- 19 November
- 3 March next year
- 17 November.
Far away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi, the deserts and palaces of Rajasthan, or the tropical shores of Kerala, lies an India that few people know exists. India’s north east region could not be more different than commonly held preconceptions about the world’s largest democracy. We visit tribal cultures that are only now just beginning to move into the 21st century as we meet and interact with the Naga people, once feared headhunters. We are privileged to spend time in their villages and learn more about their very distinct customs, still maintained in the face of the onslaught of Hinduism.
We travel to the jaw-droopingly beautiful region of Assam perched on the edge of the Himalayas, and search for rhino and tiger in the remote Kaziranga National Park. The highlight of this trip is the opportunity to learn more about the kaleidoscope of diverse cultures that make up India’s north east – a region more akin to South East Asia than to the subcontinent – and we spend as much time as possible exploring villages and meeting local people. See a different side of the country – this truly is undiscovered India.
Day 1: Kolkata. Arrive in Kolkata, India’s second largest city. Kolkata encapsulates modern India – a hectic and vibrant city teeming with life, and is a great place to start your trip into the tribal regions to the north east. Overnight Lytton Hotel or similar. Kolkata Kolkata (also spelled Calcutta) burst into life with the arrival of the British East India Company, who bought land containing the small village of Kalikata in the late 17th century. Calcutta grew in importance over the years of the British Raj, and was its seat of government until 1911. This legacy has left a wealth of colonial architecture remaining in the city today, although many buildings are now starting to suffer from lack of upkeep and general wear and tear.
Calcutta has over the years had rather a bad reputation, fuelled by its slums and the story of the infamous 'Black Hole of Calcutta' where during the siege of the city in 1756, 64 British residents were imprisoned in a guard room, with only 24 surviving the experience. However it has always thrived as a center for arts and culture, and its inhabitants are rightly proud of the many artistic and literary achievements that have come forth from the city. Calcutta has of course moved on from the days of the Raj but the overwhelming impression is still of a colonial city, with bowling and golf clubs, the marble memorial to Queen Victoria and green parks reminiscent more of England than India.
Day 2: Khonoma. Leaving Kolkata behind, we fly to Dimapur. From here we drive past Kohima to Khonoma. This Angami tribal village is famous for its valor and the resistance to the British expedition in 1879. Overnight stay in village guest house. Includes: (B).
Khonoma: Over a hundred years back, advancing British troops found themselves facing a determined warrior tribe in the highlands of Nagaland. The Angami men of Khonoma, famed for their prowess and strategic skills, fought a resolute battle to safeguard their territory, inflicting heavy casualties on the foreign soldiers. Finally a truce between the two stopped further bloodshed, but meanwhile Khonoma village had etched its name into the history of Indian resistance to the colonial invasion.
Today, Khonoma is witnessing another historic struggle. In the mid-1990s the villagers had to physically resist timber merchants who came with several dozen elephants to carry out logging, unfortunately aided by some insiders. Over the last decade Khonoma, inhabited by Angamis, one of Nagaland’s 18 tribes, has made giant strides in establishing or strengthening systems of natural resource management, conflict resolution, village administration, and appropriate development all coupled with a resolute will to conserve biodiversity and wildlife.
Day 3: Khonoma. Explore Khonoma, and learn about local lifestyles. Your local host will take you around the village, explain traditions and customs, show you traditional attires, demonstrate cooking styles, and explain how they balance agriculture with forestry. Overnight village guesthouse. Includes: (B).
Day 4: Touphema. Drive to Touphema, a community based tourism program managed by the Angami Naga village community. We visit both the old and new Angami tribal villages as well as the local museum. Overnight tourist cottages. Includes: (B).
Touphema: The Touphema Village Resort is situated on a gentle hillock with panoramic views of the surrounding valleys at a distance of 41 km north of the Nagaland capital Kohima. The Touphema tourist village offers exquisite traditional Naga life in the lap of nature. This resort offers all the modern comforts with an ethnic setting. The interior of the resort provides fascinating insight into the history, tradition and ancient myths of the Naga people.
Day 5: Longkhum. Drive to Longkhum village, once famous as a stronghold of headhunters of the Ao tribe. We explore the village, visit its museum to learn about local history, and have plenty of opportunities to interact with local villagers. Stay overnight at village guest house. Includes: (B).
Nagaland: Nagaland is a mountainous and narrow strip of land, bordered by Myanmar in the east, Assam to the north and west. It is the smallest state in India with Kohima as its capital. It is home to over fifteen different Tibeto-Burmese tribal groups, known collectively as the Nagas. A turbulent past includes rule by the Burmese and assimilation into Assam under British Rule in the 18th Century. Since independence the tribes have called for a separate state which was finally granted 1963.
It is largely a mountainous state, its highest peak being Mount Saramati at 3,800 m at the point where the Naga Hills merge with the Patkai Range of Myanmar. It is extremely rich in flora and fauna giving it the nickname the ‘Switzerland of the East’. About 1/6th of the country is covered in tropical and sub-tropical forest including palms, bamboo and mahogany. Many areas have fortunately escaped cultivation and are homes to a wealth of wildlife including elephant, leopard, bear, monkey, sambar, buffalo and porcupine.
Naga Tribes: Tribe and clan traditions play an important part in Naga life. Every tribe has its own mother tongue of which there are about 60 different dialects. Folklore is passed on through word of mouth with songs eulogizing war deeds of ancestors and tragic love stories. Weaving plays a traditional role with patterns being passed down through the generations. Each tribe can be distinguished by its colorful and intricately designed costumes. They each have their own designs for shawls, bags, spears, wood carvings and mats. War dances are also an important tribal art form here. The people are known for giving a warm welcome and for being extremely hospitable.
