Abhijeet Deshpande, author of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey, shares some ideas about places to see and things to do that make up for compelling reasons to visit North East India – sooner than later.
Sometimes, the challenge of sorting through gems and picking up a select few can make those left behind, exclusive. It is particularly true of North East India and it is what makes the region evermore mysterious. The possibility of discovery accompanies every visitor’s footsteps, and follows every story from the region. Go on, see for yourself!
For those who do not know, 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.
Have you heard about or seen a red panda? With over fifteen national parks, including Loktak – the world’s only floating national park, and even more wildlife sanctuaries, North East India is home to a variety of fauna – be it birds, reptiles, or mammals. The Siberian Amur Falcon, on its way to southern Africa, makes a pit stop in Wokha, Nagaland. Besides, kingfishers, hornbills, and storks are at home here. The Sangai deer (also known as the dancing deer) and other antelopes, water buffaloes, elephants, gibbons, the endangered Red Panda, Bengal tiger, and many more mammal species can be spotted in North East India. Ready for a safari? Your prize could be mightier than you think!
Nature and Landscape
With a substantial percentage of its area under forest cover, North East India may easily be referred to as lungs of the east. Its stunning landscapes would likely make you breathe in mindfulness. From the snow-capped, third-highest mountain in the world, to highlands, to plateaus and plains, to mighty rivers, waterfalls, and lakes, to the world’s largest inhabited river-island, North East India packs all this and more in a relatively small area. If you ever get tired of all that, the lush green rice paddies or perhaps a cup of classic tea might keep you in for longer!
Did you know that the Mughals suffered utter humiliation in north east India? When you cross the Siliguri corridor, you are knocking at the gates of erstwhile Ahom territory. At nearly 600 years, it was one of India’s longest reigning kingdoms. Lachit Borphakun, its famous commander, had delivered a demoralizing defeat to a more powerful Mughal army in the battle of Saraighat. The Brahmaputra river hosts a tall statue of this braveheart and his soldiers. Move southeast to Moirang (Manipur) to witness the ground where Indian National Army, led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, defeated the British and formed the first provisional government of independent India. In Agartala, visit Ujjayanta Palace, a museum now, to experience the erstwhile royalty of Tripura. There’s more history to North East India than meets the eye.
Legend has it that ten million Gods and Goddesses once assembled in Tripura. In the Indian counting system, ten million is one crore or a koti in Bengali. After a fallout, Shiva, one of Hinduism’s Trinity of Gods, had cursed them, casting them into stone. Some believe that the relics of Unakoti (one less than a koti) in Kailashahar refers to this mythological event. Further south in Tripura, artists fleeing persecution in Bangladesh stopped by Gomati river and left a legacy of mysterious rock carvings at Chhabimura. Tripura isn’t the only place in North East India to look for relics. How about the 14th century Malinithan Temple in Arunachal Pradesh or a garden of monoliths in Meghalaya?
Places of Worship
Did you know that divine feminine power, Shakti, is revered in North East India? Visit the famous Ambubachi festival during the monsoons and witness one of the grandest celebrations on earth for a beloved goddess. In a country of seekers, you do not have to go too far to visit a place of worship. Every state of North East India offers sites for the devoted. Listen to the pealing of church bells in the states of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, observe yourself in the silence of monasteries in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, witness the vibrancy in the temples of Assam, Manipur and Tripura, or learn about the indigenous beliefs of various communities.
What do you expect when drums, chorus singers, and artists gather? North East India knows how to celebrate. It seems as if breaking the monotony of everyday routine is itself a routine here. Besides the local and religious festivals, there are state-specific tourism festivals too. Some of the best performers and talented artists showcase the culture, culinary delicacies, and crafts. Tourism festivals offer a window to the communities and are ideal events to learn about their lifestyles. Some of these are incredibly popular and continue to attract increasingly higher visitors every year. You’ve been warned. Plan to book your travel tickets and hotel rooms well in advance!
Though we bracket the region as one geographic entity, these are eight highly diverse states unified only by their ability to nurture vibrancy and, quite literally, the art of building bridges! The cultural landscape of the region emanates from its various communities, their respective practices and their respective heritages. From the languages and dialects her people speak, to the culinary delicacies they offer, to their traditional dressing styles, to the handicrafts they make, or to how they farm their fields – North East India is likely to offer a novel experience, be it a first time visitor or regular.
If you think food in North East India is all about noodles, soup and dumplings, think again. For everyday meals there’s rice, curries, daal, eggs, and smoked meats. The region offers one of the widest spice-spectrum and the variety of delicacies is likely to amaze you. From the chilli-laced eromba chutney in Manipur to the near absence of spices in Mizoram’s Zo Bai, you taste buds are in for a roller coaster ride. While at it, try the local brews too. Be it the millet-based Tongba in Sikkim or the rice aphung in Arunachal Pradesh.
Think North East India
Need more reasons to visit North East India? 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. Buy now!
Have you been to or live in North East India? If yes, you stand to win a free paperback! Check out The Sweet Deal.
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