Escaping it all in the tribal lands of North East India

Exploring the Remote and Unexplored Tribal Lands of North East India

Is it just me or does anyone else ever dream of just leaving it all behind, going totally off grid and living off the land on a desert island or in a remote valley discarding all the worries and distractions of modern life?  It may seem a bit fantastical but in the remote tribal valleys of North East India it’s easy to forget that it’s the 21st century and get an insight into some of the world’s most fascinating tribal people leading a very different way of life to us – a life that’s almost hard to imagine still exists in 2016.

Welcome to Incredible North East India

Views to Longwa in Nagaland
Views to Longwa in Nagaland

North East India is separated geographically and culturally from the rest of India and contains 7 states – Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim which are nestled between Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Bhutan and Tibet/ China.

In November 2015 I got my first taste of incredible North East India, a land of pristine and undiscovered nature and fascinating tribal communities that is so different from the rest of the country that I almost forgot I was still in India.

Exploring Arunachal Pradesh

For me, the mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most intriguing places in the world. Arunachal Pradesh is home to 26 major tribes and more than 80 sub tribes and is a wonderfully diverse and woefully unexplored paradise referred to as ‘the last shangri la’ by some and the final frontier of Indian exploration.

sangti valley, arunachal pradesh
Tibetan influenced Sangti Valley in Arunachal Pradesh

My first adventure in the North East was on the Monastery and Tribal Discovery Tour with an awesome local tour company called Holiday Scout which saw me crossing gorgeous green valleys of stupas, prayer wheels and colourful Tibetan prayer flags, gorging on momos and winding up and over the snow covered Sela Pass to Tibetan influenced Tawang to explore colourful serene and mesmerising Tawang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery – the largest in the world after the Potala Palace in Tibet.

See more in my Photo Essay: Meeting the Apatani Tribe in Ziro Valley

Tawang Monastery
Tawang Monastery

Next we visited the unique Apatani tribe of picturesque and UNESCO short listed Ziro Valley. The Apatani tribe are distinctive due to the nose plugs and tattooed faces of the older Apatani women and their traditional and authentic villages that still mostly consist of just simple bamboo houses. I felt so honoured to be able to meet these intriguing and unique people that live such a different and environmentally sustainable way of life even in this modern age.

See more in my Photo Essay: Meeting the Apatani Tribe in Ziro Valley

Apatani woman in Ziro Valley
Apatani woman in Ziro Valley

Another thing that is interesting about the tribal people of North East India is the different cultures, traditions and religious beliefs and many of the tribes follow animist beliefs in a religion called ‘Donyi Polo which means worship of the sun and moon.

Festivals in North East India

After my first visit I was hooked on North East India and really wanted to see more and learn more about the tribal people and what better way to experience the best of tribal culture and traditions than by attending a festival!

So I timed my next visit to North East India to coincide with some of the most important tribal festivals and in April 2016 I was lucky enough to experience both the Aoling Festival in Nagaland and the Mopin Festival in Arunachal Pradesh on the special Festival Tour again traveling with Holiday Scout.

Konyak tribes dancing at the Aoling Festival in Nagaland
Konyak tribes dancing at the Aoling Festival in Nagalanddia

Meeting the Headhunter Tribes in Nagaland

Nagaland is a mysterious, rustic, remote place that is home to one of the most fascinating, exotic and intriguing people in the world – the Konyak tribe, better known as the Headhunters who, until recently, would cut off the heads of enemy tribes and intruders and display the heads with pride in their villages!

Visiting during the Aoling Festival was amazing timing as I was captivated by seeing the head hunters in their traditional, colourful and exotic outfits performing authentic tribal dances. Witnessing the authentic Aoling Festival, meeting the head hunters, being invited into their houses and even dressing up in their traditional jewelry is an experience I will never forget!

With the Headhunters of Nagaland
With the Headhunters of Nagaland

Attending the Mopin Festival in Arunachal Pradesh

After the Aoling Festival we travelled to Aalo (also known as Along) in Arunachal Pradesh to witness the Mopin Festival  – the most important day of the year for the Galo tribe and a lively celebration involving traditional white tribal dress and dances, lots of home made rice wine and the sacrifice of the Mithun ( a cow like creature only found in this area) which the Galo tribe believe will ensure a successful harvest season.

Blessing the Mithun before the sacrifice at the Mopin Festival
Blessing the Mithun before the sacrifice at the Mopin Festival

Back to the ‘real world’

There’s still so much more to see in North East India and I really hope I’ll be able to visit again as there are so many more tribes to meet, unique festivals to attend and natural beauty to explore.

Witnessing such a different way of life and such unexplored places was almost surreal in this modern age – it really did feel like going back in time and a total escape from the modern world but getting so far off the beaten track does have its disadvantages. Independent travel is this region is difficult as permits are required, infrastructure like roads and hotels are limited, public transport is almost non existent and even things like phone reception and electricity can be scarse so I’m glad I took a tour with enigmatic local guide Sange and his amazing tour company Holiday Scout. (Read my full Review of Touring North East India with Holiday Scout.)

Looking over Longwa village in Nagaland
Looking over Longwa village in Nagaland

As much as I was captivated by their way of life I have to admit that after a week of dusty bumpy tracks and rustic guesthouses it was almost a welcome relief to return to civilisation in Assam and to a land of hot water showers, modern hotels, 3G signals, fully stocked shops and smooth (er) roads!

Perhaps I’m not quite ready to forego all the trappings of the modern world just yet but getting a glimpse into the lives of the tribal people of North East India is an experience that will stay with me forever!


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Escaping it allin the tribal landsof North East India

Read more:

8 Reasons why you should add North East India to your bucket list

Why you should skip Tibet and visit Tawang instead


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