India’s North East is opening up to host an increasing number of travelers. The Dialogue Diaries™ – Interview Line, a platform by Unakriti, is delighted to feature early explorers who have ventured inside the region. Rameswar Prasad, with his friends, went for a monsoon drive in Northeast India. Find out what to and what not to expect in the wet season.
What’s your favorite destination in North East India and why?
My friends and I recently traveled across Northeast India. We went to places such as Guwahati in Assam, Shillong and Cherapunjee in Meghalaya, Gangtok, Ravangla, Changu lake, Nathula pass in Sikkim, and even Darjeeling in the neighboring state of West Bengal.
From what we experienced, my favorites are Nathula pass, Changu lake and Tarey Bhir in Sikkim. It rained during our travels and, though short of a clear view, all the mist and the ever dancing clouds made for an amazing, mystical experience.
Nathula Pass is a historic passage between Indian and Tibet. Being an international border, visitors are not allowed to click pictures. One of the highest motorable roads in the world leading to Nathula pass makes for a scenic, sorry, stunning route! It crosses an equally stunning glacial marvel called Changu lake.
At an altitude of over 12,000 feet with mountains surrounding it, Changu or Lake Tsomgo is a serene place to spend time. It lies in East Sikkim district and is under 50 kilometers from Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital.
The drive to Tarey bhir is yet another of my favorite memories from North East India. This spectacular high-mountain cliff walkway, in South Sikkim District, overlooks river valleys and a vast lush-green forested landscape.
Let me add, from what I gather and the images I see, even though I could not visit (due to weather), some of my other favorites include Kanchendzonga, Gurudongmar Lake, Lachen, and Yumthang Valley in North Sikkim.
Notes by Unakriti:
- Changu Lake is open to both Indian nationals and foreigners. However, at this time, foreigners need to apply for a permit in a group of two or more.
- Nathula Pass is a restricted area along the Indo-China international border. Photography is strictly prohibited. At the time of this interview, Indian nationals need a permit to visit this area, while foreigners are not allowed.
- For more on the topic, click to read permits for Northeast India.
What stands out for you about North East India?
The first thing that I noticed, other than the obvious natural beauty, is about the people of Meghalaya and Sikkim. Every single person here obeys traffic rules, even if there’s a traffic jam and so driving here is a breeze. Coming from Bengaluru and looking at the traffic here you’ll just say WOW! Shillong is probably the best example of this.
The other thing I immediately noticed is that many places shut down so early here like 8-9 PM, which is unlike elsewhere in India. So, if you are planning an evening out, just be sure to place your food / drinks order early enough. Speaking of food, you must try some noodle delicacies at ‘The Taste of Tibet’ restaurant at MG Road in Gangtok! Delicious, it is:)
Note by Unakriti: In many parts of the region, especially the hills, local lifestyle is governed by daylight hours. For more on the topic, click to read Northeast India follows the sun.
What is it like to visit Northeast India in the monsoons?
To make the most of your travel, you must know what type of traveler you’re. For instance, do you like to witness a place in it’s peak season and are willing to endure a higher number of tourists and possibly higher room rents or, do you prefer when it’s less crowded even though weather / driving conditions might not be conducive? This time, we chose the latter.
There’s a certain charm to monsoons and India’s Northeast is no different. Clouds engulf the mighty mountains, you breathe misty-fresh air, and the landscape is lush green. However, if you are planning a road-trip in this season, you need to be prepared for surprises too.
I recommend driving in Northeast India in the wet season only if you are someone who enjoys immersing in the journey and do not stress too much whether you may or may not reach the day’s destination. For instance, the news of landslides disrupted our plans to visit some of North Sikkim’s most beautiful places such as Lachen, Lachung, Yumthang Valley, etc.
So, if you are traveling on a tight schedule during the rains, you’ve been warned! The best time I’d suggest to visit Northeast India is around Oct-Nov or Mar-Apr.
As a visitor, how is it to self-drive in Northeast India?
For us, it was a mixed bag experience. Self-driving comes with real benefits. You may take as many breaks, stop for photography where you want, bring as much luggage as you can throw in your vehicle, or even, sleep in your car! But.
