Frequently asked questions on travelling to Northeast India
The region is not easy to visit independently. Tourism here is low-scale with lack of options for transportation, hotels and infrastructure. Some states require special permits that are hard to get for solo travelers. It is recommended to use a local tour operator. This not only makes the travel smooth but also helps in understanding the region and its vast array of cultures in a deeper level. Tour guides are very important as communication becomes a problem as languages spoken are way numerous.
With recent initiatives by the government to relax the regulations of traveling in the region, tourism has seen a sustainable growth and access to the region has become easier. But one should check the latest updates.
All states require a valid Indian visa. There are different permit rules for Indians and foreigners in some states. No permits are required to visit the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura for either Indians or foreigners.
Foreigners only need a special permit called Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit Arunachal Pradesh which is provided for maximum 30 days and for a minimum of 2 persons. They are free to travel in Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland but are required to check-in at the local police station or the FFRO office.
Indians need a special permit called Inner Line Permit (ILP) to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.These can be obtained from the respective state House or government offices located at important centers across India.
It can be wise to involve a tour operator to get the permits if one wants to skip the hassles of official work or if one wants to travel independently in state such as Arunachal Pradesh. More details on permit requirements for Northeast India can be read in this online guide.
Guwahati, the riverine capital of Assam and the only large city in the region, is the gateway to Northeast India, with good regular rail and air connections to other parts of India. It is suitable as an entry point when visiting Meghalaya, Assam and western Arunachal Pradesh.
Dibrugarh, the riverine tea town of eastern Assam, has decent rail and air connections to other parts of the country, and is appropriate as an entry point when visiting Assam, eastern Nagaland and all other parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura have their own capital based airports which have fairly routine flights from selected main cities across India.
The best time to visit Northeast India is during the northern winters from November to March. Days hours are then warm and sunny making the season ideal for exploring the outdoors, while nights remain cold.
The rains start as early as April and end around October, peaking in the summer monsoon months from June to September. Travel during these months become difficult as landslides and floods are a threat. Though with careful planing, traveling in these months can be rewarding with lush green landscapes and beautiful dramatic skies. The climate during these months is generally quite hot and humid, though regular rains provide relief.
The region comprising seven states is a really vast and remote expanse of land stretching from the great plains of the Brahmaputra to the northern high mountains of the eastern Himalayas and the thick jungles of the southern hills. With the long distances between destinations and poor infrastructure, multiple trips are definitely needed if one wants to explore all the states. Assam and Meghalaya are easiest of access with good infrastructure and roads. All other states currently have poor tourist infrastructure and a deeper level of plaining is required to visit them. A visit to the region can last anywhere from five days to a month depending on the time one has and the number of states one would like to see.
With poor infrastructure common in most states, road travel between destinations though necessary takes a long time and is uncomfortable with bad roads especially in the mountain states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. Public and shared transport options have limited timings in most states and are unavailable during ‘bandhs’ or strikes which can be common. The best and safest options is to travel in a private vehicle or join a tour.
Northeast India is a treasure trove of hundreds of languages as most religions, tribes and sub-tribes have their own. General communication is mainly done in Hindi and Assamese between different cultures. English is commonly spoken in many areas.
With tourism infrastructure slowly growing, there is a lack in quality and choice when finding a accommodation, especially as most destinations are offbeat and not popular. A good tour operator often has the best knowledge about nice places to stay and it is advisable to use their help if possible. Selected popular destinations in Assam and Meghalaya have a variety of options from luxury to basic. However, most places in the remaining states have accommodations ranging from basic to fairly standard, where one can expect power outages, small rooms, bucket hot showers and limited eating options.
In most of the region which still lies remote, Wifi is non-existent. Mobile internet networks are available in most areas but in many places their connection is slow or the reception poor. Internet cafes are available nowadays in most small towns and are the best option. It is recommended to carry an Indian SIM card when visiting the region to make and receive calls. In our tours, we do arrange SIM cards on request or allow guests to use the guide’s phone.
Northeast India has been at the center of ethno-political movements and conflicts for decades. Tourism was almost non-existent right till the early 2000s and regulations were heavy. However, the past decade has seen much better development on conflicting issues and today it is easy to travel most parts of all states and an overall peace prevails. Only a few areas in the vast region can be considered unsafe such as Karbi and Bodo territories in Assam, Garo Hills in Meghalaya, parts of Manipur and Tirap district in Arunachal Pradesh. It is wise to take advice of local experts on the places to avoid and on current situations.