post

How we covered it: Meghalaya

Meghalaya translates to the ‘abode of the clouds’ (Megha Aalaya in Sanskrit). The state is home to green mountains, forests, man-made tree root bridges, spice gardens and natural caves. We covered parts of Meghalaya that are usually not covered by tourism packages. Because we covered the state on motorbike. But also, we went there during the north-east monsoon season. So a lot of interesting spots such as deep cave exploration and hidden waterfalls were closed due to flooded paths. Still, in this post we cover our path through Meghalaya and what important points we covered. We will also list some of the places we couldn’t cover and from where you can get there.

Geography of Meghalaya

Meghalaya is a mostly mountainous state, with the only low-lying area at Dawki near the border of India and Bangladesh to the south of the state. The state is divided into three north-south regions based on the tribal communities. The west-most region, which is the least touristy, is known as Garo district. The middle region, which contains the most populated and touristy destinations such as Shillong, Sohra (Cherrapunji) and Dawki are part of Khasi district. The east most region is named Jaintia and has some of the most interesting treks and cave exploration. Jowai is the most important town in Jaintia region.

Meghalaya receives rainfall for 8 to 9 months every year. Mawsynram village in Khasi region is the rainiest place in the world, with an annual rainfall of 10,000 to 11,000 mm (i.e. 393 to 433 inches). The state receives rain from both the north-east and south-west monsoon winds. It can rain practically any time all over Meghalaya. There is a dense cloud cover for most of the year, with cloud build-up happening several times per day, leading to rains, thus earning the state its name.

Our route through Meghalaya

In our trip, we did not cover Garo hills, i.e. the western region. We were told by other motorbiking groups that while the region was beautiful, it was hard to get by with English or Hindi in the region or to find accommodation. Garo region is not yet open to tourism and there is still work to do.

Meghalaya was the last state in India 360 that we covered. We entered Meghalaya through Assam. Since we were travelling from Tezpur, which is to the east of Meghalaya, we took the west-bound highway to Guwahati via Nagaon and took the south-bound exit to Meghalaya at Jagiroad town. If you are driving from Kolkata or Guwahati, you will reach Jagiroad from its west and take the same exit.

After staying in Shillong for a couple of nights, we covered Sohra (previously called Cherrapunji) district. From Sohra, we drove to Mawlynnong, the village rated as the cleanest village (frankly, reason not convincing enough for us). From Mawlynnong, we drove to the river-side town of Dawki. From Dawki, we started driving towards Assam to complete our trip India 360. But instead of driving all the way back to Shillong on the same route, we used the Jaintia region to drive via Jowai and Nartiang before exiting Meghalaya at Khanduli.

Our route through Meghalaya. Click to enlarge.

Here are the places we saw along the route.

Khasi Hills: Guwahati – Shillong – Sohra

Umiam lake: Umiam lake is a lake on the entry to Shillong. It was formed in the 1960s after building a dam over the Umiam river. It is the main catchment area for Shillong city for water supply. You will not miss Umiam lake if you are driving to Shillong from Jagiroad. It is right on the way.

Umiam lake is the main catchment area for Shillong city.

There is a road near Umiam lake that goes straight to Shillong airport without passing through Shillong city. It is called Shillong bypass road. Going beyond from Shillong airport, this road leads to Jowai in Jaintia Hills. After showing tourists around Meghalaya upto Dawki, some tourist taxis prefer to drive to Jowai and then drop tourists off either at the airport or back to Shillong city.

Shillong city: Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya. It is commercially the most important city among the hilly states in north-eastern Himalayas. The main language spoken in Shillong is Khasi, since the city is in the Khasi Hills. Shillong itself has several places of interest, which we will list in the points to follow.

City centre point, Shillong: The city centre point is a commercial hub inside Shillong city that has five roads meeting at one junction. One of the roads is a walk-only promenade with several street side shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels.

Pedestrian-only promenade at Centre point.

Ward’s lake: This is a lake in downtime Shillong. The lake has a walkway surrounding it. There is even a small wooden bridge as a walkway crossing the lake. The lake has pedal boats. Outside the lake are several eateries where you can eat common snacks such as momos and frankies. The lake area is a good place for relaxing and for photography.

Ward’s lake is a nice place to spend a relaxed evening on the day that you arrive at Shillong.

Shillong peak (Laitkor): Shillong peak is a hill just outside Shillong city. Most of it belongs to the Indian Army as a place to watch over Shillong and the surrounding area. Visitors are allowed on certain days upto a watch tower inside the campus. The rest of the campus is off-limits for civilians.

On top of Shillong (Laitkor) peak. Photos are not allowed inside the military area of the peak, so we took one where we could.

Captain Williamson Sangma museum: Named after the late Lok Sabha speaker, the Sangma museum is a place where you can look at the history of Meghalaya state and get a glimpse of its culture.

Captain Williamson Sangma museum shows a glimpse of Meghalaya culture in all three regions.

Don Bosco museum: Don Bosco museum is in a quiet suburb of the city with less crowd and traffic. The museum is a seven-storey edifice with glimpses into all the 8 states in north-east Himalayas (Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura). On the terrace is a view point with a view of the entire city of Shillong surrounded by Khasi Hills.

Terrace of Don Bosco museum

Lachumiere wall paintings: In Lachumiere neighbourhood in the centre of the city, some of the government buildings facades and compound walls have beautiful paintings. I will let the photos do the talking.

Wall paintings at Lachumiere

Laitumkrah cathedral: This beautifully constructed cathedral is the chief cathedral for the entire state of Meghalaya. People from all over the state gather here for important Christian festivals.

Elephant waterfall: On the highway between Shillong and Sohra, you will come across the entrance to the trail that leads to the Elephant falls. No one really knows with certainty why the falls are named that way. You will hear quite a few stories about it. While you can visit the falls when you are in Shillong, there is nothing extremely beautiful about it and there are better falls around Sohra.

Elephant falls are near Shillong, but are hardly eye-catching compared to really beautiful ones like Nohkalikai or Krang Suri.