Given the terrain with narrow mountain roads, with deep gorges instead of a curb, there’s an adventure to live and a story to tell at almost every turn. Unless you are familiar with the local routes and traffic patterns, poor visibility due to misty / cloudy weather would cut your speed down to a crawl.
Self-driving in isolated hills means you are responsible to fix your vehicle in case of minor breakdowns such as replacing a tire, etc. During our travels, we had to contend with two minor breakdowns. So, follow my lead, only if you can take such things in your stride.
In many parts of the region, especially in the monsoons, sometimes with slippery gravel under the tyres, you need folks who are comfortable behind the wheel. Thankfully, we had more than one extremely attentive drivers.
How did you plan your road trip in Northeast India?
I have to confess – while I was busy wrapping up office work, my friends pitched in their time for all the research and planning. We looked up offbeat places, sought inputs from folks who’ve lived in or recently traveled to the region. For instance, a friend from Indian Army offered tips for some places in the region. We also looked up blogs and sites (such as Quora) for related information.
We took a train from Guwahati to Siliguri, where we rented a car to explore the region. But, if you’re planning to visit only Sikkim (out of the 8 northeastern states) then it’d be better to fly to the newest Pakyong airport near Gangtok. From Gangtok, Changu lake and Nathula Pass (East Sikkim) can be planned as a day-trip. Similarly, you may plan another day-trip to Tarey Bhir in the South Sikkim district.
Please note, self-drive rental cars are not allowed in some restricted parts of North Sikkim and you must hire private tour services operated by approved agencies. Also, to visit such restricted places, you need a permit (keep few copies of your ID and photo to get this).
What are your recommendations for visitors to drive in Northeast India?
Our plan-A did not work. Driving in Northeast India, (or any Himalayan state for that matter), especially in the rainy season, has it own challenges. And so, I’d recommend you backpack instead of a road-trip! However, if you must insist for an extra dash of adventure, just as we did, read on please.
- Watch the weather: Irrespective of the time of the year you visit Northeast India in, always keep a close tab on weather and driving conditions. Landslides are common in many Himalayan states of India.
- Alert behind the wheel: Unless you have two very good drivers with you, it is better / safer to hire a private cab with a local driver familiar with the terrain.
- Know mountain-time: Reading distances in the mountains can be misleading. A 50-km drive in the plains and urban areas is not comparable to driving 50-km in the hills. As a thumb-rule, double the usually estimated travel time. I’d also recommend to not pack too many places in a day’s itinerary. Go slow. Enjoy the journey.
- Use layered clothing: Weather can be unpredictable. This can be true even if you have conviction in some of the best weather-forecast apps. Hence, wear clothing in layers. At all time keep your gloves, thermals close.
- Travel safe: Safety is always a priority, be it personal safety or securing your stuff (cameras, phones or any expensive stuff). So always check reviews of hotels and guesthouses before booking a place to stay. We used AirBnB!
- Travel responsibly: Do not litter. Enough said:)
Note by Unakriti: If you are keen to ride a motorcycle in the region, you need to look up these practical tips for motorbiking in India.
What’s your new bucket list for North East India?
- Dawki River, Meghalaya: When it’s not raining, I would look out for an opportunity to experience the crystal clear waters of this river near the Indo-Bangla border.
- Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh
- North Sikkim: Since I could not visit this district due to seasonal landslides, I would go back in the winters to witness the snowy Yumthang Valley, Gurudongmar lake, a high-altitude, glacial-water lake, and Mount Kanchendzonga. These make for sights to behold in North Sikkim and hence compelling places on my bucket list.
What’s your favorite festival in North East India and why?
I’d definitely love to go to Ziro Music Festival in Arunachal Pradesh. I mean, who wouldn’t want to attend an event like this, sitting on open fields, surrounded by mountains and live music! For more about my visit to Northeast India, follow me at The Window Seat blog on Medium or on Instagram (links in bio).
Think North East India
For those who do not know, Northeast India comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles his people follow.
That North East India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.
The region’s innate charms have remained under-explored. Travelers, who figure out how to backpack in Northeast India, find gems such as Dzükou Valley all to themselves. Importantly, the hospitable people of the region make sure that visitors take back the choicest of memories.
