Wedged between Burma and Bangladesh, the Indian states of Meghalaya, Assam and Nagaland present a fascinating picture of remote tribal cultures. On this adventurous trip visit headhunter villages, stay in a stilt house and taste tea straight from the plantation. Hornbill Festival - Spend two full days at Nagaland's annual festival, celebrating the diverse tribal heritage Cherrapunjee - Walk through Khasi villages and test out a bridge made from tree roots Kaziranga National Park - Take a jeep safari in search of Asian one-horned rhino, elephant and other wildlife
The trip begins in Guwahati, Assam's bustling capital, which sits on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River. Our hotel is located close to Paltan Bazaar and the riverbank with plenty to explore within walking distance. Our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International (GAU) which is approximately one hour from the hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Today we board a small, local ferry to take us across the Brahmaputra to the 17th century Shiva temple of Umananda. Located on Peacock Island, believed to be the world's smallest inhabited riverine island, the temple stands dramatically at the top of a series of steep steps. After exploring the island we'll return to the city and stop for lunch before taking a walking tour taking in the colourful markets of Paltan Bazaar. In the late afternoon we walk to Janardhan Temple; set right on the banks of the river it's an ideal spot for watching the sun setting over the Brahmaputra.
Leaving the city after breakfast we head first towards the pine forests and rolling hills of Shillong, a region that the colonial British once described as the 'Scotland of India'. We'll make a stop at Elephant Falls. Following the path we'll descend to the foot of the falls, and from this perspective the three tiers of the falls are revealed. Leaving the falls behind we'll continue our drive until we reach the Mawphlang Sacred Forest. A haven for orchids and butterflies, these beautiful and sacred groves have been preserved for countless millennia and form a remarkable living museum that contrasts sharply with the expansive grasslands that surround them. We plan to take a picnic lunch on the edge of the forest before completing our journey to Cherrapunjee, a town with a reputation as one of the wettest places on earth!
Following breakfast this morning we will take a short drive to the start of our hike through the spectacular scenic beauty of the Khasi Hills. These fertile landscapes are home to the Khasi people, who are believed to be descended from the Mon-Khmer tribes of Southeast Asia. The first part of the trail takes us down a series of steep, stone steps, passing by small remote houses and on through the villages of Nongthymmai, Mynteng and Nongriat. At Nongriat we reach the the 'double decker' living root bridge, a truly unique structure that over the centuries has been trained to span the river between two ancient rubber trees, ensuring that even in the middle of monsoon season the villages are not cut off. After stopping to enjoy a picnic lunch and a well-earned rest, we will begin the steep climb back, following the steps back up to our waiting bus. The entire walk will take us around six hours. You may find walking poles useful as the steps can be tough on the knees. At the end of the trek we return to Cherrapunjee for a second night.
Today we drive to the World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park. Our journey will take most of the day but we'll have plenty of chances to stretch our legs. For the first part of our journey we'll follow the road back to Shillong, where we'll stop to visit the Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Culture. This fascinating museum was set up to preserve and promote the cultural diversity of North-eastern India. After paying a visit to the centre, we then continue towards the southern banks of the Brahmaputra River and into the national park. Encompassing 430 square kilometres of elephant grass, forest and swampland, it was established in 1974 to help save the Indian greater one-horned rhino. Lying in the shadow of the Karbi Anglong Hills, today this magnificent reserve can boast some 1,200 individuals, the greatest number anywhere in the country and it is probably one of the best places in India to view these rare rhino. We will spend our next two nights in a simple lodge in the heart of this magnificent landscape. Our rooms are simple, with twin share beds and en suite bathrooms. Hot water is provided but can on occasion be limited. The lodge is located just a few kilometers from the entrance gate to Kaziranga National Park so ideal for our day of wildlife viewing tomorrow.