Sohra: The town was famous by the name Cherrapunji until a few years ago and used to be the wettest place in the world. The record has been taken over by Mawsynram, also in Khasi Hills. But over the last two years, Agumbe in Karnataka and Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra have received more rains that Khasi Hills, which has faced a couple of drier monsoons. Sohra is a town where you can stick around for a day or two to explore the nearby destinations, some of which are legendary.

Nohkalikai falls: These falls are near Sohra and can be seen from a viewpoint. The falls plunge from a height and form a clear blue pool at the bottom. There is a way to trek down to the base of the falls, but you’d need a local guide for that.

Nohkalikai waterfall near Sohra.

Mawsmai caves: These caves are a teaser for caving in Meghalaya. While it is too short and too touristy, it can serve as a good starting point if you wish to explore more secluded caves in Meghalaya.

Stalactites inside Mawsmai caves, Sohra.

Nongkriat living root bridges (single and double): In the village of Nongkriat, a trail goes down to the depths of the forest where you can witness something unique to Meghalaya. The roots of trees have been used to build bridges to cross a river. Meghalaya’s most famous landmark is the double-root bridge, where the roots of two trees across the river have been used to build a double-decker bridge, with one bridge slightly above another. We could not cover another destination on the same trail, i.e. Rainbow falls. When we went to Nongkriat, it was raining once every 10 minutes and all the hidden trails were flooded.

The legendary double decker root bridge of Nongkriat

Kutmadan: Kutmadan is a small village in Sohra district, from where one can literally see the plains of Bangladesh, while standing on a hill top. In fact, if you search for mobile networks on your phone, you will be shown Bangladeshi phone networks, whose towers seem to beam more power to this village. Only certain areas in the village, e.g. the kitchen of a resort where we pitched our tent, are capable of receiving Indian mobile provider signals.

View of the plains of Bangladesh from Kutmadan.

Khasi Hills: Mawlynnong – Dawki

From Sohra, it makes good sense to point your vehicle towards Mawlynnong and then further to Dawki. Here is what we saw along the route.

Mawlynnong: This village is supposedly the cleanest village in Asia. While we definitely saw people working hard to keep the village clean and also teaching their children how to, we definitely cannot be convinced that this is the ONLY clean village in India or even the north-east. We have seen several places which are equally clean despite being more populated. Another disappointing thing is the exorbitantly jacked up prices of the guest houses around the village, which are a result of the ‘clean tag’ and the resulting curious tourism. Many people also find Mawlynnong less crowded than nearby Sohra, especially tourists from abroad, who prefer to use Mawlynnong as a quieter place to stay and use from further travel.

Main village square at Mawlynnong.

That said, Mawlynnong has its own activities such as canopy walk, its own living root bridge and a balancing rock, which is a large rock sitting on a smaller rock with immaculate balance.

Mawshun caves: Mawshun caves were discovered and opened for tourism quite recently (2017). It is in Mawshun village on the highway from Shillong to Dawki. But unlike Maswmai (Sohra), Mawshun attracts few tourists. This is because it takes a nimble body to explore these caves. While Mawsmai has only one narrow passage, Mawshun has a series of narrow passages, where one needs to duck, squeeze and wiggle. The walk inside the cave is conducted by a bunch of Khasi kids who look like secondary school students from lower middle class families. But they speak impeccable English and are experts around the caves. You are given torches, special shoes and helmet to explore the caves, along with one guide.

More advanced than the simple Mawsmai caves, the Mawshun caves have tigher crawling, ducking and wiggle spaces! Thankfully, we had our GoPro ready to shoot instead of having to fidget inside our bags while wiggling!

Dawki: Dawki town is on the western bank of Dawki river where it is joined by Goyain river. To the south of the confluence is Bangladesh’s Jaflong town. At Dawki, the river water is so clear that you can see through to the bottom and the boats appear to be floating in the air. There are several lodges in Dawki, but the best way to stay here is river-side camping either with your own tent or through a camping company.

Since the shadow of the boat can be seen so clearly in the water, the boat seems to be floating in the air.

Jaintia Hills: Dawki – Jowai – Khanduli

To the east of Dawki river, the Khasi region ends and Jaintia region starts. The highway crosses from west to the east of the river thus putting you in Jaintia region. But not before passing near Tamabil checkpost. This checkpost is on the border of India and Bangladesh. Trucks carrying goods between India and Bangladesh need to get through customs at this checkpost. As a result, you will see a humungous row of trucks waiting for their turn on the lane of the highway that leads to the checkpoint. The lane that leads towards Jowai is virtually empty. It is amusing to see hundreds of trucks stretching into a line several kilometres long. From the length of the line, we estimated that the last ones would take two days to reach the checkpost!

A line of trucks that is kilometres long. Watch our for people who use our lane to overtake the trucks.

Be careful while you drive along this road. Really careful. Since the trucks take up one side of the two-lane road for days together, the traffic bound from Jowai to Dawki can do nothing but stray towards the lane that is used by the Jowai-bound vehicles. Be really careful to avoid head on collisions, especially with local motorbikes who zip along in the wrong direction at really high speeds. There are no dividers on this highway and for once, I have to say that it is with good reason. Otherwise, cars and motorbikes would have to stay behind the trucks for days. But honk away at every blind turn and drive reaaaaallly slow, not exceeding 20 kmph, until you see the last of the trucks. No ego or thrill necessary here. It is your safety at stake.

Jowai: is the principal city of Jaintia Hills. From here a highway goes westward to Shillong airport (the same Shillong bypass road that passes Umiam lake), while we remained on the north-east path towards Nartiang. Jowai is a road-head for several caving and rarely used trekking trails in Jaintia Hills, which are yet to receive the kind of attention they deserve.

Waterfalls, caves and treks: None of which we could cover ( đŸ™‚ ) since all the trekking trails and cave paths were inundated in knee deep water. We were practically laughed at when we asked for trekking information at Jowai town. It felt like asking to see snow in July. We phoned a friend who had visited Meghalaya recently, but he responded that he had seen only Khasi and hadn’t visited Jaintia region at all.