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Meanwhile, pick up a copy of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey. It covers over two dozen places and attempts to answer the question – what is it like to travel in the region? Give it a read and make your own choices.
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70 thoughts on “A Monsoon Drive in Northeast India”
This part of India is unknown to me, so I’m really enjoying reading from those who have been visiting the region for a while and can share their insights onto what to see and do. I appreciate the tips for local cuisine specialities like those noodles in Gangtok and the discussion about whether to visit in monsoon or high season.
Glad you took the time to read the article and enjoyed it. I’m sure there are many more delicious dishes to try in Northeast. However, that’s for the next time. 🙂
I’m very familiar with the Northeast and it’s my favorite region in India, partially because my girlfriend is from Assam. And I absolutely love the monsoon season over there! Last time I visited during the monsoon, I took some amazing pictures
True, it’s a heaven for photographers. And monsoons and winters are must experiences in Northeast.
I’d so love to explore North East India. From your photos, it looks absolutely amazing and I’m pleased that at least some areas are open to foreigners. Having been in Nepal during monsoon season, I think I would personally avoid self driving though monsoon season but I do love the freedom having my own car brings!
Absolutely. Do visit this untouched place as soon as you can. 🙂 I’d be posting more pics with details on my Instagram account (link in bio) after processing it. Do checkout. Thank you for your comment. Cheers!!
I have never been to India or North East India, from your travels and pictures it looks beautiful. I am not sure I would be able to drive in those conditions as I am not mechanically inclined and probably could not fix my car…
Thanks for your comment. It’s a blissful place. Do plan and visit Northeast India when you can. And for the commute in your case I’d suggest, take a private cab, as the local drivers are familiar with and experts in these routes and they can be your guides too. I just gathered all my favorite photos from the trip and will be posting in my Instagram account (link in bio), do checkout.
I had never heard of Nathula Pass, I cannot believe how gorgeous those views are! I think my anxiety would get the best of me though driving in a monsoon…..lol….guess I have watched too many of the ‘deadliest roads’ television show and many of those roads were in India, lol. Sigh…..the things TV does to our psyche huh? Still want to come and check this pass out though….looks incredible.
Haha. Thank you for your comment. I updated my watchlist. 😀
It has incredible views along the way, but do checkout about permits as this is an Indian army base.
A very interesting read. I have travelled very little on my own in India as I had travelled a lot with my family as I was growing up. Might actually consider doing a drive in NE consider as I heard you can now drive into Myanmar as well with new immigration policies in effect. Thanks for the safety tips and all the useful info.
That’s amazing. Thank you for your valuable comment. Cheers!! 🙂
Wow! Thank you for such a detailed post. It seems like there are a lot of restrictions and a lot of things to be aware of if attempting a visit to this part of India. I do like to avoid crowds but trying to take a drive in my own car where I would be responsible for making repairs in remote areas it’s a bit out of my comfort zone at this point. I enjoyed your pictures and that’s probably as close as I will come to this area for sometime. Thanks for sharing The gorgeous photos. I have not read about this area of India before.
Thanks Sheila, for your comment. There’s restrictions in Sikkim and other places as well when it comes to border areas as these are sensitive zones. However, there are bundle of places all over Northeast. I have written mostly about Sikkim, but there are other 7 states in northeast which are commonly known as 7 sisters, and all are equally beautiful.
I’m really glad that Unakriti asked me for this interview to give an idea about this region to other travellers. 🙂 And I’m glad you liked the pictures, I’ll be publishing my complete detailed travel experience on my blog (link in bio) next month and posting all pics after processing on Instagram next week. Do checkout if you’re on the platform. And please reach out to me or Unakriti if you have any queries. Cheers!!
Great post to read! Especially since I’m heading that way in about a month’s time – but then by motorbike 🙂 Hopefully it won’t be too rainy and wet and no blocked roads, but let’s see! Thanks for sharing!
Great!! I hope the weather condition would have much improved by now. Please share your details if you’re about to post pics somewhere. And I wish you can get in touch with Unakriti here and write about your experience on this platform. All the best. 🙂
Many thanks for the insights into a region that I do not know at all. It is exciting to read about it. Especially tips on regional cuisine, I always find very interesting.
