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 travellers 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 travellers 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 decieving.
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 traveller 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 eastern most 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 Agartala also known as the ‘Seven Sister 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, Hollock 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. From the Double Decker Living bridge at Nongriat Village to ………. Some of the unique facts of Meghalaya are as below ~
- Meghalaya has the World’s highest rainfall at Cherrapunji and Masynram.
- ‘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 ……. 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 Monestary 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.
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….
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 travellers 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…………
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 Livign Root Bridge
- Nohwet Village
- Skyview Point at Nohwet Village
- Caves at Mwlynnong
- 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.
Tags ~ Solo travel North East India, Backpacking in North East India, North East India Backpacking Tours, Solo Backpacking North East India, Hiking in North East India, Backpacking destinations in North East India, Backpacking North East India a curious journey