But here are some things you can see if you visit at the right time of the year (October – March): Krang Suri falls, Phe Phe falls, Umlawang caves (the longest mountain caves at 31 kilometres!), Mookhuri falls, Moopun falls, Tipka falls, Kremlabit caves (also 20+ km)….. and many more that are still being discovered!

Nartiang menhirs: This place has a stone-henge like feel to it. Inside a park, we can see several stone menhirs stacked in several shapes. The menhirs are also called ‘monoliths’, since each one is carved out of a single rock. The monoliths are said to be carved by the Hindu rulers of Jaintiapur. Jaintiapur city is now in the plains of Bangladesh, but the region, as you know, is still named Jaintia Hills.

Nartiang menhirs / monoliths, created by the Jaintia rulers.

Conclusion

While we drove through a lot of regularly visited sites in Meghalaya and even some of the not-so driven paths, we couldn’t do justice to the really beautiful state, because we visited in May when monsoon is at one of its fiercest in the state. We would really love to head back here during the last quarter of some year soon. But using this post, you can plan a trip as beautiful as or even better than ours đŸ™‚

post

How we covered it: Konkan, Maharashtra

When imagining holidays, it is common to put yourself on a shack on a quiet beach. At nearly 700 km, Maharashtra state has one of the longest coastlines in the entire country. The coastline is dotted with several beaches, both popular and secluded. But that’s not all. Maharashtra is probably one of the few states in India which has several forts, many belonging to Marathas, but some built by other rulers such as Bahamanis, Siddhis and Portuguese. Coastal Maharashtra (or Konkan as it’s called locally) is not plain. It is a series of flat beach strips interspersed by hill ranges. There are many vistas where you will see the sea waves crashing into the base of hills. To complete your enjoyment, Konkani food is extremely delicious. In this post, we will tell you about how we covered Konkan region, its beaches and its many sights worth visiting. Continue reading

post

How we covered it: Assam

Assam, the state known for tea, forms one of the states in north-east India termed as ‘seven sisters’. Apart from tea, Assam is also known for its mighty Brahmaputra river and one-horned rhinoceros. Other things about Assam are less known. E.g. the first crude oil extraction and refinery in India was started in Assam. Assam also has the world’s largest river island that is continuously inhabited. In this post, let us see how we drove around the state of Assam and what we covered in it.

Our route plan

Assam is a state that appears long and thin on the map. The east-to-west territory is significantly longer than the north-to-south. Cutting the already thin north-to-south expanse is the gigantic Brahmaputra river, which at its widest, spans 14 km in its north-to-south breadth.

The region to the north of the river is very thin. Less than 100 km of travel will put you in Arunachal Pradesh or Bhutan. The northern side has only two major cities: New Bongaigaon and Tezpur. There are other towns which are just entry points to different circuits in Arunachal Pradesh, such as Dhemaji, North Lakhimpur and Gohpur. Arunachal Pradesh is the only state that borders north Assam, also locally referred to as upper Assam. There are two national parks, Orang and Manas, on the north side of the river. Two more towns, Nalbari and Rangiya are important highway junctions with access to river bridges that cross the Brahmaputra river to the south side.

The region to the south of the river is broader, twice the span of the north. The south of the river also saw various dynasties such as Ahom and Kamrup. Hence you will see more cities here. Assam’s most happening city Guwahati, second-most important city Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Digboi, Lumding and Nagaon are all part of the southern side of the river. The south side also has more national parks such as Kaziranga and Laokhoa. 5 north-eastern states in their entirity can be approached only from south of the river, while Arunachal Pradesh has one entry from this side too. The southern part has a less-explored hilly region with hill stations such as Haflong.

It made perfect sense for us to divide Assam into two sections using the river. Here is how we planned a route.

Click to enlarge

I. North of the river: Ne w Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Manas national park, Nalbari, Orang national park, Tezpur, entire state of Arunachal Pradesh
II. South of the river: Dum Duma, Digboi, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat, 4 north east states (Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura), Lumding, Nagaon, Kaziranga, state of Meghalaya, Guwahati
III. Barak valley: Most of Assam is centred around Brahmaputra river. There is another river named Barak, that flows in the south of Assam, where it serves as a natural border to Bangladesh. It is worth checking out the highway between border city Karimganj to Lumding via Silchar that takes you parallel to the Barak river till you reach the hill station, Haflong. We don’t recommend this route unless you have an excellent motorbike with a powerful engine or a four-wheel driven SUV. Most of the time, we had to ride over slush and flowing river beds. Low ground clearance vehicles would have inevitably broken down. 20 months have passed between our trip and our writing this post, so you should check if those highways are in better condition today.

Section I: North of Brahmaputra

Assam to the north of Brahmaputra is a narrow strip of land, where the north-south expanse at some places is less than 50 km, before we reach one of two places: the state of Arunachal Pradesh or the royal country of Bhutan. Here are some things worth seeing in upper Assam.

New Bongaigaon: New Bongaigaon is one of the major cities of Assam state. Its growth is mainly due to Indian Oil Corporation’s refinery. New Bongaigaon is one of the 5 districts in Assam, where you will find more Bengali influence than Assamese. For this city, the Bengali influence is due to being at the border of West Bengal and Assam. Bongaigaon district shares a border with Alipurduar district of West Bengal. In fact our entry to Assam during India 360 was crossing the Gangadhar river on the highway between the two districts. While there aren’t touristy things to see in New Bongaigaon, the city makes a good place to break for the night or for lunch, if you have just crossed the state border or even if you have exited Bhutan via Gelephu.

Barpeta: Barpeta is a town that serves as an entry point to the Manas national park. The park is partly in India and partly in Bhutan, where it is known as the Royal Manas national park.

Tezpur: is a city situated at the confluence of Brahmaputra river with Kameng river. The Indian Air Force has a base a Tezpur. Places of interest at Tezpur are: Brahmaputra river view, Mahabairabh temple, Agnigadh and Tezpur market. Tezpur is also an important road-head for travelling to Tawang district of Assam, along a road that follows the Kameng river. We stayed with close relatives at Tezpur. To the south of Tezpur is a river bridge that crosses to the southern Assamese town of Kaliabor, from where Kaziranga national park is less than 40 km away. Because, we had close relatives at Tezpur, the city formed a place where we could crash after completing different parts of our north-east trip.

