North East India: Hidden Paradise

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--By Madan Lamsal
India is geared up to exploit the untapped tourism potential of its north-eastern states. In a bid to highlight the not-so-familiar eight north-eastern states, the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, in association with the North Eastern States and West Bengal organized the 3rd International Tourism Mart in Shillong from 13th to 15th October, 2014. The event was inaugurated by Dr Mukul Sangma, Chief Minister of Meghlaya in the presence Shripad Naik, Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture. 
Minister Naik said in the inaugural event that the International Tourism Mart has also shown positive impact on the tourist visits in the north east region. “The Foreign Tourist Arrival to this region has shown a positive growth of 9.2 percent in 2013 over the year 2012 and the domestic tourist arrivals recorded a growth of 9.6 percent for the same period,” said Naik. He also informed that IRs three billion has been allocated for the development of national highways and state roads in the region. 
The Mart is the third of its kind organised in the north eastern region with the objective of highlighting the tourism potential of the region in the domestic and international markets. It brought together the tourism business fraternity and entrepreneurs from the eight North Eastern States and West Bengal. 
Buyer and media delegates from around the world and from different regions of India participated in the Mart and engaged in one-to-one meetings with sellers from the Region. This enabled the tourism product suppliers from the region to reach out to international and domestic buyers. Over 50 buyer delegates from ASEAN and SAARC countries, Japan, Korea, Australia, France, Spain, Russia, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, UK and USA participated in the Mart.
The Ministry organised the 1st International Tourism Mart in Guwahati in January 2013 and 2nd International Tourism Mart in Tawang in October 2013. The foreign tourist visits to this region has shown a growth of 9.2 percent in 2013 over the year 2012 and the Domestic Tourist Visits recorded a growth of 9.6 percent for the same period.
The north east region of India consists of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. The entire region is gifted with diverse tourist attractions and products. The varied topography of the region, its flora and fauna, the ethnic communities with their rich heritage of ancient traditions and lifestyles, its festivals, arts and crafts, make it a perfect holiday destination.
Arunachal Pradesh
Popularly called the `land of rising sun', Arunachal Pradesh is one of the remotest states in India having a large number of tourist destinations. It is also the largest of all the north east states with an area of 83,743 sq km and an evergreen forest covering of over 82 per cent of the area. Arunachal Pradesh receives an average rainfall of above 3000 mm per year, and the climate here ranges from sub-tropical in the south to Alpine in the north.
The natural beauty, culture, craft, tradition and wild life make the state one of the most beautiful in the region. The state is home to one of the Asia's most biologically diverse and intact forests eco-systems. It is the only Indian state claiming to have four major varieties of the big cats - tiger, leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard. Also, more than 500 species of birds have been recorded, many of which are highly endangered and restricted to this state. A number of wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks are in the state including Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary, Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Kane Wildlife Sanctuary, Mouling National Park, Dai Ering Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary, Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary, Dihang-Debang Biosphere Reserve and Namdapha Wildlife Sanctuary. One of Asia’s largest Orchidarium is in Arunachal Pradesh and almost every district of Arunachal Pradesh has its own exclusive and rare variety of orchids.
With only 13 persons living per sq km, Arunachal Pradesh has the thinnest population density in India. Other attractions here include traditions of ancient lifestyles of 26 tribes and 110 sub tribes of the state which is host to many festivals. It is also famous for ancient Buddhist monasteries and temples. The tourism spots with religious importance include the 400 year old Twang monastery and Yrgalling monastery. The land is also famous for the hill stations like Along (3700 ft), Ziro (5,754 ft) and Twang (10,000 ft). 
Assam is a beautiful and diverse state with an incredible range of cultures, landscapes and bio-diversity.  Located south of the eastern Himalayas, Assam comprises the Brahmaputra Valley and the Barak river valleys along with the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills with an area of 78,438 square kms. The Brahmaputra Valley is an alluvial plain about 724 kms in length and 81 kms in breadth. It is enclosed on the north by the mighty Himalayas, south by the Garo, Khasi, Jaintia and Naga Hills.
