49 Days in the Seven Sister States of Northeast India

[This post was first published in April 2018 on Nomadic Thunker]

Looking back at those 49 days across the seven sister states of northeast India in early 2017, I realise that while the intention behind this journey was to accomplish the milestone of having travelled to each of India’s 29 States at least once before my 29th birthday, planning and executing this journey qualifies as a milestone itself!

The more I travel, the more I see how — while I am open and accepting of the inevitable last-minute changes the road — I still prefer to have a plan. Or at least some semblance of the proverbial order in the chaos!

The same has been true with getting around to accomplishing this feat of travelling to the seven sister states of northeast India.

In a roundup of all the travelogues about the journeys to and through the seven sister states of northeast India, here is a one-stop guide for anyone to refer to.

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The pre-planning phase

Unknown to most, I had been sitting with this idea of travelling to and through all of northeast India ever since August 2015. A year later, when I was being haunted by the voices in my head for not trying enough, I decided to be proactive.

I began reaching out and speaking to people I knew who knew about the seven sister states of northeast India. I got in touch with people the people I knew had recommended. I remained open and receptive to ideas, suggestions, and tips.

Of course, it was overwhelming and tempting. As I populated my data-dump, I also began using my own judgment of what would be feasible — in the context of the time and money I had at my disposal — and also what would be of interest to me.

Read: Meghalaya Beyond the Living Root Bridge

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The itinerary

I easily drew up 6–7 iterations of my itinerary until the day before I made a departure for Guwahati. This was because I had very little information on what route through northeast India would less time-intensive without boring a hole in my purse-strings.

So I relied on the one faculty I trust — my common sense — and began plotting the places I’d had in mind on Google Maps to derive the estimated travel time between places.

I tried out different permutations and combinations of the State I could begin with and the State I could conclude with while on this journey. At every point and where possible, I kept seeking inputs and feedback from those I knew and trusted to be better informed than me.

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Transport to and within the seven sister states of northeast India

Once I had a near-complete-almost-final itinerary to anchor my journey on, I began to explore the different modes of transport I could avail of.

In a bid to not procrastinate the way I had the previous year, I booked myself a Mumbai-Guwahati train ticket in November 2016. This was my way of making a commitment to myself and ensuring that this experience of travelling through the seven sister states of northeast India happens.

Like most other people, I hadn’t heard too many favourable things about travelling by road through northeast India. Indian Railways, while in existence, aren’t as exhaustive as they are in the rest of the country.

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That got me to identify and make notes about the airlines that operated within that sector; these are Air India, IndiGo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet. I spent time tinkering around before zeroing in on flying to and from three of the seven sister states of northeast India. And this is what it would look like:
Guwahati — Agartala
Agartala — Imphal
Imphal — Aizawl
Aizawl — Guwahati

I got these for an excellent deal; one that came at the cost of limiting my experience of Mizoram to a mere 48 hours. I now know what they mean when they say ‘you win some, you lose some’.

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Besides taking the train to Guwahati from Mumbai, I also relied on the Indian Railways to travel through Assam, Tripura, and Nagaland.

I also learnt first-hand that the road situation can be over-generalised. Yes, some stretches did help me experience sensations on every square millimetre of my back. But think of the times you’ve spent or thought of spending money to enjoy an ‘off-roading’ experience!

Jokes aside, I’ve travelled the following routes by road courtesy locally available public transport:
Manipur: Imphal — Moreh
Assam: Guwahati — Tezpur — Kaziranga
Assam: Tezpur — Dibrugarh
Assam: Majuli to Guwahati
Arunachal Pradesh: Pasighat — Mechuka
Arunachal Pradesh: Pasighat — Dambuk
Nagaland: Dimapur — Kohima — Khigwema
Assam to Arunachal Pradesh: Dibrugarh — Pasighat
Assam to Meghalaya: Guwahati — Shillong

and with a few exceptions of the road conditions in Arunachal Pradesh, loft mountain ranges have been flattened to rubble and four-lane highways in almost every state (including Arunachal Pradesh).

