Operating a tour company the conducts personalized holidays and educational tours promoting responsible tourism across North East India, I shouldn’t be writing this article but keeping in mind the technological advances and the way the youth like to travel these days keeping in hand the most important navigation tool viz the smartphone and unlimited data connectivity, I thought I could help travelers planning out their Itineraries as I belong to Assam in North East India and have myself spent quite some time backpacking across North East India across the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur. I also own and operate an Eco camp at Majuli Island in Assam – the La Lolat Eco Camp (backpacker’s paradise) and I welcome backpacking guests from across the World. Another reason for writing this is that while hosting guests at my Eco camp I have seen many travelers planning out their Itineraries wrongly where they start from one place and then end have having to visit the same place again as the terrain of this region is much different than other parts of India and being mostly a mountain country maps often turn out to be deceiving.
At certain times I have had visitors at my camp who planned on visiting Arunachal Pradesh the next day but didn’t carry a valid ILP as they were not aware that they needed to carry one. Some wanted to go to Manipur from Majuli but had already visited Kohima in Nagaland the only accessible road route to Imphal from Assam is via Kohima in Nagaland. Through this article I intend to help every backpacking traveler to North East India get a fair information about the region before they travel so that their experience becomes smooth and hassle free (keeping in mind the road conditions at certain places in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland your journey can never be without a challenge though :-)) The only thing I would request for in turn would be for you to come to explore Majuli Island – the Largest River Island in the World in Assam and stay with us at my camp here – the La Lolat Eco Camp! To be frank I haven’t explored Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim yet and neither do I conduct tours in these States but I do have quite a few friends from Guwahati who have explored these places well and have shared their travel information with me as well. Though I would write about travel across the States but a major part of my information in this write up would contain information on backpacking travel across the North East Indian states of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. So let’s begin planning your backpacking travel guide to North East India!
About North East India ~
‘Paradise Unexplored’ is how India describes its easternmost region, the North East India. And very true to this description, North East India is a land of breathtaking landscapes unadulterated by the rapid globalization of the world economy. The region comprises of seven Indian states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura also known as the ‘Seven Sister States’. With the addition of Sikkim to a part of North east India now the entire region of North East India comprises of 8 states.
With each of these states having more than 60% of their area under forest cover North East India comprises of a wide variety of Flora, Fauna and Avifauna. The region is the second largest hotspot (Indo-Burma) in the world having 8,000 of the total 15,000 species of flowering plants in India. There are 850 species of birds in the region – the like of white-winged wood duck, Great Indian Hornbill, Jungle-fowl, Pheasant, Siberian Crane, Indian Gray Hornbill, etc. The diversities of the animal kingdom includes the like of the famous One Horned Rhinoceros, clouded Leopards, Elephants, the Royal Bengal Tiger, Asian Black Bear, Indian Bison, Swamp Deer, Barking Deer, Capped Langur, Pygmy Hog, Pig tailed Macaque, Hoolock Gibbon, etc.
North East India is home to over 200 tribes. Each tribal community have their own distinct culture and traditions. They speak different languages, have different religious practices, wear clothes with distinct patterns and also have different ways of celebrating. These celebrations form a part of their festivals where these communities performs colorful dances, showcase their traditional cuisines and source of livelihood like their agrarian practices and their handlooms and handicrafts.
The North East of India is a true frontier region. Described as India’s Paradise Unexplored ~ North East India has over 2000 km of border with Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh and is connected to the rest of India by a narrow 20 km wide corridor of land. India’s North East is one of the most ethically and linguistically diverse regions in Asia with each state having its own distinct cultures and traditions.
Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, North East India is a region abundant in natural beauty. Wildlife, Flora and Fauna and its colorful people make North East India one of the must visit places in India. North East India is popularly known as “Seven sisters and one brother” comprising of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura with the brother State of Sikkim. For those who yearn for adventure and excitement there are mystique and romance in exploring wildlife in its true forms in their natural habitat, experiencing gushing streams and waterfalls, picturesque mountain ranges – all fostered by Mother Nature. North East India is a perfect holiday one could expect away from the crowd straight into the lap of nature.
North East India is ethnically distinct from the rest of India. In fact, within the region itself, there is ethnic as well as religious diversity with a great deal of interdependence among each other. The rugged landscapes, impenetrable forests and diverse culture of North East India lure both Eco tourists and the adventurous. The State of Assam is famous for its vast tea gardens. Assam is also the largest grower of tea in the World and its known for its unique Assam tea. Assam is also heavily forested and has abundant rainfall during the monsoons. It is home to the famous Kaziranga National Park and the mighty River Brahmaputra. The one horned Rhinoceros is the native of the region and also has varied fauna species of the likes of tigers, elephants and Asiatic wild water buffaloes to name a few.
Geography of North East India
North East India is landlocked and shares a long stretch of its boundary with neighboring countries of Nepal, China, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh. The Eastern Himalayan region forms the northern part and plains of Brahmaputra form a central part of this region. Assam runs along both sides of the river Brahmaputra all the way up to extreme north east. It connects with India through a narrow passage known as Siliguri Corridor in West Bengal and thus is the mainland to other sister states of North East India. Sikkim is sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan and is connected to other states through West Bengal.
Climate of North East India
North East India has a predominantly humid subtropical climate with humid summers, heavy monsoons and mild winters. Mawsynram in Meghalaya is credited as the wettest place on planet Earth. This region including and further down south western coast of India has some of the last remaining rain forests in this subcontinent. The States of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have cold, snowy winters and mild summers.
History of North East India
At the time of India’s independence in 1947, the complete region was only three States of Assam, Manipur and Tripura. Various independence movements led to formation of other States later on. In 1963, Nagaland was formed as a separate state and Meghalaya was formed in 1972 and was later declared as a state in 1987. The same year Arunachal Pradesh was formed. Shillong was the capital of Assam and after the formation of Meghalaya, Shillong assumed the status of Meghalaya’s capital and Dispur (Guwahati) became the capital of Assam.
From times immemorial, India’s North East has been the meeting point of many communities, faiths and cultures. A place renowned for its magical beauty and bewildering diversity, North East India is the home for more than 200 separate tribes speaking a wide range of dialects. Some groups have migrated over the centuries from places as far as Southeast Asia; they retain their cultural traditions and values but are beginning to adapt to contemporary lifestyles. The jungles and forests of North East are dense, its rivers powerful, rain and thunderstorms sweep across the hills, valleys and plains during the annual monsoons.
The lushness of its landscape, the range of communities and geographical and ecological diversity makes the North East India quite different from other parts of the subcontinent. In winters, mist carpets the valleys but swirls around the traveler in hills during summer rains, thus creating an enchanting and romantic atmosphere.
The festivals and celebrations in the North-Eastern States of India are a colorful reflection of the people and their lives. Throughout the year, different people celebrate festivals with lot of fanfare in different ways, most of them centering around their modes of living and livelihood mostly related to their agrarian practices.
Each state is a traveler’s paradise, with picturesque hills and green meadows which shelters thousand of species of flora and fauna. In addition, the states provide scope for angling, boating, rafting, trekking and hiking. Besides, there are a number of wild life sanctuaries and national parks where rare animals, birds and plants which will surely provide fascinating insight to the visitors.
Some facts about the States of North East India ~
Arunachal Pradesh: Receives the first sunlight in India, hence called the ‘Land of Rising Sun’. Just like sunset in Kanyakumari, sunrise in Arunachal is wonderful. It shares international borders with China, Bhutan & Myanmar. The Tawang Monastery is the Second Largest Monastery in the World and the Largest in India.
Assam: It has the largest river island in the world ‘Majuli’. It is home to the largest density of endangered One horned Rhinoceros population in the world. Assam is also the birthplace of Indian oil industry in Digboi and provides largest Tea production in the world. Assam is also home to India’s only Coal Museum. The State hosts the only market where Barter Trade (sale in exchange of goods) is practiced at the Jonbeel Mela. Mayong is the Magic capital of India and also home to the longest stone inscription in Asia that measures 3.95 metres. The Umananda island is the smallest inhabited river island in the world.
Nagaland: Apart from its diverse culture and the famous ‘Hornbill Festival’, Nagaland has contributed largely to the defence sector of our Nation. And not to forget, the legendary footballer Dr. Talimeran Ao hails from Nagaland.
Meghalaya: Has world’s highest rainfall in Cherrapunji and Mawsynram, its beauty is called Scotland of the East. Shillong golf link is the 2nd largest natural golf course in Asia. Shillong is also the rock capital of India. Mawlynnong was awarded the cleanest village in Asia. The Nohkalikai Falls at Cherrapunji is the tallest plunge waterfall in India and Shillong has India’s only Glass mosque the Madina Masjid.
Tripura: Most literate state in India beating Kerala
Mizoram: Third most literate state in India after Kerala. The only place in India, where the tradition of ‘Nghah lou dawr’ meaning “Shops without attendants” are common along the highways that sell vegetables and fruits.
Manipur: Its has a huge contribution to the nation in the field of Sports. Likes of boxing world champion M C Mary Kom and many national level players in different sports. Kebul Lamjao National Park is the only floating park in the World.
Sikkim: It is blessed with natural beauty all year around with snow peaked mountains and lush green mountain cover. Also, it hosts the world’s highest altitude ATM
Why backpack to North East India ~
North East India is one of the most beautiful places in India. From rich biodiversity across its National parks in Assam, the towering mountains of the Eastern Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh that remain covered with snow across the year, the beautiful landscapes, valleys and gorges of Meghalaya, to the legendary head hunting tribes of Nagaland, the Stone sculptures and Palaces of tripura, the Culture and people of Manipur, North East India is a story of a journey you will choose never to end. The State of Assam is home to five (5) major National Parks and eighteen (18) Wildlife Sanctuaries that boasts of a wide variety of diverse flora, fauna and avifauna including the flagship species – the Indian one Horned Rhinoceros. Assam is also home to over 20 major tribes who have a rich cultural past and their way of living is sure to invite the feel of ‘Awe’ in the minds and heart of any backpacker here. The lush tea gardens of Assam fill your soul with peace and walking around these tea gardens admiring the skill of the tea plucking workers who start work as early as 4 AM in the morning is a rewarding experience all by itself. The mysteries of the largest river island in the World – Majuli is very backpackers choice to explore as well.
Some of the unique facts of Assam are as below ~
- It has the largest inhabited river island in the world ‘Majuli’ on the mighty Brahmaputra River.
- It is home to the largest density of endangered one horned Rhinoceros population in the world at the ‘National Park of Kaziranga’.
- Assam is also the birthplace of Indian Oil industry in Digboi and the Oldest operational Oil Well in the World.
- Assam provides the largest tea production in the world.
- Assam is also home to India’s only Coal Museum and one of the oldest coal mines in India.
- Assam was a prime spot for the Allies in crushing the Japanese forces during World War II and the Historic Stilwell Road originates at Ledo in Assam.
- The three famous Silks of the World ‘Muga’ (Golden), the ‘Pat’ (White) and the Warm ‘Eri’ is indigenous to Assam.
- The ‘Kamakhya’ Temple is a revered ‘Shakti Peetha’ and is a famous Tourist attraction in the State.
- The ‘Rang Ghar’ at Sivasagar is the first Amphitheater of Asia.
- The State hosts the only market where Barter Trade (sale in exchange of goods) is practiced at the ‘Jonbeel Mela’ Festival.
- ‘Mayong’ is the Magic capital of India and also home to the longest stone inscription in Asia that measures 3.95 meters.
- The ‘Umananda’ island is the Smallest inhabited river island in the world on the mighty Brahmaputra.
The State of Meghalaya is another sought after destination for backpackers who love to explore the least favoured tourist destinations that are not yet touched with the normal touristy crowd. Meghalaya the name translates in Sanskrit to the ‘Abode of the Clouds’ and true to its words, Meghalaya remains covered with clouds mostly across the year that makes it home to the wettest places on Earth at Mawsynram and Cherrapunji. A land of pristine valleys, mountains, waterfalls, unexplored caves, sacred groves, monoliths and the Living root bridges, Meghalaya is a perfect destination for tourists from all phases of life. For families, for backpackers, for adventure lovers, for nature lovers, for wildlife enthusiasts, Meghalaya offers a plethora of beautiful landscapes that make you want to explore the place from various nooks and corners.
Shillong is the State capital of Meghalaya often referred to as the Scotland of the East, Shillong is a blend of the traditional and modern world where you can feel the rustic colonial charm and also witness the matrilineal system of Meghalaya in practice as you see most of the business entities being run by the women folks. Shillong is a bustling city with numerous high end hotels, resorts, high rise malls, numerous cafes and hanging around one of these cafes gives you a taste of the music scene here in the city where it is said that one in every four household has a talented musician. Cherrapunji in Meghalaya is a very beautiful location filled with abundant waterfalls, caves, pristine landscapes and the Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat village. Mawlynnong is the cleanest village in Asia present in Meghalaya. dawki is the border of India and Bangladesh and also known for the experience of the crystal clear water boating on the Umngot river at Dawki and adventure water sports at Shnongpdeng. Jowai in the West Jaintia hills is known for the abundance of monoliths and the truly beautiful Krang Shuri falls. So is the case with Mawphlang that is known for the Khasi sacred groves and the famous David Scott Trek trail that starts here. Mawsynram in Meghalaya is famous for its numerous caves and the hot springs. Backpacking across Meghalaya is sure to give you memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.
Some of the unique facts of Meghalaya are as below ~
- Meghalaya has the World’s highest rainfall at Cherrapunji and Mawsynram.
- ‘Meghalaya’ means ‘Abode of the Clouds’ and the Capital City of Shillong is called the ‘Scotland of the East’.
- Shillong Golf link is the 2nd largest natural golf course in Asia. Shillong is also the Rock capital of India.
- The Village of Mawlynnong was awarded the cleanest village in Asia.
- The Living Root Bridges of Cherrapunji are a well known tourist attraction of the State.
- The ‘Nohkalikai’ Falls at Cherrapunji is the tallest plunge waterfall in India.
- The city of Shillong has India’s only Glass mosque the ‘Madina Masjid’.
- The State of Meghalaya is the only State in India where the custom of Matrilineal society is practiced.
- The ‘Bara Bazaar’ is one of the oldest and the largest marketplaces in North East India where most of the Shopkeepers and Traders are women.
- Bamboo is found in abundance in Meghalaya and the extrinsic bamboo crafts of Meghalaya are renowned around the World.