Day 6: Mopungchuket. Drive to Mopungchuket, another Ao village, which is the centre for the revival of ancient Ao culture. Enroute visit Ugma Village to get a glimpse of local lifestyles, Ao folklore, customs and traditions. Upon arrival at Mopungchuket we visit some of its sites including the community museum, time-pillar, and morungs (youth dormitories). Overnight stay at village guest house. Includes: (B).
Day 7: Jorhat. After visiting further Ao Naga villages we drive back into Assam to Jorhat. Jorhat was once the capital of the Ahom Kingdom and is well placed for visiting nearby Majuli Island. Overnight Tea Garden Bungalows or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 8: Majuli – Kaziranga. Cruise on the mighty Brahmaputra River to Majuli, the largest inhabited river island in the world. After time on the island we head back to the mainland, with good opportunities to spot wildlife en route including flocks of migratory water birds and the Gangetic River Dolphin. We end the day in Kaziranga. Overnight Landmark Woods Resort or similar. Includes: (B), (D).
Majuli Island: Majuli Island is the largest riverine island in the world and has been a key pilgrimage site for the Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu) for centuries. The island has several sattras, or monasteries, for the Vaishnavite community, some of which contain ancient artifacts, handicrafts and jewelery – the island has been the traditional center of Assamese culture for many centuries. Majuli is noted for its beautiful rural setting and traditional tribal architecture.
Day 9: Kaziranga National Park. Kaziranga National Park is a World Heritage Site, offering great opportunities to spot the iconic Indian Horned Rhinoceros – more than 75% of the world’s population reside within its boundaries. Other wildlife is also plentiful, and includes water buffalo, elephants, tigers, swamp deer, barking deer and hog deer as well as 400 species of birds. We explore the park on elephant back and by jeep and hope to have good game sightings. Overnight Landmark Woods Resort or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Kaziranga National Park: Kaziranga National Park is one of only two places where the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros can now be found. Although they once roamed freely across India, Kaziranga and Manas National Park, also in Assam, represent their total habitat today. The park covers a wide diversity of habitats, from grassland and swamps to forest, and this ensures a good mix of flora and fauna. In particular the bird life here is excellent, with numerous birds of prey circling the skies. Exploring this park from the back of an elephant as it makes it way through the high grass is a superb way to spot its wildlife.
Days 10-11: Shillong. We drive to Shillong, the state capital of Meghalaya, often called the ‘Scotland of the East’. We have two days to relax and explore the town, with its interesting bazaars which attract a number of different tribes people from the surrounding area. Overnight Pinewood Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Shillong: Shillong was once a favored retreat for the British seeking to escape from the heat of the plains – its altitude gives it a pleasant climate and the scenery around of lakes, waterfalls, forests and mountains makes it a very picturesque place to spend a few days. The legacy of the British remains in the English style country houses which dot the hills, but its Khasi inhabitants with their distinctive dress give a very different feel to the town. Shillong is renowned as one of India’s prettier towns and was once the capital of Assam, before the state of Meghalaya was created – it is a delight to explore with good opportunities for walks into the surrounding countryside.
Day 12: Cherrapunjee. Nearby Cherrapunjee once held the record of the wettest place on earth with a recorded annual rainfall of 23,000 mm. Cherrapunjee is a relaxed and pretty town built on a ridge with spectacular views of dramatic gorges, awesome waterfalls and lush forests. En route back to Shillong we stop to visit an old mule trail which once linked Assam to Bangladesh. Overnight Pinewood Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Cherrapunjee. Cherrapunjee is no longer officially the wettest place on earth – it has now lost out, but only just, to nearby Mawsynram. In 1861, almost 23,000mm of rain fell in one year, in July of the same year over 9000mm fell in that month alone. All this rain makes for extremely lush and scenic surroundings however and outside of the rainy season Cherrapunjee is a great place to explore, with impressive waterfalls plunging over high cliffs and limestone caves dotting the hills and ravines.
Day 13: Guwahati. We drive to Guwahati, the capital of Assam, situated in a superb location overlooking the Brahmaputra River. We spend time exploring its temples, including the Kamakya Temple, the most important shrine in Assam, which is dedicated to the goddess Kali. We also visit the temple of Navgraha, overlooking the river and an ancient site for the practice of astrology and astronomy. Overnight Landmark Woods Resort or similar. Includes: (B).
Guwahati: The city of Guwahati, said to be one of India’s fastest growing cities, is situated between the floodplains of the Brahmaputra and the Shillong Plateau, commanding a striking view out over the river. Founded in the 6th century, it was the capital of Assam under the Pala dynasty and became a large and important city until around the 11th century.
Its temples are today the biggest draw card for the visitor – the temple of Umananda sits on an island in the middle of the river in a dramatic location, while the temple of Kamakya is a great example of traditional Assamese architecture and draws pilgrims from far and wide. This temple is dedicated to the goddess Kali, and animal sacrifices are still regularly carried out here.
Day 14: Kolkata. We transfer to Guwahati airport to board the flight to Kolkata. The rest of the day is free to explore the city or sit back and reflect on the amazing adventure we’ve had. Overnight: Lytton Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 15: Kolkata: The tour ends. Includes: (B).
Also see tour packages in:
Asia India Local Culture Cultural Journey National Parks