Brahmaputra river south of Tezpur

Section II: South of Brahmaputra

We crossed to the south of Brahmaputra in the state of Arunachal Pradesh at Parshuram Kund (see the post How we covered it: Arunachal Pradesh). From there, here is what we covered.

Dum Duma: is a town from where one can access Bhupen Hazarika river bridge, the longest road-over-river bridge in India, spanning 14 km. It is also a highway junction from where it is easy to travel to cities like Digboi and Margherita. We stayed with friends at Rupai, a locality about 3 km from Dum Duma.

Digboi: is a town where India’s earliest oil refineries were started. During those days, elephants were used as counter weights on pulleys in order to release the oil from the depths of the ground to the surface. The British exploited Digboi more than any other area of Assam, because it was extremely lucrative for them. They used Digboi for oil, tea and timber. Today, Digboi has one of India’s largest oil refineries operated by Assam Oil, a subsidiary of Indian Oil Corporation. You can drive around town enjoying the tea plantations, the Indian Oil township and its Oil museum.

Tinsukia, Dibrugarh: are two cities 40 kilometres apart and form important settlements to the south-east of Assam. Both cities have several tea processing plants and educational hubs.

Sibsagar: is a town that used to be the capital of Ahom dynasty (see the post History revisited: The Ahom dynasty of Sibsagar, Assam). You can see several heritage structures built by the Ahom dynasty around Sibsagar such as the Shiva Dhol, Devi Dhol, Vishnu Dhol, Rang Ghar and Talatal Ghar.

Shiva Dhol, which was built by the Ahom dynasty at Sibsagar

Jorhat & Majuli: Jorhat is a town that serves as the ferry point for exploring Majuli island. Majuli is the largest river island in the world. Majuli is divided into regions called Satras. Each Satra is carved out based on the chief occupation of the people of the Satra. E.g. Samaguri Satra is for making masks, Solmara is for pottery, etc. Auniati Satra is the religious and cultural hub of Majuli. In Majuli, one can stay in one of the several homestays or cottages, most of which also comes with food. A good way to explore Majuli is by hiring a bicycle.

Mask making at Samaguri Satra, Majuli

Kaziranga National Park: is India’s most famous national park for spotting one-horned rhinoceros. This park has the highest number and density of rhinos. One can take a jeep safari inside the park. But it is also possible to spot rhinos at the edge of the park on the highway between Nagaon to Jorhat, from a place called the rhino view point. Besides rhinos, Kaziranga also has tigers, leopards, water buffaloes, several species of deer and bird life.

Rhino spotted from the Guwahati – Nagaon – Jorhat highway at the edge of Kaziranga national park. This shot is very lucky. Due to rhino’s aggressive nature, even jeep safaris keep this amount of distance from them. We got this shot for free from the highway without having to pay for a safari!

Guwahati: is the most happening city of Assam. Within Guwahati is a seperate enclave with is own corporation. This enclave is named Dispur and is officially the capital of Assam. Guwahati is famous for Kamakhya temple, silk museum, several institutes, and a beautiful Brahmaputra river cruise.

Section III: Barak valley

Barak valley is a route that follows the Barak river from the hill station of Haflong to the point where the river enters Bangladesh near the state of Tripura. The only major cities on the route are near the Bangladeshi border, i.e. Karimganj and Silchar, both of which are Bengali speaking due to their proximity to Bangladesh. Along the way there are stunning views of the river, the rail route that connects Lumding to Agartala via Silchar and the view of forested hills in every direction. The smaller rivers from the hills, on the way to joining the Barak river, form streams and waterfalls along the way.

Barak river at Karimganj. Across the river is Bangladesh.

While stunning in beauty, the road is full of slush, loose rocks and mud. Some rivers have also overflown and knocked down some of the bridges. Such rivers flow dangerously on the road. The route is not for the faint-hearted or those with ill-prepared vehicles. Barak valley road was our most challenging motorbike ride segment in all of India 360. But once you reach Haflong, you cross a tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, a different world awaits. The road turns into a 3-lanes-a-side fully paved high-speed national highway. You will reach Lumding and then Nagaon in no time.

Conclusion

Assam is a fairly easy state to plan your route. But there is so much in the state that is undiscovered and not well-documented. You are suggested to spend some time on TripAdvisor and also speak to the locals about what is unique to their area. You will discover plenty of hidden gems.

post

How we covered it: Nagaland

Very little is known about the north-east of India. Of particular obscurity are states like Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, where transport is limited, roads are substandard, tourism is yet to catch up and awareness is limited. Before our trip to Nagaland, we used to picture the state a set of tribals wearing attire made of skin, jewellery made of animal bones and tribesmen clashing with each other. The reality is quite different. The Nagaland we saw is a state of vibrant youngsters who prefer English rock music and study in convent schools. Nagas are some of the most stylishly dressed people in all of India.

Nagaland also has no single official language, although the people speak Nagamese among themselves. Nagamese is just Assamese attempted by the people of Nagaland using grammar and pronunciation deemed ‘faulty’, but still communicable by the people of Assam. Think of it as what a Britisher would feel when Indians speak English or what north Indians would feel when south Indians speak Hindi. Majority of Nagaland speaks fluent English, being a Christian state and as a result of sending their people to convent schools. 95% of the state is Christian. Hindi is spoken sparingly in cities like Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung. Most of the Hindi speakers are from Rajasthan, Bihar and Assam. The natives of Nagaland themselves struggle with the language.

We had the privilege of covering all of north-east and hence Nagaland on our motorbike. This allowed us to be nimble, ride through roads of questionable quality, reach and stop at places not usually covered by public transport, explore some unique villages and learn a lot about the culture of different tribes in Nagaland.

Route plan

Due to the condition of the roads in Nagaland, we had no choice but to enter the state and exit to Assam thrice. Roads were non-existent between certain districts. It was better to track back and use Assam’s highways to re-enter Nagaland in a different region. Here are the three phases we covered in Nagaland.