- Mawphlang is a famous site of the Khasi Hills Sacred Groves and is the hub of Khasi Culture in Meghalaya
The State of Arunachal Pradesh is often called as the Land of the Dawn Lit mountains. Arunachal Pradesh is the largest state in area in North East India and is also the state that receives the first sunlight in India at Dong village. Surrounded by unadulterated landscapes, tall mountains of the Eastern Himalayas, Arunachal Pradesh is a place that has snow covered lakes, warm hospitality of the indigenous people, sumptuous local cuisine, indigenous traditional festivals, the beautiful Buddhist monasteries, varied flora fauna and avifauna, vibrant National parks, the rituals and customs of the local tribes and abundance of mysteries to explore. Apart from the major tourist circuit across Dirang, Bomdila, Tawang and Bumla Pass there are numerous places to explore across Arunachal Pradesh that would leave any backpacker enthralled. From the legendary Apatani tribes of Ziro valley, to the lovely snow covered meadows of Mechuka, to the legends of the Galo tribes at Pasighat and the Adi and Mishmi people of Roing and Tezu to the eastern most frontiers of India at Walong and Kibithoo, the first rays of the sun in India at Dong village to the vast faunal diversity of India’s only rainforest at Namdapha National park, backpacking across Arunachal Pradesh will let you know how our life is there in the lap of Mother nature instead of staying in a concrete city.
Some of the unique facts of Arunachal Pradesh are as below ~
- Receives the first sunlight in India, hence called the ‘Land of Rising Sun’. Just like sunset in Kanyakumari, sunrise in Arunachal is wonderful view to witness.
- It shares international borders with China, Bhutan & Myanmar.
- The Tawang Monastery at Tawang in Arunachal is the Second Largest Buddhist Monastery in the World and the Largest in India.
- It has the maximum number of regional languages in India
- The Pangsau Pass is located at the Indo Burma Border near Arunachal Pradesh and is also known as the ‘Hell’s Pass’. The Historic Stilwell Road runs through the Pangsau Pass.
- The Namdapha National Park is the third largest National Park in India and is home to the big four cat species – Snow leopards, Clouded leopards, Common leopards and Tigers. The Majestic Hornbill Species is also sure to be spotted here.
Nagaland is another state that is a backpacker’s paradise. Home to the last surviving headhunters at Mon backpackers to Nagaland are enthralled with the ancient traditions and customs of the Indigenous tribes of Nagaland. Nagaland is home to over 16 major tribes and have several sub tribes who have preserved their age old customs and practices. Travelling across Nagaland gives you a serious dose of clear and fresh air as much of the landscape is green and free from pollution. Nagaland offers immense potential for trekking especially across the Dzukou valley and Japfu peak treks. Visiting local villages to understand the life, customs and cuisine of the people of Nagaland is what makes a perfect backpacking journey across North East India.
How to Backpack and travel to and across North East India ~
The best way to begin your backpacking travel across North East India is to arrive at Guwahati in Assam. Guwahati is the largest city in the region and is well connected to the rest of the country with a well connected road, rail and air network. Guwahati is connected to major metro cities of India with direct regular flights and so it is never a problem to find connectivity to this city in Assam. From Guwahati you can plan your forward journey to other states of North East India wither by road, rail or air. Via airways Guwahati connects Pakyong airport in Sikkim, the Dimapur airport, the Imphal airport, the Agartala airport, the Aizawl airport, the Dibrugarh airport, the Silchar airport, etc. so if you want to save travel time you can choose to fly to any of these airports. But if you have time and want a comfortable journey by rail then Guwahati connects Dimapur in Nagaland, Naharlagun in Arunachal Pradesh, various towns in Upper Assam, Silchar and Agartala by rail as well. Connectivity by roads is available for all major tourist destinations in North East India and buses, local taxis, self drive cars and bikes are all available options to travel to the destinations of North East India.
Now coming to the permits and documentations required for travel across the region. North East India is home to various indigenous communities and in order to protect their interests and living standards certain restrictions are imposed the states with a majority of tribal population to prevent outsiders from coming in and encroaching upon land and resources. For example if you are travelling to Arunachal Pradesh, Indian Nationals need to apply for Inner Line permit (ILP) at the state website. While Foreign nationals travelling to Arunachal Pradesh have to apply for Protected Area permit (PAP) which is given to a group of 2 travellers and it can be obtained from 1. Govt. of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi 2. The Resident Commissioner, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 3. The Secretary (Tourism), Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar 4. The Commissioner (Home), Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar. Foreign Tourists visiting the State of Arunachal Pradesh shall have to pay USD 50 per head as Royalty to the Pradesh and application for PAP is to be applied through local approved Tour operators only.
Due to their strategic geographical locations, the States of Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh require specific travel permits. These are classified as restricted zone. The restriction to travel is not applicable to the States of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.
Foreign Tourists ~
All foreign tourists intending to visit above stated restricted states (except Nagaland) need to acquire Restricted Area Permit/Protected Area Permit (PAP) which comes at a price. For Nagaland foreign tourists need to report the nearest Police Station within 24 hours of arrival at the State. A minimum of two or more people can travel together to these States. These permits can be arranged from various offices i.e. Indian Missions abroad, Foreign Regional Registration Offices (FRRO) at New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, Chief Immigration Officer, Ministry of Home Affairs Government of India, New Delhi and Home Commissioner, Government of various States. We at Jungleideas can assist to arrange for your PAP for your visit to these States.
Domestic Tourists ~
Indian residents who wish to visit these restricted States need to acquire an Inner Line Permit (ILP). Inner Line Permit can be obtained from the Secretary (Political) or from the Deputy Commissioners of various districts as well as from some selected officers of the government in some cities and towns. ILP for Arunachal Pradesh can be obtained online at arunachalilp.com.
What to carry and when to backpack to North East India ~
The best time to travel to explore the States of North East India on your backpacking trip is from the months of October through may. This is when the rainy season subsides and the National Parks of Assam are open to tourists (which remain closed from June to September due to heavy flooding during the monsoon season). The climate across the region also remains favorable during this time although winter nights can get quite cold. So ensure to carry adequate warm clothing while backpacking across North East India. The short list of items to carry are mentioned below during packing your backpack:
- warm clothing
- rain gear (can never predict rains across the region)
- smartphone, tablet, charger, portable powerbank
- torch (electricity supply can be erratic across the remote locations)
- valid documentations (ID Proofs, ILPs, PAPs, Visa, Passport, etc)
- Cash (not everywhere do they accept e-wallets)
The day temperatures remain favorable round the year across the hilly states of Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim so these states can be visited across the year. At Meghalaya ensure to carry your rain gear and change clothing because the rains coupled with humidity would need you to keep changing your clothes on a daily basis especially if you are embarking in the treks here. Visiting tawang in Arunachal pradesh during the monsoon is however not advisable as landslides are a regular phenomenon during this period and you might land up getting stuck in one for hours. The rest if the State remains accessible across the year. Roads are good across Assam and Meghalaya so travelling by road is a good option in these states. The main cities of Nagaland are having good road conditions but not so with the remote villages of Mon and Longwa. The infrastructure is however on a path of development and soon we will see the road conditions improving.
How safe is North East India and is it safe to backpack alone
Tourism is gradually catching up across North East India and people from across India and the World have started visiting the area to admire the vast natural beauty of the places around here. although a majority of the tourists stick to the normal tourist circuit of Shillong – Kaziranga – Tawang other places have also started to gain importance among the backpacking travelers here. Tourism is a source of revenue generation and many locals have started realizing this potential and have harvested this potential to create a sustainable model that creates ample revenue. Certain places like Sikkim, Mawlynnong village, Nongriat village, Majuli Island, Mon, Longwa, Tawang, Kaziranga, Manas, etc. solely rely on tourism as their source of revenue so tourists are always welcomed with open arms and smile on the faces of the local people. Otherwise too, the people of North east India are always welcoming in nature and believe in ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ as long as you do not try to infringe upon certain boundaries.
In the earlier times certain areas of North East India was marred with insurgency and reports of violence were reported across these areas. Certain militant outfits like ULFA, NSCN, BLT were active and used to carry out terrorist operations across the region. Over the years these cases have now been reduced to nil as there have been peace talks between these militant outfits and the local and central Governments. Today most of the region is safe for tourists and backpackers have been travelling across the various corners of the region of North East India discovering places that are not even present in the tourist map circuit. The local people as mentioned earlier are always welcoming to all their guests and so you can be rest assured that backpacking across North East India is very much safe.
In certain permitted areas you travel along with documents like ILP and PAP and also required to report to the nearest police station within 24 hours of your arrival so that your record of arrival in the State is informed to the local authorities. In Assam and Meghalaya a copy of your Identification and VISA is taken by the Hotel/Homestay operators who report your arrival to the nearest police station as soon as you check in.
Food Options in North East India
When backpacking across North East India, you are in for a rewarding experience when it comes to tasting various different cuisines and recipes of the various indigenous people of the various States here. Across the cities here you will come across various food joints that serve delicious local cuisine. For eg when in Guwahati try out the Assamese thali for sure. There are also various traditional tribal restaurants like Singpho, Karbi, Tai Ahom that serve ethnic food in a complete traditional manner. But the best way to explore the cuisine of North East India is to travel across the region and stay with the local people in their homestays and check out the small eateries that serve traditional food. Like in Meghalaya explore the small roadside restaurants that serve real good pork recipes like ‘Jadoh’. Being a Christian dominated state, the cuisine served here has meat in abundance especially chicken, pork and beef. In Nagaland you can try the special smoked meat recipes along with bamboo shoots that they grow in abundance. The use of oil and spices are minimal in the food preparations across North East India where people prefer mostly to eat boiled food along with lots of fresh herbs and ingredients like garlic, ginger, green chillies, bamboo shoot, coriander leaves, fresh garden vegetables, etc. Do try the local rice beer and rice wine that are brewed freshly across the tribal homes of North East India. Once you travel backpacking across North East India you will discover the foodie in you and would surely want to try out the local delicacies for sure.
Accomodation options for Backpackers to North East India
As mentioned earlier, tourism across North East India is still at a nascent stage and categories have not yet been defined for travel here. People rely on travel agencies and tour companies who organize great tours across the region and make arrangements for the entire travel from Hotel bookings, vehicle arrangements, Safari bookings, entrance payments, etc. Although options for people wanting to travel on their own are coming up like self drive cars and bikes rentals, when it comes to accommodation options there are a number of places to choose from for your stay mostly at the popular tourist locations like Shillong, Kaziranga National Park, Guwahati, Gangtok, etc. but options for backpackers are still a few. The concept of hostels is new but the options of homestays are coming up. These homestays provide you a chance to get an opportunity to stay with the local people and learn about their life, culture and traditions especially when you come to a region that has a population of over 200 different types of indigenous people. These homestays are reasonably prices as well so it doesn’t pinch your pockets too much and you can save money to spend it elsewhere instead of having to shell out a fortune for stay at any of the luxurious hotels or resorts. When I will write about the important places to visit in North East India on backpacking I will mention about the accommodations available for backpackers and where to go to look out for these places as well.
Places to go out Backpacking in North East India
1| Guwahati ~
The gateway to Assam and North East India, Guwahati is the fastest growing city in the region. If you are backpacking to North East India then there is a 90% chance that you would be arriving and starting your journey from Guwahati itself. So while you are here in Guwahati take a chance exploring the city before proceeding on your backpacking tour across the other destinations of North East India. Although it is a busy city today, Guwahati has a rich historical past as the earlier ‘Kamarupa’ as is evident from the numerous ancient temples and monuments across the city. ‘Sualkuchi – the silk town of Assam’ and ‘Hajo – the holy land of the Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists’ are also located close to Guwahati. If you didn’t have time to apply for your travel permits across other states then stop at Guwahati to apply for the same at the offices of the States at the Nagaland house, Mizoram house, Manipur House, etc. For Budget accommodations here in Guwahati city look out for Homestays or head to the Paltan Bazar area near the Guwahati railway station that has lots of accommodation options to choose from.
Some of the popular destinations around Guwahati where you can go backpacking are ~
Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary ~ While in Guwahati head to the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary around 50 km from Guwahati city. Home to the highest population density of the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros species Pobitora is often dubbed as the mini Kaziranga. A popular birding destination as well. Go out for a day of Elephant or Jeep Safari here at the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary.
Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary ~ Another popular birding destination near Guwahati
Maa Kamakhya Temple ~ The Holy temple shrine of Maa Kamakhya Temple is one among the 51 Shakti Peethas and the most revered temple shrine across North East India.
Alfresco Grand River Cruise ~ With the mighty Brahmaputra river flowing across the city, spend your evening at one of the luxury river cruise dining experience while you are in Guwahati city.
Chandubi Lake ~ A natural lagoon formed during the earthquake of 1897, Chandubi lake is one of the prime ecotourism destinations near Guwahati city. go for cycling across the forest reserves, traditional fishing, traditional boating, staying with the Rabha tribes of Assam, enjoy jungle camping, etc at the Chandubi Jungle Camp here.
Suwalkuchi ~ The ‘Manchester of East’ – Suwalkuchi is home to the highest concentration of handloom weavers anywhere in the World who weave out exquisite handlooms from the indigenous silks of Assam – Muga, Eri, Pat, etc. Witness traditional weaving first hand at the local silk factories here as well.
Hajo – The holy land of Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, explore the Hayagriva Madhava temple and the Poa Makka shrine at Hajo.
North Guwahati – Go backpacking to North Guwahati to explore the Doul Govinda temple, Aswaklanta temple, Auniati satra, Kanai Boroxi rock inscriptions and the Dirgheswari temple here.
Temples of Guwahati – In addition to the Kamakhya Temple there are various other temple shrines across Guwahati most built during the regime of the Ahom kingdom dating back 600 years and more. While in Guwahati backpack to these temples as well of basistha temple, Sukreswar Temple, Umananda temple, Balaji temple, Geeta mandir, lankeshwar temple, etc.
Guwahati World War II War cemetery – Containing the burials of over 500 brave soldiers who laid down their lives during the Burma campaign of World War II, this war cemetery is located in the heart of guwahati city and was built and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Mission.
Umananda Island – The Umananda island is located in the midst of the mighty Brahmaputra river and is the smallest inhabited river island in the World. It is also home to the Umananda Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and the population of the rare golden langur species.
Assam State Museum – Explore the various relics and sculptures from the ancient era of Assam at the Assam State Museum in Guwahati.
