Travel tips when traveling in North East India
1) It is advisable to travel by 2nd A/C sleeper class for long distance journeys (although on a budgeted backpacking trip). For starters, you will arrive fresh at your destination but even more importantly it is much safer than the regular non-a/c sleepers as there are instances when people just barge in the compartments and claim the seats without reservation.
This is particularly true for trains transiting central India (Read – Bihar, Jharkand!!). Not to say that this doesn’t happen in 2nd A/C coaches too, but it is not as bad and you will not be compelled to share your berth with every “ Tom, Dixit or Hari” …:-)
2) Plan your travels such that you arrive at the first town or city of your destination state early in the mornings. This puts you on an advantage when you go scouting for hotels or when doing you initial recce of the town .
It is much safer to head out of the railway station or airport during the day and go scouting for rickshaws, taxis or buses. This is important specially for single travelers or women travelers.
3) When booking sumo seats (Note – Most of the N/eastern states and Sikkim use these mini jeeps called sumos as public transport due to the fact that most of the roads are on mountainous terrain and buses are impractical and unsafe), it is best you book the front two seats (near the driver), the second seat can be utilized for placing your daypack (assuming your backpack has been loaded on top of the Sumo). Note – Some places there are three persons sitting in the front seat, NOT counting the driver!!
4) When booking onward destination tickets, make sufficient allowance for delays, as the transport network within these mountainous zones are very erratic and are disrupted frequently due to landslides. If boarding a train from NJP or boarding a flight from Bagdogra, it is advisable to come down from the mountain states at least one day before scheduled departure.
Following is a summary of the modes of travel whilst backing the North Eastern states of India (Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Sikkim)
AIR TRANSPORT :
Mumbai to Chandigarh : Low cost airline – Go Air // INR 3030/-
My trip to Chandigarh was to catch with a dear old friend and batch mate of mine from the navy.
Helicopter Ride :
Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) to Guwhati : INR 3,000/-
One of the few things I splurged on. Although the cost is quite high, it is highly recommended as the journey lasts only one hour (The same journey by road, a distance of 525 Kms takes about twenty hours through the arduous mountain roads and you will most definitely have to break journey at Bomdila) . Besides, the views whilst up in the air are absolutely breathtaking. After about ten minutes after take –off you enter Bhutan, passing meandering rivers and streams, gushing waterfalls, and mountain fields and small picturesque hamlets. The change from high mountains and rolling hills to the flat plains of Assam is quite sudden and dramatic and marks the entry back into India.
However getting a ticket is not as easy. I was lucky to get a seat due to a cancellation. Ideally you have to book at least a month in advance and even then there is no saying that you may get knocked off the passenger list to accommodate a state minister or high ranking army official. There is also the possibility of flights getting cancelled due to inclement weather.
Chandigarh to New Delhi station: Train Name – Kalka Shatabdi // Train Number – 2012 // Distance of 266 kms // Journey time – 3.5 Hours // Charge Rs. 935/- (Executive Chair Car)
An excellent experience and truly worth every penny. The compartment was very luxurious and roomy and the waiters,clad in smart pathanis uniforms, served some really tasty and wholesome meals that could give any airline a run for their money.
Old Delhi to New Jalpaiguri : Train Name – Brahmaputra Mail // Train Number – 4056 // Distance – 1624 kms // Journey time -30 hours // INR 1640/- (2nd AC)
New Jalpaiguri to Dibrugarh : Train Name – Chandigarh-Dibrugarh Express // Train Number – 5904 // Distance – 978 Kms // Journey time – 20 hours // INR 1232/- (2nd AC)
New Jalpaiguri to Mumbai : Train Name – Guwhati – LTT express // Train Number – 5648 // Distance – 2594 Kms //Journey time – 48 hours / INR 2450 (2nd Ac) (Paid extra to agent due late booking and unavailability of seats)
State and private buses
Tinsukia (Assam) to Itanagar – Private Bus (Network travels). I had to sleep in driver cabin as my seat could not get confirmed till the last minute.
Parsuramkund (North A/pradesh) to Itanagar – State bus
Itanagar to Bomdila (Jump off point to Tawang and beyond) – Private Bus
Shillong to Siliguri – Private Bus (5 star travel)
Pelling (Sikkim) to Siliguri – State bus
NJP to Darjeeling and back, Central Arunachal region – Ziro, Hong, Bomdila to Dirang and Tawang). Meghalaya (Shillong to Cherrapunji, Shillong to Mawlynnong_
Sikkim (Siliguri to Gangtok, Gangtok to Rumtek, Gangtok to Namchi, Namchi to Pelling via Jorethang
Pelling to Khecheopalri lake)
Cycle rickshaws : Within Siliguri town
And finally the fun (and free!!) way to go : Hitching a ride whenever and wherever possible
– Travelled in the back of Toyota pick ups in driving rain, picked up by kind locals in Maruti 800 and Maruti Alto , was offered a Tata Safari with driver to go from Tawang to Shungetser lake (Bumla Pass), and even travelled in the driver’s compartment seat of dumper trucks.