Great Indian rhinoceros walking into jungle

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The Northeast


The least explored and arguably most beautiful region of India, the NORTHEAST is connected to the rest of the country by a narrow stretch of land between Bhutan and Bangladesh, and was all but sealed off from the outside world until relatively recently. Arunachal Pradesh shares an extremely sensitive frontier with Chinese-occupied Tibet and, together with Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, a 1600km-border with Myanmar.

Insurgency has agitated the region since Independence, with tribal groups pushing for autonomy as well as fighting each other. A huge influx of Bangladeshis in the last decade and the displacement of many indigenous people has also created further tension. The situation has improved in recent years, though Tripura and Manipur remain unsafe for travel and Restricted or Protected Area Permits are required for four of the seven states. Tourists are not a target of violence, however, and an extraordinary diversity of peoples and spectacular landscapes make a visit well worth the effort. One of the world’s wettest monsoon belts, the area also boasts an astounding array of flora and fauna, estimated at fifty percent of India’s entire biodiversity.

Until the 1960s the region comprised just two states, the North East Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam, but separatist pressures further divided it into seven states, dubbed “the seven sisters”. Assam consists of the flat, low-lying Brahmaputra valley. Its capital, Guwahati, boasts two of India’s most important ancient temples and is the gateway to the region, while an encounter with a one-horned rhino in the magnificent Kaziranga National Park is a highlight of any trip to the Northeast.

The other six states occupy the surrounding hills, and are quite distinct from the rest of India in landscape, climate and peoples. Meghalaya boasts beautiful lakes and is home to the wettest places on earth, Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram. Its capital, Shillong, retains some of the colonial atmosphere from its days as East India’s summer capital. Majestic Arunachal Pradesh, one of India’s most remote states, is inhabited by a fascinating range of peoples, many of Tibetan origin. In the state’s northwestern corner lies the Buddhist monastery of Tawang, encircled by awesome mountains, while in the far northeast is the remote wilderness of Namdapha National Park. To the south, the lush mountains of Nagaland are home to fourteen distinctive tribal groups. Mizoram, in the Lushai hills, is predominantly Christian and has one of the highest literacy rates in India.

Manipur and Tripura have been deemed unsafe for travel over the past several years. Although tourists are not a direct target, both states suffer from inter-tribal disputes, kidnapping, banditry, arson and killings. The people of Manipur are more closely related to the neighbouring Burmese population, while Tripura is bordered by Bangladesh on three sides having been cut off from the Bangladeshi plains during the 1947 Partition.

The best time to visit the Northeast is from November to April, although mountain areas can be extremely cold by December. It rains heavily from May to the end of September. In two weeks you could travel from West Bengal to Guwahati, Shillong and Kaziranga, while three weeks would be enough to cover the main sights of Assam and Meghalaya. A month would enable you to enjoy the two most beautiful and remote states, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. To take in all the states together, including Mizoram, you’ll need considerably longer.

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