Assam State Zoo cum Botanical gardens – Check out the varied fauna and avifauna species of the likes of Rhinoceros, Tigers, Lions, Leopards, Panthers, Hoolock Gibbons, Pythons, Hippopotamus, Hig deers, Pygmy Hogs at the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical gardens in Guwahati.
Regional Science Museum – Explore the Regional science Museum at Guwahati
Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra – Visit the Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra in Guwahati to get a deep insight into the lives of the indigenous people of Assam.
2| Shillong ~
The next popular destination that enthralls every visitor as well as backpackers to North East India is Shillong – the Scotland of the East and the State capital of Meghalaya. Shillong has always excited visitors to North East India because of its pleasant climate, the rustic colonial feel, the deep gorges and valleys, the canyons of laitlum, the beautiful waterfalls, the blend of traditional and modern cultures, the matrilineal system followed here, the charming cathedrals. Shillong provides a different vibe as compared to any other city in India. While you are in Shillong take a walk across the narrow lanes of the old city admiring the colonial era constructions and also witnessing the matrilineal style of living here as you see the various business establishments being run by the women folks (as the head of the family is a lady), visit the Police Bazar area in Shillong to witness the blend of the modern and traditional markets, witness the betting game of ‘Shillong Teer (an ancient archery betting game) at the Polo grounds in Shillong, visit the Cathedral of Mary help of Jesus, dine on some exotic Khais cuisine, visit the various waterfalls and have a host of other experiences as well that you would realize once you are in the city and start backpacking as Shillong appears as a different story to different travellers. You can hire private cabs from Guwahati to go to Shillong or take self drive cars and bikes. For shared transport there are Tata sumos and Swift dzire vehicles that start from Khanapara in Guwahati and take you to Shillong at around INR 400 per head. Transport buses ply from ISBT in Guwahati to Shillong. There is also a chartered Volvo bus that goes from ISBt in Guwahati to Shillong. There is no train service from Guwahati to Shillong.
For stay options, Shillong offers various budget accomodations in the form of homestays, hotels, resorts and hostels. Although accomodation options for backpackers are limited to a few hotels here like the Isabella hostel, Shillong dormitory hostel there are hotel options as well at budget costs ranging in the INR 800 – INR 1000 range available at the Police Bazar in Shillong. If you are ready to pay in the range of around INR 1500 – 2000 then there are many good accomodation options available. Try the White Orchid guest House in the Upper Lachumiere area in Shillong. This is a nice place to stay in a residential environment so the noise of tourists are greatly subdued here. During my visits to Shillong I often stay here and never have been disappointed once. For budget stay I would recommend heading to behind the police bazar area where you can find decent stay options. Upper Shillong also offers good stay options at budget stays as well like the Pine Hill homestay. If you are ok to stay at a slight distance away from Shillong then you can go to the NEIGRIHMS area in Mawdiangdiang area of shillong where you can find budget stay options as well (but mind you this is a hospital area so good chance of you having to stay with attendants of patients here). Communication in shillong is not a problem at all as various public transport options are available here especially the Maruti 800s that ferry you across the city for as low as INR 10.
Some of the popular destinations around Shillong where you can go backpacking are ~
Police Bazar – The bustling market area located in the heart of Shillong city, the Police Bazar is the prime tourist location of Shillong where backpackers can get to see a blend of the modern and traditional world. While one side you see the high rise malls and food courts one the other side you see local Khasi ladies selling organic vegetables, Naga king chillies, local bamboo handicrafts, etc. One one side you have fine dine restaurants while on the other you have small eateries that offer you traditional Khasi food. But the highlight here is the small counters that allow people to bet on an archery game. This is an ancient gambling game where people bet on certain numbers and the winning number for the day gets an amount 80 times his investment.
Ward’s Lake – Go backpacking to the Ward’s lake in Shillong near the Police Bazar. This is a prime tourist attraction of Shillong attracting hundreds of visitors everyday. Take a walk around the Ward’s lake which would turn out to be a good work out as well. Spend time boating on the waters of the lake here as well as feeding the fishes in the lake.
Don Bosco Museum – While in Shillong go backpacking to the Don Bosco museum at the Mawlai area here. The Don Bosco museum is one among the finest museum buildings in India and it illustrates the rich culture and heritage of North East India and its indigenous people. The museum building hs 7 floors and each floor depicts a different aspect of the lives of the people of North East India. Infused with modern technology there is an automated lighting system and display panels that have interactive videos to educate the visitors with details. There is also a skywalk on the top floor that provides backpackers with a n aerial view of Shillong city as well.
Umiam Lake – While in Shillong go backpacking to the Umiam lake which is an artificial water reservoir. This is a man made lake and the waters here are used in power generation. The crystal clear waters of the Umiam lake are sure to leave any backpacker here spellbound. Head down to the water sports complex here at the Umiam lake and enjoy boating on the crystal clear waters here.
Elephant Falls – While in Shillong go backpacking to the Elephant falls area in Upper Shillong. a beautiful 3 step cascading waterfall, the Elephant falls gained prominence after the earthquake of 1897 when the rock in the shape of an elephant got destroyed. Since then this has been a prime tourist attraction of Shillong and draws hundreds of visitors everyday.
Air Force Museum – Located in Upper shillong inside the campus of the Eastern air command of the Indian Air Force – the Air force museum in Shillong is a must visit place to admire the heritage of the Indian Air Force – the Guardian of our skies. display of various aircrafts are present in this museum.
Shillong Peak – Backpack to the Shillong peak area in Upper Shillong. This is the highest point in the East Khasi hills where you can get a beautiful aerial view of Shillong city. The Shillong peak area is again located inside the campus of the Air force so be prepared to go through a security check at the entrance gate. The lovely view of the valleys, eastern himalayas and a flowing river will leave any backpacker to Shillong enthralled.
Rhododendron Trek – While coming back from the Shillong peak area halt at the area where you see a board that says Rhododendron Trek and start backpacking here to embark on the pristine trek in Shillong – that takes you across a green forest reserve filled with rhododendrons trees and a few stream crossing as well. Discover various species of orchids on your trek as well. Hike down to reach the trek end point near Shillong.
Laitlum Canyons – Located a little ahead of shillong city – the Laitlum canyons shot to prominence after the Bollywood movie Rock On 2 was shot here. This has now become one of the popular destinations among the youth who visit the place to admire the canyons,k the valleys and the wonder of nature here. The laitlum canyon is one place near Shillong where you can go backpacking to seek peace and admire the gorges, the step stairways to a natural paradise, the unadulterated ewaters of the perennial streams and much more. While you are backpacking at the Laitlum canyons take time to head further to the small village crossing a flight of 300 stairs across the bamboo plantations and blooming orchids. Admire the life of the local khais people here who practice agriculture as their primary occupation. You can also backpack to the village of Smit here where you can visit a traditional king’s home which is over 100 years old.
Butterfly Museum – The Butterfly museum in Shillong is another nice place to go backpacking. This entomological museum has details about various butterfly species and well as insect species as well.
Sweet Falls – Go backpacking to the Sweet Falls in Shillong which is not very popular among tourists owing to its accessibility. This is a beautiful waterfall area as long as you stay in the area demarcated and do not try to take the treacherous route to go down to the waterfall. Many reports of visitors slipping and falling to their death have been reported here at the Sweet Falls.
The Local Shops in Shillong – Take your backpack and simply explore the streets of Shillong to get a vibe of the rich traditions of the Khasi people here. Always welcoming, speak to the local people about their lives. Understand the matrilineal system in practice among the Khasi people while in Shillong.
Mawsynram – Go backpacking to the wettest place on planet earth at Mawsynram while you are in Shillong. You can get shared taxis to Mawsynram and the drive is about 2 hours from shillong. Mawsynram is a tinsel village area in Meghalaya that records the highest rainfall anywhere in the World. Mawsynram is home to the longest limestone cave in the World ‘Krem Puri’ so when you are here take time to explore the place. Also you can visit the Jakrem Hot Springs area here. Visit the Mawsynram market where you can get to sight various traditional bamboo handicrafts that are weaved out exclusively with hands. Try out the local restaurants of Mawsynram that serve lip smacking Khasi traditional food of pork, chicken ,fish and beef as well. The smoked meat preparations are the ones to look out for here.
Mawphlang – On the way back from Mawsynram halt at Mawphlang to enjoy the pristine view of nature here. Mawphlang is the site of the Khasi hills sacred groves, khasi heritage village and the trek start point of the 16 km long David Scott Trek trail of Meghalaya. Backpack and explore the sacred grove forests of mawphlang, explore the heritage of the Khasi people at the Khasi heritage village and continue on your trek at the David Scott Trail to continue on your onward journey to Cherrapunji.
Mawlyngbna – One of the most pristine natural locations in Meghalaya, Mawlyngbna is located further ahead of Mawsynram and it is near the border of India and Bangladesh. A soulful peace sets in once you are here admiring the lush green mountains on your way to reach here. Backpacking to Mawlyngbna is a rewarding experience as this is every camper’s paradise. There are a few campsites here that offer you various retreats like camping in the open, cycling, adventure sports and much more. Do visit the plantations of the pitcher plants that are present at Mawlyngbna.
Jowai – While in Shillong go backpacking to the West jaintia hills at Jowai. Jowai is very renowned for the Krang Suri falls with its crystal clear waters. At Jowai backpack across the local market to get a true fell of the lives of the Jaintia people of Meghalaya. Like in Shillong, people in Jowai are majorly Christians. At Jowai head to the Heaven’s Cove resort owned by Mr. Bari to enjoy a day of tranquil here. Enjoy swimming by the pool, campfire, ATB ride and hike to the nearby waterfalls here. Also visit the Nartiang monoliths at Jowai. If you are planning your backpacking visit in the month of November or late October get to witness the Bacardi Weekender music festival of Jowai as well. The best way to access Dawki and Shnongpdeng are from Jowai and it is about an hours drive from Jowai.
Nongrum Island and Nongstoin – Next up backpack to the Nongrum island – the Largest river island in Meghalaya and the second largest in Asia ater Majuli in Assam. Around the Nongrum island you can find various waterfalls in the Nongstoin area of Weinia falls, Shadthun falls, Riatsohka falls, etc. There are many peaks and lakes in the Nongstoin area where you can go hiking and spend your day in calm as well.
3| Cherrapunji ~
After exploring and completing backpacking on the David Scott trail trek head to the Second Wettest place on earth at Cherrapunji. Cherrapunji the second most popular tourist attraction in Meghalaya after Shillong famous for its waterfalls, caves, natural landscapes and the Living root bridges. Backpack to Cherrapunji to witness the wonders of mother nature at its best. For accomodation options here there are hotels, homestays and resorts. Budget options for stay are limited and can be found the the Cherrapunji local market area, behind the Sohra Plaza homestay (there are 3 accomodations around the INR 1,000 range) also there are a few hostel like options at the market area a little further ahead. For best backpacker stay option near Cherrapunji I would recommend to head to the Nongriat village where there are are many homestay accommodations for backpackers at the range of INR 400-800. You can visit the Double Decker Living Root bridge here and continue to trek to the Rainbow falls and come out back to Cherrapunji hiking all the way across to the Nohkalikai falls.
Places to go backpacking in Cherrapunji
- Nohkalikai Falls
- Arwah Caves
- Seven Sister Falls
- Dainthlen Falls
- Local village near Dainthlen falls
- Cherrapunji Eco park
- Mawsmai Caves
- Tyrna Village
- Nongriat Village
- Living Root Bridge Tyrna Eleka
- Caves at Tyrna Eleka
- Jingkieng Nongriat Double Decker Living Root Bridge
- Rainbow Falls
- Riverside at Shella
4| Mawlynnong ~
After exploring Cherrapunji backpack to Mawlynnong in Meghalaya. Mawlynnong is the site of the ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’ and it is a small village of around 100 households. since many years the Khais community people of this village have been involved in activities to maintain and keep their village clean resulting in the village earning the tag of the ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’. Mawlynnong is located at the border of India and Bangladesh so you get to see a panoramic view of the plains of Bangladesh from here. Get to experience ecotourism at its best when you backpack to Mawlynnong village by staying at a local Khasi homestay and understanding their way of life and how they go about doing their chores and help maintain the tag of the ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’.
You can reach Mawlynnong from Cherrapunji via shared taxis. You will not find direct taxis to mawlynnong so from Cherrapunji you travel to the crossing where you can go to Mawlynnong and Dawki after crossing the Mawkdok viewpoint. From here you will find shared taxis to Mawlynnong via Pynursla. Total time to reach would be around 4 – 5 hours so plan your backpacking trip accordingly. At Mawlynnong there are various homestays for your comfortable stay but these are not cheap. All homestays here range from INR 1500 – INR 3000. There are a few local restaurants here that serve both veg and non veg food as most of the homestays do not offer you restaurant facilities. So you will have to eat at the restaurants that serve you veg food for INR 100 – 150 and Non veg food for INR 150 – 200.
Places to go backpacking in Mawlynnong ~
- Asia’s Cleanest Village
- Mawlynnong Cathedral
- Mawlynnong Balancing Rocks
- Riwai Single Decker Living Root Bridge
- Nohwet Village
- Skyview Point at Nohwet Village
- Caves at Mawlynnong
- Waterfalls around the area
- Traditional Khais Hut at Nohwet
- Trek from Nohwet to Riwai
- Life and Culture of the Khais People of Mawlynnong
5| Dawki ~
Another very popular backpacking spot in Meghalaya especially during winters is Dawki. Dawki is the border of India and Bangladesh and is renowned across the World for the crystal clear waters of the Umngot river here and the clear water boating experience here as well. Dawki is located in the West Jaintia hills with the river Umngot acting as a natural boundary between the West Jaintia and the East Khasi hills district. During season time hundreds of visitors come to Dawki to experience the wonderful time of boating on the clear waters here. While at Dawki, you can also get a chance to cross the border of India and travel to the no man’s land between India and Bangladesh and click your pictures here at pillar 1275. Although there are not many good stay options in Dawki various locals offer camping opportunities in Dawki in dome tents here by the riverside of Umngot river. Also in the Tamabil market there is a small lodge that offers visitors a basic stay option as well.
