Nestled in the colossal mountains and deep valleys of the Himalayas, the Seven Sister states of Northeast India are unexplored treasure troves. Priya Shahi lists the pièces de résistance from each state
Sandwiched between the hills of Meghalaya and the plains of Bangladesh, Dawki is a small but busy town in the East Jaintia Hills district. With hundreds of trucks passing through it daily, Dawki is a trade transit point between India and Bangladesh. Umngot river marks the natural separation between the Khasi and the Jaintia hills, and is forded by a suspension bridge that connects India to Bangladesh. Constructed in 1932 by the British, the Dawki bridge has military interest, owing to the town’s strategic location. Between March and April, Umngot becomes the site for a popular boat race. But even otherwise, this large emerald serpent threading its way through the hills right into the plains of Bangladesh, with fishing boats dotting its surface, is a sight to behold. A morning boatride on the river is surreal as sunlight falling on the water creates the illusion of flying boats.
Son Beel, Assam
Situated in Karimganj district, Son Beel is the largest seasonal wetland in the Northeast and the second-largest in Asia. With hills on its east and west, and the Shingla river running through the middle, the wetland is a paradise for photographers. Son Beel’s distinctive landscape is formed by the Hizol trees, the Barringtonia acutangula, which thrive even when they are half submerged in water. In the dry winter months, Son Beel becomes a functional farmland and in the monsoon (March onwards), the land fills with water to become a lake. When there is too much rain, it overflows and the excess water is channelled through the Kakra and Kushira rivers into Bangladesh.
Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh
On the eastern-most tip of India lies one of its largest national park and tiger reserves. The Namdapha National Park, covering an area of 2,000 sq km, is among the last great remote wilderness areas in Asia. It is situated in the beautiful valley of the Noa-Dihing river and extends into the Myanmar territory. The area lies close to the Indo-Myanmar-China tri-junction. Forests are contiguous across the international boundary with Myanmar, with several adjoining protected areas, including the recently declared Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve. Its unique geographic location and habitat, ranging from warm tropical plains to icy Himalayan highlands, is what makes Namdapha home to species and tribal cultures that cannot be found anywhere in the world.
An ethnic paradise, Mon is famous for its headhunting Konyak Nagas. The largest of the 16 officially recognised tribes in Nagaland, the Konyaks were once believers of violent animism that celebrated headhunting. Capturing an enemy’s head was the rite of passage for boys and was believed to increase the fertility of the warrior taking it and of crops. Only a person who had successfully hunted a head was given the facial tattoo. However, headhunting was banned in the 1950s. Today, the facial tattoos and ethnic warrior jewellery are just symbols of their heritage – and the Konyaks wear them with pride. Don’t miss the house of the Angh, the hereditary chiefs of the Konyaks. Mon has some of the finest tribal artwork, from daos (machetes) and guns to wood carvings, headgear and necklaces.
Keibul Lamjao Park, Loktak Lake, Manipur
Loktak Lake in Manipur has always been a crowd puller with its solidified floating masses of decomposing vegetation, soil and organic matter (phumdis) scattered all over the lake, lending it an exotic feel. However, very few know that to the southern edge of the lake lies Keibul Lamjao National Park, the only floating sanctuary in the world, which is also home to the endangered eld’s deer, or the sangai. A walk in the park is quite an adventure with its floating swamps bobbing under your feet. But the park is best explored on dugout canoes that ply in its narrow waterways. An integral part of Loktak Lake, the park relies heavily on the lake’s floating vegetation for its existence.
Palak Dil, Mizoram
The origins of the swallowing lake, or Palak Dil, in the Palak Wildlife Sanctuary, is shrouded in legends. The oval-shaped water body is southern Mizoram’s biggest natural lake, covering an area of about 1 sq km. It is surrounded by a lush tropical forest and is home to a rich aqua-fauna ecosystem. Various types of fish and crab are found in the lake and the surrounding forest is home to the wild pig, the tiger and the Asiatic black bear. Rarely-seen birds such as the spot-breasted scimitar babbler, the black-capped kingfisher and the white-rumped munia are also found here.