They might have been bestowed with the ‘seven sisters’ title but if there’s one thing we’ve learned during recent times, all seven are nothing but step-children in the larger scheme of things. Even if they do share exactly the same lineage. Metaphorical convolutions notwithstanding, we’re not really exaggerating the situation. The North East of India has a long history of being left out by the rest of the country and the area that surprises us most in is within the tourism industry. Its tapestry is blessed with incredible extremes and countless unique experiences, yet the beauty of this region is often neglected even while others are visited and revisited.
Reasons vary from its exclusivity from the rest of the country to the uncertain political climate and even the huge cultural differences however, as far as we’re concerned, not only does the North East have a myriad of incredible travel experiences to offer, it’s one of our top picks for travel destinations in India. And in order to prove it to you, we rounded up some of its most incredible and unique offerings in the hopes that enthusiastic travellers might just be enticed to reroute their next holiday.
I. Walk On Sela Lake
The Sela Lake is unlike any other, simply because it remains frozen for most part of the year. However, if you’re adventurous enough, you can walk on the lake itself as a part of the trekking experience, and feel the water a few feet below your feet. The feeling of being in the midst of mortality and immortality is one only a few other things in the world can offer, and even if you’re not an adventurous soul, the scenic beauty of the lake is well worth a trip in itself, too.
II. Mawsynram - One Of The Wettest Places On Earth
A small village in Meghalaya, Mawsynram holds the distinction of being one of the wettest places on Earth. The village receives an annual rainfall of 11,500 mm, which facilitate the growth of unique flora and fauna. In addition to that, it also has various unique rocks, most notably the rock in the Mawjymbuin cave, which resembles a Shiv Ling.
III. Meghalaya’s Living Root Bridges
This natural spectacle is a sight that would leave anyone humbled. A complete rarity in this world’s ecosystem, this is the only place in the world to have constructed bridges to cross rivers out of natural root growth from the trunk of a species of the Indian rubber tree by merging it with the growth of the opposite trees to build such bridges. These take over 20-30 years to be properly formed and firm enough to use. Initially, it was built to aid local tribes in their river crossing but visitors can use it too.
IV. Touphema Village
If you were looking for the kind of opportunity that would allow you to have a glimpse of what it would be like to live amongst vikings, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. One of India’s most culturally fascinating villages, it’s most mesmerizing feature is actually the kind of huts they live in which resemble those of the vikings.
They are also extremely hospitable and are known to engage visitors to eat, drink and dance around the night bonfires with them. This Naga Tribe are considered to be one of the most indigenous tribes of the country with practices and traditions that find mention in various cultural texts. A visit to the Touphema Village in Nagaland is a great study of the tribes, its culture and their norms. If the visit is timed around the Hornbill festival of Nagaland celebrated in December, then be prepared for a grand cultural imposition.
V. Khawirambandh’s Women Only Bazaar
If you’re all about women empowerment, or even if you’re not, the Khawirambandh Bazaar is well worth a visit. Entirely run and managed by women, even 90% of the shoppers are women and these self-sustaining matriarchs are the pride & joy of their community. A spectacle in itself for a country as patriarchal as India.
VI. Ambubachi Mela At Kamakhya Temple
And while you’re still in the mood to lighten the wallet, don’t miss the Jonbeel Mela—the only Indian mela to still use the barter trading method. It is a centuries-old tradition that has managed to hold its own in the ever-changing times in the Marigao district of Assam. To add to the barter trading system, people also perform traditional dance and music. If you’re seriously keen to attend this, remember that it only happens at a particular time of year, so you’ll have to plan your vacation around the 3-day community affair.
VII. The Incredible Natural Phenomenon Of Loktak Lake
The Loktak Lake is especially significant because it holds India’s only floating islands made up completely of moss and vegetation. These are incredibly rare to witness anywhere in the world so you can imagine what you’re in for. Better still, the scenery of these spectacular ‘islands’ can be enjoyed in two ways. Either you can enjoy it at close range by taking a boat ride in the lake, or you could fly over the lake and gawk in awe. Either way, this is a one-of-a-kind opportunity you don’t want to miss on your voyage through the North East.
VIII. River Rafting In Siang
Not that we have any dearth of fantastic white-water rafting spots in the rest of India but is there ever such a thing as too many? This particular section of the Brahmaputra that flows through Arunachal Pradesh’s Siang is known for its fierce rapids and incredible surroundings which are largely untouched even till date.
IX. A Yak Safari In Sikkim
While this is definitely one of the more ‘touristy’ activities you can indulge in, it’s still entirely unique and not something you’ll get to experience in too many other destinations. The Yak is a native, long-haired bovid of the Himalayas, which looks like an ox, but is covered by a long coat that goes up to its legs. The natives of the north east centres where the Yak can be spotted take great pride in the animal. It’s easy enough to partake in in popular scenic spots such as Psogmo Lake and Dzongiri. One can go interact with the domesticated Yaks and watch the wild ones leisure about, in a natural environment that is dense and entirely different from the rest of India.
