Beyond 'The Chicken Neck' lay the 7 states of Northeast India – Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. All 7 states are politically and geographically distant and their indigenous communities share more in common culturally with Myanmar and other Southeast Asian nations than the rest of India. This unique adventure by plane, boat, train and road, explores the unique cultures, landscapes and wildlife of Assam and tribal Nagaland, the state that was carved out of the Assam hills in 1963. In Assam, we visit and stay on Majuli, the world's largest (and shrinking river island) and the centre of Assamese culture before going on safari in the land of the one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park. Undoubtedly the major highlight is the Hornbill Festival. The 'Festival of Festivals' brings together the 16 major tribes of Nagaland to celebrate and share their dance, sport, food and religious traditions. We attend two sessions a day over two days which also allows time for us to visit other interesting sites.
Our arrival into Kolkata will be our only taste of 'India' as you possibly know it. Kolkata is a heady mix of vibrancy and decay as the former all-powerful seat of British India until the capital was moved to Delhi in 1911. The flight from Singapore arrives late evening and we will check into our hotel to get some much-needed rest. We will regroup the following morning for breakfast. Accommodation at The Holiday Inn Kolata (B)
This morning we will meet as a group for breakfast at the hotel before leaving for a day of sightseeing. Some of the most enduring images of Kolkata are the beautifully sculpted, painted and clothed idols that captivate the city during the Durga Puja Festival. During this festival, the city comes to a virtual standstill as people flock to Kolkata for the celebrations. Each of these idols is painstakingly created from clay and bamboo in Kumartuli in the north of the city. Kumartuli literally translates to ‘potters locality’ with 550 different workshops creating idols year-round. We will wander the maze of alleyways lined with gods and goddesses in various states of creation. Kumartuli offers a fascinating insight into the rituals and skills involved in idol making and the area is a photographer’s dream. From Kumartuli we will take a public ferry to the Mullick Ghat Flower Market, the biggest in Asia and to see the grand marble edifice of the Victoria Memorial. We will lunch at the Oberoi Grand; not just a hotel but one of Kolkata’s most iconic structures. Returning to the hotel the rest of the time is free and you can dine when you wish (on your own account) (B,L)
This morning we fly to Jorhat, arriving just after midday. From the airport we stop at the 115-year-old Haroocharai Tea Estate in Jorhat for a spot of lunch – Pinky Fingers Up!
After lunch we drive to Neematighat to board our private ferries to cross the Brahmaputra River to Majuli. Checking to our accommodation on arrival, the rest of the day is free to relax and question yourself for the first time 'Am I really in India?'
Majuli is the world’s largest river island but it is slowing disappearing as the land is eroded away by floods. At the beginning of last century, it covered an area of 880 km2 and today that had been whittled away to 352 km2. The island is considered the centre of Assamese culture and is home to the medieval Xatras (monasteries) where monks, since the 16th century, have been leading an austere life mastering religious scripts, art, music, dance and handicraft. The first such Xatra was established in Majuli by the Vaishnavite seer named Srimanta Shankardev who is revered for his path-breaking contribution to the field of indigenous theatre, dance, music and visual art and craft. He believed that a harmonious society can be created only by individuals who are motivated by the need for harmony. Music was at the heart of Shankardev’s vision of a harmonious society just like Confucius of China. He combined Yoga and dance moves to create a unique dance form - Xatriya- now a classical dance form of India. Full board accommodation at the Enchanting Majuli Hotel (B,L,D)
Today we need to dress modestly with nothing short or sleeveless. Shoes which can be easily taken off are recommended as we will be spending time at the Xatras (monasteries). We will visit two Xatras including Dakshinpaat Xatra where monks lead a celibate life and the Natun Samaguri Xatra where monks are allowed to marry. It provides a good contrast. Also, Natun Samaguri Xatra is world-famous in Majuli for its Masks and Mask Making; thanks to the efforts of its Xatradhikar (Head Monk) and expert Mask Maker Sri Hem Chandra Goswami. This craft is 400 + years old and was started by the Vaishnavite Seer Srimanta Shankardev for religious plays. The Masks are made of a particular clay, found only in Majuli, cow dung, bamboo, jute and cloth. They are then moulded to represent different emotions of the character and coloured. Traditionally they were coloured with indigenous dyes but now poster paint is used. It takes about a week to make a mask. We return to our accommodation for lunch and the remainder of the day is free for you to soak up the atmosphere of beautiful Majuli. (B,L,D)