Assam boasts of 35 per cent forest cover and thousands of hectares of tea cultivation. Assam has five national parks including the World Heritage Sites of Kazirnaga and Manas, and 20 Wildlife sanctuaries. Assam is home to over 180 species of mammals, including rare and endangered species like the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the royal Bengal tiger, the golden langur and hoolock gibbon. Supporting the state's abundant wildlife and luscious vegetation are the monsoons which stretch from late May to September, but there are intermittent rains even in the winters. Winters begins in late November and continues till February. Winter mornings in most parts of Assam are marked by dense fog giving the land an aura of ethereal beauty. In Assam, tea is grown both in the Brahmaputra and Barak plains. Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Nagaon and Sonitpur are the districts where tea gardens are mostly found. Assam produces 51 % of the tea produced in India and about 1/6th of the tea produced in the world. Tea industry has contributed substantially to the economy of Assam. About 17 percent of the workers of Assam are engaged in the tea industry. 
Over the centuries, people of various ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds have been attracted to the fertile valleys of Assam, making it a mixture of various cultures. Its numerous tribes lend it a cultural identity that is multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious yet distinct from the rest of India. The numerous ethnic tribes and a multitude of festivals celebrated all year long is another attraction of Assam. There are historical places in the state such as Rang Ghar, Talatal Ghar of Sivasagar, Kareng Ghar of Garhgaon, Agnigarh of Tezpur, the Madan Kamdev archaeological site of Kamrup and the temple Gopeswar Mandir situated in Village Deuduar. Cultural places include the temple of Kamakhya, the pilgrimage place Hajo and the great Vaishnava Sattras of Majuli and Barpeta.  
The literal meaning of Manipur is ‘Land of Jewels’. Manipur has been at the crossroads of Asian economic and cultural exchange for more than 2500 years. It has long connected Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, enabling migration of people, cultures and religions. Manipur is an oval shaped valley surrounded by blue green hills, rich in art and tradition has inspired description such as the ‘Switzerland of the East’ with its cascading rapids, tripling rivers, varieties of flowers, exotic blooms and lakes. The people of Manipur include Meitei, Nagas, Kuki-Chin-Mizo, Gorkhas (the Nepali speaking population), Muslims and other communities which have lived in complete harmony for centuries. These are the people whose folklore, myths and legends, dances, indigenous games and martial arts, exotic handlooms and handicrafts are famous in Manipur. Manipur is also claimed to be the birthplace of the sport of polo.
The natural vegetation of Manipur occupies an area of about 14,365 km² which is nearly 64% of the total geographical area of the state. The vegetation consists of a large variety of plants ranging from short and tall grasses, reeds and bamboos to trees of various species. Teak, pine, oak, uningthou, leihao, bamboo, cane, etc. are important forest resources growing in plenty. In addition, rubber, tea, coffee, orange, and cardamom are grown in hill areas. Rice is a staple food for Manipuris. Rice and cash crops make up the main vegetation cover in the valley. The state is drenched in rains from May until mid-October. It receives an average annual rainfall of 1467.5 mm. However, the rain distribution varies from 933 mm in Imphal to 2593 mm in Tamenglong. The precipitation ranges from light drizzle to heavy downpour. The normal rainfall of Manipur enriches the soil and helps in agricultural processes and irrigation. 
48 km from Imphal, lies the largest fresh water lake in the North East India, the Loktak Lake, a veritable miniature inland sea. From the Tourist Bungalow set atop Sendra Island, visitors get a bird's eye view of life on the Lake-small islands that are actually floating weed on which live the Lake people, the shimmering blue waters of the Lake, labyrinthine boat routes and colourful water plants. Kaina is a hillock about 921 metres above sea level and a sacred place of the Manipuri Hindus. The Dzükou Valley located in Senapati district is well known for its natural beauty, seasonal flowers and the overall flora and fauna. Keibul Lamjao National Park, 48 km (30 mi) away from Imphal is famous for rare and endangered species of Brow Antlered deer. This ecosystem is home to 17 rare species of mammals. The greenery of the place and the moderate temperature makes a pleasant experience to visit. It is the only floating national park of the world. Another popular tourist spot here is Sadu Chiru waterfall at 27 km from Imphal, Shree Shree Govindajee Temple, Manipur State Museum, Manipur Zoological Garden, Khonghampat Orchidarium, Khongjom War Memorial and Red Hill (Lokpaching) are some of other Manipur’s attractions. 
