Explore a far off place few travelers ever see — Northeast India, called the land of the seven sisters for the seven Indian states it encompasses. This is a region that remains wild, untouched and tribal. Protected by mountains, the modern world has little sway here. This journey is truly an adventure. It does not feature five–star hotels (there are none) and luxury services. Instead, this is one of those rare and singular journeys that offers a luxury of experience; where you will likely be one of the few or often the only Westerner in sight; where you will encounter utterly authentic tribal villages, most of whom live as simply today as their predecessors have for centuries.
Northeast India is home to more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own tribal language. Step off the path to carve out a one-of-a-kind travel experience that is uniquely yours, offering cultural encounters and people, whose origins hark back to the Tibeto-Burman people. Most of these people can trace their history directly back to Southern China, which you will see in their faces and in their handed-down traditions. Some researchers believe that an early trade route via Northeast India is referred to in the writings of Chinese explorer, Zhang Qian, in 100 BC.
Day 1: Calcutta, India
Welcome to India. Today you begin a journey that steps off the well-trod path to carve out a one-of-a-kind experience that is uniquely yours. You will encounter cultures and people, whose ancestors came from Southern China. Arrive in Calcutta, where the remainder of the day is at leisure to rest. Taj Bengal Hotel
Day 2: Calcutta / Imphal
This morning you transfer to the airport for your flight to Imphal. Upon arrival, you are welcomed and escorted to your hotel. Later this afternoon, you visit Kangla Fort, the ancient capital of Manipur. The ruins of the Palace of Kangla in the city center are regarded as the most important historical and archeological site of Manipur as well as a site of religious importance. You have to time to walk around Ima or ‘all mothers’ Market in the city, where you see Manipuri women selling traditional wares sitting on raised platforms. This evening, you take in a cultural show, where you see one of India’s famous classical dances. The Manipuri dance, or the reenactment of the Ras Leela, is a highly evolved dance drama composed mainly by eminent Bengali poets and some Manipuri Gurus. This religious performance represents the highest expression of art, devotion and excellence of the Manipuris.
Hotel Classic (B,D)
Day 3: Imphal
This morning your first stop is Govindajee Temple, the largest Hindu, Vaishnav temple in Manipur. It is a simple design with two gold-plated domes, a paved court and a large, raised mantapa or congregation hall. The central chamber of the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) has the main deity of Govindaji, said to be the incarnation of Lord Krishna, and his consort Radha. In the other two chambers of the sanctum, on either side of the main deity, images deified are of Balabhadra and Krishna on one side, and images of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra on the other side. The temple was originally built in 1846 during the reign of Maharaja Nara Singh and rebuilt by Maharaja Chandrakriti in 1876.
Then travel to Loktak Lake, the largest fresh water lake in Northeast India. It also has the unusual feature as the only floating lake in the world. Actually, phumdis, heterogeneous masses of vegetation, soil, and organic matters at various stages of decomposition, float over the lake. This unique feature makes Keibul Lamjao National Park the only floating national park in the world. The park is the last natural refuge of the endangered sangai or Manipur brow-antlered deer. The park which was initially declared to be a sanctuary in 1966, was subsequently declared to be a national park in 1977 through a gazette notification. Enjoy a boat trip to explore the lake and see the fishermen’s huts built on phumdis. Rural fisherman live in the surrounding areas and on these phumdis, and create artificial circular enclosures out of phumids for fish farming. You may also have the opportunity to meet some of the local fisherman. After the boat trip, you travel to Thanga, a small Meitei tribe village. Intermarriage with other tribes and political dominance of the strongest tribes led to a gradual merging of many of the ethnic groups, including the Meitei, who now number about 1.5 million. Then, you relax at a high-tea at a local resort with a view of the lake.
