Northeast India is not one of those destinations found in every traveler’s list. This is mostly because of the region’s remoteness, closeness to sensitive international borders and absence of proper infrastructure. Call it godsend, the niche tourism acts as a safeguard to the region’s rich but delicate environment and cultures, whereas, if mass tourism was to exist, it would certainly have a deteriorating impact.
For the few percentage of travelers who do manage to stumble into the blissful land of the seven sisters, there are many surprises; including staying in some simply delightful cottages, homestays, lodges, resorts and bungalows. As these properties clearly deserve to be noticed, we have decided to begin a series focussed on showcasing them. To start with, today’s post is a list of 6 responsible, offbeat and delightful places to stay while you’re in Northeast India, but not in any particular order.
Potasali Nameri Eco-Camp
Location: Nameri National Park, Assam.
Situated besides the Jia-Bhoroli River where it comes out from its journey in the Himalayas, Nameri Eco-Camp is a delightful deluxe cottage & camp styled property which is run by the Assam Angling Association and is surrounded by the thick forests of Nameri National Park. Like most of the wildlife areas north of the north bank of the Brahmaputra River, the park forms a part of the Eastern Himalaya Biodiversity Hotspot. A stay in the camps provides a great opportunity to be amidst incredible bird and mammal life, especially in the nights when elephants routinely cross very nearby to the camps. There are some delightful things to do when staying in the camps. Especially for the birders, early morning jungle walks are organized which are not only thrilling but also give generous opportunities to spot exotic and rare sub-tropical and migratory species of birds. Though the forest harbors an extraordinary array of mammal life such as the presence of tigers, leopards, deer and elephants, it is hard to spot them in the jungle walks due to the nature of the trails and security concerns. However, if you are lucky, you might as well get a chance to spot some of these large mammals.
For the adventure enthusiasts, light grade rafting is conducted in the nearby Jia-Bhoroli River which goes through some dense jungle terrain. You can see great panoramic views of some eastern Himalayan peaks on a clear day. The Jia-Bhoroli is also a superb river for angling some of the tough tackle fishes of the Himalayas, including the prized Golden Mahseer. Another way to spend your time can be by going on easy walks to nearby tribal villages to observe the simple and sustainable ways of life of the locals. A special mention goes to the conservation measures undertaken by the forest department and NGOs to protect two important endangered species, the Golden Mahseer and the tiny Pigmy Hog. Note that only 150 pygmy hogs remain in the world today, most of them found in Nameri. Visitors to the park can learn about the two species and about how they are being conserved in a successful manner.
La Maison De Ananda
Location: Majuli Island, Assam.
It is quite a journey to reach this secretive place located remotely in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra River in Majuli Island. You have to cross the fertile countryside, Assam’s tea plantations and take a ferry full with people, cattle and cars to eventually arrive at the island. From there, a drive through dusty/sandy roads leads you to an almost hidden country lane where La Maison De Ananda stands. There is not much to boast about the property and that is what makes it blend in with the island’s culture. A tribal styled cottage with comfortable but basic amenities and built by a French couple who fell in love with the island, staying in the hut is an ambient experience unlike any other. The couple who built it has gifted it to a local tribal family, who now run it with tenderness, remarkable hospitality and a smile ever upon their face. There are many things to do while in Majuli, though the no-hurry atmosphere present in the island makes time pass nice and easy.
As the island is home to numerous xatras; which are Assamese monasteries where monks young and old learn a unique form of traditional arts, drama, music, dance and philosophy, visiting these establishments is an incredible experience. What’s remarkable in these monasteries are their simplistic approach to religion and spirituality. There are no majestic structures or idols, but just monks living a simple life filled with the simple joys of art and culture. The Neo-Vaishnavite culture which the monasteries preach is mostly about devotion to the Hindu god Lord Krishna in the form of love; no surprise that the island has a very beautiful and soothing vibe to it everywhere. There is also a mask making center where you can learn about a unique style of making masks which have depth to the characters portrayed. Other ways to explore the island are by: Going on easy walks to villages of the different tribes who reside in the island, observing their simple and sustainable ways of life. Taking slow rides in hand maneuvered boats, especially to witness incredible sunsets. Teacing in one of the local schools. Tasting the ethnic cuisine which Manjit and his family is an expert at cooking in La Maison. Shopping and learning the remarkable local weaves and bamboo crafts produced in the island. One of the reason for the ever smiley faces of the locals is their notable appetite for the tasty locally brewed rice beer. They drink it throughout the day, as the rice beer is quite filling and a great source of energy when working in the fields. Majuli is definitely one of those places which feels like a faraway escape from cities and urban areas. And it is also a place facing the wrath of the Brahmaputra River in the form of mass erosion. Predictions foretell the island may last only a few decades, which makes it all the more urgent to visit the island before it disappears.
