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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chp 532. Things to remember before visiting NE

This is my answer to a Quora question:

What are the "things to remember" before I start off to travel the most of Northeast India?

If you like this post and you are a member of Quora, please do upvote my answer :D In case I got any info wrong or missed out any important point, please do let me know in the comment section.


Ok here are 20 points that I think one should remember before traveling across the North East:

1. Keep in mind that every Northeastern state is different from the other. First and foremost, some of the States require a permit just to visit, depending on who you are. Since you didn’t specify your background, I’m just giving you three categories of visitors -

a) In case you are a foreigner, you no longer need to get an RAP (Restricted Area Permit) or PAP (Protected Area Permit) to visit Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland. You just have to register yourself at the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) of the particular State within 24 hours of arrival. Don't forget to take your passport, visa and other documents as well (my brother-in-law is English, so we usually go directly to the FRO straight from the airport whenever they visit). However, to visit Arunachal Pradesh, you still require a PAP.

b) But if you are a foreigner from Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Afghanistan, then you need a clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs to visit the four Northeastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland.

c) If you are an Indian citizen, then you need an ILP (Inner Line Permit) to visit the three Northeastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. You don't require any permit to visit the other five Northeastern States (Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and Sikkim). Even people from other Northeastern States have to apply for an ILP to visit these three mentioned States. In case you want to read up more about this ILP, you can refer to my Quora answer regarding the same.

2. If you can afford it, I would advise you to carry at least two mobile phones (or a dual sim phone) with different service providers and roaming activated on both, because due to the mountainous region, sometimes a particular network is available at a particular location only and vice-versa, and unlike other telecom circles, it is very difficult to use the network of different service providers on roaming over there. I recommend Vodafone / Airtel / Idea.

3. If you are travelling towards any of the capitals or main cities, make sure you take time to enjoy the journey to your destination. Enjoy the view, stop frequently, take photos of the hills, waterfalls and mist covered mountains, or the hilariously cute BRO road signs you'll find in abundance. Trust me, the cities aren't that great compared to the tranquil serenity in the outskirts, especially if you yourself are from an urban area.

[Pic source: indiatoursandtravelsdotcom]

4. As others have already mentioned, try to avoid the entire region during the monsoon! You'll face floods in the plains and landslides in the hills. Yes one of the most beautiful moments in the hilly sections of the North East is that moment right after a rain, but you also run the risk of being delayed/stuck due to landslides.

5. Be nice to the locals :) Smile, be polite, and don't be loud! Northeasterners are usually very quiet, shy and soft-spoken. Most people are extremely helpful in assisting tourists when approached politely.

6. I'm sure this must be obvious, but I think it needs to be mentioned. Be aware of the vast racial and cultural differences of the NE people from that of the rest of India. Don't express shock or surprise when you see them or even try to imitate their language mockingly, we'll find that gravely insulting. At the same time if you take a genuine attempt to speak in the local language (maybe through a translation app on your smartphone) they'll quickly bond with you. Also, do not be surprised if you see many indigenous people who aren't of the mongoloid race. Not everybody from the NE has mongoloid features, so don’t ever ask them questions such as, “How come you don’t look like a Northeasterner?” That is as offensive as asking the ones with Mongoloid features, “How come you look like a Chinese?” No matter how we look, all of us are extremely proud and protective of our respective heritages.

7. Again, regarding the language, do take an attempt to read up a bit about the particular Northeastern State you're planning to visit. Most of the States are inhabited by a group of different tribes or communities with completely different language or dialect, so sometimes the person may find it insulting if you ask him how come he doesn't speak x language just because another person from the same State does. Overall, at most places, you can manage with English or Hindi.

8. Keep in mind that there is Total/Partial Prohibition in the three States of Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland (though Mizoram has amended this act recently, it will be enforced only when the next assembly session starts). This means you won’t find alcohol (that easily) at these places, and you are not allowed to carry booze with you while entering these three States. I mean, you can of course, but if you get caught, it’s not going to be a very pleasant experience for you. And yes, the security at some of the check-gates are extremely vigilant due to the insurgency issue in some regions.

[Translation: An alcohol check-gate in Mizoram, aptly nicknamed “The Gate Of All Regrets” because if you were carrying booze and you’re checked, you regretted, and at the same time if you didn’t carry alcohol for fear of being caught and there was nobody on duty at the check-gate, it led to regret again!]