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Inner Line Permit: Application and Receipt

While I booked my flight tickets a mere 15 days prior to the day of my travel, it helped solidify the work-in-progress itinerary some more. And this meant applying for my Inner Line Permits (ILPs). Of the seven sister states of northeast India, only three require an ILP: Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

And while it seemed to add to the prep work ahead of my departure, the actual process is quite smooth. Arunachal Pradesh allows you to apply and receive your permit online. I procured my ILP for Nagaland in Guwahati and received it almost immediately. Ditto for Mizoram; except that, I had to go back to collect it the next day. For this exact same reason, I had planned on spending the first 2–3 days in Guwahati (though I wouldn’t be exploring Assam a month later).

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Of course, in the spirit of the if-something-has-to-go-wrong-it-will prediction, the Arunachal Pradesh ILP had to get redone as I had to pre-pone that leg of the journey given the political climate in Nagaland at that time.

For state-specific information, look up the following websites:
Nagaland*: https://www.nagaland.gov.in/portal/portal/StatePortal/OnlineService/IssueILPService
Mizoram: http://mizoram.nic.in/more/ilp.htm
Arunachal Pradesh: http://mizoram.nic.in/more/ilp.htm

*At the time of writing this post, Nagaland also offers online application and issuance of the ILP.

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Political scenario and safety

No conversation about having travelled to the seven sister states of northeast India is without the question(s) on safety and security.

The more I travel, the more I believe that:
— Places aren’t as unsafe as the media paints them to be
— Even when situations are tense, locals will do everything in their power and more to ensure that no harm befalls a tourist/outsider in that region

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If you have read my posts you will know that almost everyone I knew dissuaded me from going to Manipur
That almost every other sign from the Universe seemed to suggest that I drop Nagaland from my itinerary
There have been quite a few folks who’d even suggested that with the time and peanuts (also known as money) that I was intending on budgeting for this entire journey, I may as well not consider going to northeast India

But here I am
Armed with my own experiences
To counter every question, bias, and prejudice
Because I have experienced humanity first-hand
Even when things got bleak
There were other strangers who stepped up to help

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Open Letter to the Seven Sister States of Northeast India

Dear Northeast,

In my seven weeks away, I seldom, if ever, missed home. But ever since I’ve returned, I’ve lost count of the number of times my mind and heart have kept drifting back to you!

Every time I’ve begun to retell the many stories I’ve come back with, I’ve struggled with not knowing where to start. And then, with not knowing when to shut up!

Prior to completing this journey, I didn’t know I was ambitious, let alone over-ambitious.
Neither did I know I was stubborn, let alone the pig-headed brand of stubbornness

But Northeast, you’ve shown me a mirror in ways not too many other places within India have!

Thank you for being that part of the country where #29in29 was achieved

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And lastly…
Thank you for welcoming me even though we’re racially very different from each other
Thank you for your openness even though we couldn’t always speak the same language
Thank you for your hospitality even though there were times you were grappling with internal challenges of your own
Thank you for exposing me to the diversity you house within yourself even though from the outside we’ve conveniently homogenised you

Above all, thank you for the memories!

Yours truly-madly-deeply
Me

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P.S.: Special mention of Kipepeo for the recommendations in Assam and Nagaland and of Chalo Hoppo for the inputs, the local contacts and the assistance extended in Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya and enabling me to plan and execute this crazy adventure.

If you’re looking for accommodation recommendations, here they are:
Assam

Guwahati: Hotel Mayur
Kaziranga: Florican Lodge
Majuli: La Maison de Ananda

Tripura
Agartala: Hotel City Centre

Manipur
Imphal: Hotel Nirmala

Mizoram
Aizawl: David’s Hotel Clover

Nagaland
Kohima: Morung Lodge

Meghalaya
Shillong: Traveller’s Bed & Breakfast

Written by

she/her BUT telemarketers call me sir 🙃 i make people write • #BeYouForYou we are our stories • dismantling narratives 🧐 BRB • Website: nomadicthunker.com

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