Skip the over-crowded hill-stations of North India this summer, and head to the North East instead for a vacation strewn with serendipitous discoveries and enchanting journeys. The North East, comprising the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura is peppered with destinations that boast untouched beauty infused with numinous air. From rugged mountains and dense forests, to vast valleys and alpine lakes—the region, blessed with unparalleled natural bounty, is also home to numerous indigenous cultures that add more colours to the picturesque landscapes.
1. Gnathang Valley, Sikkim
If your idea of a summer break is spending time sprawled on a rock in the freezing cold, enveloped in swirling mist, surrounded by mountains—stark and steep—while herds of yak graze mere metres away, head to the Gnathang Valley in East Sikkim. Perched at a height of 13500 feet, the valley on the ancient Silk Route is also home to traditional yak herders who came from Tibet.
Come winter, the valley and the surrounding mountains are sheathed in a pristine white blanket of snow, but even in the middle of May, you are likely to find snow in the mountains around. Gnathang Valley is raw and surreal. The valley is strewn with jumbles of shabby shacks and tin-roofed huts that give it a rustic edge. An old monastery stands at the foot of the mountains, often cradled in a dense mass of mist. Minimalist homestays are the only accommodation available. Food is basic, but even a plate of rice, runny lentils, and stir-fried fiddlehead fern taste sublime with a side of the breathtakingly gorgeous views of Gnathang.
2. Bamboo Trail in Meghalaya
Meghalaya’s deep, dense tropical forests yield magic at every turn. One of the greatest attractions in the forested depths of Meghalaya is the living root bridges of Meghalaya—suspension bridges created by gnarled, knobby roots of great rubber trees born out of a collaboration between nature and human ingenuity. Getting to these root bridges often involves arduous treks through the forests. But if you are seeking some heart-thumping adventure, set out on a trek along Meghalaya’s fabled bamboo trail that involves a remarkable journey through dense woods on narrow bamboo bridges and pathways built across gushing torrents, along the edge of cliffs, through narrow caves, and finally up a near-perpendicular face of the Mawryngkhang rock perched precariously on the edge of the hill to the summit. The trek starts at the Wakhem village, a little over 40 kilometres from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya which has its own bouquet of charms to explore.
3. Lunglei, Mizoram
The name Lunglei translates to rock bridge, which in turn is the namesake of the charming hillside town and the district at large. The bridge of rocks across the Nghasi stream is in fact one of Lunglei’s chief draws. But there’s a lot more to explore here. Go spelunking in the caves and caverns—like Kungawrhi Pukand Milu Puk caves—deep inside the forests across Lunglei district, or explore the region’s rich biodiversity at the Khawnglung Wildlife Sanctuary that is home to leopards, sambar, and barking deer. While in Lunglei also visit the district museum that houses a delightful collection of art and artefacts that provide fantastic insights into the lives, history, and culture of the region’s indigenous people.
4. Dzukou Valley, Nagaland
A little over 23 kilometres from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, the enchanting Dzukou Valley straddles the Nagaland-Manipur border. A stunning landscape of undulating swells of emerald hills furrowed by burbling brooks and sparkly streams stretches to the horizon, under a capricious sky. In the summer, the velvet green mantle of the Dzukou Valley morphs into a motley shroud of wildflowers in every colour. Dzukou is, in fact, a delight for anthophiles and ornithophiles alike. The valley is home to numerous rare species of flowers and birds. Trek through the sea of green at your own pace, explore the caves strews across the valley, and feast on the panoramic views. But most importantly, when in Dzukou, slow down. You can book a stay at one of the few campsites and homestays enroute to Dzukou. The rest house high up at the end of the trek also offers basic accommodation. Or, pitch your own tent amid the surging greenery and under vast skies for an unforgettable couple of days.
5. Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Arunachal, Tawang is still unspoilt by the ravages of tourism. From mesmerizing landscapes dotted with alpine lakes to centuries-old monasteries, bustling markets and delicious food—Tawang has something for everyone. The atmosphere has a meditative quality heightened by thousands of colourful prayer flags fluttering in wind juxtaposed against gorgeous cloudscapes. At the heart of any trip to Tawang is a visit to the world-renowned Tawang Monastery perched high above the town of Tawang, surrounded by conifers-clad mountains. Make a stop at the Sela pass on the way to Tawang, explore the area dotted with pristine lakes and hot water springs, and spend an afternoon at the Nuranang waterfall—a gorgeous, gushing cascade that drops from a height of 100 meters. Besides, there are numerous other monasteries, quaint tribal settlements, and mountain villages around Tawang that are worth exploring. For seasoned climbers, the arduous trek up precipitous slopes for a glimpse of the snow-capped Gorichen Peak, the highest peak in this part of the Eastern Himalayas, on the border with China, is the highlight of a journey to Tawang.
6. Tamenglong, Manipur
Lakes and forests, waterfalls and caves, myths and legends—the Tamenglong region of Manipur is not only rich in natural beauty but also steeped in mystical energy. The district is strewn with numerous lakes—the Zeilad Lake being the most famous among them. A must visit here is the Barak waterfalls along with seven other waterfalls stud the gushing Barak river which are among the natural heritage sites of Manipur. A rambling stretch of soft swells of verdant knolls, the Buning meadows are home to rare breeds of orchids and lilies while those looking for adventure could explore the prehistoric Tharon caves unless they suffer from chiroptophobia because the caves are home to fruit bats—thousands of them. For a more sublime experience, spend an afternoon in the caverns of Khoupanglang, which hide behind a gushing waterfall.
7. Udaipur, Tripura
Tripura’s own temple town, Udaipur, the erstwhile capital of the Manikya kingdom, is best known for the Ekratna-style temple of Tripura Sundari, built by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya in 1501. One of the 51 shakti pithas—shrines dedicated to the Mother Goddess in the Shakta tradition of Hinduism—the temple draws thousands of pilgrims every year. The temple sits atop a small hillock overlooking the Kalyansagar lake, home to the rare Botsami turtles, another attraction of Udaipur. Another important shrine in Udaipur is the 17th-century Bhubaneshwari Temple, nestled on the banks of River Gomti, close to the ruins of the old palace of Maharaja Gobinda Manikya who built the temple. The Chaturdash Devata Temple, a few kilometres from Udaipur, is famous for its idol of the heads of 14 Hindu deities are aligned together.
8. Anini in Arunachal Pradesh
Dubbed as the least explored pocket of Arunachal Pradesh, the small, remote town of Anini, the headquarters of the picturesque Upper Dibang Valley, is nestled on the Indo-China border. The journey to Anini, from Roing in Lower Dibang Valley through the Mayodia Pass at an elevation of over 2500 meters and the picturesque town of Hunli, isn’t the easiest. But the stunning views it throws up at every turn makes the journey worth it. Anini is the perfect spot to soak up the magnificent natural beauty and alpine charms of the region. Besides, there are a number of tribal villages to explore and trails to follow across scenic landscapes. Or, set out to explore the lush depths of the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to musk deer, red panda and blue sheep.