But if you want to experience traditional stays and also do not like the touristy crowd places then head to the Shnongpdeng village near Dawki. About 10 km from Dawki is Shnongpdeng which is every adventures’ paradise. Shnongpdeng is also a backpacker’s den that sees visitors from across the World and it offers a host of adventure activities like snorkelling, scuba diving, cliff jumping, kayaking, etc. including the boating experience on the clear waters of the Umngot river. There are a few stay options here for backpackers that ranges from campsites to basic homestays operated by the local people here. While at Shnongpdeng do try your hands at fishing on the river Umngot. Also get to savour traditional Khasi cuisine that is lip smacking and offers various meat recipes of pork and country chicken. Camping by the riverside at one of the retreats here at Shnongpdeng is a truly rewarding experience. From Dawki you can wind up your visit in Meghalaya and continue to Jowai or either Shillong to head to Kaziranga National Park.
6| Kaziranga National Park ~
After winding up your visit at Guwahati and Meghalaya, the next favoured destination to explore for backpacking is that of Kaziranga National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kaziranga National Park is home to the highest population of the endangered Indian One Horned Rhinoceros species anywhere in the World. The forests of Kaziranga is one of the most diverse biodiversity regions anywhere in the world and is home to varied species of flora, fauna and avifauna. In addition to the Rhinoceros, Kaziranga has a sizeable population of tigers, wild elephants, wild water buffaloes, four deer species, various primate species, various reptile species including burmese python, rock pythons and the reticulated pythons. Migratory such as Bengal florican, black necked stork, Hornbills are found here in Kaziranga as well. Kaziranga National Park serves as a midpoint on your backpacking journey to Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and places in Upper Assam as well.
While you at Kaziranga National Park along with enjoying the Jeep and Elephant rides here also visit the nearby tea gardens, tea factories, ethnic villages, wildlife rehabilitation center and the Kaziranga Orchid and Biodiversity Park. For backpackers there are numerous budget stay options at the Kohora range of Kaziranga National Park. This is also the main safari range in the central zone of the park. If you don’t want to hire a personal jeep ride into Kaziranga then you will have an option of sharing a jeep ride into the interiors of Kaziranga National Park from the Kohora range. Elephant safari rides can be booked previously with an operator here but will be conducted only in the western range of the park for Indian Nationals while for foreign nationals it is conducted in the central and western range of the park.
I will continue to write about the destinations in Assam from Kaziranga National Park to be followed by the destinations in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. But planning your backpacking Itinerary is solely up to you. From Kaziranga you can choose to either go to Kohima in Nagaland or Tawang/Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh via Nameri National Park. To keep a continuation in the writing I will be speaking in this particular flow. Do inbox me your choice of Itinerary and I will assist you in case any changes are needed to make your journey less hectic. Continuing further let’s speak about the Largest River Island in the World – Majuli Island in Assam.
7| Majuli Island ~
Majuli can be reached by crossing the river Brahmaputra onboard a ferry at the Neemati Ghat that would take you to Kamalabari ghat. From here it is another 10 minutes drive to the main town center at Kamalabari and Garamur. Majuli in addition to being the largest river island in the World is home to the Mishing tribes of Assam and hence offers an ideal village retreat to its travellers. The hub of the Neo Vaishnavism cult of Assam backpacking across the numerous Satras of Majuli admiring the heritage of the neo vaishnavism cult of Assam and the practice of one of the 8 classical dance forms of India – the Sattriya Nritya at the Uttar Kamalabari Satra. Backpack to the Samaguri Satra in Majuli Island during your stay and witness the art of traditional mask making with hands. Admire the various traditional masks kept on display and witness how these masks are used in traditional play performances.
Backpack to the Salmora village to witness first hand the art of traditional pottery making with hand which is also a dying art form as well. Explore the numerous villages here in Majuli that provides an ideal retreat for ecotourism. Witness first hand the art of weaving traditional handlooms on looms by the women folks of the Mishing people of Majuli. Also see the men folks engaged into traditional bamboo handicrafts. Witness the brewing of the traditional rice beer ‘Apong’ and the rice wine ‘Sai Mod’ and also get a chance to visit a local bamboo chang ghar home and get to savour ethnic Mishing cuisine cooked on firewood here in Majuli Island. Majuli is also a bird watchers paradise as every year thousands of migratory birds come to the island during winters and make the island their home. During this time the island looks no less than a colorful paradise filled with the chirping of these avifaunal diversity.
For backpacking stay options in Majuli we present to you the backpacker’s paradise – ‘La Lolat Eco Camp’ in Majuli Island. This unique property owned and operated by myself is spread across 1 bigha of land and offers traditional bamboo cottages and tented accommodations for backpacking travellers to Majuli. There are four unique traditional bamboo cottages that are priced at INR 400 per night. Also there is an individual bamboo cottage with attached bathroom priced at INR 500 per night along with a jungle tent with attached bathroom prices at INR 450 per night. We also offer dome tent accomodation raised on an elevated bamboo platform for INR 300 per night. Your stay at Majuli island is sure to be a rewarding experience on your backpacking tour across North East India.
8| Jorhat ~
Once you have finished exploring Majuli Island you can either choose to return to Jorhat or continue on your journey to Arunachal Pradesh from here at either Ziro Valley to continue to Mechuka or the other route to Pasighat via Jonai. I will continue to write about the destinations in Assam first then write about the other State destinations. So let us assume you choose to travel back to Jorhat from Majuli to continue to explore to Upper Assam connecting Arunachal Pradesh. Jorhat is the Tea capital of Assam and the Jorhat district produces the highest quantity of tea in Assam. This has resulted in the presence of World class tea gardens, tea factories and heritage Tea Bungalows in the entire area. If you are a fan of the morning cup of tea then a visit to Jorhat is must on your backpacking Itinerary to understand how these fragrant leaves are processed and packed and presented at your towns and cities bearing the pleasant aroma that refreshes you every morning.
To understand the intricate process of tea brewing plan your backpacking visit to the Tocklai Tea Research Institute in Jorhat. Here you can witness first hand the various process involved in processing of tea to the final stages. If you want to experience the life of a tea garden then head to one of the tea estates across here and seek permission to visit the tea plantations and the tea factories. If you want to experience a luxurious colonial stay in one of the heritage tea Bungalows of Assam then the Thengal Manor in Jorhat is an ideal choice for you. The same holds good at the Burra Sahib Bungalow at the Kaziranga Golf Resort at Jorhat. Just closeby is the Swargadeo Sukapha Samannay Kshetra that is a museum and art center dedicated to the founder of the Ahom Kingdom of Assam. This place illustrates the details about the various milestones of the Ahom Kingdom of Assam which you will also get to witness first hand when you travel to Sivasagar from Jorhat.
During your stay at Jorhat also visit the Jorhat Gymkhana club which was built during the British Raj in 1876. The Jorhat Gymkhana club has provisions for horse riding, lawn tennis, swimming pool, golf, cricket, etc. This is the oldest golf course in Asia and the third oldest golf course in the World. Also take time to step out of Jorhat town to visit the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar – Home to the Oldest Burning Oil Lamp in the World as well as the Lachit Maidam which is the ancestral home of the brave Commander General of the Ahom army – Lachit Borphukan.
9| Sivasagar ~
After exploring the tea capital of Jorhat backpack to Sivasagar to witness the heritage of the feared Ahom dynasty of Assam at their erstwhile capital. Sivasagar is about 2 – 3 hours drive from Jorhat town and is today a prime hub of petroleum exploration and refining. ONGC have their Oil exploration fields at Nazira near Sivasagar and this makes this town a cash rich town as well. Visit Sivasagar as your guide to the kingdom that couldn’t be conquered by the Mughals, visit Sivasagar to see the remnants of the grand Ahom architecture, visit Sivasagar to see the pyramids of India at Charaideo, visit Sivasagar to be a part of history of the longest unbroken ruling dynasty in India – the Ahom kingdom. While in Sivasagar visit the Talatal Ghar which served as the fortress of the Ahom army. Constructed with red bricks and a mortar of duck eggs and rice paste this fortress speaks about the grandeur of the Ahom constructions across Assam. This structure has survived some of the most devastating earthquakes of Assam in 1897 and 1950 and still stands tall. The unique feature about the Talatal Ghar in Sivasagar is the network of mazes that was built underground as an escape route for the Ahom army in case of any invasions. In front of the Talatal Ghar are present 3 ancient cannons used during warfare.
Next up visit the Rang Ghar at Sivasagar. The Rang Ghar is an open air amphitheater built during the Ahom regime and it served as the royal sports grounds where various traditional sports like wrestling, bull fighting, cock fighting were held earlier. Being Asia’s first amphitheatre the Kings used to watch the live performances of Bihu dance at the courtyards of the Rang Ghar as well. The uniqueness in the Rang Ghar lies in its construction where here too as in the Talatal Ghar the mortar used to bind the red bricks was made up of a paste of duck eggs and boiled rice. The roof of the building is in the shape of an inverted boat. A visit to the Rang Ghar is must on your backpacking visit to Sivasagar to admire the grand architecture of the Ahom Kingdom around 500 – 600 years ago.
Next up head to the Kareng Ghar at Gaurisagar. The Kareng Ghar was the summer palace of the Ahom Kings and it is a unique palace that was connected to the Talatal Ghar by the network of underground mazes. The fine red color building is a unique architecture to sight of the Ahom kingdom in Sivasagar as well. Later travel further to visit the Charaideo Maidam at Charaideo near Sivasagar. Charaideo was the first permanent capital established by the founder of the Ahom Kingdom Sukapha. The place was the burial grounds of the royal family and it resembles the pyramids of Egypt and are true objects of wonder to be sighted that speaks highly of the ancient architecture of the masons of the Ahom kingdom several hundred years ago. The total numbers of ‘Maidams’ – burials were over 150 but due to encroachment of land this number has now reduced and around 30 of them are now conserved by the Archeological Survey of India. It is believed that at the Charaideo Maidam when the King died he was buried along with his valuables and food for after life. Also as per some people even the King’s wife, pets and servants were buried alongside him (no facts to prove this). Although the protected maidams still survive, the ones that have been looted for the valuable can be seen as clear act of vandalism to destroy this place of utmost importance of the Ahom regime.
Another unique place to visit in Sivasagar is the Siva Doul temple. Located in the heart of the city of Sivasagar, Sivadol is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva built during the Ahom regime. The unique feature of this temple is the temple top where the structure is like a pot made of gold. The temple speaks of the grand architecture and is a must visit during the time of Shivaratri celebrations.
For backpacking stay options in Sivasagar you can head to the market area of the town where there are many budget hotels and lodges ranging from INR 700 per night and upwards. Try Ahom cuisine at one of the local restaurants of Sivasagar as well.
10|Naharkatia – Tipam Village ~
From Sivasagar you can attempt to access the Nagaland route to Mon and Longwa via Sonari. Again this choice is left to you as to how you would like to plan your Itinerary. But mind you public transportation across this route is not frequent and so you will have to plan your schedule perfectly if you want to access Nagaland via this route. Also the road conditions are not the best around here so be prepared for a bumpy ride on your drive to Longwa and Mon from this route. I will continue to write about the onward journey to Upper Assam. Next up on the list, travel to one of another fine ecotourism destinations in Assam at the Tipam village near Naharkatia.
Home to the Tai Phake people of Assam, Tipam village offers you a blend of nature, culture and local life of the people here. The Tai Phake Ecotourism Camp at Tipam village offers its visitors a unique stay experience amidst nature where you can witness the tradition and culture of the local people here. Take short hikes across the forest reserves, visit the old Buddhist Monastery premises, savour ethnic Tai Phake cuisine and relax and unwind amidst nature here. The Tai Phake ecotourism camp is however the only accommodation option available here in Tipam village.
After winding your backpacking visit at Tipam village head to the colonial era town of Digboi. Digboi is where crude oil was first discovered in Asia. Digboi is still a town of prominent oil interest and the IOCL operates its offices in Digboi town. The oldest operational oil well in the World is also present in the premises of the Centenary Oil Museum in Digboi. When you travel across Digboi you get an altogether different vibe as you feel you are in England as you see the huge Bungalows that were built during the British regime. Being an area of prime petroleum importance Digboi is cash rich town as well. At Digboi visit the Digboi World War II Cemetery which has over 150 burials of the soldiers of the British army who had laid down their lives during the Burma campaign of World War II. This war cemetery was built and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Mission.
Next up explore the Digboi oil town. Visit the Shillong road area here that has bungalows of the officials of IOCL and witness the rich colonial past here in Digboi town. Seek permission and get a chance to stay at the Hornbill Guest House Bungalow here. Also visit the Digboi golf course which is one of the finest golf courses in India. Also take the opportunity of visiting the Digboi Club here that was established in 1935. Take time to backpack and explore the Digboi Centenary Oil Museum. This museum illustrates the history of the oil industry in India and artefacts from the British Raj time as well. For stay options there are a few budget hotels in the Digboi market area ranging from INR 600 per night. If you do not mind spending and want a comfortable and relaxed stay environment then head to the Golai area near Digboi to the Namdang Guest House.
12| Margherita ~
From Digboi start on your backpacking journey to another area of the colonial remembrance at Margherita. Margherita was one of the places where tea plantations were started in India at the very beginning as the Britishers found tea plantations in India when they had explored the Singpho villages around Margherita. The Singphos were the first to cultivate tea in Assam and their blend of tea is known as the ‘Phalap’. Margherita was also where the British discovered coal and along with the availability of timber around the rich forest reserves, this place became one of the most important areas of business interest for the British in India with the availability of natural resources. Some of the oldest underground coal mines were set up around the Margherita area as well. The erstwhile AR&T company set up one of India’s oldest railway lines – ‘Dibru Sadiya’ railway to transport goods from this area to the nearest port at Dibrugarh. The practices followed during the British Raj can still be seen in some of the tea garden estates where even today the superiors are referred to as ‘Sahibs’ and ‘Memsahibs’.
Margherita is also a place where the highest concentration of indigenous tribes of Assam are to be found at the Ketetong village. The Singpho tribes of Assam inhabit the Inthong and Ketetong villages of Margherita and their culture and way of living can experienced best at the Singpho Eco Lodge at the Inthong village in Margherita. While backpacking in and around Margherita making at least a night’s stop at the Singpho Eco Lodge is highly recommended. Your stay will be in a traditional bamboo room with low lying mattresses in traditional Singpho way of living and you get a chance to savour traditional Singpho cuisine at its best. Try the pork sticks, pork with sesame seeds, chicken cooked with powdered rice, tupula bhat, banana flower and chicken and host of other recipes as well.
