Northeast India is blessed with several offbeat long-distance routes that offer a magical combination of virgin forests, mountain views, winding highways and lanes, stunning tea gardens and sanctuaries and national parks. If you're the adventurous type who prefers to hit the road on a bike or SUV, you'll particularly enjoy the thrill of these five trips.
1. ASSAM TO THAILAND INTERNATIONAL CROSS-BORDER ROAD TRIP
Route: Guwahati – Shillong - Moreh – Tamu – Mandalay – Myawwady – Mae Sot Tak
This is an incredible road trip passing through some of the most spectacular mountains and valleys in the northeast, taking the rider to Thailand all the way from Assam. The trip will pass through the magical hills of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur before crossing over to Myanmar and Thailand.
The trip route has been opened by Government of India and there are rave reviews in the traveller community. Do note, however, that you'll need an international driver's licence if you are planning to self-drive the entire route to Thailand.
The 26.5km Myawaddy-Thinggan Nyenaung-Kawkareik stretch of the Asian Highway (AH) is now operational. This has reduced the travel time between Thinggan Nyenaung and Kawkareik from three hours to only about 45 minutes!
You will also pass through mesmerising and mystical Myanmar -- a country of larger than life pagodas, authentic cuisine and exotic views -- and most importantly Bagan. This place is famed for its majestic temples and architectural splendour. There are groups which organize hot air balloon trips over Bagan – a chance to be wowed by a panoramic view of the historical city. Don't miss the stunning sunset views of Bagan if you are taking one.
However, make sure your documents are in tip-top shape. You need:
- A passport that's valid for at least six months.
- Plenty of colour photos with a white background
- Bank statements for six months with a minimum balance of ₹20,000 per person
- An international travel currency card for your cash requirements
- International driving permit.
- Note: You can get visa on arrival for both Myanmar and Thailand.
2. ARUNACHAL PRADESH: TEZPUR TO TAWANG
Route: Tezpur – Bhalukpong – Tenga Valley – Bomdilla – Tawang
This one is my personal favourite. This is for obvious reasons: you can reach Tezpur by flight, train or road easily from Guwahati which is connected to all other parts of the country. The stretch from Tezpur to Bhalukpong (which I did many years ago) passes through picturesque virgin forests and lush green valleys as you cross over from the Assam border to Arunachal Pradesh at the gorgeous Bhalukpong police check post.
Keep in mind that you need to get an Inner Line Permit (ILP) from any of the state tourism offices or from the commissioner's office. Tourism within the state is highly fragmented and there are rarely any reputed travel or tour operators for adventure or long-distance road trips. You should rely on your own preparations and local contacts to see you through.
The route is dicey, arduous and comes with many sharp hairpin bends (the views make it worth it); military trucks are also a common sight on this stretch. There is an army cantonment and base at Tenga Valley. Once you depart from Bhalukpong check post, this is the first big township you will cross. This is a beautiful, picturesque and stunning valley with several orchids, a tiny market where you can do some shopping to help the local economy. Tenga Valley remains relatively calm and pleasant with moderate temperatures during the summer and monsoon. Temperatures fall drastically in the winters with chances of snowfall covering the lush green valley for days. It remains virtually cut off from the rest of the state during such times and also during heavy monsoons, so summer is a good time to plan your trip.
3. SILIGURI TO TSOMGO LAKE, SIKKIM
Route: Siliguri – Gangtok – Lake Tsomgo
The Northeast is blessed with truly heavenly and picturesque destinations and journeys, one of which is this one.
Siliguri (Jalpaiguri district of North Bengal) is well connected by rail (NJP railway station), flights (Bagdogra Airport) and road service from Guwahati and rest of the country. A two-three hour trip from Siliguri brings you to Gangtok which is the capital of Sikkim and the tourist and commercial hub of the state. It's a good place for an overnight stay so you can recuperate for the next leg of the journey, although some people prefer only a short break before continuing on to the lake.
Tsomgo Lake, also known as Changu Lake, is located 12,310m above sea level and is approximately 50km from Gangtok. The hilly terrain might be a challenge but there's a beauty to the uncertainty of terrain. While winter offers great rewards in terms of scenic splendour, it is a dicey time to travel since snowfall can cut off the route and the military blocks it at times to avoid mishaps. The best season to attempt this route is from March to May and August to November. Make sure you are up to date on permissions to avoid disappointments later.
4. GUWAHATI TO CHERRAPUNJI
Route: Guwahati – Lokhra – Mawlai Mawdatbaki – Shillong – Cherrapunji
Once you pass the chaotic Guwahati to Shillong (2.5-3 hours) highway stretch, this road trip is unbelievably picturesque. But it's a good idea to have a night halt at Shillong before you proceed. There are ample staying and sightseeing options at this hilly town -- make sure to explore Elephant Waterfall, Wards Lake, Police Bazar, Shillong Golf Club; as evening falls head over to the town to soak in the vibrant nightlife and rock music scene.
After you have had a lovely stay at Shillong, move on to stunning Cherrapunji the next day. You will enjoy this trip because the view is spectacular and traffic is moderately low. Cherrapunji will spoil you with its gorgeous views -- caves, the Seven Sisters Fall, Nokhilakhai Falls and Nature's Park. The local cuisine is amazing and the weather will perk you right up. Consider bringing camping equipment so you can commune with nature and do some star gazing.
5. KALIMPONG TO ZULUK
Route: Kalimpong – Pedong – Reshi- Pademchen-Lingtham – Zuluk
The twisty stretch between Kalimpong and Zuluk (88 km, approx 3.5 hours) is made for daredevil travellers. Zuluk's hilly terrain comes with 32 wild hairpin turns and bends which you have to traverse before reaching Lungthung. The clear peaks, Kanchenjunga and the snowfall makes the trip to Zuluk a mesmerizing one. I'd recommended bringing a packed lunch to enjoy beside the River Reshi at Reshikhola -- one of the prettiest picnic spots ever.