Transportation Tips for Exploring Northeast India

Transportation Tips

Northeast India, a region known for its diverse cultures, breathtaking landscapes, and rich biodiversity, is a paradise for adventurous travelers. The allure of exploring this enchanting corner of the country lies in its untouched beauty and the rich diversity of culture and traditions that each state possesses. From the snow-capped peaks of Sikkim to the lush green valleys of Meghalaya, every step in this region unfolds a new chapter of natural wonders and cultural treasures.

However, while Northeast India promises an unforgettable experience, navigating its transportation system can present challenges, especially for first-time visitors. The hilly terrain, often cloaked in mist, demands patience and adaptability as you journey through this remote yet captivating land.

Zuluk Old Sik Route
Photo by Dhruvin Pandya on Unsplash

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll unravel the mysteries of getting around Northeast India, providing essential transportation tips for air travel, railway journeys, road expeditions, and obtaining necessary permits. Discover and understand the logistics of travel, and embrace the local customs and festivals that define the cultural tapestry of this wonderland.

Understanding the Region

Northeast India, an enchanting region, encompasses eight diverse states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. Each state boasts its own unique charm, traditions, and breathtaking landscapes, creating a kaleidoscope of cultural and natural wonders that beckon travelers from far and wide.

Arunachal Pradesh Motorbike

Despite its remote location, Northeast India is well-connected by air, rail, and road networks, allowing adventurers to access its hidden treasures. While transportation options are available, it’s important to note that the rugged terrain and limited infrastructure can pose some challenges. Patience and flexibility are key attributes for travelers exploring this region.

The enchanting appeal of Northeast India lies in its untouched beauty and vibrant local cultures. To truly embrace the essence of this land, consider engaging with local communities, partaking in traditional festivities, and savoring the delectable regional cuisines.

Transportation Tips on How to Reach Northeast India

Encompassing a treasure trove of natural beauty and cultural diversity, Northeast India stands as one of the most promising and enchanting holiday destinations in India. This region’s allure lies in its untouched landscapes, vibrant traditions, and a sense of adventure that awaits every traveler seeking an extraordinary experience.

ISBT Guwahati
ISBT Guwahati

While some parts of the northeast remain relatively undeveloped and remote, it is precisely this untouched charm that adds a sense of mystery and excitement to the journey. For those eager to explore this hidden paradise, rest assured that there are various ways to access this land of wonders.

By Air

If your destination is one of the Northeastern states, you’ll be pleased to know that the region boasts a total of 17 operational airports. Many of these airports offer direct flights from major cities like Kolkata and Delhi. Among these, Guwahati in Assam serves as the primary gateway to Northeast India. Once you’ve arrived there, you have the option to catch flights to other key destinations such as Silchar, Dimapur, Imphal, Aizawl, Agartala, Jorhat, and Dibrugarh.

Donyi Polo Airport
Donyi-Polo-Airport in Itanagar

While certain states may require connecting flights, the majority of airports in these regions maintain decent connectivity with other cities across India. Notably, after Guwahati and Imphal, Agartala’s Maharaja Bir Bikram (MBB) Airport is slated to become the third international airport in the Northeastern region.

Several airlines operate regular flights to the Northeast, including Indian Airlines, IndiGo, Spicejet, and Vistara. Here’s a list of airports facilitating travel to Northeast India:

  • Guwahati’s Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport
  • Imphal International Airport in Manipur
  • Silchar Airport in Assam
  • Dibrugarh Airport in Assam
  • Dimapur Airport in Nagaland
  • Agartala Airport in Tripura

By Train

In the strategic Northeast region of India, Indian Railways has embarked on numerous initiatives and projects aimed at enhancing connectivity through infrastructure development.

For those seeking to immerse themselves in the enchanting beauty and cultural richness of Northeast India, a journey on the region’s trains offers a unique experience. Even if you opt to fly to major cities for time efficiency, exploring the farthest corners of the region by train is truly worth considering. The railway experience in the North-East sets itself apart from the rest of India, characterized by serene environments, adherence to rules, and well-maintained stations.