Recommended itinerary: Rural tourism in Assam – Majuli Island and Namphake
Homestays with the Monpa Tribe
Location: Thembang, western Arunachal Pradesh.
In a secluded hilltop in the eastern Himalayan landscape, at a height of 2300 meters, is the village of Thembang of the Monpa Tribe. The village was once ruled by a powerful grandson of the king of Potala who fortified the village with stones – out of which two stone walls still exist today in the two entrances to the village. Interestingly, the village is also a part of the Community Conserved Area (CCA) initiative started by WWF-India. The aim of the project is to conserve the surrounding forests and wildlife under the ownership and participation of the local Monpa community. Additionally, to improve the livelihood of the locals, the project also promotes community based village tourism. For the few responsible travelers who manage to reach this hidden village, homestay facilities have been setup to ensure that visitors get a chance to closely interact with the Monpa culture and at the same time make a positive contribution to the community. Though the facilities are basic but comfortable, the experience of living a remote Himalayan lifestyle makes a visit to Thembang very worthwhile.
There are plenty of things to do in and around the village. You can begin by learning about the Monpa culture. Part animists and part Buddhists, the Monpas have some very unique customs. They practice water burial where the dead are cut into many pieces and are eventually flowed away in the mountain river. Another interesting aspect of the village is the absence of private ownership. All shops in the village are looked after by the community as a whole and the dividends are equally distributed. Other aspects of the Monpa society are agriculture, animal rearing, ethnic food, dances, music and religious places. If seeking adventure, there are quite a few trek routes in the mountains around Thembang. The treks cover a diversified altitude range of 2000 m to 6000 m, which means you get to pass through various vegetations, from biodiversity rich rainforests to breathtaking barren high altitude landscapes. There is a lot of exotic and rare flora and fauna to be seen if you are patient, especially more than 200 species of birds and the elusive snow leopard in the higher elevations if you are tremendously lucky. With rhododendron, orchid and primula laced forests around; Thembang is like a serene sanctuary where you can spend a few weeks midst unspoiled culture, natural beauty and wildlife.
Recommended itinerary: Buddhism in Arunachal Pradesh
Tribal homestay with the Khasi Tribe
Location: Mawlynnong, Meghalaya.
Mawlynnong, located in forested foothills overlooking the plains of Bangladesh, in the state of Meghalaya, is known to be Asia’s cleanest village, and a very delightful one. Discovered by the outside world only in the recent few years, the village got popularity after a feature by BBC. The village has a very effective community tourism initiative in place which ensures that tourists play a positive role – as a source of livelihood and in conserving the nearby forests. Overnight visitors to the village get a chance to stay either in the delightful village tree house or with one of the families in a cozy homestay. The credit for the village’s sustainable success and to the cleanliness goes to the residing Khasi Tribe. With a hundred percent literacy rate, the villagers are all educated, smart, charming, well mannered, and have a remarkable passion to keep their society clean and healthy. Though one may not find all the luxuries of the modern world in the village, the highlight of a trip to Mawlynnong is the genuineness of the Khasi culture and their concern for better livable places. Life in the village is an easy going affair and the people all seem happy.
There are many things to do in and around the village when you’re not busy lazing out. You can go for easy walks in the narrow paths of the village interacting with the locals or hike to nearby villages. The success of ecotourism in Mawlynnong has even inspired other villages to keep themselves clean. In Mawlynnong itself, other than the usual garbage, locals voluntarily clean even a leaf which falls to the ground. My personal favorite way to spend afternoons in the village is by a visit to the local natural pool where a small waterfall glorifies the atmosphere. This is followed by a visit to the village skywalk; a bamboo platform built on top of a tall tree from where you can see exceptional sunsets and panoramic views of the Bangladesh plains. There are many simple natural wonders around Mawlynnong where you can go hiking to, such as hidden waterfalls and caves. Especially, you ‘must’ hike to the remarkable eco-engineered structures built by villagers in harmony with nature like the living root bridges and one living root ladder. The best time to visit the village is during the summer rainy season. It is the time of the year when Meghalaya lives up to its name of being the abode of clouds and Mawlynnong offers just the perfect coziness to sit, relax and be a witness to the magic and mystery of the monsoons. P.S – Bring your cameras if you are into photographing thunders.