  1. Land of the Ao tribes
  2. Land of the Konyak tribes
  3. Urban Nagaland

Our route plan around Nagaland

Let’s see each region one by one.

Land of the Ao

Among all the tribes in Nagaland, Ao tribes are the most educated, the most forward thinking and the friendliest to people from outside Nagaland. Aos are usually convent-educated and spend their youth in boarding schools. Most Aos are fluent in English, and moderately conversant in Hindi. Their native language is Ao, the same as the name of the tribe, and is classified under the Sino Tibetan family of languages. Just like Romio – Juliet and Heer – Ranjha, Ao tribes have their own sad-ending love story in the form of Etiben and Jina. Ao tribes reside in the district of Mokokchung.

Here are some interesting places to see in Mokokchung district.

Mokokchung town: Mokokchung town is the headquarters of the district. There is nothing particularly touristy in Mokokchung. But one can take long walks on the city’s streets and check out the local markets. The best view of the city is from the slope with Hotel Metsuben, which is at the highest point of the town. Unlike Mon district and places like Kohima, it is rare to find tourists, foreign or Indian, in Mokokchung district. So Mokokchung is a good place to rest at night, refuel your vehicle and stock up on supplies when you are in Ao tribe territory.

Mokokchung town

Mopungchuket: Mopungchuket is a little village slightly north of Mokokchung. It is one of the best villages to check out the life of Ao tribes. At Mopungchuket, we were guided around the village by Ronsengla, a primary school teacher and a choir singer at the local church. There are two towers in the village, that give a beautiful view of the hills in Mokokchung district. One of the towers is called Jina tower and the other Etiben tower, named after the two legendary lovers in the area. Also in the village, one can check the Ao tradition museum, which also doubles up as a guest house.

Sungkotenem park, Mopungchuket

Etiben tower, Mopungchuket

View of Mopungchuket village from Jina tower

Sungkotenem park is a small park with a lake just on the outskirts of the village. A small trail in the park goes across the lake via a walkway and ends at a podium, where one can see sculptures from the legendary stories of Ao tribes. Finally, one can see architectural examples like a Morung, which is a form of a tribal hostel, a long drum and several other artefacts which have been preserved around the village for the benefit of tourists.

Longkhum: Longkhum is the village where according to the legends, the two lovers Etiben and Jina hung out during their clandestine time together. It is here that Jina used to play the traditional Ao instrument, Kota-Kongki, while Etiben would enjoy the music in bliss. At Longkhum, you can ask one of the local vilagers to show you around.

You will be shown a staircase frequented by Etiben and Jina. The staircase ends at a cliff, from where one can see a beautiful view of Doyang river. Along the way, there is a Naga version of a root bridge (made famous by Meghalaya) and a small caving experience in a narrow, but beautiful cave (caving is also famous in Meghalaya).

Longkhum village

Mini caving experience at Longkhum

Land of the Konyak

Konyaks are one of the oldest tribes in Nagaland and had frequent skirmishes with the tribals from Burma. This led to head-hunting culture as we’ll see in the paragraph about Longwa. Konyaks inhabit the Mon district. The district shares a border with Sagaing state of Myanmar. Here are some interesting places to see in Mon district.

Mon town: Just like Mokokchung, Mon town on its own does not have much to offer. But it is a great place to run into people who are visiting or have visited Longwa. What’s special about Longwa? We’ll see in the next paragraph. Mon is a town with facilities such as lodges, restaurants and fuel stations. If you are bound for Longwa, Mon is a good place to stay for the night and use the next day to travel to Longwa.

Longwa: Longwa is a unique village in Nagaland that is right on the border of India and Myanmar. The house of the chief of the village, known as the Angkh, is partly inside India and partly inside Myanmar. One can stay for the night at one of the rooms inside the Angkh’s house. From here, one can go for a small trek to a landmark stone which is also on the border. One side of the stone has the name of India written in Devnagari, while the other side has the name Myanmar written in their local script.

The Angkh’s house is partly in India and partly in Myanmar

Landmark stone pointing towards India.

Also unique to Longwa are the tribal marksmen who have hunted the heads of rival tribals. The head hunters are now very old, mostly in their 80s and 90s. They wear a chain around their necks with pendants that look like human heads. The hunters wear as many pendants as the number of heads they have hunted. Head hunting is now outlawed and the entire region is peaceful with the introduction of education and conversion to Christianity.

A Konyak headhunter. Note that he has felled 5 heads, thus the 5 pendants on the chain around his neck.

While growing of drugs like opium is banned in India, the Myanmarese side of the village grows and sells opium. Opium addicts flock the Myanmarese side of the Angkh’s house to consume the drug legally!

Opium smoking

Urban Nagaland

From villages with love stories and villages with head hunters, let’s go to urban Nagaland, where two of the state’s largest cities lie 60 km from each other.

Dimapur: Dimapur is the largest city in Nagaland and the only one in the plains. Due to its location in the plains, Dimapur is the only city in Nagaland to have a railway station and an airport. Dimapur is the gateway to Nagaland since it is right on the border of Assam and Nagaland. The main language of Dimapur is Kachari, but other languages like Nagamese, Assamese, English, Hindi and Bengali are also spoken here. Something unique in Dimapur that we saw was a shop selling utensils, buckets and other material made of old rubber tyres.

At Dimapur with our friend Wapang. Wapang is from the Ao tribe (see the section ‘Land of the Ao’ above)

Kohima: Kohima is the capital of Nagaland. It is a city with Angami Naga tribe. The city is quite pleasing with several wall paintings, foot over-bridges which are painted on and places where graffiti is made using natural contours of the background.

Wall painting of a head hunter at Kohima

Kohima has some good places to see, one of them being the Nagaland state museum, where most of the Naga tribes, their culture, sports and food have been described over several galleries. The war cemetary has a good path to stroll on. Kohima also has a good street market, where you will see some wierd things being sold as food items, e.g. frogs!