If you are a pocket friendly traveller then head to the Hotel Bluemoon in Margherita where you can find budget stay options and the Singpho cuisine can be savored at the Singpho Villa Restaurant near Baragolai. Take time exploring the Margherita area by visiting India’s only Coal Museum here. One of a kind in India, the coal museum at Margherita depicts the two forms of coal mining underground and opencast. There are also various relics and artefacts preserved here from the time of the AR&T Company, World War II, etc. Next up visit the remains of the Asia’s first plywood factory at Segunbari in Margherita. Although no longer operational you get to be a part of history here and witness the various old machinery that are kept here and were used earlier for construction of plywood boxes that helped the AR&T company to transport the finest quality tea from Margherita to various parts of the World.
The Margherita tea factory at Margherita is among the oldest tea factories in India so while you are backpacking around in Margherita visit the Margherita tea factory and see the processes involved in making of tea that brings forth to you the fresh morning cup of tea. Go backpacking to the tea estates of Namdang near Margherita. At Namdang visit the Namdang Bibi Majhar. This holy muslim shrine is the burial of two young muslim girls who started predicting the future of people from a very early age. Their predictions would turn out to be correct and thereby their fame started spreading across the area. However both the girls died at an early age and their burials are kept here. It is believed that your wishes are granted true here at the Namdang Bibi Majhar. From here continue forward to the Changlang area in Arunachal Pradesh. Changlang district is home to some of the indigenous community of Arunachal Pradesh like the Tangsas, Tutsas, Noctes, Chakmas and the Lisu people. The countryside of Changlang is sure to leave any backpacker mesmerized.
At Margherita again visit the remains of the 20th General Hospital. Built during the Burma Campaign of World War II to treat the wounded soldiers of the Allied Forces, this hospital was one of the ‘A’ Grade hospitals of the American Army. The soldiers who were injured during the construction of the Historic Stilwell Road were treated which also had in the list Generals the American and British Army including Lord Mountbatten. While at Margherita visit the countryside area here that are inhabited by the indigenous people of Margherita. Witness their way of life backpacking across the places staying in their bamboo houses built along the banks of the Dehing river. The people around here are very hospitable and welcome guests with open arms and a smile of their faces.
13| Ledo ~
Backpack to the land of the Historic Stilwell Road aka the Ledo Road. Ledo served as an important base for the Allied troops during the Burma campaign of World War II. When the Japanese had cut off the supply to China then to facilitate the movement of troops the American army undertook the mammoth task of construction of the Stilwell Road from Ledo (India) to Kunming (China) via the Pangsau Pass crossing Myanmar across one of the most treacherous conditions in the World. Backpack to Ledo to witness this part of history of World War II. Ledo is also home to the Mounglang Khamti Buddhist Monastery of Bhante Baba’s fame whose ring is adorned by thousands of people across Assam and is believed to have magical powers that averts any disaster towards you.
The historic Ledo airstrip here served as the landing grounds of the Allied forces aircrafts during the Burma campaign. Ledo is also the easternmost railway station in India. The opencast coal mines of Tirap are located near to Ledo and if you would want to explore the opencast coal mines here to understand the process of open cast coal mining then you can seek permission from the officials of NECF (CIL) and visit the mines of Tirap as well. Visit the Ledo Club here at Ledo to savor an evening drink and enjoy the place that once served as the Office of the First Governor General of Independent India – Lord Mountbatten.
14| Tipong Colliery ~
Among the oldest underground coal mines in India, Tipong colliery is gradually gaining importance in the tourism sector for being home to the Oldest Operational Steam Locomotives in the World – ‘DAVID’. The coal mining practices in Tipong were unique and hence across the World there has been introduced an underground coal mining method named as the Tipong method itself. Tipong is also home to the legendary Sumi Naga warrior tribes of Nagaland who had come here many years ago and settled themselves in the Lalpahar Sumi Naga village of Tipong and were known to be the fiercest head hunting Naga tribes. Although headhunting has been abolished now you can visit the Lalpahar village is you are short on time and cannot cover the Zunheboto district in Nagaland. Further from Tipong you can head over to Jagun.
15| Jairampur, Nampong, Pangsau Pass & Lake of no Return ~
This route is the easiest accessible route to Myanmar from India apart from the one in Moreh in Manipur. Every month on the 10th, 20th and 30th to promote friendship and bilateral trade between the two countries Indian nationals with valid documentation (ILP and approval letter from SDO Nampong) are allowed to cross the International border to go to the Pangsau Pass market in Myanmar. It is here that you can also sight the mysterious Lake of No Return. The journey happens along the historic Stilwell Road that goes upto China across the Pangsau pass market. On the way you can also visit the Jairampur World War II cemetery that is the only cemetery in India that has burials of Chinese soldiers who laid down their lives during World War II.
16| Namdapha National Park ~
One of the most beautiful and biodiversity rich National Parks in India, Namdapha National Park is India’s only rain forest and the 3rd largest National park in terms of area famous for its population of the Big 4 Cat species – Tigers, Leopards, Snow Leopards and the Clouded Snow Leopards. It is one of the most biodiversity rich regions in the World located in the remote corner of Arunachal Pradesh. Namdapha National Park can be accessed via Miao where there are stay options as well. The Namdapha Jungle Camp in Miao offers travellers stay options in traditional bamboo huts and they also arrange for your trek and camping inside the forest reserves of Namdapha National Park. The trek inside the forest reserves of Namdapha can be completed in 2 days where you head to the firmbase and hornbill camp. You can also visit local lisu villages and witness the life of the people living in such remote conditions as well.
17| Tinsukia ~
After winding up your visit in the eastern most parts of India at Assam and Arunachal Pradesh backpack to the commercial capital of Assam at Tinsukia. Tinsukia is located at the center point between various destinations of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and hence serves as an important trade route to supply goods to all these areas. Business establishments have flourished in this town and traders from various parts have found home in Tinsukia. While you are at Tinsukia head to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park at Guijan near Tinsukia. The Dibru Saikhowa National Park is among the 5 National Parks of Assam and is renowned for its population of Feral horses. This is the only National Park in India that allows you to explore the area of the Park on board a river cruise Deluxe boats are available for hire here at the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and offer packages like day tours as well as night tours.
There are eco camps around the area of the National park as well like the Banashree Eco Resort and Wave Tourism’s Eco Camp that offers you budget stay options while exploring the Dibru Saikhowa national park. After visiting this park take time exploring the market of Tinsukia town. As mentioned earlier Tinsukia is an important trade hub and hence various business establishments are found in this town. Head to the Prakash market are here and shop for various local and imported goods here.
Later visit the Railway Heritage Park and Museum at Hijuguri area in Tinsukia. As mentioned earlier the Dibru Sadiya Railway was among the oldest railway lines to be established in India and it passed through Tinsukia. The details of its establishment and the remains have been preserved at this museum. Also on display are various steam locomotives and steam engines that plied on this railway line hauling huge loads of carriages. There is also a toy train here that takes you on a jolly ride across the musuem. The area of Tinsukia was under the rule of Muttack kingdom and the king of the kingdom had dug out 9 ponds across Tinsukia as a symbol of benevolence. The Nau Pukhuri is one of the largest among all the ponds and is now a popular tourist attraction of Tinsukia town. While in Tinsukia head to the Bell Temple at Bordubi area near Tinsukia. The Bell temple or the Tilinga mandir is a unique temple where devotees come and make wishes and once their wishes are fulfilled they come back here and tie a bell within the temple premises as a token of gratitude. This has led to thousands of bells being tied inside the temple premises. Backpack to the bell temple to experience this unique phenomenon of faith.
18| Namsai, Tezu, Walong, Dong, Kibithoo, Roing, Mayodia & Anini
From Tinsukia backpack to the eastern most frontiers of India. These remote locations in Arunachal Pradesh are one of the most beautiful destinations in India untouched by the tourist crowd and provides you with pristine views of the Mishmi hills. These beautiful places are also untouched by huge human population thereby allowing Mother Nature to take its own course here. One of the finest destinations to understand the life and culture of the indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh like the Adis, Zekhrings, Khamptis, Singphos, Mishmi tribes. If backpacking is your forte and you are ready to give up certain comforts (good stay options, good roads) in life to enjoy in the lap of nature then backpacking to this part of North East India should be a must in your Itinerary. Visit the local villages to understand and indulge in the life of the local people her, visit the snow clad mountains of the Mishmi hills, catch the glimpse of the early morning sunrise at Dong village where the rays of the sun first descends in India, go on treks to locations not known to many in the World like the Glow lake, visit the eastern most frontiers of India at Kibithoo, etc.
Start on your journey from Tinsukia crossing the pristine tea gardens of Assam at the various tea estates like Doomdooma and then take a right diversion to to head towards Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh. The roads are good and the scenic backdrop of the Mishmi hills makes the entire area look very scenic. Ensure to carry a valid ILP/PAP for Arunachal Pradesh for Lohit district as this would be needed for your passage at the check gate before Namsai. Once you reach Namsai head to the Golden Pagoda Temple (Buddhist Monastery) at Choukham. One of the grand architectures of North East India, the Golden Pagoda temple is a prominent place of worship for the Buddhist people of Lohit district and a sole testament for promotion of peace in the region. The entire monastery area is painted in gold and the alter inside the premises is beautifully decorated with statues of Lord Buddha placed in the center. This place is very calm and serene and also has an International Meditation center in the premises of the Monastery. There are also stay options in the form of Deluxe rooms in the premises so that you can have a good place to rest before heading to the easternmost frontiers of India.
From Choukham continue on your backpacking journey to Tezu. Tezu is the district administrative headquarters of the Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh. At Tezu there are a few budget stay options at the Tezu market so you can stay here and explore the Parashuram Kund, Glow Lake and the many traditional art and craft centers along with the local villages. From Tezu head to Wakro which is known as the Orange valley. Wakro is known for its orange plantations and the beautiful forest reserves of the Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary. It is an area of rich floral and faunal diversity and is the home to the big 4 cat species – Tigers, Leopards, Snow Leopards and the Clouded Snow Leopards. In addition to these, other fauna present at the Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary are Elephants, Civets, Deer, Giant Squirrel, Flying squirrel, Capped langurs, Assamese macaques, etc. At Wakro you can stay at the Wakro Eco Resort which although is not a budget stay option but then there are not many other options available apart from the Forest IBs.
Explore the various local villages at Wakro and also sight the Orange plantations here. After Wakro continue on your backpacking visit closer to the eastern most fronts of India at Hayuliang. Hayuliang is a midway point on your travel to Walong and offers beautiful views of the Lohit river that flows into Arunachal Pradesh from China and later into Assam as the mighty Brahmaputra. Finally arrive at Walong. Walong was the battle grounds where the Indo-China was of 1962 was fought and China had advanced into Indian territory in Walong. It is here that the brave soldiers of the Indian army put up a brave resistance against the huge Chinese army. The Walong War memorial stands as a testament to this brave battle and reminds everyone of the bravery of the Indian army. At Walong you are to find very less human settlement and mostly it is the base of the Indian Army like you will find across is many places in Arunachal Pradesh like Sela Pass, Bumla Pass as Arunachal shares a strategic International border between India and China. At Walong the stay option is the IB in Walong. Make prior reservations here and start early on your trek to Dong Village to catch the glimpse of first sunrise in India.
Continue backpacking further to Kibithoo that is the last motorable road in eastern India. Kibithoo is again an army base and you can see the border of India and China from here. Further ahead from Kibithoo is the last village in eastern India of Kaho. From here you will have to begin your return journey to Tezu to continue further to Roing in Arunachal Pradesh. Roing is the district headquarters of the Lower Dibang valley district and it is the last major town of the north eastern frontier of India. Roing is home to the Adi and Mishmi tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh. Popular tourist attractions in Roing are the Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary, Sally Lake and Mehao lake. Roing is a quaint town with the friendly Adi people who welcome you to visit their homes and understand their way of living. Accommodation options are available in Roing with the budget ones being the IBs of the local government. Prior booking is a must though. A pleasure stay at Roing would be the Dekachang Resort here. Roing serves as the entry point to Mayodia in Arunachal Pradesh which is the easiest accessible place to witness snowfall in India by road. The entire area is a bird watching paradise as numerous bird species both resident and migratory make this area their home especially during winters.
From Roing continue backpacking to Mayodia – the land of snowfall. Mayodia is around 56 km from Roing and is a paradise for backpackers who want to experience snowfall. This is the most easily accessible place by road to witness snowfall by road and is a natural paradise as well. The journey from Roing to Mayodia is all the more exciting when you cross across mountains filled with trees and then cross a river on your car and suddenly come across snowfall. Mayodia is basically a high altitude pass named after a Nepali girl Maya who disappeared in the snow. This place is a secluded area and you do not find much of human habitation. The Mishmis of Arunachal Pradesh are the main inhabitants of Mayodia and you can witness their life here in Mayodia. The indication that you have reached Mayodia is when you see a signage that has Mayodia written on it and alongside the board is a small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva as travelers on their onward journey to Hunli and Anini seek blessings of the Lord for a safe journey across the narrow roads amidst snowfall to Hunli and Anini. For stay options in Mayodia there are a few homestays and the most popular stay options are Mayodia Coffee House and Mayodia 65. Continue further on your journey to the north eastern tip of India at Anini from Mayodia.
Drive back from Anini to Roing and then continue your backpacking journey to Dibrugarh. Along the way you will be crossing the Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Bridge aka the Dhola Sadiya bridge (the longest bridge in India) and again you will cross Doomdooma and Tinsukia to finally arrive at Dibrugarh (If you do not want to repeat crossing Tinsukia then plan your Itinerary to visit Namsai directly from Digboi). Arrive at Dibrugarh town another principal tea and industrial town of Assam. At Dibrugarh explore the Assam Medical College. The Assam Medical College was built during the British regime by Dr. John Barry White under the patronage of the AR&T company. This is the place where the first X-Ray unit was established in India. Explore the Jagannath Temple in Dibrugarh which is one of the most beautiful temple shrines in Dibrugarh town. Also explore the Bogibeel Bridge, Barbarua Maidam here in Dibrugarh. Dibrugarh is also an important tea growing region of Assam and hence there are numerous tea gardens around the vicinity of the town. This results in the availability of heritage Tea garden Bungalows present here so that visitors can get a chance to witness the grand life of the tea gardens of Assam. At Dibrugarh is you would like to live your life in the lap of luxury then head to the Mancotta Heritage Chang Bungalow or the Chowkidingee Heritage Chang Bungalow at Dibrugarh. Both these heritage tea garden bungalows are sure to bring in a respite after your days of backpacking around North East India. This will be an opportunity for you to relax on your tour for a day or two before you head on to explore further into Arunachal Pradesh. But mind you these accommodation options are not on a budget and is sure to drill a deep hole into your pockets if you would want to stay at these places. Instead you may choose to halt at other budget places in the market area of Dibrugarh. The river Brahmaputra flows across the Dibrugarh town so you can spend your evenings at leisure by the banks of this beautiful river.