We begin early this morning with a jeep safari in search of the Indian one-horned rhino. They can be hard to spot in the tall elephant grass but there are several large watering holes which are ideal viewing spots. As well as rhino the park is home to a sizeable population of tigers, a variety of snakes, large monitor lizards and a significant bird population that includes crested serpent eagles, Palla's fish eagle, great adjutant stork, whistling teal and pelicans. In the afternoon we take to the jeeps once more. Each safari takes approximately two hours and our jeeps follow fixed routes throughout the park, with a ranger in each jeep to help spot and identify the wildlife. Before dinner we hope to have the opportunity to witness the local tribal communities of the area demonstrating traditional Bihu and Jhumur dance forms. Unique to the region, the dancers wear colourful clothing and are accompanied by drummers.
This morning we depart Kaziranga and head east towards Kohima, Nagaland's thriving capital. We travel via the city of Dimapur, site of the old capital of the Dimasa Kachari Kingdom, and visit the ruins of this once prosperous dynasty, before continuing on to Kohima. After the flat terrain of Kaziranga, the Naga Hills offer plenty of impressive views during the journey. This region is less populated than other Indian states and for much of the journey we'll be surrounded by forests. Occupying the eastern fringes of the subcontinent, next to the border with Myanmar, the hills and valleys of this staunchly independent and little visited region are the traditional homeland of the Naga's, fiercely proud warrior clans who still revere their ancestral beliefs. Interestingly some 90% of today's Naga's are Christian, the British missionaries finding a receptive flock amongst village communities that already believed in a solitary and all-powerful being. Our drive today is long and once in Nagaland the road conditions deteriorate so it can be slow-going. When we reach Kohima we'll stretch our legs with a visit to the WWII cemetery, a memorial that honours one of the most bitterly fought battles of the Second World War. Our accommodation for tonight is in a simple hotel, located across from the WWII cemetary and within a short walk of the town centre so ideal to stretch our legs after today's long drive. Rooms are twin share with en suite bathrooms. The hotel does not have heating and it can get cold during the winter months so having a few extra layers for the time here is worthwhile.
Today we join locals as they come together and celebrate at the annual Hornbill Festival. Taking place in the first week of December each year the festival is a celebration of the rich heritage of Nagaland. The festival is named after the state bird, the hornbill, admired by the tribes for the grandeur of its plumage. The headdresses worn by many of the tribes reflect the bird's colourful feathers. Nagaland is home to 16 different tribes, and each will perform traditional dances and music at the festival. Colourful clothing and ornate jewellery and headdresses make it a fantastic opportunity for photographers. The festival ground has seated area where the majority of events take place, it's worth bringing a jumper or something to use as a cushion as the seating arrangements are simple. Recreations of traditional homes surround the ground allowing the chance to see the differences between these rural villages.
Today we spend a second day soaking up the atmosphere at the festival. As well as the traditional dances being performed there is a chance to see traditional artwork and sculpture or pick up a few souvenirs at various stalls selling handicrafts. Food is a big part of the local culture and there are stalls selling tempting treats throughout the day, look out for dishes containing the spicy naga chilli and try them if you are brave enough.
Heading north today we drive to the hill-town of Mokochung, a typical Naga town surrounding by Ao tribal villages. Along the way we'll stop and explore Longkhum village; once a key location for the Ao to launch attacks on their rival tribes back in the old headhunting days, today it is well known for its handicrafts. The village's high point is occupied by a watch tower which commands some stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The village is also home to a set of preserved footprints that are believed to belong to Chenna and Etiben, the Romeo and Juliet of Ao mythology. Our long drive ends in Mokochung, the cultural centre of the Ao and the most economically and politically important city in northern Nagaland. Our accommodation for tonight is in a simple hotel with twin-share, en suite rooms.
This morning we take a short drive to the town of Neematighat, where we board a ferry across to the island of Majuli, the largest river island in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Majuli is home to some splendid Hindu temples and has been considered the cultural capital of Assam for the past 500 years. Its origins are steeped in mystery, but it is believed that the social reformer Shankardeva came here in the 16th century and established the 'satras' (monasteries and hermitages) that dot the island, sowing the seeds for a unique tribal culture that continues today. The satras have become beacons of art and religion and on arrival on the island we'll visit some as we make our way on to our overnight eco camp. Our accommodation for the next two nights is in simple Mishing style stilt houses. Rooms are twin share and each has a simple bathroom, and they are raised approximately 8 feet from the ground to ensure everyone stays dry during the monsoon months! Our main bags will stay in Neematighat and we will be using just an overnight bag for our stay on Majuli.
