North East Indian trails - en route Assam and Meghalaya
When you think of North Eastern part of India, there isn’t a specific feeling you can associate with. Feelings, which you otherwise attach to other places such as the feel of cold winters of Rajasthan, the monsoon of Kerala, the beaches of Goa, or the thrill of bike riding in Ladakh. That’s probably because it’s not a common place for people to visit. Actually, it was never seen as a travel or holiday destination for a long time but started changing few years ago. And the beauty of it being unexplored makes it even more interesting and a challenging tourist destination.
For me, a trip to North East India was always on cards but somehow I never got time to execute the plan. For years. I guess I was looking for that similar feeling to take a vacation to this part of India. I never realised that starting with a clean slate would be the best way to explore it without any preference or prejudice. And that’s how my first ever trip to North Eastern India became a reality.
With approx. 8-10 days in hands, we decided to cover parts of Assam and Meghalaya.
Our trip started at the Tea City of India i.e. Dibrugarh, a small city surrounded by numerous Tea Estates. This isn’t a typical tourist city sprawling with people from different parts of India. It is one of those cities which still lives in its original persona and not get affected by people visiting from outside. Situated along Brahmaputra river, Dibrugarh offers a unique mix of places to visit which would require you to go out of your regular tourist mode to explore this city. For someone who is a tea lover, this place is beyond heaven. One can find a tea estate at almost every turn of road. Even if you miss it by sight, the smell of tea would surely attract you to find your way to the estate. Also, there are few estates which even provides facility to stay while you enjoy the taste of their home grown tea. Now that’s one bed tea you wouldn’t want to miss!
Then there is an architectural marvel called Bogibeel Bridge - India’s longest rail-road bridge to connect north and south banks of Brahmaputra. While this may sound just like any other bridge but, with the backdrop of Brahmaputra river and lights in evening makes is a good place to spend sometime.
There are other places to visit near Dibrugarh such as a Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary or Joypur Rainforest. If you want a connect to local culture, then plan a visit around Dehing Patkai festival in January. While Dibrugarh may not find its place in the top 10 travel destinations of India or such other lists, it is strategically very important place when in comes to exploring North Easter part of India specially what lies in Arunachal Pradesh and other norther states. Dibrugarh is the east most Airport in India and that provides a good connectivity from major cities in India. Places such as Ziro, Roing, Pasighat are very close to Dibrugarh and offer a unique perceptive of Arunachal Pradesh.
Info - To visit Arunachal Pradesh and other north eastern states such as Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram, an Inner line Permit is required for all Indian tourists. Foreign tourists need to register themselves Foreigner Registration Office for some parts of North Eastern India
After our stay in Dibrugarh, we made our way to the the Famous Kaziranga National Park to see the one-horned rhinoceros. We booked a bus from Dibrugarh to Kaziranga which took around five to six hours to reach our resort. On our way, we passed through Majuli – the river Island in Bhramaputra River. We couldn’t accommodate it in our itinerary but if you have time, it is worth a visit.
The only place where we have rhinos in India, Kaziranga National Park holds a special place when it comes to any National Park in India. It was a delight to see rhinos for the first time in life and it’s something I’ll remember for long.
There are different entrances to the park with unique predefined tourist circuit and features. It is best to plan a couple of days to cover the most of the Park. There are resorts to stay close by to each location.
The park remains open throughout the year except between May to October due to raising warnings of Bhramaputra river floods during rain. So it’s best to plan the visit in advance. I’d say summer season would be the best as it draws animal out for water in morning.
This is why a morning safari would be a best time to explore the park. For a much better experience, it’s best to take an elephant safari as they get you closer to animals. If time permits and your urge to explore the park is still insatiable, then try jeep safari.
Tip - Mihimukh in Central Range at Kohora and Agaratoli in Eastern Range at Agaratoli are little bit closer to Dibrugarh. Bagori in Western Range at Bagori and Ghorakati in Burapahar Range at Ghorakhati are little bit closer to Guwahati.
There are abundance of resorts near the park but it would be wiser to pick the ones closer to the park so that it doesn’t take time to reach the park for safari, particularly morning one. There is a botanical garden with variety of orchids near the Kaziranga area which can be visited in spare time.
Meghalaya is full of surprises and harbour places which do not fit with the regulars. I guess that’s what makes is a special place to visit for anyone, as it made for us.