20|Pasighat, Along, Mechuka, Daporijo ~
Next up continue on your backpacking journey to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh. Along your journey you will be crossing the Bogibeel Bridge – India’s longest Rail cum Road bridge. At Pasighat you will arrive at the oldest town of Arunachal Pradesh that was established in 1911 during the rule of the British empire. Home od the Adi tribesmen of Arunachal Pradesh, this place is becoming popular in the offbeat tourist circuit of Arunachal Pradesh especially after Bollywood actor Amir Khan’s visit here along with his wife on a vacation. A nature lover’s paradise Pasighat is every backpacker’s dream who wants to click amazing pictures of nature and also enjoy thrilling watersports on the waters of the siang river here. Pasighat is one place in North East India that still allows angling in its river waters. Most of the backpackers from across the World who come to Pasighat visit this place in search of tranquility and to witness the rich culture and tradition of the Adi tribes of Pasighat. The Adi tribesmen of Pasighat have been settled here since very long and are divided into a number of subtribes and they demonstrate a sense of democratic unity.
The Adi men wear a unique headgear and carry traditional weapons demonstrating their tribal hunting skills that they practiced from the ages. The majority of the Adi people of Pasighat still continue to reside in villages located atop hills and each village is governed by its chieftain called as ‘Gaon Bura’. The Adi people practice agriculture as their major profession and they weave out beautiful traditional handicrafts and handlooms. Although these days the Adi people hold respectable positions in the Arunachal Government offices as well. In Pasighat there are a few Hotels/Homestays that offer budget accomodation to backpackers. So while you are here take a chance to stay with one of the Adi family to learn about their life.
From Pasighat continue on your journey across the virgin mountains of Arunachal Pradesh to continue to Along. Along or Aalo is another established town in the West siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The beautiful valleys of Mechuka greet you once are here in Along. Arunachal Pradesh is known for its orange cultivations and this fruit is grown across the state especially at Along, Dambuk and Wakro. Arriving at Along is an interesting journey like in Ziro where you keep driving across forests and mountains and suddenly arrive at a large township filled with people. The Adi people inhabit Along as well. Along is a place to witness the life and habits of the people of the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh on your backpacking journey. The Yomgo river is the lifeline of the the people of Along and is an important tributary of the Siang river. At Along there are a few decent Hotels like the Tashi hotel. Some other budget hotels are to be found near the pharmacy line area of Along which are the Holidays Inn and Kanchen residency. Do not except anything fancy as these are remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh and the Hotels here are mostly used by local businessmen and administrative officers who travel on their way to Mechuka, Pasighat and vice versa. At Along you can visit the various orange plantations and also the Mithun breeding farms. One important tourist attraction at Along is the Patum bridge that is made of iron and passes over the Yomgo river. There is another bridge made of cane and bamboo that looks very picturesque and connects the town of Along with the villages of Tapi and Dark.
Also visit the local market of Along which is a bizarre market run by the local Adi women of Along. This market sees many stalls that sell local produce like vegetables, groceries and fruits primarily oranges. What is really unique here to see is that dried squirrel and rats are sold here in the Along market and are considered to be a delicacy in the local cuisine here and are also very expensive as well. Take time exploring Along before heading to Mechuka.
From Along head to Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh. Mechuka is the last town in Northern Arunachal Pradesh in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh and it is from here that the McMahon line separates the territories of India and China. Mechuka is gradually becoming an important tourist destination in the circuit of North East India and backpackers travel to Mechuka to enjoy the sheer beauty of nature here that is surrounded by the beautiful valleys covered with forests that have a majority of pine trees around their natural environment in Mechuka gives backpackers an immense opportunity of exploring the mountains of Mechuka via trekking allowing you to camp in the beautiful meadows enjoying the tranquil of the surroundings of Mechuka. Adventure seekers in Mechuka can go for river rafting and angling in the waters of the river Siyom that passes across Mechuka. Sometimes referred to as ‘Menchuka’, Mechuka is home to the Memba, Rembo, Libo and the Bokar tribes of Arunachal Pradesh who are native followers of Buddhism and Donyi Poloism.
The term ‘Menchuka’ translates to ‘Men’ – medicine, ‘Chu’ – water and ‘Kha’ – snow translating to medicinal water of snow. And why not with the snow covered peaks all around Mechuka valley the River Siyom is sure to have medicinal properties as it drains out melting snow from the mountain tops of Mechuka. The distance from Along to Mechuka is around 180 km and you can find shared Tata Sumo vehicles and Arunachal Pradesh State government busses that keep plying from Along publice bus stand to Mechuka. Mechuka being the border of India and China also sees a lot of Army operations going about. The Advanced Landing grounds of the Indian Air Force carries supplies from Assam to Mechuka. This ALG is also being opened to tourists who can fly into Mechuka under the UDAN scheme of the Indian Government via helicopters.
The valleys, the people, their customs and practices draws backpackers in large numbers to Mechuka. The local Adi and Memba people of Mechuka have opened up their homes to visitors here and at these homestays one can get to feel the local life of the people here. The Memba people of Mechuka practice fishing and agriculture as their major source of livelihood and tourism as an organized sector is gradually catching up in Mechuka. The best time to visit Mechuka on your backpacking itinerary across North East India is during the months of October to March. The temperatures are cold during the winters so it is advisable to carry adequate warm clothing. Avoid travelling during the monsoon season as the terrain is across mountains and landslides are often reported along the route to Mechuka. The 400 year old Buddhist Monastery at Mechuka is another prime attraction that must be visited and had various ancient statues to be found. Villages of the local Adi people in and around Mechuka to be visited are Gapo, Pauk, Lipusi, Rapum, Charung, etc.
From Mechuka head to the land of the legendary Tagin tribes of Aruanchal Pradesh at Daporijo enroute your journey to Ziro valley. Daporijo is another small town that is again a nature lovers paradise surrounded by bamboo trees and numerous green paddy fields. The river Subansiri adds to the natural beauty of Daporijo. Daporijo serves as an ideal holiday destination for visitors from all walks of life blessed with abundant beauty of mother nature. This place in Aruanchal Pradesh offers you an ideal retreat oto break away from the monotonous city life and high rise malls to a place of tranquil amidst nature that is postcard perfect. Daporijo offers numerous retreats like trekking, hiking, caving, river sports to all backpackers here. The local Tagin tribes of Daporijo are ancient people of Arunachal Pradesh who are friendly to visitors and offer them a chance to take a sneak peek into their lives. The Tagin people practice Donyi Polo as their religion where they worship the sun and the moon and during the traditional festival of Si Donji celebrated in January one can witness an elaborate celebrations from feasting to merry making. The food of the Tagin people of Daporijo are a real delight and they use all natural ingredients to cook their food and the special practice of cooking food in hollowed out bamboo tubes over charcoal fire is an interesting thing to watch. You should also try their local rice beer called as Apong and the Dung Po which is a specially prepared steamed rice. The ideal time to travel across Daporijo is again during winters from October to April months. To stay there are a few small hotels and homestays in the town that can accomodate backpackers to Daporijo. Shared Tata Sumo vehicles can be hired from MEchuka to Daporijo and from Daporijo to ziro Valley as well.
21|Ziro Valley ~
Ziro is home to the legendary Apatani tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. The Apatanis are one of the oldest tribes of Arunachal Pradesh who are known to very beautiful people. The Apatani ladies are characterized by facial tattoos and nose plugs which was practiced earlier to disfigure their faces as the women were so beautiful that the enemy on invasions would come and carry the Apatani women folks along with them. So in order to protect their women this practice was performed. But nowadays this practice has been abolished. Ziro is a quaint town that exists along on a mountain area in Arunachal Pradesh and this results in the place having a favorable temperature across the year. You will not find any house that has fans or air conditioning here. The entire countryside is filled with rice plantations and the complete area looks green. Free from pollution and noise a complete natural environment greets you at Ziro and all this adds up to the modern world as you have electricity and mobile connectivity. Walk around the village admiring the traditional homes of the Apatani people. Choose to stay at one of the homestays to understand the life of the Apatani people of Ziro. Savor traditional cuisine of the Apatani people and also try their rice beer and mind you it is quite strong and gets you a quick high.
Visit the Sacred groves of Hari Rantu and Rantu Pussu at Ziro. These sacred groves have trees that were planted when the ancestors of the Apatanis came to Ziro and have since then been considered to be sacred by the people here. Travel to Kardeo near Ziro to visit the tallest naturally formed Shiva Lingam here. This huge stone structure in the form of a Shiva Lingam is a prime tourist attraction in Ziro Valley said to be naturally formed amidst the dense forests of Kardeo. This Shiva Lingam was accidentally discovered by a Nepali worker who was working at a site close by falling trees. Today thousands of visitors come here every year to offer their worship and the mention of this Shiva Lingam to be found here was mentioned in the SHIVAPURANA in 17th chapter of the ninth section (Nava Khand ke Satrahwa Adhyaya) edition 1893 that the tallest Shiva Lingam will appear at a place which will be called Lingalaya and the later the whole will be known as Arunachal.
After the Ziro Shiva Linga backpack to the Talley Valley Wildlife Sanctuary near Ziro. This place is secluded from mankind is one of the most beautiful forest reserves of Arunachal Pradesh harboring a varied species of flora and fauna. The most prized fauna species here is the clouded leopard. There is also a trek route here that takes you deep inside the countryside here witnessing some of the local tribal villages of Arunachal Pradesh.
22|Nameri National Park ~
After Ziro continue backpacking to the State capital of Arunachal Pradesh at Itanagar. Itanagar and Naharalagun are both twin cities of Arunachal Pradesh. The Nyshi people of Arunachal Pradesh primarily inhabit the capital city of Itanagar and this is one of the modern cities of North East India. Itanagar is one the way halt from Ziro on your way to Balipara in Assam from where you head to Tawang and Bumla Pass. So after Itanagar continue on your backpacking journey to Nameri National Park in Assam. It is about 5 hours drive to Nameri from Itanagar and once you reach Balipara you have to take a right diversion at Balipara to head onto the Tawang route to go to Nameri National Park. Among the 5 National Parks of Assam, Nameri is also a Tiger Reserve and has a healthy population of this animal inside the forest reserve. This is only the National Park in Assam that allows visitors to go for trekking into the forest reserves to sight the varied flora and fauna. Nameri National Park is a bird watchers paradise and has many rare and endangered bird species including the likes of the White Winged Wood Duck. So while you are at Nameri take time to explore the forest reserve early in the morning to try your luck sighting at the bird species and if you are lucky spot a tiger in the wild as well. For stay options at Nameri you can choose Nameri Eco Camp, Camp Lalimou, N Palky Camp, Nameri Jungle Camp, etc. If possible enjoy river rafting on the waters of the Jia Bhoreli river here in Nameri National Park.
23|Dirang, Sela Pass, Tawang, Bumla Pass, Bomdila ~
From Nameri National Park to Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh. Dirang is an old town of Arunachal Pradesh and is mostly visited as a halt over destination on the journey to Tawang from Guwahati/Tezpur but is a wonderful natural paradise for visitors who want to travel on an offbeat path especially for backpackers. A little ahead of Dirang is the Sangti Valley one beautiful paradise in Arunachal Pradesh that is gradually emerging as the hot ecotourism destination in North East India. Sangti valley is home to the Monpa people of Arunachal Pradesh who have opened their homes to visitors to witness the rural life of Arunachal Pradesh that is to be enjoyed in these remote locate village here. The Sangti valley offers panoramic view of the Eastern Himalayas and the most wonderful bird-watching destinations in North East India. Visit the countryside of Sangti valley and witness corn plantations at its best along with ranches filled with sheep and the beautiful rivers and streams and the beautiful rivers and streams crossing by the place. Head back to Dirang to sight the Dirang Dzong – Dirang fort that is a place of prime tourist interest along with the newly constructed Dirang Monastery as well. Sight the apple orchards at Dirang as well as the Tippi orchard center here that has various species of indigenous orchids available on display along with traditional handicrafts and handlooms at the Dirang art gallery. Stay options at Dirang are few along with Sangti valley where you can find homestay options of the Monpa people. At Dirang the stay options are Hotel Pemaling (the oldest and the grandest stay here) and Hotel Samdrup Khang at Dirang. A newly constructed Aao resort is also a fine stay option here in Dirang.
From Dirang head further to the Sela Pass and Jaswantgarh in Tawang. The drive by road very scenic as it remains covered with snow around the year. Sela Pass is a high altitude Pass in Arunachal Pradesh and it gives you pleasant views of the snow covered Eastern Himalayas. Jaswantgarh is the base of the Indian army at Sela Pass and is a proud moment for any Indian traveler here when they see the brave soldiers of Indian army battling the harshest weather conditions and protecting their motherland here. Jaswantgarh is the place where a brave Sepoy (Rifleman) of the Indian army Jaswant Singh Rawat put up a single handed resilience to the Chinese Army during the war of 1962 before being finally captured. His bravery is still sung in the army contingent and there is a war memorial dedicated to Jaswant Singh Rawat and the other soldiers who laid down their lives battling for the honor of their country. The war memorial has a special memorial dedicated to Jaswant Singh where it is believed that Jaswant Singh is still alive and the army pay their tributes to his bravery. He is still offered many honors of the Army in due time.
The Indian army outpost here has a canteen as there are no shops in the vicinity and along the drive as well where the army serves free tea to the travelers to Tawang and also serve hot samosas. There is an army outlet here as well that sells unique army gear and warm clothes to travelers. After crossing Jaswantgarh head on your journey to Tawang. Tawang is the district headquarters of the West Kameng district of Aruanchal Pradesh and is home to the Monpa tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh. Tawang is home to India’s largest Buddhist Monastery and the Second largest in the World after the Potala palace in Tibet. This is a revered place for Buddhist from across the World. Tawang is one of the popular destinations of North East India and is a must on your backpacking Itinerary to North east India. While at Tawang explore the beautiful town of Tawang and the local market, explore the Tawang Monastery, the Tawang War Memorial, the Jung Falls before Tawang, the life of the Monpa people of Tawang, the various traditional customs and festivals. There are various stay options in Tawang from budget lodges to good hotels so that you can choose from.
