Introducing Northeast Tribal States
India’s 1947 partition left the northeastern states dangling like a crooked cartographic handle, way out on the edge of the national map and consciousness. Yet the great, flat Brahmaputra valley was traditionally a Vedic heartland and backdrop to several Krishna tales. And Assam’s beautiful tea plantations remain India’s most productive. In contrast, most of the mountainous surrounding states are home to a fascinatingly fragmented jigsaw of ‘tribal’ peoples. Cultures and facial features there have more in common with Burma and Tibet than with mainstream India. Arunachal Pradesh offers an especially phenomenal patchwork of hill tribes amid seemingly endless mountain ranges. These are mostly forested but crest in a series of gorgeous Himalayan ridges dotted with colourful Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries, including India’s largest at wonderful Tawang.
In recent decades many ethno-linguistic groups have jostled – often violently – to assert themselves in the face of immigration, governmental neglect and heavy-handed defence policy. Along with the infuriating permits (not required for Assam, Meghalaya or Tripura), and the lack of any truly iconic ‘must-see’ attraction, it’s the somewhat exaggerated safety worries that deter most travellers from visiting the northeast. That means you’ll meet very few foreigners in the region’s magnificent national parks. And you’ll get vast tracts of fabulous rice, tea and mountain scenery all pretty much to yourself. Quite a few insurgency campaigns do rumble on, but generally the people here are among the friendliest in the whole subcontinent. Although fabled as head-hunting warriors, most citizens of tribal states, like Mizoram and Nagaland, seem more interested these days in perfecting their English and penning rap songs about the love of Jesus.