North-East India: For the Immersive Traveller
To showcase the north-east region of India, which is a largely unexplored destination for both domestic and foreign travellers, the Ministry of Tourism’s Dekho Apna Desh webinar “Northeast India for the immersive traveller” offered an attractive virtual tour to four north-eastern states namely Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Sikkim.
The presenters spoke about the unexplored destinations, tribes, festivals, crafts, culture of the local people to convey the message that north east’s speciality is not only hills but there is a lot more to explore and experience.
Some of the wonders and experiences that North East India offers to travellers which were showcased in this session of the webinar included Dzukou valley situated between Manipur and Nagaland which is the crater base of an extinct volcano. The famous Dzukou lily is found in this region.
The Hornbill festival annually celebrated from December 1-10 in Kohima has become a big attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists leading to the development of tourist amenities in Nagaland.
Arunachal Pradesh is a big state in the region. The state with its 70% forest cover, home to 26 major tribes, gives an opportunity to the traveller to experience a new culture, tradition and dialects after every few kilometres. The beauty of Tawang and Sangti valley allows the visitors to experience fairy-tale views. The Losar festival, celebrated in February, is another highlight.
A land of tribes, Nagaland, is an abode amongst the hills yet to be explored. The picturesque state has stellar landscapes, beautiful tea gardens, high mountains, and a vibrant culture. Nagaland’s exquisitely rich in flora and fauna and is a habitat to some of the dandiest plants and animals, not leaving behind the beautiful birds to which this place is home. Owing to its diversity in birds, Nagaland is referred to as, The Falcon Capital of The World. Nagaland supports a flamboyant tribal culture which leaves anybody visiting the place amazed and dazzled.
The Long-living tribes – Naga Culture and Tradition
Nagaland has an ancient history of tribes whose count sums to be as much as 66 including the sub-tribes. Out of these, 16 are considered as major tribes. With a difference in language, all tribes have a similar leafy dress code, eating habits and traditional laws. Nagas are mostly Christians. The state is regarded as the most Baptist state in the world as 75% of it is dominated by them. Soft-heartedness and hospitality of Nagas leave anyone visiting the place astounded. They have a zest for life and are very exuberant when it comes to celebrating festivals or any other day of equal significance.
Art and Craft
Though the main occupation of the Nagaland people is irrigation, they have been blessed with dexterity, especially the women. The ordinary metals such as iron, brass and tin are used to make exquisite jewellery in the form of armlets, neckbands, bangles and much more. Beads are also used to make beautiful necklaces. The Nagas have carried their traditional art of weaving by knitting unique colours and designs producing shawls, shoulder bags, table mats, etc which reflect the integrity and soul of their ancient dynamics. The present generation has stepped into the fashion industry producing the fabrics that represent the amalgamation of ancestral motifs and modern appeal. The tourists get mesmerised by such a beautiful display of handicrafts and tend to buy a lot of souvenirs. The craft is not just limited to fabric and metals, wooden carvings and bamboo works are also an essential part of the craft of these people.
The Hornbill Festival
Marked as the festival of festivals, it is organised by the state government to encourage the interaction among the various tribes and preserve the heritage and traditions of Nagaland. It was started in 200 and turned out to be a huge success and is thus celebrated every year in the first week of December. Earlier it was celebrated for the first seven days of December but due to its huge popularity, it is now celebrated for 10 days. People from overseas come to relish the breathtaking celebrations of this festival. Various activities such as Naga wrestling, archery, beauty contest, Naga king chilli eating contest, musical concerts are held along with local people displaying their craft and selling the wooden carvings, food, herbal medicines. Colourful performances are held and this place turns into the most happening place on earth for these ten days.
Dzukou Valley is most famous for its multicolored carpets of flowers that bloom in summer, most notably the Dzukou Lily which is found only in Dzukou Valley.The flowers begin to bloom with the monsoon season, and the first two weeks of July are usually peak flower season in Dzukou Valley. But if you can’t make it during flower time, we assure you, it’ll be gorgeous at any time of year, and it has much more to offer than colourful flora. It’s a beautiful place to hike around, flowers or not, and if you’re into rock climbing there are plenty of opportunities to break a sweat within the valley. Even more interesting (to us, anyway), Dzukou Valley is well-known and loved by local tourists from Nagaland and Manipur, but is yet to be “discovered” by foreigners and domestic tourists from further away.
The region of Arunachal has an 11,000 years long history of human habitation and the people show close links with the tribes of present-day Bhutan, Myanmar, China and Tibet. It has been culturally integrated into India over the years but maintains its distinct traditions. Recent excavations have shown remains of temples from the 14th century at the foothills of Siang. Modern history has been riddled with conflict because of its strategic position at the border of several countries.
Arunachal has a confluence of cultures from Tibet, mainland India and the native tribes which gives the state a rich, vibrant and varied heritage. Over 50 dialects falling under the ‘Tibeto-Burman’ family are spoken by the people of this state. Twenty-six tribes inhabit the land, each with their colourful festivals and way of life. Most of the celebrations are a spectacle for tourists to watch and coincide with the agricultural cycle.
Festivals of Arunachal Pradesh
There is some festival or the other taking place in Arunachal at all times. The most famous ones are the Ziro Music Festival that is held in September to promote the musical talent of the North East, the Sangken festival where tribes from the region gather to celebrate the tenets of Buddhism in April each year, and the two weeks long celebration of Losar held in Tawang to honour the new year. Each of these festivals has a rich history attached to them and demonstrates the years of intermixing of various traditions while being an absolute fun fest for the tourists. Solung, an agricultural festival that is held during the monsoon season (July/August), Nyokum festival of the Nyishi tribe, the Dree festival, the Boori Boot, Khan, Gomkum Gompa, Tamaldu, Mopin and Aran are some the other cultural festivals celebrated in Arunachal Pradesh with immense zeal and enthusiasm. Apart from the fun and frolic of these festivals, their location in the serene mountains further enhances their appeal for those who want to immerse themselves in the local life and traditions.