Thanks Susanne for your comment. 🙂
Till date, Meghalaya is my favorite place in NorthEast, but looking at the pictures of Changu Lake I yearn to visit it. I had been to Meghalaya in dry season and failed to enjoy the monsoon aspect of it, so would definitely like to return and cover all the places in monsoon.
Thanks for your comment. Changu lake is feast to the eyes. Do travel to this place. All the best. Cheers!!
I haven’t been to Northeast Asia but it is on my bucket list! I love the beautiful scenery and food you have shown. It makes me want to go even more!
Book your tickets and Do it. 😉
All the best. Cheers!!
The views are really stunning but driving in a monsoon!! Yikes! You need gears and cojones of steel for that. That soup looks delish and I can almost taste it from here. Lots to do in NE India in terms of nature exploration.
Indeed. I’m looking forward to travel again to these places. 🙂
Whoa! This is an epic bike ride!!! I would totally love doing it! Too bad I really miss riding my bike here!!!
Nathula pass sounds fascinating! Visiting such restricted areas is an adrenaline rush by itself!
A couple of my friends have done Chasing the Monsoon in Western Ghats in southern India. I will pass on this article to them!
Thanks Bhushavali, for your comment. Actually it was a drive in Scorpio and Innova. We drove bikes as well but that’s in Assam & Meghalaya. And sure do pass it to your friends and travel as much as you can. Cheers!!
This is a part of India that I have yet to visit. I am not too fond of crowded spaces so for me the monsoon time of year sound like an ideal time for a visit. I love this idea of seeing the mountains covered in mist. It always seems a bit surreal.
Thanks for your response Janine. It’s pure bliss to see mountains with mists. Photography will not be able to justify that. All the best for your trip to this region. 🙂
I love how mountainous the North East of India is. Driving in the mountains takes a lot more thought and consideration than on the flats for sure. You have to be aware of the weather where you’re at and along the way. Weather at 10,000′ is way different than at sea level. Of course, you’ll get to see more along the way.
Well said. Couldn’t agree more.
India’s North East is a land of undulating hills and plains with luxuriant green cover and a wide variety or rare and exotic flora and fauna. North East India has some real surprises for the travelers. Not so much established on the travelers map, yet the North Eastern India, has its own charm that will sweep you off your feet.
Nice interview. I’ve never been to India so it’s great to read about someone else’s experience and get a feel of the place. I don’t think I would mind the monsoon if it means less crowds!
Thanks Céline for taking the time to read. Are you planning travel to India? Northeast India has much to offer when it comes to travel all round the season. And yes if you want less crowd, start/end of monsoon is the right time.
The driving during monsoon season sounds a bit dangerous for me, but it would be nice to visit when there are fewer crowds. I have never been to India and this place sounds like a beautiful place to visit and the food looks amazing.
Thanks Candy, for your comment. Driving in monsoon has it’s own benefits and downsides as well, as it may force you to travel slow. However, the roads are well maintained even being the remote regions of India. Just having a local driver/guide would be the best as they have more knowledge about the area.
Roadtripping is fun, gives you so many benefits. Haven’t actually been to any parts of India but sure Northeast India looks lushy on its monsoon. Tho its monsoon, the view still is rewarding. And not only roadtripping or traveling, but Northeast India also has a festival. You’re right, who doesn’t want to attend such an event surrounded by live music and mountains!
Great information! Ive only been to Gujrat and Bombay, now I know where Im going next when Im in India
Great. All the best. Cheers! 🙂
The landscape around here is just so incredible and the culture too seems so authentic and untouched. I would absolutely love to visit here when we do make it to India. Though I am not too sure about the Monsoon!
Being one of those clean places in India, it’s beautiful all round the year. I wish you have a great time in this region. All the best. 🙂
Thank you for this introduction to North India … I haven’t been to India before. What you’ve shared here has inspired me to plan a trip …
Thanks Karletta. Overwhelmed by so many positive feedbacks and lot of people showing interest in this region to travel. I’ll be publishing more detailed experience of mine on my blog (link in bio) in a months time. Do checkout. 🙂
We recently visited India but unfortunately none of the places mentioned in your post. I wish we had, they look stunning! Especially Lake Tsomgo, what a beautiful landscape. I think I would be nervous to self – drive, but as you said people seem to obey the traffic rules so maybe I would be ok! It’s great that you had the freedom to stop wherever you wanted to take photos.