From Tawang continue on your backpacking journey to Bumla Pass – the border of India and China. A beautiful snow capped paradise – Bumla Pass is around 3 hours drive from Tawang and is another army base in North East India. Along the way sight 102 lakes which are revered by the Buddhists of Arunachal Pradesh and the most prominent ones being that of the P T Tso lake and the Madhuri lake here. Return back to Tawang after exploring these beautiful places and then continue on your return journey back to Assam to at first arrive at Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh. Bomdila is another town on the way halt spot to break your long journey from Tawang. Bomdila is known for the Bomdila Monastery and also the local handicraft and handloom showrooms that have on display elaborate craftsmanship of bamboo artworks and handwoven clothes of the people of Arunachal Pradesh. From Bomdila head to the Pakke Tiger Reserve near Bhalukpong. One of the pristine Wildlife Sanctuaries and forest reserves of Arunachal Pradesh, Pakke is home to a healthy population of the Royal Bengal tigers in the wild. Indulge in the experience here of staying in the wild at the Eco Camp run by Help Tourism and venture into the wild escorted by a forest guard sighting varied species of flora and fauna here at the Pakke Tiger Reserve. Savor traditional food at the Eco Camp and head on your journey to Manas National Park in Assam after a short break at the Orang National Park.
24|Orang and Manas National Park ~
Orang National Park in Assam is among the 5 National Parks in Assam and is often referred to as the mini Kaziranga because of its similar topography and the flora and fauna. Orang National Park is one of the lesser known National Parks in Assam and hence attracts very less number of visitors to this place. There is a govt. operated Prashanti Tourist Lodge for accommodation at the Orang National Park and also a Jeep Safari option ride to go into the forest reserves of Orang National park. Enjoy your stay amidst nature here at the Prashanti Tourist Lodge at Orang National Park before continuing on your journey to Manas National Park in Assam.
Manas National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular National Park in Assam that draws visitors from across the World. Having a terrain that is very much different from the other National Parks of Assam Manas is the 2nd UNESCO World Heritage Site of Assam after Kaziranga National Park. Manas National Park is also a Tiger Reserve, an Elephant Reserve and an Important Bird Watching Area (IBA). Manas is very popular among the foreign tourists who come here from all across the World to catch a glimpse of the varied flora and fauna here especially the birds and the highly endangered Golden Langur species. So on your final leg of backpacking across North East India come to Manas National Park to explore the rich biodiversity here before winding up your visit and heading to Guwahati to catch your onward flight. At Manas National Park there are two modes of exploring the diverse flora and fauna of the region (i) Elephant Safari (ii) Jeep Safari. The Jeep safari ride takes you deep inside the forest reserves of Manas where you can explore the various bird species here and also the animal species as well. There are many stay options at Manas National Park like the Bansbari Lodge, Musa – the retreat, Florican Cottages, Birina, Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp, Camp Buffalo Retreat, etc. For budget accommodations try to get your bookings at the Government run IBs in the vicinity of Manas National Park.
Your backpacking journey to Nagaland can be best planned after your visit to Kaziranga National Park from where you drive to Numaligarh to continue to drive to Dimapur after crossing the Inter State border near Bokajan in Assam. At the check-gate your ILP will be verified so ensure to carry a valid copy of ILP (for Indian nationals). Foreign nationals backpacking to Nagaland need to report to the nearest police station from your place of stay within 24 hours of your arrival to the State. From the check-post travel to Dimapur city – the commercial Capital of Nagaland. Dimapur was one of the prime centers of the ancient Kachari Kingdom that ruled the area covering Dimapur and its surroundings. Once you arrive at Dimapur, admire the rich culture of the Angami people of Nagaland. As Dimapur was the capital of the Kachari Kingdom various ancient ruins from the era of this kingdom can be sighted across the city with the best of them being the Kachari ruins of Dimapur. These unique stone structures are known for their robust structure.
After Dimapur continue on your backpacking journey to the capital city of Nagaland at Kohima. A beautiful hill station, Kohima is blessed with a pleasant climate around the year and it is a very picturesque location surrounded by lush green mountain cover around and beautiful valley views. Kohima is again home to the Angami tribes of Nagaland along with the population of the Ao and Sumi Naga tribes of Nagaland. Kohima is renowned across the world for playing host to the Festival of Festivals – the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland every year from December 1st to December 10th. However, across the year as well many visitors come to Kohima to explore the various places of tourist interest here along with the ambition of conquering the Dzukou valley – the Valley of flowers. Across Kohima there are various options of your stay from homestays, guest houses to comfortable hotels that you can choose from. However, the best way to explore and understand the life and culture of the people of Nagaland is by staying at one of their homestays and savoring flavorful food and sipping their strong rice beer as well.
The Angami people of Kohima are very welcoming to their visitors and open up their homes to visitors to catch a glimpse of their lives that they have protected and guarded across several hundreds of years. At Kohima backpack around to visit the Kohima World War II Cemetery. A very beautiful place in the heart of Kohima city, the Kohima War Cemetery was built and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Mission. This Cemetery has burials of over 500 brave soldiers of the Allied forces who laid down their lives during the Battle of Kohima during World War II. The neatly aligned burials here bring in a sense of calm and we thank these brave soldiers who sacrifices made this World a better place for us. From the Kohima War Cemetery you get a bird’s eye view of the Kohima city as well. Next up explore the Kohima cathedral. The Kohima cathedral is another beautiful and important tourist place in Kohima. This is the largest Cathedral across North East India ad owing to the fact that the majority of the population of Nagaland are Christians this cathedral witnesses a fair amount of footfall each day. A very elegantly designed building structure the Kohima cathedral is located in the heart of Kohima city very close to the World War II cemetery. Explore the Kohima Cathedral and then visit the Kohima night bazaar. This is a bustling market in the heart of Kohima city that has numerous shops and street food joints. If you are a foodie and love to try out new local delicacies this is a must visit place on your travel to Kohima. The fast food joints at the Kohima market serve some lip smacking delicacies blended with ancient Naga recipes and the modern Chinese ingredients. Explore the various local homes at Kohima and live the life of the local people of Nagaland during your stay here in Kohima.
From Kohima head to the Khonoma village. The Khonoma village is a local village of Nagaland that illustrates the rich culture and heritage of the Angami people of Nagaland. Khonoma is also known as the first and only green village of North East India that has adopted the practice of abolishing wood cutting and practicing sustainable cultivation practices. The first thing you see upon entering the Khonoma village is a never ending terraces of the green paddy fields where the villagers of Khonoma sow over 40 different rice species. The Khonoma fort is the standing testament that the resilience the Angami people of Khonoma had put up against the British until they finally surrendered in 1879. Many Angami Nagas of Khonoma had laid down their lives in this battle and their remembrance is kept at the Khonoma fort. Travel to Khonoma to get a real feel of the rural life of Nagaland as you will see people still living in mud houses with thatch roofs although modern buildings are also to be seen. The people of Khonoma are adept in stone sculpture works and one can get to witness the craftsmanship of the people of Nagaland here in Khonoma. Khonoma is also known for its traditional wrestling games and young boys start from a very early age to learn this art of wrestling form. Once you are at Khonoma you can witness the young boys practicing and demonstrating this art form. At Khonoma village there are a few homestays that welcome backpackers and other guests as well. Although there are no restaurants around food is made available to all travelers at these homestays itself.
From Khonoma travel back to Kohima to backpack to the Touphema Heritage Village. This is another heritage village of Nagaland that illustrates the culture of the life of the Angami people of Nagaland. This village attracts hundreds of visitors who come here to enjoy their time admiring the rich culture of he tribes of Nagaland to live their way of life, to savor ethnic food and rice beer, to take short hikes across the area and much more. The Touphema village is known for the grand celebrations of the Angami tribes festival of Sekrenyi that is a cleansing ritual festival and is celebrated every year in February. The local people believe that they can ward off all evil spirits and unwanted curse in their village by cleansing the area of the village with purified water. Thousands of visitors come to the Touphema village to witness this practice of the Sekrenyi festival.
From Touphema head to Mon village in Nagaland. Mon is home to the Konyak tribes of Nagaland who are considered to be the last of the surviving head hunters of Nagaland. Head Hunting was very much prevalent across Nagaland during the earlier times. These fierce head hunters used to go out of expeditions every now and then and in the process used to capture other villages where they would chop off the heads of the revolting villagers and bring them back to their village. The skulls of would then be accumulated and kept outside the porch of the house. The house with the maximum number of skulls would be considered the most powerful and would become the house of the head of the village. The Konyaks were the most feared head hunting tribes of Nagaland and their entire body would be covered with tattoos speaking of their bravery and headhunting poweress. The entire district of Mon is inhabited by the Konyak tribes who have now taken up jobs in the Nagaland government and practice agriculture as their profession as the head hunting practice has been long abolished.
The main village of tourist interest near Mon is that of Longwa. Longwa is the place where you can find the last of the surviving head hunters of Nagaland. Longwa is also located at the border of India and Myanmar and there is no well defined international border here. Traders are allowed to freely cross the borders and engage in business activities across the borders. Also the village headman’s house half of the house is located on the Indian side and the other half of the house is located on the Myanmar side. This and many other interesting places to see around here makes Longwa a must visit on your backpacking itinerary across North East India. From Longwa travel to Mokokchung – the land of the legendary Ao tribes of Nagaland. Mokokchung is another hill station in Nagaland and the third largest city after Dimapur and Kohima. Visit Mokokchung in Nagaland during the month of May to celebrate the festival of Moatsu Mong of the Ao tribes. These Ao tribes were another of the head hunting tribes of Nagaland. Explore the diverse culture of the Ao people of Nagaland before backpacking back to Kohima.
At Kohima this time embark on your trek to the pristine Dzukou valley. Known as the valley of flowers – Dzukou valley is one of the most beautiful places to visit in North East India and is a trekking paradise. Surrounded by a green cover of mountains, Dzukou valley is famous for it prized Dzukou Lily which is found only here. The pristine trek route is also the most popular ones in North East India. From Kohima you will need to travel to Vishwema or Zakhama village to start your trek to Dzukou valley. The trek duration is around 5 hours one way and at Dzukou there is a rest house as an accommodation option for backpackers. You can also pitch in your own tents during your trek to Dzukou valley. Ensure to hire a local guide to take you to the top of the valley and guide you with accommodations and food options as well. From Dzukou return to Kohima to continue to your onward destination.
From Kohima head on your 5 hour long journey to the capital of the State of Manipur at Imphal. This route is now becoming very popular across the tourist circuit of North East India. This route was earlier not so popular due to continuous road blockades as some Naga outfits used to block the route during certain times and traffic along the route used to get halted forcing the people of Manipur to take the air route to travel to other locations especially Guwahati – the fastest growing city of North East India but now there has been a peace settlement and the blockades no longer happen thereby allowing visitors to take this route to Imphal in Manipur. Regular transport in the form of busses and taxis are available across this route so getting to Imphal in Manipur is not much of a challenge.
Once you reach Imphal head to the market area of Imphal city as most of the budget stay accomodations are present here. Manipur is gradually seeing a very good footfall of visitors due to the initiative of the tourism department of Manipur to promote Manipur as an ideal tourist destination across the World. With festivals like the Sangai festival in November and the Shirui Lily festival in April/May visitors from across the World have now started to visit Manipur in good numbers. Various stay options for visitors have come up from budget lodges to high end hotels along with homestays as well. So once you arrive at Imphal in manipur at first check in to your place of stay.
After you have checked into your place of stay at Imphal in Manipur head out to explore the Ima Keithel market area here. Do check your watch because across North East India shops and business establishments close early as the sunset especially during winters happen quite early as 4.30 PM so if you are planning to take an evening stroll across the ‘Ima Keithel’ market there is a fair chance that most of the shops would have already closed. This is also because this market is also the largest all women run market in Asia. In most of the tribal states in North East India like Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur the shops and business establishments are mostly run by the tribal women folks who after attending their chores at home come to open shops and then have to return back home early as well to attend the remaining chores of the day. The shops at the Ima Keithel market in Manipur are run by married women only and this tradition has been practiced here for the past 500 years. Various produce like fruits, vegetables, groceries, handicrafts and handlooms are to be sighted in the small shops here which often is referred to as the Largest all women run market in Asia and probably in the World as well here in the heart of Imphal city in Manipur. The place speaks of the heritage of the Meitei people of Manipur when several hundred years ago the men used to go out on hunting expeditions and cultivation to far off lands while the women folks stayed behind looking after the family and the cultivations leading to their inner sense fif making on their own. Do visit the stalls here that sell exquisite Manipuri handlooms and the shining colors of these handwoven attire of the people of Manipur are sure to leave an impression in your mind. The Ima Keithel market would take at least an hours time to explore so by the time you would finish exploring the place your day in Imphal would come to an end and the only thing left to explore at Imphal in Manipur now would be the market area around here before you retire for the night.
While backpacking across North East India one thing you would surely love is the food and local cuisine and similar experience you will have in Manipur as well. Manipuri cuisine is well known for the use of a black rice that is also becoming popular across the other parts of the country as well as this has properties to inhibit cancer. The Chahao Kheer (rice pudding) of Manipur is a popular sweet dish made with this rice. Manipuri cuisine has a lot of vegetables as key ingredients and these are boiled in the form of a stew topped with dry fish/fried fish as well. Try our the Manipuri Thali in one of the local food joints here that will have rice, eromba, singju, kangshoi, kang-ngor, nganpan, etc. Their cuisine like other parts of North East India is very low in oil with minimal use of powdered spices and instead the flavor is imparted with natural ingredients like garlic, ginger, pepper and lots of green chillies including the Bhut Jolokia/ Naga King Chilli.
The next day you can explore the Loktak Lake and the Keibul Lamjao National Park in Manipur from Imphal. The Keibul Lamjao National Park is the only floating National Park in the World in the Loktak Lake and is home to the highly endangered Sangai Deer species of Manipur. The drive to Moirang from Imphal would take almost an hour and half so ensure that you leave early to return back to Imphal by evening. Or else you can choose to stay at one of the homestays near the Loktak Lake as well. One popular and budget stay option is the Loktak Ema Floating Hut Restaurant cum homestay here at Moirang. To explore the Loktak lake you have to hire private houseboats that are present here to see the various Phumdis or floating islands that are made of various heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter. The best time to visit is during the early hours when the Sangai Deer come out to feed so ensure you are here early at the Loktak Lake in Manipur. If you plan on continuing to Imphal then visit the INA war memorial here that is the memorial of the Indian National Army founded by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Many relics from the time of India’s fight for independence can be found here. Return to Imphal for night halt.