Meghalaya, meaning abode of clouds, is one of the most beautiful states of India. Bounded on the North and East by Assam and on the South and West by Bangladesh, Meghalaya is spread over an area of 22, 429 square kilometers. The capital of Meghalaya is Shillong, known as the ‘Scotland of the East’. Meghalaya is the wettest place on earth, recording an average of 1200 cm of rain a year. The town of Cherrapunji in the Khasi Hills south of capital Shillong holds the world record for most rain in a calendar month, while the village of Mawsynram, near Cherrapunji, holds the record for the most rain in a year. 
About 70 % of the state of Meghalaya is forested. The Meghalayan forests are considered to be among the richest botanical habitats of Asia. These forests receive abundant rainfall and support a vast variety of floral and faunal biodiversity. The Meghalaya subtropical forests eco-region encompasses the state; its mountain forests are distinct from the lowland tropical forests to the north and south. There are many National Parks and sanctuaries here including Nokrek National Park, Selbagre Hoolock Gibbon Reserve, Balpakram National Park, Baghmara Reserve Forest, Siju Bird Sanctuary and Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary which are noted for their biodiversity of mammals, birds, and plants.
 Meghalaya also offers many adventure tourism opportunities in the form of mountaineering, rock climbing, trekking and hiking, spelunking and water sports. The state offers several trekking routes, some of which also afford an opportunity to encounter rare animals. The Umiam Lake has a water sports complex with facilities such as rowboats, paddleboats, sailing boats, cruise-boats, water-scooters and speedboats. The popular waterfalls in the state are the Elephant Falls, Shadthum Falls, Weinia Falls, Bishop Falls, Nohkalikai Falls, Langshiang Falls and Sweet Falls. The hot springs at Jakrem near Mawsynram are believed to have curative and medicinal properties. 
Meghalaya is also famous for numerous caves. The state has an estimated 500 natural limestone and sandstone caves spread over the entire state including most of the longest and deepest caves in the sub-continent. Krem Liat Prah is the longest cave, and Synrang Pamiang is the deepest cave.  Some of other tourist attractions in Meghalaya are Mawkdok/Dympep Valley, Sohra Market, Rama Krishna Mission Museum, Riat Mawiew or The Grand Canyon of Cherrapunjee, First Presbyterian Church, Tombs of Welsh Missionaries and Angelican Cemetery among numerous others.  
Mizoram is also known as `land of Blue Mountains' and ‘land of hill people’.  In the northeast, it is the southernmost landlocked state sharing borders with Tripura, Assam, Manipur. The state also shares a 722 kilometer border with Bangladesh and Myanmar.  It is the 2nd least populous state in India, covering an area of 21,087 square kilometers. 
Mizoram is a land of rolling hills, valleys, rivers and lakes. As many as 21 peaks of different heights run through the state, with plains scattered here and there. The average height of the hills to the west of the state is about 1,000 meters. These gradually rise up to 1,300 meters to the east. Some areas have higher ranges which go up to a height of over 2,000 meters. Phawngpui Tlang, also known as the Blue Mountain, situated in the south-eastern part of the state, is the highest peak in Mizoram at 2,210 meters. About 76 % of the state is covered by forests, 8 % is cultivated land and 3 % is barren and considered uncultivable area. 
