Highlights of Assam and Nagaland
|Highlights of Assam and Nagaland
Inbetween Burma, China and Bangladesh, India’s states of Meghalaya, Assam and Nagaland present a fascinating picture of remote tribal cultures. This adventurous trip also goes on the search for Asian one-horned rhino and visits a village which is half in Burma and half in India.
Hornbill Festival departures- Spend two full days at Nagaland’s premier tribal festival
Day 1 Join trip in Kolkata (Calcutta); explore Dalhousie Square and the Victoria Memorial
Arrive in Kolkata (Calcutta). Once the capital of British India, Kolkata has had a turbulent past. It was central to the struggle for Indian independence and thousands of Bengali refugees came here at the start of the 1900’s. It is a city of striking contrasts and can be overwhelming initially, but the unusual sights, pungent smells and the chaotic sounds of the country’s second largest city are an experience unique to India.
For those arriving on time today our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 1pm for the welcome meeting and to take us to visit St John’s Church and the many historic Raj buildings around Dalhousie Square. Staying with the colonial theme, we discover the magnificent marble dome of the Victoria memorial, where the sumptuous grandeur of European and Mughal influences come together in a blaze of white marble. Finally, we will start to uncover India’s religious and spiritual heartbeat with a visit to the Parshwanath Jain Temple and the Kalighat Kali Temple.
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Kolkata Airport (CCU), which is approximately one hour from the hotel.
Please note that if you wish to join the walk around Kolkata today, you must arrive at the hotel by 1pm. If you are booking your own flights, we recommend giving yourself at least one and a half hours to clear the airport. From the airport to the hotel is around one hours’ drive, so therefore the latest your flight can arrive is 10.30am. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Day 2 Fly to Guwahati
This morning we fly to Guwahati, Assam’s bustling capital which sits on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River. After checking in to the hotel there will be time to relax and recover from the journey before heading out to eat in one of the cities many restaurants.
Day 3 Take a ferry to visit Umananda Temple
Today we board a 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 island, the temple stands dramatically at the top of a series of steep steps. Returning to the city we stop for lunch before a walking tour taking in the colourful markets of Paltan Bazaar. In the late afternoon we walk to Janardhan Temple where we can watch the sun setting over the Brahmaputra.
Day 4 Drive to Cherrapunjee via Shillong Peak
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 continue on past Elephant Falls to the Mawphlang Sacred Forest, where we will stop for a while. 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 may also get an opportunity to visit the market at Ka Lewbah Sohrarim today, before completing our journey to Cherrapunjee, a town with a reputation as one of the wettest places on earth.
Day 5 Walk through the forest to unique tree root bridges
These fertile landscapes are home to the Khasi people, who are believed to be descended from the Mon-Khmer tribes of Southeast Asia. Following breakfast this morning we will take a short drive to the start of our walk, after which we begin a tough day’s hikking through the spectacular scenic beauty of the Khasi Hills. 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 come across the stunning spectacle of 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. 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 trek will take us around seven hours and you may find walking poles a useful addition for the climb. At the end of the trek we return to Cherrapunjee for a second night.
Day 6 Drive to Kaziranga National Park
Today we drive to the World Heritage setting of Kaziranga National Park, some 320 kilometres to the south of Cherrapunjee. 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. Our journey takes us by way of the Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Culture, a unique venture set up to preserve and promote the cultural diversity of Northeastern India. After paying a visit to the centre, we then continue towards the southern banks of the Brahmaputra River, where we will spend our next two nights in a simple lodge in the heart of this magnificent landscape.
Day 7 Search for Asian one-horned rhino and other wildlife by jeep
We begin early this morning with a jeep safari in search of the Asian one-horned rhino and other wildlife. 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 for more wildlife spotting, returning to our jungle lodge late afternoon. 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.
Day 8 Drive to Kohima, capital of Nagaland
This morning we depart Kaziranga National Park and head east, towards Kohima, Nagaland’s pleasant and thriving capital. We travel via the city of Dimapur, site of the old capital of the Dimasa Kachari Kingdom, which ruled over these lands during the Middle Ages. We’ll pay a visit to the ancient ruins of this once prosperous dynasty, before continuing on through to the dramatic landscapes of Nagaland. 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 Nagas, fiercely proud warrior clans who still revere their ancestral beliefs. Interestingly some 90% of today’s Nagas are Christian, the British missionaries finding a receptive flock amongst village communities that already believed in a solitary and all-powerful being.