We will spend today exploring the island on foot, visiting some of its monasteries and learning a little more about Majuli's unique traditions. The monasteries are still seen as centres for learning, drama and dance, and the ethnic culture of the Mishing and the Deori have remained relatively unchanged for centuries. Several of the satras specialise in making masks and we'll have the chance to see how they are made, and learn the myths and stories behind their designs. Besides its cultural importance, the island is also well known for its migratory birdlife, affording us some possibilities of an encounter or two with some of its resident birds. As we explore the island we'll spot bee eaters, adjuntant stork and kingfishers perched on poles looking for their next meal. Our accommodation is close to a tributary and for those up early it offers a great chance for some pre-breakfast bird watching.
This morning we say goodbye to our stilt houses and take the ferry back to the mainland and drive to the town of Mon. Mon is the district headquarters for the region and a town populated almost exclusively by Konyaks and Aos; tribes distinguishable by their elaborate dress, adorned with a rich array of jewellery and colourful designs. As we are back in Nagaland the roads deteriorate again and it's slow going. We'll arrive in Mon this afternoon and have the rest of the day free to explore. There are very limited accommodation options in Mon and our guesthouse is very simple. Rooms are twin shares with en suite bathrooms however the water supply can be erratic so hot water isn't always available.
This morning we'll visit Longwa village, one of the largest villages in the Mon district located directly on the Indian/Myanmar border. The village chief, known as the Angh, controls an area that extends into the neighbouring Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and also into Myanmar. The international border line runs through the middle of his house - his kitchen is in Myanmar and his bedroom is in India! The villagers are part of the Konyak tribe. The traditional ceremonial attire of the Konyaks is elaborate, with headdresses and ornate weaponry combining with elephant tusk bracelets and colourful feathers, which we will have seen during the Hornbill Festival. We'll also have a chance to see close up the jewellery and tattoos that signify how successful the males were during their lives as headhunters. We'll explore the village with the local headman and take a walk up to a viewpoint where we'll have a picnic lunch with views of Nagaland and across in to Myanmar. After lunch we then return to Mon.
We head next for Dibrugarh in the upper districts of Assam. The drive takes us via the town of Sivasagar, the former capital of the Ahom Kingdom which ruled this region for some six centuries, from 1228 until their destruction by the Burmese in the early 19th century. We will stop and visit the ancient ruins before continuing on to the city that has been titled the 'Tea City of India'. Located close to the Brahmaputra River, Dibrugarh lies in the heart of Assam's tea country, its surrounding estates accounting for some 50% of the entire regions tea crop. In 1950 a major earthquake, measuring 8.5 on the Richter Scale, diverted the course of the river and wiped out about three quarters of the old city. From those disastrous ashes though a new city arose, one that has gone on to become a major centre of learning and commerce in India's north-eastern provinces. Our accommodation for tonight is in colonial tea bungalows, twin share rooms set within peaceful gardens on the edge of the city. They are a great chance to relax and reflect on the experience of exploring the remote villages of Nagaland.
We'll have a relaxed start to the morning today. After breakfast we visit Ethelwold tea plantation and have a chance to see how one of our favourite drinks is grown, harvested, processed using the crush, tear and curl method. Most importantly we'll have a chance to taste the tea. Tea from Ethelwold is mostly used for the Indian domestic market and is ideal for making strong masala chai. In the afternoon we'll take the short flight back to Guwahati. After checking in to our hotel the evening is free for a final meal together.
Our trip ends in Guwahati after breakfast today. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Guwahati at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International (GAU), which is approximately a one-hour drive from our hotel.
16 Break Fast(s) 12 Lunch(es) 12 Dinner(s)
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