9. Depending on what time of the year you're planning to visit and which State you're planning to visit, plan your clothing carefully. Some places are extremely cold in winter while others are horribly hot and humid in summer.

10. Also read up on the seasonal festivals of the different States, those are the best times for tourists to visit. Some of the popular ones are the Hornbill festival of Nagaland, Bihu festival of Assam, Autumn festival of Meghalaya, Athurium festival and Chapchar kut festival of Mizoram, the occasional rock concert and music festivals in vibrant Shillong and so on. And in the case of Mizoram, I personally know a few tourists who unfortunately visited Aizawl during Christmas season :) Bad timing indeed, because everything shuts down during this period for 2-3 weeks. Traffic is closed throughout the city during the day (no vehicles allowed on the roads) as the entire city comes out to do their Christmas/New Year shopping or celebrate Christmas with carols and parades. Visit Mizoram during this period only if you want to experience this unique feature.

[Hornbill festival in Nagaland]

11. Although I don’t need to tell you about the different food cuisine you’ll find in the North East because that is an obvious situation at any new place, I just want to mention about the timing/frequency that most people are usually not aware of. In many Northeastern places like Mizoram, we do not have a concept of “lunch”. We eat just two main meals a day - breakfast and dinner, which are both extremely heavy. “Lunch” consists of just a simple tea break and maybe light snacks. So brace yourself not just for a cuisine change but a timing change as well.

12. Moreover, brace yourself for a contrast time difference. Keep in mind that the Northeast lies on the eastern side of Bangladesh which itself is 30 minutes ahead of India. It’s fair enough to say that the Northeast is at least 1 hour ahead of IST, but since we follow IST, sun rises and sets very early. A large majority of the population would be well asleep by 7-8 PM and the streets dead quiet, even in the center of the city. Get ready for that.

13. It is better to book your hotels or accommodations in advance. Also, I’d like to warn you that the quality of hotels aren’t as great as in the Indian metros. And I feel the service industry kinda lacks behind in the North East. So don’t be surprised if waiters or bellboys don’t exactly do their jobs up to your expectations.

14. Always try to get a local guide wherever you go.

15. Don’t rely much on credit cards. In fact you can leave them at home if you want. Take plenty of cash with you, along with your debit cards that you can use to withdraw from the ATMs.

16. And as is a golden rule in any place you’re visiting for the first time, always ask your host or the hotel attendant about the cost of taxi fare from x to y location you want to visit.

17. Never hesitate to take a fresh morning walk from your place of accommodation. Observe the early morning life around you or the idyllic sunrise amidst the sprawling hills. Let the chirpings of morning swallows or crickets transport you to a heavenly abode of new delight.

18. Another important point to remember - The North East is known for its rich cultural and traditional attire, with beautiful woven cloths, shawls, dresses and headgears. However, don’t be surprised if you don’t see people wearing such traditional clothes when you reach there! We usually wear them only on important functions and occasions :)

[Pic: Nagaland’s talented Tetseo Sisters]

19. Last but not the least, try to keep in touch with the local news. Most people think the North East is one entity, but actually, we too have a lot of our own internal issues and inter-ethnic clashes now and then between different tribes and communities. Though such disturbances don’t escalate, it can lead to some unrests and usually 2-3 days bandh, hence preventing you from moving around. While this occurs rarely, it does happen now and then, so I’m just giving you a heads-up on this. Keep a track of the local news as you move around. Small disturbances like that shouldn’t hamper your visit, especially if you are not worried about the fact that most of these Northeastern States you’re planning to visit are under the draconian AFSPA law :)

20. Bonus pointer :) - If you know the right people at the right places, it may be possible for you to slip into Myanmar. That’s right, I’m talking about crossing the International border here. But of course this may not be legal and I am in no way encouraging anyone to break the law, but I’m just saying sometimes one can visit Myanmar due to the porous border with some of the Northeastern States bordering Myanmar, where one can walk into foreign territory, drink Burmese brewed beer, swim at the pristine Rih Dil lake, and pay for your food using Burmese Kyat and then come back to the Indian side at the end of the day, giving you that cheap satisfaction of having “travelled abroad” :) :P

[Rih Dil, Myanmar]

So hope these 20 points help. Do enjoy your trip to the North East. Cheers (except of course in some States :P )

1 comment:

John Hlychho said...

Thumps Up (Y)
Rihdil, Myanmar? :D