Khonoma: Khonoma is a village near Kohima which is termed as the Nagaland Heritage Village. It is here that every December, the Hornbill festival takes place. The festival is a congregation of all the tribes from Nagaland. It features dances, handicrafts, local food, natural products and many other things hosted on stages and in stalls.

Entrance to Hornbill festival, Khonoma

Dzukou valley: Dzukou valley is a trek on the border of Nagaland and Manipur. On the highway between Kohima and Imphal, a trail starts near Jakhama village towards the ascent and ends on a pasture of land overlooking rolling slopes. At the top of the trek is a basic rest house with a dormitory and a few private rooms. If you have your own tent you can camp. A basic entrance fee (₹ 50) is to be paid for a trek to Dzukou.

Conclusion

Nagaland is a state of several territories, none of which you can call similar to each other. The state has more than 30 local languages and several dialects, most of which can be understood more by the Myanmarese and less by most Indians. It has its own love stories, head hunters and some beautiful vistas overlooking mountains and plains with plenty of greenery. The best time to visit the state is around November – December to make your trip coincide with the Hornbill festival. So plan your trip for the upcoming winter.

How we covered it: Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful and least travelled states in India. We had the fortune of getting to travel across the state on our motorbike and I would suggest you to do the same if wish to cover the state fully. The state’s public transport does not get you to every corner, nor is it possible for you to take your car to some of the narrow roads in the remote areas of India’s eastern-most state. A road trip across Arunachal Pradesh can leave you spell-bound as you will see plenty of rivers, valleys, rugged mountains, snow, green pastures, picturesque villages and wonderful people.

On the map of India, Arunachal Pradesh looks tiny. But trust us, the state is big. Barring Assam, Arunachal is the largest among the states termed as the seven sisters. Despite using the most nimble form of transport, i.e. our motorbike, we could not cover the entire state. This is because, the distances between towns are really high. Arunachal Pradesh occupies more than 300 km on the northern bank of Brahmaputra river. There are days you will need to cover 150 – 200 km on a single day on winding mountain roads which are in a state of disrepair, thus taking you 6 – 8 hours to cover what seems like a fleeting distance on roads like Mumbai – Pune expressway, Delhi – Agra Yamuna expressway or Tamil Nadu’s Grand Southern Trunk (GST) highway. We had to take hard decisions about having to drop certain plans simply because the roads were not ready for us yet. Hopefully, the current government has considered the matter and they are supporting BRO (Border Roads Organisation) to prioritise the completion of important roads in the state.

In this post, we will replay the road route we took to cover as much of the state as we could and the places that are interesting along the way. This should hopefully help you plan an exciting, jaw-dropping trip to the state named the ‘the province of the crimson veil’, a name that arises out of the fact that the state is the first to see sunrise in India.

Our route plan

Our Arunachal Pradesh route plan

We covered the following 4 routes in Arunachal Pradesh

  1. Tezpur – Tawang
  2. Itanagar – Ziro – Daporijo – Aalo – Mechuka – Aalo
  3. Aalo – Yingkiong – Tuting – Yingkiong
  4. Yingkiong – Pasighat – Tezu – Parshuram Kund – Namsai

Inner Line Permits

Please note that you need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to visit Arunachal Pradesh. On the permit, you need to mark all the districts that you wish to visit. At all the checkposts between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and at intermediate checkposts between districts, your inner line permits will be checked. An inner line permit can be obtained online from Arunachal ILP website.

Tezpur – Tawang

This is the only route in the state that will take you through snow all year round. The route follows the Kameng river and then the Tawang river to take you to Tawang district that borders China. You can see upto two high altitude Himalayan passes on this route. One of them is the Se la pass that needs to be crossed to reach Tawang. The other pass, Bum La, borders China and can be seen if the weather conditions and diplomatic relations are favourable and you are lucky.

Tezpur: is a city in Assam to the north of Brahmaputra river. It is the second biggest city on the northern bank after New Bongaigaon. All other major cities such as Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia are on the southern bank of the river. Tezpur is at the confluence of Brahmaputra and Kameng rivers. It is the road head for a trip to Arunachal’s Tawang district. There is a road bridge across Brahmaputra from Tezpur, that takes you to the south bank town of Kaliabor. From Kaliabor, the Kaziranga national park, famous for its one-horned rhinos, is less than 50 km away.

Brahmaputra river at Tezpur

Bhalukpong: is a town at the border of Assam and Arunachal on the Tezpur – Tawang route. The town is on the western bank of Kameng river. Your ILP will be checked at a checkpost in this town. The highway from Tezpur to Bhalukpong is flat. Beyond Bhalukpong, the highway starts ascending into the Arunachal Himalayas.

Bomdila: is the headquarters of West Kameng district. Bomdila is the biggest town on the way to Tawang. It has a monastery and a district-level playground. On the way back from Tawang, we used Bomdila as our halt for the two day motorbike ride from Tawang to Tezpur.

Dirang: is a town midway between Tezpur and Tawang. Dirang has a hill top monastery worth exploring. There is also a hot water spring near the Kameng river, which flows in a valley slightly lower than the town. We used Dirang as a halt for our two day ride from Tezpur to Tawang.

Se La pass: is a Himalayan mountain pass at an altitude of 13700 feet (4170 metres) at the border of West Kameng and Tawang districts. It has a lake that is frozen for half the year and has clear water reflecting the surrounding mountains in the other half. Se La has an army post. During bad weather, Se La becomes a bottleneck due to heavy snow or rain, either blocking or damaging the road, thus cutting off Tawang from the rest of India.

Frozen lake at Se La pass

Taxi drivers from Tezpur to Tawang and back usually ensure that they are at Se La pass before or by mid-day. No one wants to drive there during fading sunlight. When you are planning a trip to or from Tawang, you should also ensure a pre-noon pass through at Se La pass. So the best thing is to leave your source (either Tezpur or Tawang) very close to sunrise. In fact if you are using a motorbike, we suggest that you break your trip into two days: Tezpur – Dirang and Dirang – Tawang.