Ghy Railway
Image via Wikimedia Creative Commons (Kaustav)

Let’s delve into the complex railway network that connects the various states of Northeast India:

Assam: As the largest state in the Northeast, Assam boasts an extensive rail network. This network not only interlinks the other six states in the region but also features luxurious trains originating from major Indian cities. However, Assam’s railway network faces a unique challenge – the sprawling Brahmaputra River divides the state into two separate parts, leading to non-interconnected tracks within the state.

Arunachal Pradesh: The Naharlagun railway station near Itanagar opens up access to Western Arunachal Pradesh. Additionally, several stations in Assam near the Arunachal border, such as Lakhimpur (Ziro), Dhemaji (Basar), and Murkongselek (Pasighat), further contribute to connectivity in the region.

Manipur: While plans are in place to establish a rail link between India and Myanmar, particularly to Moreh, this project remains in the pipeline. Presently, the Lumding division of railways is working towards connecting the state capital, Imphal. Currently, the route is operational up to Jiribam.

Meghalaya: It wasn’t until 2014 that Meghalaya became part of India’s railway network, with Mendipathar in West Meghalaya now connected to Guwahati, Assam. However, the rest of the state is yet to witness railway routes.

Mizoram: The goal of extending the rail network to Mizoram’s state capital, Aizawl, by 2020 remains in sight. While trains first entered Mizoram in 2016, Bairabi is presently the sole operational railway station in the state.

Nagaland: Stations dot the relatively flatter terrains of Nagaland at Dimapur, Rangapahar, and Dhansiri. Positioned midway along the Guwahati-Dibrugarh route, Nagaland also gained its second railway station on the Dhansari–Shokhuvi railway line. This new connectivity has led to heightened socio-economic activity within the state.

Tripura: Tripura boasts strong rail connections to other parts of India, with direct trains originating from Delhi and Bangalore. A railway section originating from Lumding Junction in Assam extends southward into Tripura. Major stations include Agartala, Dharmanagar, Kumarghat, Ambassa, and Udaipur.

Sikkim: Sikkim’s rugged landscape has thus far precluded the introduction of railways to the state. However, plans are afoot to establish a rail route linking Rangpo in Sikkim to Sevoke in North Bengal, with approximately 90% of the route set to be comprised of tunnels.

By Road

Exploring road travel remains one of the most favored routes to reach the enchanting North-East India. An extensive network of roads interconnects urban centers, and there’s also the availability of buses originating from West Bengal. Many travelers embark on road journeys, often opting to rent cars with drivers to fully immerse themselves in the captivating landscapes.

Dawki Shillong Road Meghalaya
Dawki-Shillong Road, Meghalaya

However, for safety considerations, self-driving isn’t the recommended choice within the Northeastern states. While most roads, especially in places like Assam, offer a smooth ride, be prepared for some rugged stretches when traversing mountainous and remote areas. The steep and narrow inclines can pose challenges.

Particularly in regions characterized by mountains, such as Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, road travel might prove slow and arduous. If you’re prone to motion sickness, this might not be the ideal mode of transport. Many rural areas are still in the process of road development, which, combined with the serpentine mountain routes, can lead to long and bumpy journeys.

For convenience, opting for a guided tour or a private car rental is a wise choice. Alternatively, shared taxis called ‘sumos’ can be employed to move between villages, although expect a cramped and jolting ride. Within cities, both sumos and shared taxis offer local transportation options. Thanks to the tourist cab services available in the Northeastern states, traveling between various states is remarkably straightforward. Nonetheless, having a skilled driver at the helm and avoiding solo driving are essential considerations when venturing through Northeast India.

ILP in Northeast India

Inner Line Permit (ILP) is a document required for Indian citizens to enter certain restricted areas in the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland. The permit is issued by the government and is intended to regulate the movement of people from outside the states in order to protect the rights of the indigenous populations and their cultures.

In the state of Sikkim, foreigners are required to obtain Protected and Restricted (which are on the strength of a valid Indian Visa) areas permits for entry into certain regions of the state that have been designated as protected or restricted for environmental and cultural preservation or security reasons.

Details on how to obtain an Inner Line Permit (ILP) have been discussed in our earlier article

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