In Aug’16 I took a break from my corporate job to travel for a while with no plans whatsoever. Initially I had booked return flight tickets from Guwahati with an intention to travel for 13 days throughout the northeast and cover only Meghalaya and Nagaland. I used up all of my points of Citi Miles credit card to do so. As the days passed by, my excitement was increasing too. I would spend hours looking for all the places I wanted to travel to and soon I realised that 13 days was too little of a time to explore even a single state. Well, I thought to myself that I have no scarcity of leaves this time so why not explore it all or explore it till I want to. Unfortunately, I lost the points for my return flight (Yes, you don’t get them back!, be sure of your plans before using those points for the flight tickets)
On the morning of 18th Aug’16 I left for Guwahati. I had a very loose plan in my mind which was like this -> To volunteer in an organic tea farm near Roing, Arunachal (Roing Anini Circuit of Arunachal) for two weeks. Next was to explore Meghalaya for around 10 days. Cover parts of Assam in between as Assam being the centre you have to come back there again and again. Next was to cover Nagaland. And then Tawang and Ziro circuit of Arunachal. While coming back I had plans to cover durga pooja in West Bengal and volunteer for few days in Sunderbans.
I got inner line permit for Nagaland from Delhi only with a plan to get the ILP for Arunachal Pradesh in Guwahati itself. Except for the first two week’s of accommodation I had nothing else planned. Nervousness seeped in as the flight took off. There were thousands of thoughts running in my mind. It was still little hard to believe this extreme change in events where one day you are into a 9-5 job and then next day you have no plans whatsoever. This uncertainty was liberating and making me nervous at the same time. I had travelled solo before but never for this long. Earlier trips were mostly planned and for 2 days to maximum one week.
To all of those willing to go on their first trip solo and not being able to find the courage to do so I will say do it! There will never be the perfect time ever and there will always be lot of questions and inhibitions created by your own mind. Only if you can look beyond those and come on the opposite side that you will realize what all you are capable of doing.
Well, coming back to the question that title of the post talks about, there were so many things that went wrong. But all of them made me learn something. Nonetheless, it was the best trip of my life till now. Three months on the road living out of the backpack taught me so much and made me a wiser person than how I had left.
I am jotting down few practical tips/ learnings from my experience and mistakes which might help you if you are planning a trip for yourself.
1) Don’t Overpack
I can’t stress enough on this point. I carried a 75 litres backpack. During the trip I realised that I didn’t even use half of my stuff even once. Remember, that you are the one who has to carry that bag through the public transport, along the way from hotel to the bus stop. It’s going to be on your back for all those months on the road so pack wisely. I met a Romanian girl on the way who was on her 6 months of backpacking trip through Asia. We travelled together for awhile and she was carrying a 50 litres backpack and she had everything that one would need while on the road.
2) Sort out your permits:
Indians need permits for the state of Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. For Arunachal different permit is needed for every circuit. One can get the permit in Delhi, Kolkata or Guwahati. Cost is different for different durations of permit (One month, 15 days or a week). Plan your dates accordingly.
3) Wrap up your day before the sunset
It was surprising for me to see sunshine as early as 4 in the morning and the roads are deserted as soon as the sun sets in. Being a solo female traveller, I made sure that I reach back to my hotel before it got dark. Safety measure that I religiously followed for the three months except for my days in Meghalaya as I travelled with a group there.
4) Figure out your accommodation in case you are reaching a place late in the evening
I made the mistake of arriving late in Ziro and I got myself into a problem which could have lead to something much worse which I don’t want to think about. Fortunately, I tackled the situation wisely and that made me learn my lesson to always have a backup when arriving late into an unknown place. Having fun and going with the flow is okay but still one should always stay cautious of one’s surrounding while travelling alone.
5) Public transport is the best way of travelling Northeast on a budget
I absolutely love sitting by the window and looking outside. For some it maybe boring but this is one of the things that I love most about travelling solo. Not only it’s cheap but it’s a great opportunity to strike a conversation with the locals. Place can be explored better in the local’s way and I met some of the most amazing folks during my time in public transport. I got the chance to explore Ziro the way I did because of taking shared Sumo for all my commutes during my time there. Not to mention I hitchhiked the whole time I was there. However, while hitchhiking as a female solo traveller one needs to be extra careful.
6) Take the local’s advice on planning your itinerary
We tech savvy generation of today rely too much on the google for everything. And most of the times it works well. But for northeast I would strongly recommend to take a local’s advice while planning next steps/ halts of your journey. Trust me it saved me from taking a longer route so many times plus they always give you extra tips. The information you would never get on internet.
7) Try the local food
Being a non vegetarian I have no inhibitions when it comes to trying new kinds of food. Northeasterns are very innovative when it comes to food. I came across a different recipe of pork in almost every state I visited there. Fish I had in one of the dhabas on the way from Cherrapunji to Shillong was one of the best I had till date. Here is the cheat sheet of budget travel hacks.
8) Go with the flow
It’s important to be responsible and cautious but always leave the scope for flexibility. I had no plans to travel to Majuli in the first place but this was the only place I visited twice during three months of travel. I loved the nongriat village in Meghalaya so much that I extended my stay there. Mawphlong was another place that wasn’t in the list of places for Meghalaya. And now I would go back to Meghalaya just for Mawphlong. In northeast you are always in for surprise and there is so much to explore that you would end up changing your plans anyway. I know I did that uncountable times.
9) Be respectful of the local culture and people
Northeast India is mostly inhabited by the tribes and their culture is so much different from ours. And this certainly creates curiosity, however please be respectful. I noticed in Northeast the Apatani women were shy of camera and so I refrained to shoot them until one of them agreed. I was curious to see the interiors of an Apatani home for which I knocked on the door and politely asked for the same. It’s important to talk to the people and not just click pictures with them for social media because nobody likes to be put on display. Being a traveller try to break the ice and then you won’t be surprised to be invited not only in their homes but in their hearts too.
10) Couchsurfed for the first time
I had never couchsurfed before so I was little nervous the first time I did so in Guwahati. But, my experience really boosted my confidence in this way of travelling. The host was a traveller himself and we shared lot of travel stories. He was even kind enough to show me around the best corners of the city. Trust me, I had been to Guwahati couple of times but this time the city was entirely new to me.
Above points summarizes few things I learnt from my experiences while backpacking in NorthEast India. Let me know if you have had similar experiences while traveling solo for long term. If you are planning that trip of yours to venture out alone and need that extra nudge of inspiration then buzz me up!
In my future posts I will be sharing detailed information about how I travelled in each of the Northeastern states. Stay tuned if you would love to know my travel tales from NorthEast India. Happy Travels!