India’s North East is opening up to host an increasing number of travelers. The Dialogue Diaries™, an interview platform by Backpacking Series, is delighted to feature opinions of residents from the region. In this Northeast India travel guide to Ukhrul and Imphal, Tushar Nongthombam from The Oo-Morok Trails shares recommendations and hacks for you to follow.
What stands out for you about North East India?
As a proud resident of North East India, a foodie and as a traveler in the region, I am always on the lookout for indigenous foods. Besides places in my home state of Manipur, I’ve been to Guwahati and Jorhat in Assam, and Dimapur, Kisama and Kohima in Nagaland.
However, I just love going back to the famous Hornbill festival in Kisama – not only for the fun festivities and beautiful landscapes, but also since it offers a sample of all mouth-watering Naga delicacies!
What’s your favorite destination in North East India?
North East India is literally a paradise and I’m proud to be a resident here. As a Manipuri, I will talk about two travel destinations in the state – Ukhrul and Imphal.
Northeast India Travel Guide to Ukhrul and Imphal
Ukhrul, Manipur: A Quick Travel Guide
Why visit Ukhrul?
Ukhrul, about 80km northeast from state capital Imphal, is one of the best hilly getaways of Manipur and remains my all-time favorite. Why, you ask? Lets count to three: hospitality of people, weather and landscapes, and yes food! There aren’t many things that can beat such a formidable combination. I recommend Ukhrul for backpackers to experience the authentic blue-hills’ life with camping, food, and music.
When to visit Ukhrul?
Though you may visit Ukhrul round the year, but I recommend planning your vacation during the Shirui Lily festival. This 5-days long festival usually falls in April first week when everything is fresh and green. During this time you can witness the sacred Shirui Lily blooming atop Shirui Hills. In case you do not know, Shirui Lily is the state flower of Manipur and it is endemic to Shirui Hills, Ukhrul.
Where to stay in Ukhrul?
Villagers offer home stay facilities to tourists, especially during the festival time and you get to enjoy homecooked naga foods with a local family! If you prefer, there are many camping sites in the vicinity.
Imphal, Manipur: A Quick Guide
As a resident of Imphal, I couldn’t resist the urge to recommend it to travelers. But, if you could overlook my selection-bias, it is for good reason. Read on:)
Why visit Imphal?
Imphal is one of the biggest cities in the region and you are likely to observe quite a few firsts here: the world’s first polo ground, the only market run by women, the only floating national park in the world, and then some more. All this against a backdrop of scenic landscapes.
When to visit Imphal?
Although Imphal is a year-round destination, the time from September to April are considered as ideal months to visit. I recommend you to visit Imphal during the Sangai Festival, typically held in the last week of November.
During Sangai Festival, Manipur observes its biggest celebration. People from every nook and corner of the state come together to showcase only the best of art and culture, handloom and handicrafts, music, indigenous and adventure sports, and of course, my favorite – cuisines!
Here’s a tidbit for the curious – Sangai is the state animal of Manipur that habitats the floating marshy grasslands of the Keibul Lamjao National Park (the only floating park in the world).
Where to stay in Imphal?
Being the state capital, there are many hotels, guesthouses, and hostels to choose from. You may google for something that fits your budget. If you are coming in to witness the Sangai Festival, just make sure to book early!
How to get to your favorite destinations, Imphal and Ukhrul?
Best way to visit Manipur, especially to witness the festivals, is by a flight. From the airport, you can get a taxi to your hotel or guesthouse, and even guides. If you want to visit Ukhrul, you can easily find a bus service from Inter State Bus Terminal (ISBT) Imphal.
What are some must-try culinary recommendations from North East India?
Northeast Indian food is diverse and delicious. The mere thought of indigenous food of this region makes my mouth water! From vegetarian, to fish to pork, literally everything is slurpy here!
Usop: A vegetarian feast every visitor to Manipur must try!