Hotel Classic (B,D)
Day 4: Imphal – Andro – Imphal
This morning you set out to the village of Andro, a scenic old village tucked in the Nongmaiching Hills. The village is known for its pottery culture. They preserve the traditional rituals relating to the process of pot making. The village is also known for the ancient practice of fire worshipping. The sacred fire burns in the temple of Panam Ningthou, the governing deity of the village. Every two households in the village are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the fire for one day. It is then passed on to the next two houses the next day and so on throughout the entire year until each household would have borne the responsibility at least once in a year. The villagers appreciate the beauty of their location and have a tradition of maintaining a pollution free environment. The village is becoming popular with local city dwellers. You enjoy opportunities of engaging with Andro’s residents and see how they make their pottery before returning to Imphal.
Hotel Classic (B,D)
Day 5: Imphal / Kohima
This morning you set out by road to Kohima, about a four to five hour drive. Kohima is a pretty hill stationed perched at an altitude of 1444 meters/4738 above sea level. It presents panoramic views of the rugged Naga Hills. Along the way, you explore the land of the Angami Naga tribe, with visits to two villages Kigwema and Jakhama. The Angami culture is noted for woodcraft and artwork that includes bamboo work, cane furniture, beds, shawls and machetes. Their music, played on drum and flute, is simple and rhythmic and plays an important role in their rituals and festivals. The instruments are passed from one generation to the next. Traditional dancing also is a main component in their rituals. Angami women practice pottery making in their houses, and are also experts in basket making. The Angami tribe have been traditionally warriors, and the men spent majority of their time in warfare that included taking heads. It is important to note that Kohima witnessed some of the fiercest fighting in WWII during a 50 day, non-stop battle.
Hotel Vivor (B,D)
Day 6: Kohima – Khonoma – Kohima
Today after breakfast, travel to Khonoma, another Angami community. This village has the distinction of being the first Green Village of India, a project supported by the Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Khonoma is endowed with rich forest cover and rare biodiversity. One of the goals of this program is to help avoid environmental damage that might result from tourism before the travelers come. It is becoming a model for others to follow. The tribe also has a reputation for its valor and courage. The Khonoma Gate outside the village tells the story of British infiltration into Naga hills. Discover the village, and experience the lifestyle of villagers. You are invited to lunch with a family in the village. Later drive back to Kohima, stopping on the way to visit a famous WWII cemetery, a symbolic memorial raised to honor the supreme sacrifice made by the officers and men of the Allied forces, here where the invading forces were finally stopped.
Hotel Vivor (B,L,D)
Day 7: Kohima / Jorhat
Today’s drive of about five or six hours takes you to Jorhat. On arrival, check in to your hotel, a circa 1929 mansion. Jorhat was the first town of central Assam to install electricity in 1923. Assam is the second commercial tea production region after Southern China. In fact, Southern China and Assam are the only two regions in the world with native tea plants. Assam is the largest tea producing region in the country. Mostly grown in the Brahmaputra Valley, malty Assamese tea is brightly colored. Jorhat, in the central part of the valley, is often referred to as the "Tea Capital of the World". A tea festival is held in the city every November. This afternoon you explore the tea plantation culture and visit tea gardens and factories at an active tea estate. See what is involved in bringing a flavorful cup of tea to your table. Try your hand at plucking tea leaves, watch the tea being brought to the factory and see the whole process of manufacturing from weathering to drying and packaging.
Please note: Tea factory visit is subject to weather conditions. Tea factories are closed on Mondays and no tea leaves are plucked on Sundays. Tea factories are closed from mid-December to the end March.
Heritage Thengal Manor (B,D)
Day 8: Jorhat / Majuli
After an early breakfast, you drive to Neamati Ghat near Jorhat, where an exclusive ferry waits to take you to Majuli Island in the Brahmaputra River. It is one of world's largest river islands and has been the cultural capital of Assamese civilization since the 16th century. Written records describe a visit to the island by Srimanta Sankardeva, a 16th-century social reformer, who became a pioneer teacher of a monotheist form of Hinduism called as Vaishnavism. He established monasteries here, and the island soon became the leading center of Vaishavinism. You take in some of the island’s villages that are noted for their pottery and mask making skills. Later, investigate monasteries, where you have the opportunity to meet some of the monks in residence. Depending on timing, you may also have a chance to witness one of the satra dance performances demonstrated by the monks. You check into your camp and your basic hut built on stilts using traditional Mishing architecture. Your hut has running cold water, and hot water in bucket on request, but no electric heater. Take a walk in a nearby Mishing village.
