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North East India travel, for me, was one of my most awesome adventures to date.
It was an journey like no other, a bitter sweet challenge if you will and gave me some of the most fantastic memories I’ve ever had on the road.
As there is limited information on this beautiful underrated part of India, I felt like I had little or no time to prepare for what awaited me there.
I was heading into the unknown and all by myself. To say I was scared was an understatement.
But, on reflection, I had nothing to worry about.
I just wish that there was more up to date information available for people travelling there.
That’s why I’ve made it my mission on my blog to write about it as much as possible so that traveller’s like me could prepare for what to expect!
So, I’ve come up with some top tips for North East India travel and the things that no one told me before I arrived.
From the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh, to the green forests of Meghalaya, the river islands of Assam and the tribes of Nagaland, you will feel like you’ve been transported to another planet!
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was travelling from state, to city to tribal land.
There were villages that looked like I went back in time to the last century and bustling cities that were building up with tall buildings and shopping centres.
It was an amazing mix of sights, people and places and somewhere I couldn’t get enough of.
Each place I visited turned out to be more beautiful than the last and it really made me feel what I had been missing all this time.
You have to see it (and pinch yourself) to believe it.
2. That it would be completely safe to travel
Before I landed into Guwahati, I started to browse some travel tips for North East India and what I was getting myself into.
I wish I hadn’t bothered.
The articles I read spoke of kidnapping of foreign tourists, women not being able to travel on their own, road toll rebels on the road and violent unrest in certain states.
It made me regret buying my plane ticket entirely!
I gave my contact details to friends and family, my itinerary and whereabouts and kept people updated. But, I felt a bit silly getting myself worked up so much.
North East India has come a long way in enabling tourists to travel safely including limiting the number of permits required (see below for more detail), allowing tourists to travel freely without supervision and setting up more hotels and guest houses in a bid to encourage more tourism there.
I actually felt safer in North East India than I did in Delhi or Rajasthan.
I was a woman travelling solo and no one stared at me, I could travel at night alone and felt safe, I was greeted with kindness wherever I went.
The locals primary concern was that I got to my next destination safely, had a good time and that I left with positive things to say about their city or state.
If you were more comfortable visiting North East India with a tour guide, I would recommend Holiday Scout. You can read a full review of my experience here.
3. The transport would be like working out a puzzle
The one thing that is the most time consuming and will be the undoing of many of your travel plans is the transport options here.
Everything is plain sailing in the state of Assam but once you start travelling into the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya or Nagaland – that’s where it starts to get tricky.
Sometimes it would take me a full 24 hours to get somewhere and sometimes I would arrive at a destination at 1pm and the buses were finished for the day.
Luckily, I relish a challenge and it was kind of satisfying to work it out and get moving on the road.
You will need to be acquainted with the sumo (a sharing jeep), start to look out for sharing cars, get used to getting up before the crack of dawn, sleeping on night buses and get used to massive delays due to the road quality.
It will take a little bit of planning, trust and pixie dust but you’ll make it to your destination eventually.
If you want to know more about North East India transport, see my article here.
4. A smile will be your language of choice
Although we are still in India, not many people speak Hindi let alone English.
You’ll find each state or even tribe will have their own dialects and it can be quite difficult to navigate around, buy bus tickets, order food or even book hotels.
This was especially difficult in Nagaland where the majority of people speak Nagamese. So, you’ll need to don your best smile and communicate in any way you can.
Saying that, there are a lot of people who do speak English, however basic and will always be on hand to help you.
5. You won’t need as many permits as they say
To encourage North East India travel and tourism, they have actually done away with a lot of the permits and set new rules where you don’t need to report to the police station to state that you’re visiting which makes the whole process a lot less stressful.
The only places that you will need a permit for is Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
You don’t need to report to the police station much (Apart from I did need to in Longwa in Nagaland) but your guest house should be able to advise you on the process.
Rules changes all the time so make sure you check with your guest house owner if you need to check in with the local authorities.
If you would like to know a bit more information about sourcing a Protected Area Permit (PAP) for Arunachal Pradesh, please see here.
6. It’s completely budget friendly
Despite the remoteness of North East, it’s incredibly cheap for food, guest houses, transport and activities. So, it’s perfect for the budget conscious traveller.
I will list some basic prices in Rupees so you can get a general idea of the cost of travel there;
- Guest Houses (private room): 500 – 1500 a night
- Hostels: 200 – 500 rupees a night
- Food (Thali, rice, Momos, chow): 75 – 200 rupees per meal
- Travel (Sumo): 200 – 700 rupees
- Bus (Coach): 200 – 700 rupees
- Kaziranga Safari: 500 rupees (4 sharing) 1800 rupees (solo)
- Living root bridge entry: 10 rupees, 30 rupees with a camera
- Hornbill Festival: 20 rupees entry, 30 rupees for camera
I was coming up to the end of my travels in India (and my budget!) so thankfully it didn’t cost that much to get around or I would be totally broke!
7. The people you meet will leave their footprint
Some of my most precious memories involve the kind and gracious hospitality I received from the people of North East.
I was amazed at how welcoming, open and warm people were.
They were curious to learn about me just as much as I was curious to know more about them.
In Nagaland, I was invited by the King of Longwa into his palace to talk, I was invited for chai and butter milk tea in every home I passed in Arunachal Pradesh and in Meghalaya I loved chatting to the stall owners of the markets and the local ladies who passed me by.
You really don’t get that sort of hospitality everywhere in the world, so I would relish it while you’re there. It will restore your faith in humanity and make you want to do the same for travellers back home.
8. It will take a piece of your heart along with it
When I was on my way back to Delhi and looking back at all the wonderful captures and memories I had made on my trip, my heart broke a little bit.
I couldn’t believe my North East trip was over.
It’s funny because even though I was ready to go back to running hot water, electricity and Wi-Fi, 24 hour transport and hotels with comfy beds; I knew I would miss it unconditionally.
It’s like nowhere that I’ve ever visited before or anywhere I am yet to visit.
It’s a vibrant and unique and I’m so happy I didn’t let fear or negative press get the better of me.
It’s a part of the world that I would encourage everyone to visit and I would book a ticket there again without a second thought.
Be open, travel as far and wide as you can and don’t look back. This is North East India, and it’s waiting to delight in you.
Want to know more about North East India?
Here are some of my favourite articles;
- My big fat North East India bucket list; 32 things you must do!
- the 14 reasons why you should visit North East India with Holiday Scout
- Why visiting Arunachal Pradesh will ruin your life
- A beginner’s guide to Guwahati; gateway to North East India
- The ultimate 2018 Kaziranga National Park Safari Guide
- A complete guide to Majuli, the world’s biggest river island
- An Epic step by step guide to the Double Decker Root Bridges in Cherrapunjee
- The ultimate 2018 guide to Hornbill Festival
- 11 fail safe tips for visiting the last surviving head hunters of Mon