeast Indian festivals are incredibly popular and continue to attract increasingly higher visitors every year. You’ve been warned. Plan to book your travel tickets and hotel rooms well in advance!
The cultural landscape of the region emanates from its various communities, their respective practices and their respective heritages. Though we bracket the region as one geographic entity, these are eight highly diverse states unified only by their ability to nurture vibrancy and, quite literally, the art of building bridges!
From the languages and dialects her people speak, to the culinary delicacies they offer, to their traditional dressing styles, to the handicrafts they make, or to how they farm their fields – North East India is likely to offer a novel experience, be it a first time visitor or regular. Just avoid these mistakes when visiting the region.
08. Food and drinks
If you think food in North East India is all about noodles, soup and dumplings, think again. For everyday meals there’s rice, curries, daal, eggs, and smoked meats. The region offers one of the widest spice-spectrum and the variety of delicacies is likely to amaze you. From the chilli-laced eromba chutney in Manipur to the near absence of spices in Mizoram’s Zo Bai, you taste buds are in for a roller coaster ride.
While at it, try the local brews too. Be it the millet-based Tongba in Sikkim or the rice aphung in Arunachal Pradesh, homebrews are an intangible heritage of the region.
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Think North East India
For those who do not know what northeast India is like, it comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles her people follow.
That North East India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.
The region’s innate charms have remained under-explored. Travelers, who figure out how to backpack in Northeast India, find gems such as Dzükou Valley all to themselves. Importantly, the hospitable people of the region make sure that visitors take back the choicest of memories.
Meanwhile, pick up a copy of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey. It covers over two dozen places and attempts to answer the question – what is it like to travel in the region? Give it a read and make your own choices.
- The first and the only nonpolitical paperback travelogue on north east India
- Loved by the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia, L. Sarita Devi, M.C. Mary Kom, and Sanjoy Hazarika
- Perspectives to help you understand what to expect when you get to North East India
- Anecdotal evidence and safety tips that help you plan your own travel
- Consistently reviewed at 4.5/5 on Amazon and Goodreads
- Available as an eBook on Kindle
Have you been to or live in India’s North East? Its time to share your experiences and help someone follow your footsteps! Click The Dialogue Diaries™ – Interview Line for details and to get started.
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