A Tribal Odyssey: Culture and wildlife of North East India
A small group tour led by Zara Fleming
Thursday 01 To Sunday 18 November 2018
You will be accompanied on this journey by Zara Fleming, a lecturer, independent art consultant and experienced tour leader. Zara specialises in the art and culture of the Buddhist Himalayas and Myanmar and has been travelling in the Himalayas for over 40 years. Originally based at the Asian Department of thr V & A, she has specialist knowledge of Buddhist art and lectures at the Arts Society (formerly NADFAS). She has been responsible for the Tibetan and Himalayan collections at the V&A Assistant Projects Director in Europe for the Orient Foundation and has curated several exhibitions including Asia: Body,Mind,Spirit and The Tiger in Asian Art for Asia House in London.
London • Kolkata •Ziro • Majuli • Sibsagar • Mon • Jorhat • Kaziranga • Guwahati • Kolkata • London
(Meals: B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner)
Depart from London Heathrow or Regional UK Airport by Emirates Airlines flight via Dubai for Kolkata.
You will arrive in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in the morning and will be met by our representative and transferred by an air-conditioned vehicle to Hotel Oberoi Grand to check-in, and will have the rest of the day to relax and catch up on sleep after your flight.
There will be a pre-dinner talk by Zara.
Hotel: Oberoi Grand. (D)
Kolkata was the capital of British India until 1911, and it remains the capital of West Bengal. A vast and impressive city, the architecture is particularly varied, from the Indo-Saracenic Victoria Memorial to the neo-Classical Marble Palace, and the Gothic St. Paul’s Cathedral to the striking modernism of Kolkata Museum of Modern Art, which is currently under construction
You will spend your first morning in the city on the ‘In the footsteps of the Raj’ walking tour, which starts in Dalhousie Sqaure and lasts three hours including the visit to Victoria Memorial. You will appreciate the city’s architectural heritage, and learn a little of its history as you walk.
Hotel: Oberoi Grand. (B,D)
Take the very early morning flight to Guwahati (Air India flight AI9739 depart Kolkata 0550 arrive Lilabari 0845 – flight will touchdown in Guwahati). The domestic Lilabari Airport is in Assam, five hours’ drive from one of the most beautiful hill stations of Arunachal Pradesh: Ziro. Ziro is located at 1,500m above sea level, surrounded by the pine-clad mountains which are the homeland of 50,000 Apatani people. The Apatani Valley is exceptionally lush and fertile, and has been proposed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on account of its extremely high agricultural productivity and unique ways of preserving the ecology.
After checking into at attractive log cabin at the Blue Pine Ziro Resort, you will stretch your legs with a walking tour of Ziro’s fruit and vegetable market. Arunachal’s traders come here to sell not only their fresh produce, but silk worms and textiles as well. It’s a lively, colourful place, with excellent opportunities for photography.
Hotel: Blue Pine. (B,L,D)
Using Ziro as a base, you will spend a full visiting Hong and Hari, two nearby Apatani villages. A warm welcome is guaranteed.
As E.T. Dalton noted when he visited in 1845, “The [Apatani] men do not rejoice in much drapery, they wear a girdle of canework painted red which hangs behind in long bushytail.” Just as the tail is the distinctive part of the male dress, so is the nose plug peculiar to the Apatani women. It is the ambition of each woman to wear the largest possible nose plugs, which are made of wood. Both sexes extensively tattoo their faces. Each sect has distinctive features. Their hats, clothes, ornaments, language and even physical features are totally different.
In addition to meeting with members of the Apatani community, learning from them about their fascinating way of life, you will also witness an Apatani tribal dance performance. This is an incredibly special experience, one which will not be easily forgotten.
Hotel: Blue Pine. (B,L,D)
Leaving Ziro after breakfast, today will be a full day excursion to the village of Raga to see the Hill Miri Tribes. It’s a 2-3 hour drive each way, but the scenery along the way is most beautiful, and the Raga are engaging hosts. You will have time to look around Raga and to converse with people you meet. The Hill Miri will also perform their tribal war dance for you.
In the late afternoon you will return to Ziro in time for supper and a good night’s sleep at Blue Pine Siiro Resort.
Hotel: Blue Pine Siiro Resort. (B,L,D)
Day four is quite an adventure, and you’ll see India’s northeast by both road and river. It will take 5-6 hours to drive to the bank of the Sunabsari River, then one hour more to cross by ferry to Majuli Island. Having left Ziro early, you will reach your hotel, Me Po Okum, in time for a late lunch.
