In spite of growing up in Assam, it was only recently that I decided to look beyond the lack of public transport, limited travel information and expensive car rentals, and explore the Northeast. Sure, travelling to most of these states is a costly affair, but Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim and the eastern hills of West Bengal offer some great stay options, most of which are homestays. Here’s a guide to help you get started on making the most of your journey to this gorgeous region.
Located in the by-lane of a small village in India’s largest river island, Majuli, staying in the eco-friendly property of La Maison de Ananda is definitely the best way to experience local culture and hospitality. Constructed by a French couple, Jim Chauvin and Maka Korbaa in 2005, it is now looked after by the head caretaker Monjit Risong, who lives next door with his family, and a small, affable staff. The other half of the eco-friendly property across the lane, built a few years later and renovated last year, is the contribution of an Englishman, Ian McCarthy. The cottages and rooms (except for one concrete cottage) have all been built of bamboo and stand on stilts, replicating the traditional houses of the local Mishing community. The in-house restaurant serves some delicious Assamese and Mishing cuisine and even a glass of the local rice brew, apong, on request. While here, visit the Neo-Vaishnavite monasteries to learn about Assamese culture, opt for birdwatching or a boat ride in Luit Ghat or rent a cycle to make your way towards small streams that lie across paddy fields and make for perfect sunset spots. Monjit gladly guides guests to local festivals and around Mishing villages on request, showing you sides of the island that not many travellers have seen. (firstname.lastname@example.org , +919957186356; From ₹300 per person; a cottage for ₹1,000.)
Getting there: The nearest airport and train station are in Jorhat. Drive for about 15km from the airport/station to the ferry point in Neematighat. Ferries ply regularly until evening and will take you to Majuli in an hour-and-a-half. From there, buses, shared taxis or private cars can be hired to reach the property.
It wasn’t until last year that I learnt of the Tai Phake community that migrated from Thailand back in the 1700s and has been living in the small villages of Tipam Phake and Nam Phake by the Buri Dihing River, a short drive away from my home in Dibrugarh district. An initiative of the young rainforest conservationists of Tipam Phake village, Tai Phakey Eco Tourism Camp offers stay in traditional bamboo cottages which lie facing the river. There is an open restaurant which serves local specialities like roasted pork on sticks. The host, Partha Pratim, organises guided birding trips, safaris and treks to the depths of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, part of a vast rainforest that borders Arunachal Pradesh. When not busy chasing butterflies in the forest, you could choose to enjoy a picnic by the river, visit the Buddhist monastery nearby or chat with the locals to learn about their interesting history and cultural heritage. (email@example.com, +918486843784; Doubles ₹3,200 including all meals, Dormitories for ₹1,300 per person including all meals.)
Getting there: The nearest airport and station are in Dibrugarh. Private cars, buses or shared taxis can be hired to reach the property near Naharkatia which lies about 50km from Dibrugarh.
Shillong sure has plenty of budget and luxury stay options but Traveller’s Bed & Breakfast stands out for its hospitality. Located in Buddhist Temple Road, it is run and managed by a local resident, Eric Suiting, who lives in the same premise with his family. Known for its simple, well-maintained rooms rather than for décor and design, this is a comfortable base to explore Meghalaya. Having led a large number of travellers to touristy and offbeat locations around the state in the past, Eric has helpful local recommendations as well as nuggets on local history, culture and politics. During your stay, visit Bara Bazar which happens to be one of northeast India’s largest and oldest traditional markets and trade centres, go boating in Wards Lake, and explore the by-lanes of Shillong on foot. (firstname.lastname@example.org , + 91 9862158574; Doubles ₹1,870 including breakfast.)
Getting there: The nearest airport and railway station are in Guwahati. Buses, shared taxis or private cars can be hired to reach Shillong. The journey takes about 3 hours (130km).
MaplePine Farm is a beautiful self-sustained farmhouse in Mawphlang, a village that lies a half-hour drive away from Shillong. The family of James Perry, a Canadian who’s spent most of his life in Northeast India, lives in the same property and there are log cabins, which he’s built with his own hands, available for guests. The property is completely off-grid, with electricity harnessed through solar panels and windmills, and with limited or no phone and internet connectivity at most times. It lies encircled by a stream and you can sit outside for hours watching the grazing horses, fluttering butterflies and the locals go about their daily lives. If you enjoy walking, you’re in for a treat as the Sacred Grove, one of the most beautiful forests I have seen, lies a short hike away. (www.culturalpursuits.com; Doubles from ₹1,360, Tents are available for ₹320 per person.)
