Immerse Yourself in the Cultural Cornucopia of the Northeast

A cultural tour of the Northeast is a fascinating journey into a land that is as ancient as it is diverse. An amalgamation of its varied people and ethnicities, festivals, architecture, music, food and art, form the cultural tapestry of the region. Interestingly, despite such diverse histories and traditions co-existing here, there is an overarching cultural identity that binds the region in a cohesive bond and gives it a unique character. It’s a certain je ne ce quoi that sets it apart from the rest of India. Here, nature plays a pivotal role in the daily life of people. From its rolling tea plantations with ancient bungalows reminiscent of their colonial past, to the mighty Himalayas looming as an omnipresent benefactor over the region, to the exotic wildlife that thrives in virgin forests- the landscape forms an intrinsic part of the northeast identity. Northeast cultural tours are a celebration of this distinctive identity and a quest to discover the rich ethnic legacy of the land.

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We, the People

The northeast is home to approximately 220 different ethnic groups, with as many languages. Every tribe celebrates its cultural legacy through dance, music and traditional costumes during the myriad fairs and festivals that are celebrated around the year. The Konyak tribe are an ancient community of head hunters who live in the hinterlands of Nagaland. Their distinctive facial tattoos are earned for acts of valour and until recently, grizzly human heads adorned the front walls of Konyak homes as testaments to their bravado. The Mishing community is another well known tribe based predominantly in Assam. For several generations the tribe has been engaged in weaving, mask making and boat making in Majuli Island. A tribal village tour takes you into the heart of these ethnic settlements and gives you a fascinating insight into the lives of these people and is an interesting study into their rituals and social history. Tribal festivals are primarily agrarian in nature. Hornbill Festival in Nagaland, Khubakisei Festival in Manipur and Bihu Festival in Assam are among the best known festivals in the Northeast.

The Sound of Music

The music of the Northeast echoes ancient Chinese influences and its descending scale makes it distinct from other genres of Indian music. With so many fairs and festivals filling up the cultural calendar of the eight states, it’s no wonder that music is a major part of celebrations and life in the region. The Ziro Festival in Arunachal Pradesh is in fact the biggest outdoor music festival in India. Located in the remote but picturesque Ziro Valley, the festival is a Mecca for music lovers celebrating several genres of music from folk to western rock. There are several unusual and interesting musical instruments that come from the northeast and are widely used for traditional dances. Besides common ones like the mridanga, the patent accompanying rhythm for classical Manipuri dance, rare instruments include the Split Concussion tubes. This is a percussion instrument commonly used by the Bodo tribes. For those interested in music, a tribal village tour is a great way to discover old and obscure melodies and rare instruments.

Take the Spiritual Highroad

Different religious groups have at different times in history joined the social and cultural mosaic of the Northeast region. This has led to a plethora of interesting temples and monasteries across the eight states. The Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most popular destinations on a northeast cultural tour. This 17th century monastery, hailed as the second largest in the world is a holy site for Tibetan Buddhists as the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. A spectacular prayer room inside the monastery has an eight- metre tall statue of Buddha, while a central courtyard holds annual festivals like Losar and Torgya. The Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Assam is a famous shrine for Hindu devotees and has a fascinating history about its origin. According to legend, the Lord Shiva distraught at his wife Sati’s death carried her corpse around the world, lamenting and doing his dance of fury when Sati’s vulva fell to the ground and gave rise to the Kamakhya Temple. The unique combination of these ancient structures with the corresponding legends leads to a fascinating discovery of the region’s socio-religious history.

The Call of the Wild

For most urban settlements, Nature remains a distant presence. Mountains, streams, forest, wild animals all remain outside the parameters of city life. In the Northeast however, Nature is all pervading. While the Himalayas provide a magnificent backdrop, clear streams, rolling tea plantations, and wild flowers take up front and centre. A conversation on northeast cultural tours is incomplete without a mention of its landscape. Nature comes up as a recurring refrain in the literature, music and art of the Northeast. Dong Village in the Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh receives the second ray of sunlight after Japan. This explains why days start early in much of the northeast and evenings are short. The general pace of things starts slowing down from the afternoon and the day draws to a close at sunset. The northeast is also home to 550 species of rare and exotic orchids while 70 percent of the land is hilly terrain.

Tea Gardens Tell Forgotten Tales of Yore

A northeast cultural tour is incomplete without a visit to one of the many sprawling tea estates in the region. The northeast accounts for an astounding 70 percent of the total tea production in India. These plantations with their ancient colonial bungalows stand as relics of a bygone era. Stay at a heritage bungalow, try your hand at tea picking and experience the life of the British planter as it was at the turn of the last century.  

The northeast beckons with the promise of a deeply fulfilling journey of self discovery. Through visits to its vibrant fairs and festivals, the fascinating tribal arts and crafts tours, imposing architecture, and the diverse ethnic population who live here, the Northeast offers a cultural immersion like no other. It’s unique and with a palpable joie de vivre that you can sense every time you visit.