Today you can travel to Moreh from Imphal which is the border of India and Myanmar. Tamu is the place in Myanmar that you can visit after crossing the border and this route is the gateway to South East Asia from India. This roadway connects to Bangkok across Myanmar from India . Necessary permits are needed to be obtained to travel to Tamu. There are limited modes of transportation across this area so you need to ensure to talk to a vehicle prior to your travel here. This would help to eliminate the waste of time to keep waiting at the Taxi stop for a taxi hire. There are shared taxis as well as private taxis (like Virgo Cabs) to take you to Moreh from Imphal. A beautiful place, Tamu is a bustling market that has a beautiful monastery that you can explore. Visitors are allowed to cross the border from the Indian side into Myanmar upon displaying a valid ID card (AADHAR card) and submitting a xerox copy of the same and after paying a nominal amount as entry fees at the checkpoints. The local restaurants here serves some amazing noodles and pork items as well. So while you are here savor these amazing Burmese cuisine. Return back to Imphal after exploring Tamu and Moreh.
The next day you can explore the remaining sight seeing attractions of Imphal town before catching an evening bus to head to Silchar in Assam to continue your backpacking journey to Aizawl in Mizoram. Imphal has a very well maintained World War II Cemetery that has burials of the soldiers of the Allied forces who laid down their lives during World War II. Also visit the Kangla fort that was once the epitome of of power of the earlier capital of Manipur as the rulers and monarchs had ruled the state from this fort itself. The bright orange color of this fort is sure to leave any visitor here enthralled. Although much of the fort was destroyed during World War II by the Japanese Air raids there is still a good amount of things to be seen here at the Kangla fort. The Shree Shree Govindajee temple is another popular tourist attraction he in Imphal. This temple shrine is dedicated to Lord Krishna and has a beautiful structure that leaves visitors in an awe after coming here. This would be about time to grab your late lunch and then head to the Imphal bus stand to catch your night bus to Silchar in Assam and then head to Aizawl in Mizoram to explore another beautiful state of North East India. There are many buses operated by the Manipur State Government as well as private operators that operate across the Imphal and Silchar route. The drive time from Imphal to Silchar is around 8 hours to cover a distance of around 250 km which is mostly due to the road conditions. On your backpacking journey across North East India you might have noticed that infrastructure is still coming up across the region and roads connecting the cities are good but in certain areas it still requires development. The cost of tickets is around INR 500 for a single person and the journey takes overnight and you reach Silchar in the wee hours of the morning. Alternately you may choose to fly from Imphal directly to Aizawl as Air India operates its flights across these two cities and the fare is slightly steeper then again the combined money you will spend from travelling by road and as well as halting at Silchar in Assam to catch another bus/shared sumo service to Aizawl.
Aizawl is one of the most beautiful cities in North East India and the most disciplined as well when it comes to traffic in the city. what amazes you the most is that cars stop at designated zebra crossings to allow people to cross the road as and when. Mizoram also boasts of the highest literacy rate in India as well and it is very evident once you travel across the city of Aizawl where you can find most of the people who can understand and communicate in English. Christian missionaries also have played role in educating the people here and this has translated to almost 90% of the state’s population being Christians. Mizoram is a strict dry state and sale of alcohol is banned across the State which translates to more discipline people across the State.
Once you reach Aizawl try to get a budget room at the guest house run by the Mizoram Department of tourism that has around 41 rooms ranging from single occupancy to suites. The room tariff starts from INR 600 for single occupancy extending upto INR 2500 for its suites. This is one nice place to stay in Aizawl during your visit to Mizoram. Aizawl resembles Shillong when it comes to the city’s built as the city is built on a hill and narrow lanes guide you across the city of Aizawl. There are various local forms of transport and the most popular are the bike taxis that charge you INR 10 for the 1st km and INR 5 for the subsequent kilometers of travel. Hiring one of these on your backpacking travel across Aizawl is a good option. What is really nice about Aizawl and Mizoram is the pleasant weather and its people. The high altitude of the State makes it to have a pleasant weather condition around the year. Rainfall during monsoon is common ranging from the months of May through September in Mizoram. But as the winter time lasts from October through April this is the best time to explore Mizoram. There are many hill stations around Mizoram and some of them are at close proximity to Aizawl so while you are here you can go backpacking to these hill stations.
Mizoram is also home to some beautiful Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks that boasts of a varied wildlife as well. The Dampa Tiger Reserve around 120 km from Aizawl is a project tiger reserve covering an area of 550 sq. km. and home to a healthy population of the Royal Bengal Tigers. The best way to explore the places around Aizawl is to travel to the village areas around here to learn and understand the life of the local people of Mizoram. The MIzo people are the dominant tribes of Mizoram and they practice agriculture as their primary occupation. Most of their traditional festivals are revolve around their traditional agrarian practices. Some of the popular traditional festivals of the people of Mizoram are Mim Kut, Chapchar Kut and Pawl Kut. However, as Christianity is the primary faith of the people of Mizoram the celebration of Christmas is done on a grand scale in the state capital of Aizawl.
From Aizawl you can travel to Agartala in Tripura to explore the folklore of the Kings of Agartala. The best way to reach Agartala from Aizawl would be to first catch any shared vehicle to Silchar and then a train from Silchar to Agartala in Tripura. This would be a long journey so ensure to catch up with a good sleep to get up first to explore the mysteries of the state of Tripura. To be frank I haven’t travelled across Tripura and do not have much information about the place and I will not try to misguide you or provide information on travel by picking up information from other websites. I am aware of travel to Agartala in Tripura as my Uncle and Aunt had visited the place and shared their travel experience with me along with the pictures they had clicked there. So I will narrate their travel experience in Agartala and surrounding areas in brief. My Uncle had travelled to Agartala from Guwahati and so they had booked their flight from Guwahati to Agartala.
They reached Agartala by afternoon and were staying in one of the government Guest Houses as my Uncle works with a PSU and they had taken their time of work schedule to explore a bit of Agartala and nearby areas. Their visit to Agartala started by exploring the Tripura Sundari temple near the city which happened to be one of the 51 Shakti Peethas in the Indian Subcontinent like the revered Maa Kamakhya temple in Guwahati. It is believed that the right foot of Goddess Sati fell in this area and the construction of the temple site was constructed here in 1501 AD by the then king of Tripura Maharaja Dhanya Manikya. A beautiful temple shrine my aunt loved the place and they offered their worship in the Tripura Sundari temple. They were almost over with time for the day and so they returned back to the Guest House for the day and explored the local market around Agartala city.
The next day they travelled to Unakoti rock engravings in Tripura that is around 178 km km from Agartala. The Unakoti in Tripura is a beautiful Archaeological site that has stone sculptures of many gods and Goddesses. Unakoti means one less than a crore and this is derived as it is believed that there are as many as these numbers of rock carvings here. It is believed that Lord Shiva on his visit to Kashi along with one crore Gods and Goddesses decided to rest for the night here at Unakoti and Lord Shiva instructed everyone to get up early in the morning to continue their journey to Kashi. The next day morning only Lord Shiva got up and no one else was ready. So Lord Shiva decided to continue to Kashi on his own while cursing the others to turn into stone images. Thus resulted in one less than a crore stone images and carvings at Unakoti. The stone carvings are elegantly carved out looking like real stone sculptures and is an artwork of immense appreciation. This is what makes Unakoti a very popular tourist attraction near Agartala and thousands of tourists come here to witness this beautiful artwork.
On their way back to Agartala from Unakoti they visited the border market of India and Bangladesh but unfortunately it was closed during their time of visit. Later they went to explore the closing ceremony at the International border of India and Bangladesh where every evening hundreds of tourists gather to witness the closing ceremony at the border that is similar to the experience at Wagah border where soldiers from each side of the army perform a ceremony that shows their love and patriotism towards their country. My Uncle described it to be an immaculate performance and the patriotism to one’s country is felt at its peak here at the border. On the way back to Agartala they spotted many of the rubber plantations of Tripura that is a primary cash crop of the state and Tripura is the second highest producer of rubber after Kerala in India. After an eventful day my Uncle and Aunt returned back to Agartala by evening to explore the rest of the sight seeings attractions of Agartala the next day.
The next morning at first they set out to explore the Ujjayanta Palace in Agartala that is located in the heart of Agartala city and was built during the era of Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya. This is a beautiful palace that is a two storied palace having a vivid architecture with high domes and wooden ceilings and beautifully crafted doors. The Ujjayanta palace gets all lit up during the evening with fancy lights and water fountains drawing visitors from across the World. Next they explored the Neermahal place in Agartala which is located in the midst of the Rudrasagar lake and highlights the grandeur of the hindu and Muslim style of architecture. A beautiful white building standing tall in the heart of the Rudrasagar lake is what draws visitors to the Neermahal palace.
That evening my Uncle and Aunt stayed back in Agartala to catch their next day morning flight to Guwahati. Alternatively you can choose to fly to Bagdogra airport at Siliguri from Agartala and from there continue on your backpacking journey across Sikkim – the most handsome little brother fo the 7 Sister States. The fly time from Agartala to Bagdogra takes around 6 hours as there is a layover at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport at Kolkata so in case you are running short of time you can continue on your journey to your onward destination from here in Kolkata as well. But a journey to the untouched places in Sikkim is a must on your backpacking journey across North East India especially the treks across the virgin mountains of Sikkim that are present here and is not touched in the general tourist circuit. From the Bagdogra airport you will have to travel to the capital of Sikkim at Gangtok by road. Siliguri is well connected to Gangtok by a network of roadways. Gangtok is located north of Siliguri and the total drive time is around 4 – 5 hours. Regular busses and taxis/shared taxis are available on this route to take you to a paradise on Earth called Sikkim. From Agartala there is a good chance that would be arriving at Bagdogra in the evening so it would be advisable to catch a night bus to Gangtok so that you can reach in the wee hours of the morning at Gangtok.
Gangtok is one of the most visited destinations in North East India and tourism is the backbone of the economy of Sikkim. Every day during the peak season of summer months thousands of visitors come to Sikkim to explore the varied flora and fauna of the State along with the snow capped mountains of North Sikkim at Lachung and Lachen. Gangtok offers many places of stay for backpackers from tourist lodges to budget hotels and homestays starting for INR 600 per night. Gangtok is the capital Sikkim will be the first place first place for you to go backpacking in Sikkim and the M G Marg here is a very popular hang out point and a bustling marketplace. Gangtok is a modern town of Sikkim that has everything from various sightseeing options like Monasteries, temples, beautiful view of the mountain range of Kanchenjunga, bustling markets an nightlife as well. The popular tourist attractions around Gangtok are the Nathula Pass, Tsomgo Lake and Baba Mandir, etc. Covering the entire area around Gangtok would take you about 2 days. Depending on your time in hands you can break down your backpacking journey across Sikkim by first covering North Sikkim from Gangtok frior around 32 nights where once you reach here you can take your time to explore the beautiful snow covered mountains and valleys of Lachung that offer you breathtaking views of the Kanchenjunga mountain range that is a part of the great Himalayas and you can travel to Yumthang (a beautiful valley of various flowering species and rhododendrons) continuing up to the zero point that is the last point of the civilian road along the Indo- China border.
Night halts at Lachung is necessary as the roads are across the mountain terrain and a good night’s sleep is required to continue further to explore North Sikkim at Lachen. Also to reach Yumthang valley trekking is necessary from lachung to admire the natural beauty of this valley that is also called as the valley of flowers. The Rhododendron Sanctuary at Shingba near Yumthang is also a beautiful place filled with flowering rhododendrons during your visit from the months of April through July. After exploring these not so touristy places mostly on trek you can come back to Lachung where you can explore the Lachung Monastery. A beautiful Buddhist Monastery constructed in the 1800’s the popularity is because of the traditional vibrant mask dance performance of this Lachung monastery. Also from Lachung you can go on a day’s tour of the Ziro point which remains frozen across the year as well.
From Lachung you can go backpacking to Lachen in North Sikkim. Lachen is another small village hamlet area that is increasingly becoming popular in the tourist circuit of Sikkim due to it serving as a base for halt to explore one of the primary tourist attractions in Sikkim viz. the Gurudongmar lake. A natural paradise, the Gurudongmar lake is the most popular tourist destination of Sikkim at Lachen. The Gurudongmar lake is located at an altitude of 17,800 m above MSL making it one of the highest freshwater lakes in the World and its sheer beauty us sure to leave any backpacker here in awe. What makes it more unique is that even during the winter season a part of the gurudongmar lake doesn’t freeze even in sub zero temperatures. While at Lachen take the backpacking opportunity to visit the Mount Katao as well on trek. This is one of the most pristine trekking routes in North Sikkim that allows any backpacker to North East India witness the beautiful cover of pine, rhododendrons and poppy trees during summers. The trek to Mount Katao requires prior permits that can be obtained from the Indian army base camp at Lachung.
After North Sikkim you can start backpacking to West Sikkim to visit the Indo-Nepal border along with Pelling in Sikkim. The best way to reach Pelling from lachung would be to come back to Gangtok and then catch another vehicle to Pelling. Pelling is another small town in Sikkim and offers panoramic views of the towering Kanchenjunga mountain range. A land filled with beautiful old Buddhist Monasteries, beautiful crystal clear lakes and waterfalls as well. Pelling was the first capital of Sikkim prior to Gangtok and is at close proximity of the border of India and Nepal. A visit to the nearby border villages during your backpacking tour of Sikkim is a must to witness the culture of the Lepcha people of Sikkim along with the Nepali people of Nepal. Pelling is also home to the second highest suspension bridge in Asia and hiking across this bridge overlooking the valleys is a truly rewarding experience in Sikkim. Try the local cuisine here in pelling that serves carious meaty delights and vegetables as well.
From Pelling you can depart from Sikkim to continue to Darjeeling in West Bengal to witness the beautiful tea gardens of Darjeeling and sit on the famous toy train ride here in Darjeeling thereby marking an end to a magical backpacking journey across India’s Paradise Unexplored – the Incredible North East of India!
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