Mepo Okum Eco Camp (B,D)
Day 9: Majuli / Lakhimpur / Ziro
This morning, take the ferry to Lakhimpur on north bank of the Brahmaputra River, and travel by road five hours to Ziro in the central part of Arunachal Pradesh. En route, visit villages inhabited by the Nishi tribes. Spread over much of western Arunachal Pradesh, the Nishis are recognized by their distinctive dress that includes woven, feather-adorned hornbill caps. They once had an unearned reputation of fierceness, but are, in reality, welcoming and hospitable. They are known for their trademark longhouse, designed with a number of kitchens, between three and five, though some may have more than ten. Each is home to a community of closely knit families, each with their own section.
Travel on to Ziro, home to the Apatani tribes in an extremely picturesque valley called Apatani Plateau that is surrounded by pine-covered mountains. The Apatani tribes themselves are the best reason to come here. The older men of the village still tie the hair in top-knots and tattoo their faces. The older Apatani women also tattoo their faces and wear wooden nose plugs. But younger people stopped these practices in the early 1970s. The Apatani are good cultivators and practice both wet and terrace cultivation. A unique feature here is the Paddy-cum-Fish rearing system that utilizes the summer fallow period of the rice paddies for short-term fish cultivation without affecting the subsequent paddy crop.
Hotel Blue Pine (B,D)
Day 10: Ziro
Today is devoted to a further exploration of the Apatani tribal culture in the villages of Ziro, one of the oldest towns in Arunachal Pradesh. The Apatanis have some characteristics that separate them from other tribes in the region. They settled in one place when other tribes remained nomadic. They use permanent wet land cultivations while other tribes practice dry land cultivations by clearing forest by burning. Their language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family as well as the Tibeto-Burman. Ziro is included as in India's tentative list for inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage Site. In the Apatani culture, the women carry out the majority of the household chores, child rearing and jobs related to gardening and working in the paddies. At home, the family income is controlled by the woman. Men look after cultivation activities, and act as the head of family in society. Most Apatanis are nature worshippers, believing that every object in universe possesses divine power and represent benevolent or malevolent gods or deity.
Hotel Blue Pine (B,D)
Day 11: Ziro / Daporijo
Today’s journey travels to Daporijo. During the seven-hour road trip, you will visit Hill Miri and Tagin villages, the main tribes of this area. The Hill Miri clan is a small group estimated to number only about 9,000. They are semi-nomadic farmers who use the "slash and burn" method of agriculture. After farming an area for two or three years, they abandon their houses, move to a different location, and make new land clearings. They survive by farming, hunting, and eating the fruits of the forests. They hunt with spears, and bows and arrows, and eat the game that is killed. Wild buffalo, boar, deer, and tigers live in the dense forests of the region. The people are said to have vowed to protect the tiger, which is highly honored, feared, and respected here. Hill Maria villages are intended to be communal, territorial units, with each village led by a committee of elders. Most of the Hill Maria are undoubtedly poor and live in thatch-roofed, bamboo and mud houses, but they possess a strong sense of community. Tagin refers to a tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, which is a member of the larger designation of Tani Tribes. Most Tagins are concentrated in Daporijo, Upper Subansiri District. They number about 20,000. Tagins are generally adherents of Donyi Polo, one of the indigenous religions that embrace animistic and shamanic type practices. Two groups of Tagin – the Nah and Mra – have been influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. The Mra of Limeking Circle are found along the India-China border. The Mra’s adherence to Buddhism was not based on religious belief but on a cultural basis. They are now primarily Christian now. Tibetan Buddhist influence among the Naa segments of the Tagin was a result of migration of Tibetans from the north in the 18th century as well as through visits by Buddhist missionaries of the Nyingma sect. On arrival, you check into the best available hotel. The evening free. Situated by the side of the Subansiri River, Daporijo is a small scenic town where you see suspension bridges over the river made of bamboo and cane.