Mizoram has third highest total forest cover with 1,594,000 hectares, and third highest percentage area (79%) covered by forests, among the Indian states.  Tropical Semi Evergreen, Tropical Moist Deciduous, Subtropical Broadleaved Hill and Subtropical Pine Forests are the common vegetation types found in Mizoram. Mizoram is host to numerous species of birds, wildlife and flora. About 640 species of birds have been identified in the state, many of which are endemic to Himalayan foothills and Southeast Asia. Of the birds found in Mizoram forests, 27 are on worldwide threatened species list and 8 are on critically endangered list. The state is also host to a variety of fauna, just like its sister northeastern Indian states. Mammal species observed in the Mizoram forests include Slow Loris, Serow, Goral, Tiger, Leopard, Leopard Cat and Asiatic Black Bear. 
The state has two national parks and six wildlife sanctuaries - Blue Mountain (Phawngpui) National Park, Dampa Tiger Reserve (largest), Lengteng Wildlife Sanctuary, Murlen National Park, Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary, Tawi Wildlife Sanctuary, Khawnglung Wildlife Sanctuary, and Thorangtlang Wildlife Sanctuary. Mizoram also has an abundance of hill stations, lakes and waterfalls. 
Nagaland, the land of Nagas is famous for its tribes and their festivals. The state is inhabited by 16 major tribes - Ao, Angami, Chang, Konyak, Lotha, Sumi, Chakhesang, Khiamniungan, Kachari, Phom, Rengma, Sangtam, Yimchungrü, Kuki, Zeliang and Pochury as well as a number of sub-tribes. Each tribe is unique in character with its own distinct customs, language and dress. Nagaland has more language diversity than any other state in India. Naga people speak over 36 different languages and dialects. Nagaland is known in India as the land of festivals. The diversity of people and tribes, each with their own culture and heritage, creates a yearlong atmosphere of celebrations. Traditional tribe-related festivals revolve round agriculture, as a vast majority of the population of Nagaland is directly dependent on agriculture. The most famous is the Hornbill festival which is held during First week of December each year and showcases the entire Naga culture. Held within the confines of a heritage village called Kisama, this festival is a cultural extravaganza. 
Nagaland is a mountainous state, with 20 percent of the total land area covered with wooded forest, rich in flora and fauna. The evergreen tropical and the sub tropical forests are found here. The forests here are home to pangolins, porcupines, elephants, leopards, bears, many species of monkeys, oxen, and buffaloes. The Great Indian Hornbill is one of the most famous birds found in the state. Blyth's Tragopan, a vulnerable species of pheasant, is the state Bird of Nagaland. Numerous lakes, rivers, mountains and villages are other tourist attractions. 
Sikkim is the least populated state in India and the second smallest state after Goa. The state is bordered by Nepal to the west, Tibet to the north and east, and Bhutan to the east. Sikkim is a popular tourist destination, owing to its culture, scenery and biodiversity. Sikkim's capital and largest city is Gangtok. 
The People of Sikkim consist of three ethnic groups, that is, Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali. Hindu Temples coexist with Buddhist Monasteries, Churches, Mosque and Gurudwara. These various cultures have produced a typical Sikkimese culture but have also managed to preserve their own identity. These can also be seen in the various places of worship, festivals and cultural dances that are celebrated through the year. Nepali,Sikkimese, Lepcha, Tamang, Limbu, Newari, Rai, Gurung,Magar, Sunwar and English are the languages spoken here.
The Himalayan Mountains surround the northern, eastern and western borders of Sikkim. The state has 28 mountain peaks, more than 80 glaciers, 227 high-altitude lakes, five major hot springs, and more than 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. Sikkim's hot springs are renowned for their medicinal and therapeutic values. Among the state's most notable hot springs are those at Phurchachu, Yumthang, Borang, Ralang, Taram-chu and Yumey Samdong. The springs, which have a high sulphur content, are located near river banks. 