Jaswant Garh: is a war memorial in Tawang district. It is a memorial built for Garhwal rifles marksman Jaswant Singh Rawat, who singlehandedly kept the Chinese army at bay during the 1962 Indo-Chinese war. It is said that the spirit of Jaswant Singh still lives there.

Jang: is the first municipality on the way from Tezpur to Tawang. Near Jang town is a waterfall named Nuranang formed by the Tawang river.

Nuranang waterfall at Jang

Tawang: is a town and the headquarters of the district of the same name. It is inhabited by the Buddhism-practising Monpa tribe, who speak the language of the same name. Tawang has a famous and ancient monastery. Other attractions around Tawang are Tawang war memorial, Panga Teng Tso lake, Sitting Buddha statue, Sangetsar lake, Takt Sang monastery (not the one in Bhutan) and Bum La pass.

Tawang monastery

Here’s a video of our motorbike ride between Tezpur and Tawang.

Itanagar – Ziro – Daporijo – Aalo – Mechuka – Aalo

While Tawang is the most popular circuit among tourists, the Itanagar – Ziro circuit is gaining popularity as the roadways and transport are developing. This circuit starts from Assam’s Gohpur town and crosses the state border at Dhipu, where you need to show your permits at a checkpost. While most tourists head upto Ziro and return to Assam, we extended our route to cover Daporijo and proceeded to Aalo, from where one can visit Mechuka village. Aalo – Mechuka is a popular circuit among motorcycle groups and there is very little public transport in these areas. You cannot cover these places in a planned way through backpacking alone and public transport alone. You may get lucky enough to tag along with a group of motorcyclists or private village vehicles that happen to be going that side. I suggest that you take control of your itinerary by taking your own vehicle or a hired self-driven vehicle.

Itanagar: is the capital of Arunachal state. It does not belong to any district and comes directly under the rule of the state government. Interesting things to see at Itanagar are the hill top Ita fort and state museum that tells us about the culture of the various tribes of Arunachal. Itanagar is often combined as an urban conglomeration with nearby city Naharlagun, which is 5 km away in the district of Papum Pare. Similar to the way that New Delhi combines with Gurgaon, Faridabad and Noida to form NCR and Mumbai is often combined with Thane district to form MMRDA, Itanagar and Naharlagun are referred to as the Itanagar urban area. Due to space constraints, many of the state administrative offices are actually inside Naharlagun instead of Itanagar. Both Itanagar and Naharlagun have railway stations, the only major ones in Arunachal so far. There are frequent trains to Guwahati, New Bongaigaon and Siliguri. There is also an Arunachal Rajdhani that runs from New Delhi to Naharlagun twice a week.

Clock tower at Itanagar

Ziro: is the headquarters of Lower Subansiri district. The town is the most populated and the most commercially active town in the district that is named after the Subansiri river that flows through. Ziro is divided into Ziro town and old Ziro, with the old one having an air strip. Between the two is an ancient Shiva Linga. The Ziro music festival happens here every September.

Ziro town

Daporijo: is a town in Upper Subansiri district. It has fantastic views of the Subansiri river valley. If you are travelling from Ziro to Aalo, then it may be necessary to break your journey at Daporijo for a night. You can also look at Daporijo to fill up your petrol reserves, since there are no petrol pumps upto Aalo on one side and Ziro on the other.

Subansiri river at Daporijo

Aalo: is a major town in West Siang district, with the name of the district coming from the river Siang, a major tributary of Brahmaputra river. Another name for Aalo is Along. Aalo is a three-way junction with one highway leading to Ziro and Itanagar, another one to Mechuka village and yet another one going to Yingkiong. Aalo is also a good place to fill up your petrol reserves if you are planning a trip to Mechuka, where there are NO petrol pumps yet.

Siko Dido waterfall: is a tall waterfall on the road between Aalo and Mechuka. The visible plunge of the waterfall from the road is 200 feet (60 metres). It is near the village of Tato.

Siko Dido waterfall. Notice Priya standing near the waterfall. That’s how tall the waterfall is.

Mechuka: is a remote village close to the Chinese border. The name of the village means the ‘place with healing water’. The Siang river flows through Mechuka, while snow clad mountains stand tall far away. There are several green pastures with cows and horses grazing, making the village look straight out of Switzerland. Combine it with the colourful wooden houses and the cleanliness. The effect is complete. Mechuka has a history with close ties to Sikhism. It is said that Guru Nanak travelled to Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet to teach the virtues of compassion and sacrifice. Curiously, there is a monastery dedicated to ‘Nanak Lama’.

Mechuka village

Mechuka village

An Sikh regiment army major posted at Mechuka after independence noted that the locals heal ailments with medicinal water from the Siang river and prayers to Nanak Lama. Intrigued, he dug out history and found that this very land was graced by the man that Sikhs hold in highest reverence. Thus a Gurudwara was built in the army camp. This Gurudwara can be visited today, along with a river side temple where Guru Nanak is said to have parted stone to clear a path. Various regiments are posted to this army camp in rotation.

Please note that Mechuka is a dead-end. One must return to Aalo to be able to explore further circuits.

Aalo – Yingkiong – Tuting – Yingkiong

While Aalo – Mechuka road is beautiful and Mechuka village is hypnotising, the natural beauty on the Aalo – Yingkiong – Tuting circuit was at a different level, leaving both of us gaping our mouths and parking our bike for photos far too many times. The areas are so remote and so pristine that you will see hardly see anyone, locals or travellers. It also meant for us that the roads were in a terrible state of neglect. While the Aalo – Yingkiong road is in a fairly good condition, the road from Yingkiong to Tuting puts you under a level of test you’ll not often experience. But the stunning sight of the Siang river carving its way through the Himalayas bordering India and Tibet is so refreshing that the adverse effects of the driving test are soon forgotten.

While we want you to certainly take a trip to Yingkiong and Tuting, we would ask you to wait 2 or 3 years to wait for the roads to be repaired. If you haven’t ever ridden on low quality mountain roads before, then this trip is not for you. We do not recommend an SUV yet because the roads are too narrow to allow two SUVs to pass each other, should such an occasion arise. There are several large army trucks that use this route and your SUV will be found wanting for space to squeeze. Hatchbacks and sedans are definitely out of question due to their low ground clearance on such atrocious roads.