Hotel Singhik (B,D)
Day 12: Daporijo / Aalo
Today you head to Aalo, land of the Adi, one of the largest tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. This is a prosperous tribe who live in their traditional, broad houses of wood and palm leaves. They cultivate rice, their main staple food, but they also hunt and trap, and keep mithuns (cattle), chickens and pigs and grow vegetables. Like other tribes in this region, they live very simply and close to the land. You also visit the small town of Along, an area set amid a brilliant surroundings laced with lush forests, rivers, deep gorges and a collection of lovely villages.
Hotel West or Hotel Toshi Palace (B,D)
Please note: The roads in this region can be a serious challenge. On days 11 and 12, this is especially true as they involve long drives uphill on rough roads, but this is the only route to reach these isolated enclaves. This is largely the reason they have been able to maintain their authenticity and traditional lifestyles. Basic modernization is inevitable, however, so accepting the challenge to travel here now allows you a rare glimpse at living history.
Day 13: Aalo
Continue your exploration of the tribal villages and the local market. Aalo has a good road network so it is usually easy to get around. Some of the local villages are working toward developing tourism that showcases their indigenous culture, rich traditions, and hand-loomed textiles and handicrafts. The Adi celebrate their own festival known as Donggin, which means spring season. This is held in early February and celebrates a good harvest. One of their traditions still in use is animal sacrifice of mithuns, pigs and chickens during the festival as thanks for their prosperity.
Hotel West or Hotel Toshi Palace (B,D)
Day 14: Aalo / Dibrugarh
Today you journey to Dibrugarh. You return to the Brahmaputra River for another ferry trip across the river before setting out on a six to seven hour drive. On arrival in Dibrugarh, check into your accommodation, a heritage property located a short distance from town. It is conveniently accessible from both the railway station and the airport. All rooms in the main bungalow have attached bathrooms with bath tubs and showers. The rooms are named after the tributaries of the mighty Brahmaputra.
Mancotta Tea Bungalow (B,D)
Day 15: Dibrugarh – Namphake – Dibrugarh
After breakfast, venture out on a three-hour drive to Namphake village, near Naharkatia, to see and interact with the Tai Phake tribal community. Spread along the bank of the Dihing River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, the picturesque village has old-world charm. It is the largest of the Tai Phake villages in Assam, with some 70 families, which trace their ancestry to Thailand. The villagers speak a dialect similar to the language in Thailand and they still follow the traditional customs and dress code. Enjoy encounters with these fascinating people before returning to Dibrugarh.
Mancotta Tea Bungalow (B,D)
Day 16: Dibrugarh / Kaziranga National Park
Today you drive to Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses 860 sq km/332 sq mi. It is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers. Its most famous resident is the greater Indian one-horned rhinoceros. In fact, the park hosts two-thirds of the world's one-horned rhinoceroses. It is also home to one of the few wild breeding areas outside Africa for multiple species of large cats. Other species include sambar and hog deer. Nine of 14 primate species found in India are found here. On arrival, check into your lodge built on stilts. It offers one of the finest luxury jungle accommodations in India. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the riverbank this evening.
Diphlu River Lodge (B,D)
Note: Kaziranga National Park closes for the monsoon season from May till October, opening again the first of November. It is possible that the park may be open by mid October, depending upon weather conditions.
Day 17: Kaziranga National Park
Early morning, you enter the park for an elephant-back safari. Few experiences can equal exploring the wilderness from atop an elephant. This safari gets you a close encounter with wildlife. Return to the lodge for breakfast before you visit a nearby village. Later after lunch, you enjoy another safari, this time by jeep. Kaziranga boasts the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world, and was declared a tiger reserve in 2006. The park is home to large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer. Kaziranga is recognized as a prime bird life area with some 478 species, both resident and migratory. Compared to other protected areas in India, Kaziranga has achieved notable success in wildlife conservation. Located on the edge of the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot, the park combines high species diversity and visibility.
Diphlu River Lodge (B,D)
Day 18: Kaziranga National Park / Guwahati / Depart
Your Indian adventure ends with a drive to Guwahati airport for your onward journey. (B)
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