A travel guide to the Northeast

Northeast India is a growing hub of sustainable tourism

A view of Kangchenjunga from the Pelling viewpoint in Sikkim

Nature has been more than generous with Northeast India. Hills and dales, forests and lakes, rich flora and fauna mark this region. For a tourist who wants to take off from the din and dust of urban life, it’s the perfect destination. Here are the top green spots of Northeast India:

Assam, in the lap of Brahmaputra

Encircled by green hills and washed by the mighty Brahmaputra, Assam offers plenty of options for an eco-tourist with its five national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and two bird sanctuaries.

Kaziranga National Park: Famous for the highest concentration of one-horned rhinos in the world, Kaziranga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is showcased as a success story in rhino conservation, despite poaching from time to time. Besides rhinos, Kaziranga also has a high tiger density, many species of birds, including migratory birds in the winter, water buffalo, sambar, swamp deer, etc. The park is usually closed from May to October.

One-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park
A one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park 

Nameri Eco-Camp & Wildlife Sanctuary: On the way from Tezpur to Arunachal Pradesh via Bhalukpung, you come across Nameri Eco-Camp on the bank of the sparkling Jia Bhoroli river. The camp can be visited on a day trip, but night stay is also possible with prior reservation. A popular winter event here is the annual angling competition to catch golden mahseer, a tradition going back to the days of the British tea planters. Today, the catch has to be returned to the river due to conservation concerns. The Nameri Wildlife Sanctuary is adjacent to it. Clouded leopard, tiger, Indian bison and capped langur are amongst its wild inhabitants. Also near Tezpur is the Orang Wildlife Sanctuary, officially known as the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, which is sometimes referred to as ‘mini-Kaziranga’.

Manas National Park: Bordering Bhutan, Manas National Park, a Project Tiger reserve and a world heritage site, is 176 km from Guwahati. The pristine beauty of the park is well-known. The rare golden langur, rhinos, hispid hares, gaurs, pygmy hogs, etc, are found in the park, besides a variety of birds. Overnight stay at the forest bungalow is ideal to enjoy this splendid spot. 

There are also several other wildlife sanctuaries in Assam: Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (near Guwahati); Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary (near Tezpur) is home to elephants and Indian bison; Dibru-Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary (near Dibrugarh) boasts of wild horses, the rare winged wood duck and migratory birds; Pani-Dihing Bird Sanctuary (near the historic Sivasagar) is gaining prominence, too. In recent years, tea tourism is also picking up in Assam. People can experience, first-hand, the whole process, from picking tea leaves to curling in the factories, and visit the bungalows of the British era.

Meghalaya, hub of cave tourism

Meghalaya is often called as ‘Scotland of the East’. In and around Shillong, besides the Ward Lake, are attractions like Beadon and Bishop Falls, Shillong Peak, etc.

Mawphlang Sacred Grove: Not far from Shillong is the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, a protected forest for centuries. Many rare species of trees are found here, and local guides are available to take you to the site, but visitors are cautioned not to pick up even a single leaf as they are considered ‘sacred’ by the local Khasi tribe. 

Elephant Falls, Meghalaya
Elephant Falls, Meghalaya

Barapani: Barapani, en route to Shillong, has the beautiful man-made Umiam Lake. Definitely worth a visit. Water sports and boating facilities are also available. Of late, cave tourism is gaining ground in Meghalaya, abundant in the Jaintia hill area, Cherrapunji, etc. Recent discoveries have shown that these caves are millions of years old. The village of Mawlynnong, famous as the cleanest village in Asia,falls on the way. The villagers are avid conservators of the forests around. Worth exploring are bridges fashioned from the roots of ancient trees. The village also offers an introduction to the lifestyle of the Khasi tribe.

Sikkim, land of the orchids

Lying at the foothills of the Himalayas, guarded by the Kangchenjunga, Sikkim is a land of pristine beauty and an abundance of orchids. While the capital Gangtok itself has many spots to satisfy an eco-tourist, like the Banjhakri Falls and Flower Exhibition Centre with its blooms and orchids, beyond are places like Yuksom, Nathu La Pass, and more.

Yuksom: Located in Western Sikkim, Yuksom is famous for Himalayan treks. It was once the capital of Sikkim.

Tsomgo Lake: Tsomgo Lake (Changu Lake), 38 km from Gangtok, is one of the highest lakes in India. In winter, it remains frozen, but summer brings out its majestic beauty with its blue water and a view of the stunning white peaks.

Nathu La Pass: Nathu La Pass, not far from the border with Tibet, was once a trading post on the historic Silk Road. It is on one of the highest motorable passes in the world. It is open to Indians but you need a permit from the tourism department to visit.

Nathu La Pass, East Sikkim
Nathu La Pass, East Sikkim

Pelling: Located at a height of 7,200 ft, Pelling offers fantastic views of the Himalayas and the Kangchenjunga Peak. Waterfalls, natural beauty and adventure sports like rafting, kayaking, trekking, mountain biking are the main attractions of this town.

Ravangla: Nestled amidst the Maenam and Tendong Hills, Ravangla town in southern Sikkim hosts some of the most popular treks in Sikkim. It is very popular with birdwatchers, being home to some of the rarest birds in the world. Get ready to spot dark-throated thrush, verditer flycatchers, blue whistling thrush, babblers, cuckoos, and several other birds here.

Other states in the ‘Seven Sisters’ group of the Northeast are also developing eco-friendly tourism. The Hornbill Festival of Nagaland (in January) showcases the cultural diversity of the clans and the beautiful landscape; Dzukou Valley is a trekkers’ paradise with flowers, streams and valleys. Manipur’s Loktak Lake is a window to the land of Manipuri dance and its highly developed culture.

Arunachal Pradesh has many dedicated routes for trekkers and visitors. Namdhapa National Park, Miao Mini Zoo, Along-Pasighat trek with Itafort, Gekar Sinyi, Talley Valley, Menga Cave, D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary, Mouling National Park are some of them. In short, exploring the Northeast, one of the two biosphere hotspots in India, calls for not one, but repeated visits.

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A travel guide to the Northeast

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