Our next destination was Shillong. It holds a very important place when it comes to tourism in Meghalaya. It’s an epicentre to plan a trip to the whole of Meghalaya. Apart from holding a few places within and around the city such as Shillong Peak, Elephant Falls, Ward Lake etc., Shillong provides easier access to various travel options for both day tours and trips for couple of days. And with the abundance of natural beauty around, it’s no wonder why Shillong is called the Scotland of India.
Surrounded by hills from all sides, the temperature at Shillong is a bit low at times then its surrounding area. We were based at the famous police bazaar and it provided to be the most resourceful area in the place. You can literally find anything from street shopping, to cab drivers for long day trips, to renting a vehicle, to some good restaurants to treat yourself with some delicious food.
Info – Shillong does not have Uber / Ola so avail services of local taxis. Guwahati on the other hand has both
On our way to Shillong from Guwahati, we encountered Umiam Lake. It’s at the outskirts of Shillong and can be reached within a couple of hours by a vehicle. The setting of the lake encircled by the East Khasi Hills makes it a good place to spend some time. While in Shillong for couple of days, we planned day tours to different places. One can either hire a cab for the entire day or take a guided bus tours to different places.
We started with Dawki Lake which is close to Bangladesh Border. The lake is famous for its crystal clear water and that’s why it is not to be missed. But try avoiding a trip in or around monsoon season as the water may get dirty and your hopes to take pictures of a boat which seems floating in the air will wither away. Now that’s one thing we don’t need to ruin our perfectly planned holiday.
Tip – There is a famous café at the outskirts of Shillong - ‘ML 05’. It is worth a visit.
Next in line was the very famous living roots bridge. Now there are many living roots bridges in Meghalaya and you can pick and choose to plan your visit. Some can be found near Nongriat village and Mawlynnong village and then there are others within the Cherrapunji region. The fascinating thing is that can be a single living roots bridge and the famous Jingkieng Nongriat Double Decker Living Root Bridge; more commonly known as the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge or simply just the Double Decker Root Bridge. But whichever it is you find and visit, the sight leaves you in awe of the magnificent structure, its natural beauty, and how strong it stands even today. Obviously, there are people to control the inflow of public there and at many places you aren’t allowed to stop and stand but just walk through the bridge. It involves a small ticket cost to see these places and separate cost for camera which ranges around INR 80-100. Considering our smartphones are smart enough to take good pictures, a camera can be avoided unless you wish otherwise.
The Cherrapunji region has a lot in store itself so one can plan a stay for couple of days to explore this part of Meghalaya in detail. There could be nothing soothing and calming then being surrounded by greenery all across when you move deeper into the roots of Meghalaya to explore the hidden gems of this state. This area also harbours a couple of waterfalls such as Noh-Kalikai, Dain-Thlen and Kynrem and a cave.
Even though our day trips left us tiring as the sun set, our fascination to indulge in the grace and charm of the exquisiteness of southern part Meghalaya soared high thought out the day. While the weather can be a bit of trouble in such places especially in summer season, ensure to stock yourself with energy bars and keep taking plenty of fluids. Also a bit of advice for those who don’t like mountain roads which are hardly straight, keep some chocolates or toffee with you to pop in your mouth to avoid nausea.
While what we visited definitely sounded something out of ordinary, personally, I’m yet to traverse my highlight of Meghalaya; the longest cave in India - Krem Liat Prah. My interest in caves piqued with my visit to the second longest cave in India – Belam Caves in Andhra Pradesh. We couldn’t find time to visit Krem Liat Prah this time but it shouldn’t be missed by those who seek adventure in rarest of the places.
After spending couple of days to explore Shillong and other areas South of Meghalaya, our last destination was Guwahati. While our stay here was short lived, we were mainly interested in street shopping at the well-known Paltan Bazaar. The place is filled with shops of apparel stores and some selling authentic Assam Silk sarees, enticing street food, jewellery, and variety of teas as well. There is a river cruise close by at Bhramaputra River. If you plan to take one, I suggest either sun-rise or sun-set for a better experience and advance booking is must.
This was end of our sojourn to North Eastern part of India particularly Assam and Meghalaya. Assam was a very different experience then the earlier ones we had which forced us to move out of our comfort zone to understand that travel isn’t always about us but it’s about the place. Meghalaya on the other hand proved to be a surprise with many hidden gems which you can find only if you dare to go beyond the regular tourist paths. Out trip was an end to an interesting beginning of exploring the hidden trails of Norther Eastern India where every place offers something new and something different in return and leaves your with an experience unforgotten.
Until next time…for a new adventure :)
সুস্বাস্থ্যৰ বাবে! (xuswasthyôr babe!)