Tawang was historically part of Tibet inhabited by the Monpa people. The Tawang Monastery was founded by the Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, and has an interesting legend surrounding its name, which means “Chosen by Horse”. The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Tawang.
Tawang Monastery was founded by the Mera Lama Lodre Gyasto in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect and is the largest Buddhist monastery in India. The name Tawang means Horse Chosen. It is said to be the biggest Buddhist monastery in the world outside of Lhasa, Tibet. It is a major holy site for Tibetan Buddhists as it was the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. It is also famous for its snowfall which occurs every year during December-January.
Sangti Valley is a well-known tourist destination in Arunachal but not many tourists visit this place. This must visit place is a perfect destination for holidaying with your better half. This heavenly hill station is surrounded by beautiful mountainous ranges and it is always blessed with pleasant weather with light snowfall. Sangti Valley is a definite tourist spot if you love nature dotted with pristine forests and meandering fast hill rivers and home to a very interesting culture and tradition. Around this valley you can witness interesting features like various fruit orchids and exotic birds.
Sangti valley is located at a distance of about 15 kilometres from Dirang via Bomdila – Tawang highway of Western Arunachal Pradesh. And it is located 7 km away from Dirang. The entire valley is blessed with various flora and fauna. There are beautiful fruit orchards that grow kiwi, apple etc and also notice the black-necked cranes that migrate from China during November and December.
Assam, located south of the eastern Himalayas, is one of the Seven Sister states. Known for its rich culture and diverse population, the culture of Assam is a fusion of Indo Burmese, Mongolian and Aryan influences. The beautiful land is a little paradise on a rocky terrain and worth discovering for its pristine beauty. The natives are called Asomiya which is also the state language of Assam.
Art and Craft
It’s been more than two thousand years that various traditional crafts have emerged in Assam. The traditional crafts like pottery and terracotta work, brass craft, jewellery making, musical instruments making, cane and bamboo craft, silk and cotton weaving, and Woodcraft are a major source of employment for the people of Assam.
Weaving is the most ancient of all the practices where even now women take pride in the possession and occupation in the handloom industry. Gandhiji lauded the Assamese weavers as artists who could weave dreams in their looms. Various ethnocultural groups make exclusive types of cotton garments with embroidery designs and colour combinations.
Painting is another ancient form which has been known since the time of Chinese traveller Xuanzang (7th century CE). Most of the manuscripts from the Middle Ages have excellent examples of traditional paintings. They have been influenced by the concept and designs in the medieval works such as the Chitra Bhagawata. There is a Department of Fine Arts in Assam, which is a central government organization, which focuses on the art and craft of north east India with particular reference to Assam.
Assam is full of festivals, the most important being the Bihu. It is celebrated to mark the important points of a cultivator’s life over a yearly cycle. It’s a non-religious festival which is celebrated irrespective of caste and creed. Then there is Rongali or Bohag Bihu celebrated in mid-April with the coming of spring and the beginning of the sowing season. It is also known as Rangaali Bihu (“rang” means merry-making). Next is the Kangaali Bihu (kangaali meaning poor) which is celebrated in mid-October. It is called so because by this time the harvest is brought home. The Magh Bihu is celebrated in mid-January. There are community feasts and bonfires which take place. Also known as the Bhogaali Bihu (“bhog” means enjoyment and feasting). The first day of Rongali bihu is called Goru Bihu when the cows are taken to the nearby ponds to be bathed.
The history of Sikkim takes us back to the time when Lepchas, Limbus and Magars were the original inhabitants of the state. It is known that Buddhist Saint Guru Rinpoche passed through the land in the 9th century and introduced Buddhism in the state. Buddhism took its distinctive Sikkimese form four centuries later, when three Tibetan monks, dissatisfied with the rise of the reformist Gelukpas, migrated to Yoksum in western Sikkim. Over the centuries, the territory was lost to the Bhutanese, the Nepalese and the British. After the Independence from British rule in 1947, Sikkim remained an independent country. Then, on 26 April 1975, it became a part of India and the 22nd state of the country.
Due to the amalgamation of various cultures, people and ethnicities, Sikkim is almost like a kaleidoscope of festivals and colours that are celebrated by people with great zeal and enthusiasm. Losoong Festival – This is held to celebrate the end of the harvest season and also the end of the tenth month as per the Tibetan calendar. People pray for a good harvest and better prospects for the coming year. Losar Festival – It takes place in February to celebrate the Tibetan new year. Yak dance is performed, and processions are carried out. Lhabab Dheuchen Festival- This one represents the descent of Lord Buddha from heaven after teaching his deceased mother. The Buddhists celebrate this event with all zest and zeal in Sikkim. Kagyed Dance Festival – It takes place around December. The dance performed by monks portrays the destruction of evil forces, and they wish for peace & prosperity in Sikkim. Pang Lhabsol – This festival actually celebrates the Independence Day of India. The people of Sikkim on behalf of our country seek God’s blessings on this day. Other festivals include Drupka Teshi, Dasain (Durga Puja) and Tihar (Diwali). Dancing festivals or chaams such as the Kagyat Dance, Enchey Chaam and Guthor Chaam held in the Buddist Monasteries are a joyful time for everyone in Sikkim.