Sikkim is home to around 5,000 species of flowering plants, 515 rare orchids, 60 primula species, 36 rhododendron species, 11 oak varieties, 23 bamboo varieties, 16 conifer species, 362 types of ferns and ferns allies, 8 tree ferns, and over 424 medicinal plants. The fauna of Sikkim include the snow leopard, musk deer, Himalayan Tahr, red panda, Himalayan goral,  common langur, Asian black bear, clouded leopard, marbled cat, leopard cat, and Himalayan jungle cat. Among the animals more commonly found in the alpine zone are yaks, mainly reared for their milk, meat, and as a beast of burden. Of the approximately 1,438 butterfly species found in the Indian subcontinent, 695 have been recorded in Sikkim.
Momo is the most commonly available food in Sikkim. From roadside restaurants to the most expensive restaurants, you will find momos on every menu. Another popular and easily available item is the Thukpaor Gya-thuk, a typical Tibetan style noodles in soup, based with vegetables or meat. But Sikkimese cuisine is much more than just momos and thukpa, with every community having their own special way of cooking, using ingredients typical to them. This results in a wide variety of dishes, each with a unique taste and flavour.
Tripura is the third smallest state of India. The diverse ethno-linguistic groups of Tripura have given rise to a composite culture. The dominant ethnic groups are Bengali, Manipuri, Tripuris, Jamatia, Reang, Noatia, Koloi, Murasing, Chakma, Halam and Garo among many others. Bengali people represent the largest ethno-linguist community of the state. Bengali culture, as a result, is the main non-indigenous culture. 
 Five mountain ranges—Boromura, Atharamura, Longtharai, Shakhan and Jampui Hills—run north to south, with intervening valleys. Agartala, the capital, is located on a plain to the west. The state has a tropical savanna climate, and receives seasonal heavy rains from the south west monsoon. Forests cover more than half of the area, in which bamboo and cane tracts are common. Tripura has the highest number of primate species found in any Indian state. 
Tripura’s forests are home to 90 land mammal species including elephant, bear, wild dog, porcupine, barking deer, wild boar, leopard, clouded leopard and many species of small cats and primates. Out of 15 free ranging primates of India, seven are found in Tripura; this is the highest number of primate species found in any Indian state. There are nearly 300 species of birds in the state. Wildlife sanctuaries of the state are Sipahijola, Gumti, Rowa and Trishna wildlife sanctuaries. National of the state are Clouded Leopard National Park and Rajbari National Park. 
Tripura is also famous for its religious sites. Benuban Bihar, Mahamuni Pagoda, Mariam Nagar Church, Gedu Mia’s Mosque, Jagannath Temple, Chandrapur Mosque, Tripureshwori Temple, Kali Temple and Laxmi Narayan Temple are some of the visited religious places. Similarly, Bhubaneswari Temple Gunabati Group of Temples Debtamura Pilak and Unakoti are the places of archaeological significance. 
West Bengal
West Bengal is the fourth most populated state of India with over 91 million inhabitants.  it is bordered by the countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, and Assam. The state capital is Kolkata.  Stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south, West Bengal presents some of marvelous landscape features and natural scenic beauty. 
West Bengal is famous for its beautiful hill station Darjeeling.  It is noted for its tea industry and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other hill stations in the state include Kurseong, Kalimpong, Rishop Rimbik, Sandakphu and Mirik. West Bengal has 3.26 % of its geographical area under protected areas comprising 15 wildlife sanctuaries and 5 national parks, The National Parks are Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park and Singalila National Park. Sunderban is a part of the world's largest delta, formed by Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Situated on the lower end of Gangetic West Bengal, Sunderban has hundreds of creeks and tributaries. It is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forests in the world which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It spans a vast area covering 4,264 square kms. It is the largest Tiger Reserve and National Park in India.  Sundarban forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal. Recognizing its special conservation value, Sundarban area has been declared as a Biosphere Reserve. 
West Bengal is also famous for its religious sites. Some of the famous pilgrimages of West Bengal are Gangasagar, Belur Math, Dakshineshwar, Kalighat, Bolla Kali Temple, Nakhoda Masjid, St Pauls Cathedral and St james Church among others. Durga Puja in October is the most popular festival in West Bengal. Poila Baishakh, (Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush Parbon , Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Laxmi Puja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and Muharram are other major festivals. Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important festivals here.   

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