For vegetarians, recipes from the Meitei community is something to die for. Manipur occasionally hosts a grand feast called Usop, an apt time to find various vegetarian recipes. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you can find 108 vegetarian recipes in one Usop feast.
Must-Try Fish and Chicken Delicacies in Imphal, Manipur
For meat lovers, northeast India is your go-to place. In Manipur, the Meitei community is fond of various kinds of fish and there are many recipes for fish curry alone! As a visitor, you must try a good fish platter / fish feast at The Luxmi Kitchen in Waheng Leikai area of Imphal city.
When it comes to chicken, OK Hotel is the talk of the town. Nothing beats the consistency of presentation, aroma, signature taste, and texture of this hotel’s chicken curry or its famous chicken roll, and this is what has made OK Hotel a household name in Manipur since 1966. Whenever locals think of eating out at a ‘rice hotel’ (popular Indian phrase for quick-menu restaurants serving delicacies with a standard rice platter), they invariably end up at the OK Hotel – next to Nirmalabas School in Thangal Bazar.
Must-Try Pork Cuisine of Ukhrul, Manipur
For the best pork in Manipur, Ukhrul is the right place to go to and try a fabulous sumptuous pork thali. Cooked in a traditional Nungbi pot, with its unique Ukhrul hathei (chilli), I am sure, just as me, you’ll come back for more!
What’s the culture and lifestyle of North East India like?
Culture and lifestyle in northeast India is unique and distinctive. Keeping the traditions alive is one of the most important practice for every north easterner. Backpackers, travelers, and tourists will not only notice the distinct clothes, food, but also the diversity within the region.
What are your recommended travel planning hacks for North East India?
I’d recommend visitors to consider a mix of travel styles – backpack on a budget when traveling between and within cities of the region and hire guided tours to visit nearby places. You’ll be comfortable with a guide, especially when visiting the outskirts.
Seeking recommendations from someone who has been here before or looking up the Internet about the places you’re planning to visit will be helpful as well. Besides, as a resident, I find Airbnb as a trust-worthy website to make your stay arrangements in northeast India.
Note by Backpacking Series: If you are planning to ride a bus from Nagaland to Manipur, you’d need travel permits for Nagaland. For more on the topic, click to read Travel Permits to Northeast India.
What are your North East India Travel Tips for Visitors?
As a resident of the region, my top travel tips for visitors to Northeast India are:
- Never trust the false media! Northeast India is safe to travel and people are friendly. Except on some occasions, such as festivals, avoid staying out late-nights, especially in remote areas, since smaller towns or villages do not offer many activities after sundown. Note by Backpacking Series: For more on the topic of safety, please click to read North East India is Safer Than You Think.
- Always carry warm clothes, even in summer. You can never predict the weather in the hills.
- Keep identity documents handy. Always carry documents such as Adhaar card (for Indians) or passport (for foreigners) wherever you go.
Other than that, enjoy every bit of your stay in the region, interact with the locals to feel the friendly vibes, and look out for unique cuisines of different tribes!
What’s your new bucket list for North East India?
As a foodie, I gravitate to places that satisfy my palate! And so, I am likely to continue to revisit Kisama in Nagaland, and Ukhrul and Imphal in Manipur. If you are anything like me, you must have these places on your Northeast India itinerary 🙂
Think North East India
For those who do not know, North East India comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles her people follow.
That North East India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.
The region’s innate charms have remained under-explored. Travelers, who figure out how to backpack in North East India, find gems such as Dzükou Valley all to themselves. Importantly, the hospitable people of the region make sure that visitors take back the choicest of memories.
Meanwhile, pick up a copy of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey. It covers over two dozen places and attempts to answer the question – what is it like to travel in the region? Give it a read and make your own choices.
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Have you been to or live in India’s North East? Come, let’s talk about your experiences and help someone follow your footsteps! Click The Dialogue Diaries™ for details and to get started.
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