In the afternoon you will explore Majuli Island. The world’s largest river island, Majuli is famous for its 22 15th-century satras. These are Hindu Vaishnavite (followers of Lord Vishnu) monasteries, functioning as centres of Assamese arts as the worship of Lord Vishnu is through dance, music and poetry. (B,L,D)
First thing this morning you will explore the villages of the Mishing tribes who live on Majuli . These Mishing are speakers of a Tibeto-Burman language, and are well-regarded for their folk music traditions as well as their sophisticated agricultural practices. The monks come to live and study at the satras from childhood. Their daily routine includes working in the fields, tending cattle, prayer, theological discussion, and study.
Historically the satras have also nurtured certain art and craft traditions, which now survive only here. Natun Samugri, for instance, is renowned for mask making; Kamlabari Satra still produces the finest boats. You will have the chance to see the masks used not for decoration but for their original purpose in worship, during a masked dance performance. You will also watch a dance performance at a local satra
Hotel: Me Po Okum. (B,L,D)
After a relaxed morning and breakfast you will board the ferry to cross the river to Neematighat (1-2 hours, depending on the water level) and drive on to Sibsagar (2 hours).
You are now in the ancient kingdom of the Ahoms, which thrived in the medieval period. The Tai-speaking Ahoms came to this area from Yunnan, China, in the 13th century, and their culture and language are quite distinct from those of the neighboring communities. The town of Rangpur was the Ahom capital in the 18th century, but today it is a tea processing town.
This afternoon’s sightseeing should be very interesting for both history and architecture lovers.
The 200 year old Sibsagar tank, a hand-dug reservoir, dominates the centre of the town, and three important temples line its banks. The temples -- the Shivadol, the Vishnudol, and the Devidol -- were all built by Queen Madambika, wife of Siva Singha, in 1734, and the Shivadol is believed to be the highest Siva Temple in India, rising to 104 feet. There may also be time to visit two other Ahom monuments, Rang Ghar (the royal sports pavilion) and Kareng Ghar (also known as Gorgaon Palace).
Hotel: Brahmaputra. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you will start the drive to Mon, which should take 6 hours. The road winds its way through numerous tea gardens, so you will likely see the colourfully-dressed tea pickers at work. A few bureaucratic formalities are required at the border with Nagaland, and then you’ll cross into the state.
Ceremony and protocol are still important parts of everyday life in Nagaland. You will stop at one of the first Naga Villages on the way and visit its famous morung. You will also pay your respects to the Angh (King) if he is available. You will then proceed to Mon to check in at Helsa Morung, your home for the next three nights.
Hotel: HelsaMorung. (B,L,D)
The district of Mon is in the extreme northeastern part of Nagaland, and historically the tribes who lived here were head hunters! That practice thankfully declined with the arrival of missionaries in the 19th century, but many other traditions have been retained.
Over this two-day period you will have the change to visit a succession of tribal villages, including Longwa, Shenga Chiniyu, Hongpoi, and Waktching. Each of the villages has a unique identity, and its inhabitants will welcome you warmly. The Konyak were historically warriors, and some still have culturally significant tattoos. The number of tattoos used to be indicative of the number of heads they’d collected. The Angh (headman) in Longwa rules over 60 Konyak villages, and his home is half in India, half in Myanmar as it’s located right on the border.
Hotel: HelsaMorung. (B,L,D)
It will take 6-7 hours to reach Jorhat by road, but you will break the journey en route with a visit to Charaideo Maidam, the sacred burial grounds of Ahom kings and queens. This is also the place where the Ahoms’ ancestral gods are said to reside. You will have a second stop at Nazira for lunch, and then be in Jorhat by mid afternoon.
Jorhat is the land of tea plantations: Assam’s world-famous tea originates here. The majority of the tea factories and packaging facilities are in the city centre; and plantations dot the surrounding landscape, making for lovely views along our route.
Hotel: Kaziranga Golf Resort. (B,L,D)
Assam tea is a must at breakfast time, and this morning you’ll become quite the aficionado! You will visit a tea processing centre for a tour, then put your taste buds to the test during a tea tasting with an expert. Refreshed, you’ll then drive on to the Kaziranga National Park (approx. 2 hours). On arrival, check in to IORA The Retreat.
The Kaziranga National Park, which sprawls over 430 sq km of Assam, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and jumped to international media attention in 2016 when Prince William and Kate came here on a jungle safari. What is far more important, however, is that it is one of the last bastions of the endangered great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the global population of which is around 1,500.
Kaziranga’s stunningly beautiful landscape comprises savannah grassland, the green and fertile plains of the Brahmaputra River, as well as evergreen, deciduous, and swamp forests. The park is a haven for more than 300 species of birds, as well as wild elephant, Asiatic wild buffalo, Bengal tiger, leopard, sloth bear, and many species of deer. You can expect to see many different types of wildlife during your first foray into the park, an afternoon jeep safari..
