North East India is one of the most remote and relatively unknown regions of India. The region consists of seven states namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Recently, Sikkim has been added as the eighth state. North East is a part of the second largest biodiversity hotspot in the world, with more than 60% of the area under forest cover. The cultural diversity of the region is equally rich with more than 150 tribes found here.
Being a remote and hilly area, Infrastructure is not well developed. With the exception of Assam, where they have 4 lane cemented highways, roads are pretty bad. In Arunachal and Nagaland roads are continuously winding and poorly maintained restricting top speed to 30 kms, hence journeys between two places are often long. But having said that, the views along most of the routes are spectacular and would keep you enchanted almost all the way. Also, the government has identified the North East region as a priority for development of infrastructure and tourism and hence is sure to improve a great deal in the near future.
Accommodation too is pretty basic in most places. At many places hotels do not have heaters or showers so hot water for bathing is provided in buckets. Some places may not even have English style toilets so be prepared to squat though things are changing fast and places like Assam, Sikkim and Gangtok do have some extremely comfortable places now.
Is it for you?
North East has a very raw and rugged beauty, bearing a closer affinity to South East Asia than to main land India. If you like to travel to offbeat places and are willing to rough it out then this is the place for you. Expect the unexpected when travelling in this region. This a place for adventurers, nature lovers and food experimenters.
There are very few luxury hotels in the North East and those which exist are found only in selected places like Kaziranga, Shillong, Jorhat and Dibrugarh. So if you are a luxury seeker and like to be pampered on your vacation this is not the place for you.
Being a remote area the cost of trips to North East works out nearly 20% higher than a similar trip in any other place in India. The main reason is the transportation cost which is quite high due to roads being steep and in poor condition. Hence it is most economical to travel in groups of 4. Hotel charges are also higher than other places in India.
Generally speaking November to May is a good time to visit the North East, but depending on the kind of trip and places you would like to visit certain months might be more favourable than others.
Rice, rice and more rice. Rice is the staple diet of all the tribes in the North East. Along with rice they have various kinds of leafy vegetable, beans and other vegetables mainly boiled or lightly spiced. They love meat and have many different preparations like roast, boiled, barbeque ; pork being the favourite but chicken and fish is equally consumed. Food is mainly bland but with food they prepare spicy chutney made mainly from chilly, which is had along with the food. The region is hard on vegetarians as most of the tribes eat a lot of meat. One has to be a little adventurous to try some of the special meat dishes.
Alcohol goes well with all the meat they eat. Rice being the main grain is used in preparation of alcohol and all tribes make wonderful beer out of it.
Foreigners do not require permits to enter any of the North Eastern states besides Arunachal Pradesh. For visiting Arunachal, foreigners need a PAP (Protected Area Permit) which costs USD 100 for 2 people and is granted for a duration of 30 days. The permit has to be applied through a tour operator recognised by the Government of Arunachal.
In Conclusion, though it may seem that the north east is more for the adventurous traveller we would recommend that you keep at least 10 days for a trip to the North East since the region is pretty remote , difficult to access with long travel times. Road journeys are long and so it is best to have more days at hand to see the region in a more relaxed manner. Most circuits in Nagaland and Arunachal would need around 15 to 20 days if you wish to properly experience the varied culture.