Ignore the potholes, enjoy the ride


Nestled in the north-eastern corner of India are eight states that hold treasures that most have not yet heard of, leave alone seen. They may seem small on the map, but in reality, these states will take you many months of travelling on road, boat, train and foot to cover just the accessible regions, and possibly much longer if you want to venture into the mountains and forests. For those of you looking for a place to begin your adventures, here are Rohan K. Abraham’s five insider highlights to put on your list:

A thrilling high-altitude drive to Gurudongmar Lake, Sikkim

Looking for a memorable extreme experience? This could be it. At approximately 17,800 ft (5,400 m) above sea level, this is one of the world’s highest lakes, and is frozen for almost seven months every year. Approximately 190 km away from Gangtok and just five km short of the Indo-Chinese border, it involves a fairly arduous journey. The scenery, however, is dramatic: As you drive north from Gangtok, through mountains and valleys, the green cover is slowly replaced by snow and rock. Finally, you are surrounded by spectacular, crystal-clear lake waters and snow-covered mountain tops. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the remnants of the mountain that fell near a Rhododendron forest. Yes, the mountain collapsed — you will just have to go there to see what I mean!

Note: Gurudongmar Lake is occasionally inaccessible because of heavy snowfall. Be prepared to be stopped by the Indian Army just before you reach the lake; because of the high altitude and weather, they check each car for unfit people. (If you fall into that category, you’ll just have to wait it out at the check-post while the others head up to the lake.) Foreigners are not allowed without a permit.  

Closest airport: Bagdogra

Closest rail station: New Jalpaiguri

Live the life of a Naga tribal family, Nagaland

Everything you have heard about Nagaland is true. Well, almost. They were head hunters. They do eat almost everything that moves. And they have some incredible customs they still follow. What you probably have not heard is that these are some of the most hospitable people you will ever encounter. So don’t worry about urban legends featuring locals running around with spears or daos, waiting to knock your head off.

Here are people so rich in history, culture and diversity that it requires a first-hand experience to know what it is all about. The architecture is resourceful; a creative amalgamation of local bamboo and age-old tradition. The state has about 16 tribes, each of which has its own distinctive style of building. Then, there’s the food. In the mood for another extreme experience? Try the King Chilli.

A visit must include a few days in a Naga village. Stay with the locals, who will show you around and cook for you. Then you can roll up your sleeves and help them with their work; chopping firewood, tilling the fields, weaving shawls or just helping in the family kitchen. Remember to take advantage of the fresh air, by taking long walks in the woods or exploring the many paths leading out of the village on a cycle. However well you prepare yourself, Nagaland will surprise you. Rarely will you find people so comfortable and proud of their past.

Note: There was a time when a vegetarian would have had a problem in Nagaland, but today, you’ll be fine. Permits are required to enter Nagaland, which can be obtained through any of the travel agents or directly from Nagaland House.

Closest airport: Dimapur

Closest rail station: Dimapur

A trek to Jingkieng Nongriat – the double-decker living root bridges, Meghalaya

This is probably the only place in India where our standard daily Met Department advisory from 1947 holds good: ‘Partly cloudy skies with slight chances of rain’.  Meghalaya, home to the towns that receive the highest rainfall in the world, is geographically stunning, with green hills, caves, gorges, rivers and forests.

While all over the country, we wait for the government to build us bridges, the local Khasi folk of Meghalaya learnt to build their own natural bridges about 200 years ago — using pliable roots of banyan trees. Living root bridges are exactly what they sound like — bridges that are alive. Scattered across many places in Meghalaya, they are used by the locals to cross rivers, especially when the rains are heavy.

Ever considered walking 3,000 steps down and then back up just to see a bridge (covering about 3.5 km each way)?  Some parts of the steps are very steep, and during the monsoon season, they can be a bit slippery. Be warned, it isn’t as easy as it might seem. You are, however, rewarded with the ‘Jingkieng Nongriat’ or the double-decker root bridge in Nongriat Village; one of the most inspiring natural creations of man — a double-level natural bridge made from the roots of a tree!

Note: For those who can’t take on this challenge, there are many other accessible root bridges, such as the one near Mawlynnong village.

Closest airport: Shillong

Closest rail station: Guwahati

World War II Relic Hunting, Manipur

A little over 70 years ago, the hills of Nagaland and Manipur were ablaze with two very famous World War II battles between the Allies and the Japanese-Indian National Army combine. Historians have pegged this as one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, and the battle was voted as Britain’s greatest victory. Yes, that’s right, right here in India!

It is especially intriguing, once you realise how easily India’s history could have changed, had the outcome of this battle been different. And it is also even more interesting to learn how close the battle truly was. The invading Japanese forces were so confident about victory that they arrived with printed Indian currency, ready for a takeover. If you’re lucky, you can still find some of the Japanese-printed Indian currency notes in some houses.

We suggest you do some homework before the trip for maximum impact: read more about the battles and how the outcome of these two battles have shaped the world’s, and more specifically, India’s history. Prefer to explore the real world? Join expeditions run by the local museum, where teams explore forests and lakes in search of war memorabilia. To date, these teams have found aircraft parts — engines, seats, infantry helmets, artillery, guns, canteens, among others. Who knows what you might find!

Note: Relic hunting doesn’t happen through the year, so you should plan your trip carefully, to make sure that it coincides with one of these expeditions. Do read up on the Battles of Kohima and Imphal.

Closest airport: Dimapur for Nagaland and Imphal for Manipur

Closest rail station: Dimapur

Descending the Mighty Siang [Brahmaputra], Arunachal Pradesh

In the far east corner of India, wedged between China, Bhutan and Myanmar, is the magnificent land of Arunachal Pradesh. Magnificent because it has it all: flat land, rivers, hills, valleys, rocky mountains, glaciers and mountain passes. It also has a startling variety of cats — from snow leopards to tigers. Can’t picture it? Well, if you put Kerala atop a Himalayan mountain, that’s Arunachal Pradesh for you.

The Upper Siang (Brahmaputra) river, considered one of the world’s greatest rivers, comes in eastward from Tibet and cuts across the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Namcha Barwa. Once it enters Arunachal Pradesh, all hell breaks loose, as the river flows down rapidly. Picture spending a week here — descending on some of the world’s highest rated rapids.

Note: Travelling through Arunachal Pradesh requires many hours in the car, and very often through windy and high-altitude roads. Kayaking down the Siang/Brahmaputra river requires a decent level of fitness.

Closest airport: Dibrugarh, Assam

Closest rail station: Naharlagun, near Itanagar

Rohan K. Abraham lives in the North East of India, primarily so he can keep exploring the region. He focuses on inclusive ecologically and environmentally friendly tourism.


In Pictures: A look at five places in India's north-eastern states where adventure is guaranteed

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 12:48:48 PM |

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