Hotel: IORA The Retreat. (B,L,D)
Riding on elephant* back into the national park is the highlight of many guests’ visit to Kaziranga. Not only do you have an elevated view, but the presence of the elephant is much less alarming than that of a vehicle, so you can get much closer to the other animals around you. Elephant numbers are limited, so you will take the elephant safari in a small, intimate group.
There will be two other opportunities to explore the park today, on jeep drives in the morning and afternoon. This enables you to see different ecosystems within Kaziranga, and to fully appreciate the flora and fauna found there. Hotel: IORA The Retreat. (B,L,D)
*Riding on elephant
It is hoped that we can arrange elephant rides in the park, as this is often the highlight of guests’ visits to Kaziranga. However, elephant numbers are limited and the rides are in high demand and cannot be booked in advance. On arrival in the park we will try and book, as riding on an elephant enables one to get much closer to other animals than travelling in a vehicle.
On your penultimate day in Assam, you will drive after breakfast to Guwahati (approx. 5 hours) and check in at the impressive Taj Vivanta hotel. There will be time to freshen up and have lunch before your afternoon visit to the Kamakhya Temple,a shakti temple on Nilachal Hill in the western part of the city.
Kamakhya Temple is a complex of multiple temples, each dedicated to a different form of the the mother goddess. It is an important pilgrimage destination for many Hindu and Tantric worshippers, and used to be a place of human sacrifices, though today only animal sacrifices are conducted.
Your final dinner — a feast of Assamese cuisine — will be at Vivanta by Taj.
Hotel: Vivanta by Taj. (B,L,D)
This may be your final day in India’s northeast, but the sightseeing is not yet done! You still have time to explore the village of Sualkuchi, situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra River to the north of Guwahati.
Sualkuchi is noted for its community of weavers, who are said to produce some of the best quality silk in the state. It’s estimated that there are 17,000 silk looms here, which makes Sualkuchi the most productive silk-producing village in the world. No wonder the village’s nickname is Manchester of the East!
You will be able to watch the weavers at work, and learn how they produce silks of different styles and qualities. The gentle click-clacking of bamboo looms is audible on every street. You can buy the beautiful indigenous silks directly from the artisans, or from the government-run stores. A silk shawl or jacket is the perfect souvenir to take home.
Sadly it is now time to depart, and you will board your flight to Kolkata from Guwahati at 18.50.
Arrival Kolkata at 2000.Trasfer to Viceroy hotel for overnight stay.
Hotel: Viceroy. (B,L,D)
After breakfast transfer to Kolkata airport for your homebound flight on Emirates Airlines via Dubai. (B)
- How to Book this Tour
- Travel Insurance
*The US Dollar price is based on the exchange rate in April 2017. Contact us for the most up-to-date price for this tour.
- International flights with Emirate airlines inclusive all taxes in economy class.
- International flight from Kolkata to Lilabari and Guwahati.
- Accommodation as mentioned in the itinerary.
- Meal Plan: Breakfast, Lunch and dinner throught out the tour except in Kolkata where only breakfast and dinner is included.
- All transfers and sightseeing arrangements as mentioned in the itinerary by Chauffeur driven private vehicles.
- Entry fee for monuments and places of interest.
- Service of local English Speaking Guide.
- Services of Zara Fleming as Trip Scholar.
- Mineral water while travelling and on sightseeing.
Cost does not include:
- Visa fee for India. We will send helpful information on visas on booking.
- Meals other than specified as included
- Travel Insurance. You can obtain a comprehensive travel insurance from Travel & General click here
- Expenses of a personal nature (mini-bar, phone call, laundry, etc.)
- To book this tour , please compete the booking form, sign and e-mail it to us. A non-refundable deposit of £500.00 per person is needed at the time of booking. Balance payments will be due 8 weeks before departure. You can make the deposit payment by debit card or electronic transfers to our bank. Our Bank details are on the booking form. Bookings are confirmed on first come first served basis. When the tour is full we will take about 5 additional names on the waiting list to replace their booking with any cancellations etc.
- If you wish to join the tour and fly from any country other than United Kingdom please contact us for land only arrangements.
It is essential to have adequate insurance in place before your departure. This should be appropriate for your age, health and destination you are visiting.
- It includes comprehensive medical and repatriation cover.
- It provides cover for your whole trip (whether one day or over a year).
- It covers you for all activities.
- Disclose pre-existing medical conditions.
- Take your policy number and the 24-hour emergency contact numbers with you.
- If you are making multiple trips we recommend that you take a yearly travel insurance policy.
If you have any question about your cover, please check with your insurer.
For a comprehensive travel insurance quote - please click here