Day 9 Meet members of the Angami tribe at Jakhma and Kigwema
Nagaland is made up primarily of 15 interconnected tribes, including those of the Ao, Konyak, Angami and Sema, all collectively termed under the one title of Naga. Spread across this majestic hill country the tribes number some 3.5 million in total, encompassing common languages and customs that hark back to their original arrival in these lands. The Naga were once headhunters, believing the head to contain the spirit. It was a belief which heralded a tradition of relieving their enemies of their heads and placing them in a central meeting house or ‘Morung’, ensuring the tribe gained from the added strength of fallen comrades and foes alike. Thankfully this is a custom that has mellowed with time and the removal of heads is not normally a part of any welcoming ritual! Today we’ll pay a visit to the Angami villages of Jakhma and Kigwema, to meet with the elders and visit some of the local village homes before returning to Kohima to pay a visit to Kohima’s WWII cemetery, a memorial that honours one of the most bitterly fought battles of the Second World War.
Day 10 Full day at the Hornbill Festival
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 fesitval is a celebration of the rich heritage of Nagaland. Tribes from all over the state come together and perform traditional dances, folk songs and display their ornate clothing, jewellery and for the men their hunting spears. The festival is named after the state bird, the Hornbill, admired by the tribes for the grandeur of it’s plumage. The headresses worn by many of the tribes reflect the birds colourful feathers.
Day 11 Full day at the Hornbill Festival
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 sample traditional artwork and sculpture or pick up a few souvenirs at various stalls selling traditional handicrafts. Food is a big part of the culture and there are stalls selling tempting treats throughout the day, look out for dishes containing the spicy naga chilli.
Day 12 Visit Tseminyu Village en route to Mokochung
Heading north today we drive to the hill-town of Mokochung, a typical Naga town who’s surrounding countryside is scattered with Ao villages. We plan en route to stop and pay a visit to either Tseminyu or Longkhum villages. Longkhum was once a vanguard village for the Ao back in the old headhunting days and today 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 day’s drive ends in Mokochung, the cultural centre of the Ao and the most economically and politically important city in northern Nagaland.
Day 13 Take a ferry to Majuli Island
This morning we 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 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 cradle of its civilisation, these satras have become beacons of art and religion, their traditions still holding sway over the life of the Assamese. On arrival on the island we plan to pay a visit to some of these remarkable centres of culture before making our way on to our overnight eco camp. Our main bags will stay in Neematighat and we will be using just an overnight bag for our stay on Majuli.
Day 14 Explore the monasteries and villages of 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 and its hold over its people. 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. Its handicrafts are also famed, with pottery from the island being made from the beaten clay of Majuli and fired in driftwood fuelled kilns. 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. There may also be a possibility to organise a visit to a performance of Satriya dance at one of the monasteries.
Day 15 Return to the mainland and drive to Mon, Nagaland
Taking the ferry back to the mainland this morning we then drive on to the town of Mon, the district headquarters for the entire region and a town populated almost exclusively by Konyaks and Aos; tribes distinguishable by their elaborate dress, adorned as they are with a rich array of jewellery and colourful designs. Arriving this afternoon we then have the rest of the day free to meet the villagers and enjoy some time exploring the town on our own.
Day 16 Visit Longwa Village, located in both India and Burma
This morning we pay a visit to Longwa village, one of the largest in the Mon district, lying on the Indian/Myanmar border. The traditional ceremonial attire of these magnificent people is in itself an art form, with elaborate headdresses and ornate weaponry combining with elephant tusk bracelets and colourful hornbill feathers to present a magnificent spectacle of pomp and majesty. The village is also somewhat unique. Its chief (Angh) controls an area that extends into neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, with the international boundary running through the middle of his house (apparently his kitchen is in Burma and his bedroom is in India!). The villagers also benefit from dual citizenship. We’ll take an orientation tour of the village with the local headman and take a walk up to a viewpoint, before returning to visit the village’s international trade centre. After lunch we then return to Mon for a second night.
Day 17 Drive to Dibrugarh via the ancient capital of Sivasagar
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 pay a visit to 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 northeastern provinces.
Day 18 Learn about the tea industry at a local tea garden; fly to Kolkata
After breakfast we visit a working tea plantation to learn about how the tea is picked, processed, tasted and sent to auction before heading to the airport for an afternoon flight to Kolkata.
Day 19 Trip ends in Kolkata (Calcutta)
There are no activities planned today and luggage storage facilities are available at the hotel. While you are free to depart at any time, an evening flight departure is preferable in case the previous day’s flight from Dibrugarh suffers any disruption. There is a lot to see in Kolkata and your Leader can help you to make the most of your last day in the city.
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to depart from Kolkata Airport (CCU), which is around one hour from the hotel.