X. Rhinos In Kaziranga National Park
And while you’re getting acquainted with native animals, a visit to Assam’s Kaziranga National Park is an absolute must. It is one of the more famous habitat centres in India, due to its population of the one-horned rhinoceros, of which 60% of the world’s population reside here. Over the last number of years, the park has attracted great controversy due to the poaching activities directed to the rhino, thereby dwindling its population. But in spite of this, the part has customised nature trails for animal enthusiasts to experience the flora and the majesty of this animal amongst its other animal occupants.
XI. Dolphin Watching Over The Brahmaputra
You wouldn’t be alone in wondering how one can spot dolphins without an ocean however, the brahmaputra (one of India’s most revered and important rivers) is home to hundred of freshwater gangetic dolphins (often pink in colour) that can often be spotted whilst sailing to Tezpur. The sight is even more spectacular during sunrise or sunset.
XII. Caving In The Meghalayas
The deepest and longest caves in South Asia are located in the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya. Plunge into the darkness and explore them with nothing but a small torchlight on your head. The stalactite and stalagmite formations in the cave are exhilarating, and a trip to these caves is a must, especially in the winter. Fair warning—Don’t ever watch the movie ‘The Descent’ before trying this activity.
XIII. The Bihu Festival With The Locals
In case you missed the Hornbill festival, you could always make it to the Bihu. Another colourful festival, it is celebrated three times a year: In January, in April, and it October. Each Bihu coincides with a distinctive phase in the farming calendar. The festival has a lot of tradition and colour and enthusiasm, and is a secular festival celebrated by all, irrespective of their religion.
XIV. Red Ant Chutney
Obviously, a trip wouldn’t be complete without sampling the exquisite (and entirely unique) cuisine of the area. Some of their dishes are…peculiar to put it lightly and certainly not likely to be like anything you’ve ever tried before. A quick run-through would include Jadoh (pig intestines cooled in the blood of a chicken) Black Rice (It’s black and has a nutty taste) Frog’s legs, Red Ant Chutney (literally made by crushing red ants and making them into a paste) Boiled silkworm pupa eaten whole and of course, for the more faint of heart, you could simply wash it all down with a glass of Apang or North Eastern Beer!
XV. Naw-Khel - Assam’s Traditional Boat Races
Whoever thought boat racing is a sport limited to the backwaters of Kerala is in for a serious surprise when visiting Assam. The annual boat racing festival of Assam, called Naw-Khel, held at Sualkuchi on the mighty Brahmaputra river is a spectacle to witness. The intensity of the sport and the spirit of competition, armed with the rhythmic regularity of the rowers make the sport watching a highlight in Assam.
XVI. Khonoma Green Village - Self Sustained & Environmentally Conscious
One of the most appreciated projects undertaken by the Government of Tourism, the Khonoma Green Village is a great study for ecologically centric visitors. Situated at 20 km distance from the Nagaland capital of Khonoma, the village is a self sustained green center where hunting and felling of trees is legally prohibited. The Tragopan sanctuary, set with the theme, ‘Care for Nature’ has been set up with utmost sensitivity to the environment.
XVII. Tawang Monastery - The Largest Monastery In India
Built in the 17th century, the Tawang Monastery is one of the most breathtaking locales in all of India. Situated in Arunachal Pradesh, it sees the presence of snow almost throughout the yeat and one is immediately welcomed by a gargantuan statue of Buddha himself. Many who have visited claim very few places in the world replicate the sentiment of serenity that this ancient monastery’s atmosphere perpetuates.
XVIII. Rare Birds At Ravalanga
One of the things India lacks most are good spots for bird-watching but Ravangala, a small tourist town located in southern Sikkim takes care of all of that. Classified a birdwatcher’s paradise, hundreds of rare Himalayan birds flock to this region in the summer. Some of these birds are only found in specific months; some so rare that they only found in that region. Take a picnic basket, a pair of binoculars, or your choicest DSLR, and observe nature’s marvels in their true habitat.
XIX. One Of The Tallest Rhododendron Trees In The World
The Japfu Peak and the Dxuko valley is a beautiful enough trek in itself, offering undulating scenic beauty however, it’s the 130-foot tall Rhododendron tree that made its way to the Guinness book of world records that really make it special.
XX. Tea-Gardening In Assam
Assam is most famous for its sprawling tea gardens that provide various tea leaves that are transported to the rest of India only to be enjoyed by tea lovers. While in Assam, one can visit the tea gardens and notice the process of functioning on the workers. You can also go on fresh leaf picking along with them, while they guide you through the process of tea leave minting. Tea tasting is one other activity you can indulge in, and that would be one no tea connoisseur would complain.
XXI. The War Cemeteries In Imphal
Tucked away in Imphal, war memorials from the twin victory over the Japanese cover acres of green land. In memory of all that took place in Imphal and Kohima in the northeast India in 1944 and is often glossed over in our history texts.
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