Recommended itinerary: The Fabled Land of the Khasi People
Community run cottages with Angami Tribe
Location: Touphema, Nagaland.
Nagaland is one of the remotest frontiers of India. A state which until recently remained closed to the world due to armed struggle for an independent nation for the Naga tribes. The territory of the Naga people cannot be measured in boundaries as their population can be found from the Assam plains to the Chindwin Valley of Burma. Nagaland in India is a land of sixteen colorful tribes who inhabit the verdant Naga Hills and live a life of simple means. Touhema is one such village located picturesquely on a hilltop overlooking forested valleys, where the residents belong to the warm and welcoming Angami Tribe. It is also one of the very few places in Nagaland where the village has a community tourism initiative in place. Visitors to the village get a chance to stay in traditionally styled cottages which have modern facilities and porticos decorated with carvings of bull-horns, hornbill feathers and other symbols significant to the Angamis. There is also a group dining room which has a gorgeous view of a forested canyon thousands of feet deep. The income generated from the tourist facilities goes in maintaining and improving the village.
Staying in the village gives you an opportunity to indulge in the local Angami way of life and learn about their customs, ornaments, weaves, dances and music. As the Angamis are an educated tribe, you can spend time interacting with the villagers and making new friends. The local cuisine of the tribes of Nagaland can be considered outright exotic. All kinds of birds, animals and insects are eaten in the state. However, for visitors who eat a less diversity of meats, chicken and pork dishes are quite delicious and must be tasted. Another interesting aspect of Angami society is community singing where womenfolk work and sing together while performing village chores, probably to kill the boredom. Other than the delightful leisurely walks exploring the village, you can also visit nearby places such as Wokha, Mokokchung or Kohima. In Wokha and Mokokchung, you will get to observe the lifestyles of the Lotha and Ao tribes respectively. Whereas Kohima is the bustling but scenic capital of Nagaland where you can visit the local markets, churches, museum or the WW2 cemetery.
Recommended itinerary: Tour of Nagaland Tribes
Tai-Phake Ecotourism Camp
Location: Tipam Village, eastern Assam.
Tipam, located in the fertile plains of eastern Assam besides the Buridihing River and surrounded by farms, pastures, tea plantations, evergreen forests and hills, is a village of the Tai-Phake Tribe. One of the fascinating communities of India, the Tais migrated from the Shan Kingdom of Burma somewhere during the 18th century. Tai Phake Ecotourism Camp (TPETC) is a private part community project which aims at providing a source of livelihood to unemployed Tai youths and fostering conservation initiatives to protect the rich biodiversity found in the nearby Dihing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. Accommodation for visitors is minimalistic and in terms with ecotourism. There are Tai styled small cottages constructed with bamboo and a dormitory which can host 12 people. There is much to do in and around Tipam, simple but delightful things with a promise of sweet memories.
You should obviously start with exploring the Dihing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. Known as the “Amazon of the east” for having the largest tract of tropical low land wet evergreen forests in India and due to the sheer thickness of the jungle, Dihing Patkai is one of India’s most virgin forests. As much of it remains unexplored, there is immense scope in this rainforest for new discoveries. Till date, 42 species of mammals have been spotted here including numerous primates, elephants, beers, binturongs, pangolins and an astounding seven species of wild cats such as tiger, golden cat, leopard, panther, marbled cat and clouded leopard. The bird, reptilian and floral diversity is equally exotic. To explore this jungle, you can choose from elephant back rides, jungle hikes and jeep safaris, which are organized in the early mornings and in the afternoons. Staying midst the Tai Phake people is the other highlight of a trip to Tipam. Followers of Theravada Buddhism, the Tais speak the Phake language and live a sustainable lifestyle with agriculture and fishing being the main sources of their livelihood. Their houses are pretty, resemble chang-ghars, and are built above the ground on piles of wood. The dresses, dances and festivals of the tribe are colorful and also unique in all aspects. Other than the Tais, there are villages of other tribes near Tipam which are worth a visit, such as the Singphos, Noctes and tea tribes. Other ways to spend your time can by visiting nearby tea plantations to learn about tea production, visiting the nearby oil towns such as Digboi which have rich colonial history or learning about Theravada Buddhism in some of the beautiful monasteries. Lastly, you must taste the local cuisine of the Tai people which consist mainly of herbs cooked along with both vegetables and meat items.
Recommended itinerary: The Great Northeast India Wildlife Tour