Getting there: The nearest airport and railway station are in Guwahati. Buses, shared taxis or private cars can be hired to reach Mawphlang via Shillong. The journey takes about 4 hours (145km).
The lesser-known village of Darap lies about 20 minutes away (14km) from West Sikkim’s popular tourist town, Pelling. The large population of Limboos, one of Sikkim’s indigenous communities, make Darap an interesting cultural location. Daragaon Village Retreat is run by the warm Gurung family who offer accommodation in traditional huts, made of bamboo and bricks, to travellers. There’s a small pond, a gushing stream and plenty of space to lounge in the well-maintained property. The hosts guide guests for birding trips to Khecheopalri, a holy lake that lies about an hour away, to the Saturday village market, and on a low-altitude trek to Rani Dunga on request. Mrs. Gurung’s kids and their resident pup make for excellent company. (+91 9593976152, www.sikkimvillagehomestay.com; Double occupancy from ₹1,800, including breakfast.)
Getting there: The nearest airport is in Bagdogra and the nearest railway station in New Jalpaiguri, both in Siliguri, West Bengal. Hire a shared taxi or private car to reach Darap which is about a 3-hour drive (135km) away.
Kewzing, located about 20 minutes (10km) from Ravangla, is a gorgeous village in West Sikkim which is inhabited by the indigenous Bhutia community. Thirty-odd houses lie tucked away and spread across a forest area and can be accessed by an easy hike. Under the initiative of the locally formed Kewzing Tourism Development Committee, about 16 of these houses – one of which happens to be a 300-year-old traditional Bhutia house – have opened their doors to travellers. Each of these homestays have simple, fuss-free rooms for guests ,and plenty else to offer. Participate in daily prayers with the family in the traditional prayer-house, place yourself with a cup of tea in the wooden benches under the shade of trees and enjoy the view of the mountains or hike with your host to explore the village and visit the Kewzing monastery nearby. At the end of your stay, opt for a traditional herbal bath experience to prepare your limbs for the rest of your journey. (+91 9434235508, email@example.com; ₹1,880 per person including all meals and local guide.)
Getting there: The nearest airport is in Bagdogra and the nearest railway station in New Jalpaiguri, both in Siliguri, West Bengal. Hire a shared taxi or private car to reach Kewzing which is about a 4-hour drive (125km) away.
In the certified organic village of Mineral Spring, which lies a rather rugged but scenic drive away from the town of Lebong, is the Tathagata Farm. There are only two tents and two huts in the spacious farm, ensuring that you enjoy the solitude and serenity that you’ve travelled there for. As you sit in your veranda, you’ll see oranges trees as well as tea, cardamom and other crops all around you. A short walk away from the tents and huts is a swimming pool, and an open restaurant where you can enjoy delicious organic meals with a view. If you do manage to venture out of the farm, you can hike through the village to interact with the locals, enjoy a picnic or angling in a gushing river nearby, or trek through a dense evergreen forest. (+91 9932021569, www.tathagatafarm.com; From ₹4,800 for a double room, including all meals.)
Getting there: The nearest airport is in Bagdogra and the nearest railway station in New Jalpaiguri, both in Siliguri. Hire a shared taxi till Lebong and a private car onwards to reach Mineral Spring which is about a 3-hour drive (70km) away from Siliguri and one-and-a-half hour drive (15km) away from Darjeeling.
Located in Kurseong, Makaibari is known worldwide for producing the finest quality of organic tea and has also held the record of being the most expensive tea producer in India in the recent past. To accommodate the tea connoisseurs and travellers who visit Makaibari every year, 21 families of tea pluckers have opened their simple homes to guests. Here, you could try your hand at tea-plucking, go for tea-tasting sessions and see how tea is produced in the factories. The winding roads make for excellent walks and the 70 per cent forest cover allows for birding and wildlife spotting. Back at the homestay, indulge in delicious Nepalese cuisine and share stories over glasses of the local rice brew, jaad, with your homestay host. (09832447774, www.makaibari.com; ₹800 per person including all meals.)
Getting there: The nearest airport is in Bagdogra and the nearest railway station in New Jalpaiguri, both in Siliguri. Hire a shared taxi or private car to reach Makaibari Tea Estate in Kurseong which is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive (40km) away.