Thanks for your comment Rosie. What places did you travel in India when you were here?
I am more of a family traveller so not sure if backpacking is a doable thing for me. But the prospect of travelling by road across the NE which I am yet to explore sounds too tempting and exciting especially during the monsoons. this is a very comprehensive post with some excellent tips. Thanks for all the info 🙂
Thank you for your comment Meenakshi. Glad that it was useful. Go with your family and I wish you a great time there. All the best. Cheers!!
North East India has been on my bucket list but never imagined visiting during the monsoons. I’ve heard that the roads can get pretty dangerous. However, this post has got me thinking about it as it doesn’t seem so bad. I love road trips during monsoons as there is so much greenery around and the mist makes it romantic. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the comment. It’s not dangerous if you’re a proficient driver. The roads are pretty good. Just to be cautious because it’s mountains and curves all alongs.
Wow, this is fascinating! I’m considering heading to India in the next couple years and definitely needed this post. I love the idea of going during a monsoon to see a different side of the country, but I was worried it’d be too dangerous. This is such great info!
Thank you for your comment. Glad that it was useful to you. 🙂
When I read that every single person in Meghalaya and Sikkim obeys traffic rules, it made me smile. I remember a friend told me how bad it is traffic in Mumbay. After reading to the end, it sounds driving in the North East India is adventurers. Not just the weather, but the strictly regulation here and there add the suspense to it.
Thank you for such nice comment Umiko. 🙂
This is really interesting. I have always been curious about India but did not have the opportunity to visit. It is definitely under-explored thus, we are so thankful for information like this.
Anyway, will try to grab a copy of the Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey.
Please do travel. This is one of the purest regions of India. I’ll be publishing an elaborated version with all the minute details on my blog (link in bio) in a month. Please checkout when you have time. For any details, get in touch with Unakriti here. All the best. Cheers!! 🙂
Northeast India looks so beautiful, but I can bet that visiting there in monsoon season brings a lot of challenges! It’s too bad that Nathula Pass is closed to foreigners because it sounds spectacular.
Being a border, it’s a sensitive zone. Nonetheless you can go to many other places in Northeast India which are equally beautiful if not more. 🙂
Going to Nathula Pass along the International borders seems interesting though photography is not allowed. But then also I would love to see the beautiful scenery and capture it in my memory. Changu or Lake Tsomgo really looks stunning and also it would be wonderful to be at an altitude of 12,000 ft high. These places are offbeat destinations and not many people know about it but they all look very heavenly and nature’s paradise. Good to know that the writer experienced a good traffic sense as compared to Bangalore. Thanks for sharing beautiful monsoon drive in North East and those misty mountains are stunning.
Thank you Yukti for such nice comment. 🙂
Wow! India is a big country and there’s just so much to explore! I haven’t been to Northeast of India but I’ve always wanted to go to that part of India to see the Himalayan range. Bordering Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the cultural mix must be interesting.
Do travel to these unpolluted beautiful places whenever you can. 🙂
I really wanna go and explore India one day!
We hope that happens soon.
We must admit that India is not on our bucket list, mainly because we don’t like Indian food. Tibet and Myanmar however are on our list, and it’s good to know that they’re close to India, so we might try to spend a couple of days in India when we visit Myanmar or Nepal someday. 🙂
I believe every place has it’s own taste and with a range of restaurants springing up every now and then, I hope you’ll find the cuisines of your taste. And hopefully explore more regions in India as well. Cheers!! 🙂
I loved those pictures. North East India is so beautiful, yet we know so little of it. It feels really proud to see bloggers and travelers like you doing justice to the place. I would never ride on those roads but with a taxi and a driver why not! Those misty mountains are fascinating. Already beckoning to me!
Yes. That is a great option too. Go for it 🙂
Would love to do this drive one day. The north east has always fascinated us, but somehow haven’t been able to take out the time for it…
We hope you are able to get there soon. Thank you for sharing.
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