Jengging: A board outside Jengging claims that this is the most pollution free village of the country. We cannot confirm that. But certainly the village has excellent views to the Siang river flowing in the valley deep below the road.

Zero pollution board at Jengging

Yingkiong: While the highway from Aalo to Tuting runs parallel to the west of Siang river, Yingkiong town is to the east of the river. It is the headquarters of Upper Siang district. The distance from Aalo to Tuting is way too much to cover in one stretch, due to time and fuel requirements. it makes sense to cross the river for the evening to rest and refuel at Yingkiong and then cross back to the highway in the morning. This was not possible before 2017. But then the government provided two brand new, sturdy road bridges with good quality roads on both sides, north and south, of Yingkiong town to access the highway on the west of the river. But even before these bridges made it possible for Yingkiong people to commute to Aalo, the town has always had a south-east bound highway to the town of Pasighat, that we will see in another circuit.

State Bank of India branch and BSNL phone towers at Yingkiong

There is nothing to see inside Yingkiong, but one thing stands out. The reassuring brand boards of Indian Oil, BSNL and State Bank of India stand tall in a town so remote from the creature comforts we are so used to, thus bringing fuel, connectivity and banking to remote corners of India. It puts the Shells, Vodafones and Standard Chartered Banks to shame.

Mingging: is a army outpost town on the way from Yingkiong to Tuting. We were lucky to be served food from army ration at the Mingging army camp, eating lunch with the soldiers. While we took photos, they politely asked us not to put photos on Internet, so we heed.

Tuting: is a remote village at one end of the state. It has beautiful views of the snow mountains bordering India and Tibet. Tourism has not caught upto this village and there are virtually no places to stay. There are no petrol pumps either and you need to buy petrol at higher than market rates from grocery shops. Tuting has a beautiful monastery with monk quarters. We wrote about our experience at Tuting in another post.

Yingkiong – Pasighat – Tezu – Parshuram Kund – Namsai

While most of Arunachal Pradesh is on the north of Brahmaputra river, a small region, namely Lohit, Namsai, Changlang and Tirap districts are to the south of the river. In Lohit district, the Lohit river joins the Siang river to form the Brahmaputra. This region of Arunachal is on the plains rather than the mountains.

Pasighat: is a bustling town by Siang river. It is the headquarters of East Siang district. To the south of Pasighat, the Siang river is joined by the Lohit river to form Brahmaputra.

Bhismaknagar: is the site of the ancient ruins of the Sutiya kingdom, who ruled the region around Brahmaputra between the 12th and 17th centuries.

Roing: is the headquarters of Lower Dibang district. It is home to Adi and Mishmi tribes.

Tezu: is the headquarters of Lohit district and is on the northern bank of the Lohit river. Tezu is home to Mishmi tribe.

Parshuram Kund: is a religious site that worships the site where Lord Parshuram bathed in Lohit river. Near Parshuram Kund, the highway crosses the river from the north bank to the south bank. At India 360, we used this fact as a logical seperation between exploring regions to the north of Brahmaputra (Arunachal, Tezpur, Bongaigaon, etc) and regions to the south (Guwahati, Majuli, Dibragarh, Digboi, Nagaland, etc).

Lohit river at Parshuram Kund

Namsai: is a town at the border of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Near Namsai are a few Buddhist temples, such as Solungtoo Buddist temple of Lathao and a hill top Golden Pagoda. Namsai district has a Buddhism practising population as many are descendents of Burmese kingdoms such as Tai and Shan.

Golden Pagoda near Namsai

Places we did not cover

We did not cover the highway between Roing to Anini, a town near the international border with Tibet. We think that Anini would have been a pristine village similar to Mechuka and Tuting. But the thought of 300 km and back over the poor roads of Arunachal over 4 days discouraged us. We will return when the roads have been repaired.

We also skipped the road from Tezu to Walong for similar reasons. Walong is the first village in India over which the sun rises in the morning. The summer sunrise is as early as 3:45 am, whereas the winter sunrise is around 4:45 am. But the distance between Tezu and Walong is 200 km and the roads are bad. It would have taken 3 – 4 days too and fro. A future trip on good roads is eagerly awaited.

Conclusion

While a lot of states in India have multiple highways with several combinations of itineraries, the fact that the roads in Arunachal follow the rivers and wind around mountains, thus keeping the total number of roads inside the state to very few, it is very easy to plan a well-rounded itinerary to the state, especially if using your own transport. Use our route and plan your next trip to India’s land of rising sun.

 

post

How we covered it: Gujarat

Gujarat is a state that can be covered fairly quickly. In India 360, it took us 20 days to do so. While we did it by car, you can do the same circuit with a state transport bus, railways or shared taxis. A full exploration of Gujarat state, along with two union territories, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu, gives you so many sights to see. From the majestic Asiatic lions to a desert of salt. From a city that cuts and polishes diamonds to a city that is home to Mahatma Gandhi. Gujarat has a variety of experiences that can amaze. So let’s get started. Continue reading

post

How we covered it: Maharashtra Ghats

Maharashtra is not a particularly appealing destination during summer. But during the other two seasons, travellers have abundant options in all corners of the state. The effects of monsoon and winter on Maharashtra are worlds apart. Between June to September, the monsoon magic casts its spell on the state, but the best effects are towards the west. The cool and pleasant winters are great for visiting interior Maharashtra districts like Aurangabad, Solapur, Nagpur and Chandrapur. it is also the best time to stick to the coast for all the secluded and gorgeous beaches. Continue reading

post

How we covered it: Kerala

Today, we are starting a new series called ‘How we covered it’. In this series, we will see how we at India 360 travelled across the states we covered. India is a huge country and there are more than a million ways to plan your trip. In this series, we hope to give you ideas on how to travel each state. Please feel free to follow the same part of or the entire path as we did or, of course, modify the route as it suits you.

We start with God’s own country, Kerala. Continue reading