Travelling in the North-East in the summer of 2006
Guwahati >> Eaglenest >> Tawang >> Nameri >> Kaziranga >> Shillong >> Cherrapunjee
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When I took off to the North East, I had a few worries in mind. The primary concern was safety. With many insurgent groups troubling most of the North East, the worry of becoming a victim was always there. The next thing that bothered me is infrastructure to let me commute comfortably and at will.
Infrastructure in the plains of the North East is almost on par with rest of India. There are plenty of roads and some of them are maintained by the highly respectable Border Roads Organization – BRO. But public transport is not as reliable as it should be. Although most places in the plains are well connected, it may require some planning and knowledge of bus timings if you are planning to go anywhere other than the big towns. Going to Kaziranga, for example, took me long waits at Tezpur. I did not see much of public transport around Cherrpunjee area too. Remote areas in the region are hardly accessible by bus, and this is especially true with Arunachal Pradesh. It is a tough job to find buses going to Tawang or such far-away places. And the North-East doesn’t have a good train network either. But if you are planning to go from Guwahati to bigger towns like Tezpur or Shillong, you just have to get to the bus terminus and you will most likely find a bus ready for you. And these inter-city buses are usually well maintained and comfortable to travel in.
I did not see any reason to worry about the safety aspect while I was in the North-East. It is said that Manipur and some surrounding regions may not be safe to travel to but Assam and Meghalaya are generally safe. Arunachal Pradesh is known to have some hostile tribal communities, but if you are sticking to the main roads and do not wander off too much, you should not have any trouble here either. We did see some unfriendly people but none of them harmful. When I was in Nameri National Park, one of my fellow travellers asked a staffer if he is an Assamese. And he replied – “No, we are not Indians, we are a separate nation called Bodoland”. Assam has its share of internal problems and a history of violence but it is largely peaceful these days and travellers need not really worry too much.
Tourist infrastructure has plenty of room to improve in the entire North-East. Budget travellers to North-East may sometimes see that accommodation is in short supply. Even in a touristy place like Tawang, we had a tough time in finding a place to stay. When I was in Kaziranga, most of the privately owned budget hotels were closed and the government guest houses were fully booked. I was lucky to find a place but some people who arrived after me failed to find any accommodation. And when I was in Nameri National Park, I did not notice any tourist facilities except a privately owned resort where we stayed.
People travelling with a mid-range budget would be delighted to know that the hotels and resorts here have still remained inexpensive and affordable. You can find a decent mid-range hotel in a touristy place at prices starting as low as Rs.600 to Rs.800, which would have cost two to three times elsewhere. But one always needs to book, since availability is limited.
Few towns are equipped with ATMs and it is essential to carry plenty of cash. Credit cards are also not widely accepted except in major locations. I did run into a situation where I ran low of money and had to make some change of plans just so that I can go through a town having ATMs.
To be continued..