Today we will cycle to Hummingbird School (7 km one way) and spend time with the children there and share a meal with them. Later cycle around the village before cycling back to Enchanting Majuli Cycles are hired from the Majuli Cycle Café - an initiative of the Root Bridge Foundation which promotes sustainable tourism practices in India’s Northeast and the Eastern Himalayas. Transport is provided for those that don’t wish to cycle. The remainder of your time at leisure to relax or explore until our special dinner. Dinner tonight will be authentic food of the tribal Mishing community who make up nearly half the population on the island living in houses that are traditionally built on stilts. Here’s what to expect: - Porag Aapin -rice cooked in a leaf which is locally called Tora Paat. It gives a distinct flavour to the rice. Then there will be Pamnam (fish baked in banana leaf), Pamnam Chicken (chicken baked in banana leaf) and Mamsing, chutney of dry fish. And delicious home-brewed rice beer -Apong. They also serve fish, chicken and pork cooked in bamboo pipes, a traditional technique of the Mishing tribe. Vegetarian? No problem. There will be vegetarian dishes too. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, we board our private ferries to cross over to Neematighat and then continue by road to Kaziranga National Park. Checking into our accommodation on arrival. Our delightful River Lodge was where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed during their tour of India in 2016.
Kaziranga National Park - We will have 3 jeep safaris in the park covering the following ranges:
There is nothing quite like the excitement of a safari! Today we will head out both morning and afternoon on game drives in the National Park. Which range is covered on which drive will be decided with our naturalist/safari guide. (B,L,D)
This morning we will enjoy our final safari drive in Kaziranga National Park. Later we will drive to Jorhat, our staging post for our next adventure into the tribal north-eastern state of Nagaland*. *After checking in we will sort out our luggage and handover whatever is not required which will then be transported via the awful roads to Dimapur to meet us the next day at the railway station. That way we will travel light on the train the next morning. The train stops at Mariani Station (where we get on) and Dimapur Station (where we get off) for only 5 minutes and the stations may or may not have porters - so travelling light is essential! There is nothing to worry about as in addition to your tour escort, our local guide will be travelling with the group on the train so there is no chance anyone will miss our stop. Half board accommodation at Kaziranga Golf Resort (B,L,D)
This morning we have an early start. Drive to Mariani Station to board the Shatabdi Express to Dimapur.
The Shatabdi Express (Mon/Wed/Fri) departs Mariani at 07:20 hrs and arrives Dimapur at 09:03 hrs (Dimapur is the second station after Mariani).
On arrival in Dimapur we will have a late breakfast at a local hotel and then continue to Kohima. When we arrive in Kohima we will check into our accommodation. Lunch today is on your own account.
Kohima is the state capital of Nagaland, a town originally established by British Raj in 1878. The name is purely a British invention when they couldn't manage to pronounce the indigenous Angami tribal name of Kewhira. Later this afternoon we will visit the World War II cemetery. Here the Allied Forces won a decisive battle over the Japanese. There were heavy losses on both sides with war historians claiming that some of the fiercest hand-to-hand combat took place at Kohima. Located on Garrison Hill, the site of one of the battles, 1420 Commonwealth Graves are marked along with a memorial to the Sikh and Hindu soldiers who lost their lives and to the 2nd British Division who came to reinforce the Allied troops who had held a much larger Japanese Army at bay for a number of weeks. Half board accommodation at Niraamaya Retreats Aradura (B,D)
After breakfast, we head to the Hornbill Festival for our first immersion into the rich customs of song, dance and food of the tribes of Nagaland. We will attend both sessions until around 2.30 pm.
Lunch at the Festival Site (on direct payment).
Leaving the festival site, we will visit Kigwema Village which is home to the Angami Naga people, one of the major Naga ethnic groups. It is interesting to get an insight into village life beyond the cultural activities of the Hornbill Festival.
After our visit, we return to our accommodation for the night.
The Hornbill Festival, also known as the 'Festival of Festivals' is organised by Nagaland State Departments of Tourism and Arts & Culture and has been running annually since 2000. The Festival takes its name from the Hornbill Bird which is common to the folklore of all the tribes. While each of the tribes of Nagaland has its own distinct festivals during the year, the Hornbill Festival has developed into an important annual social and cultural event. It has also been a boon for the tribes of Naga's to preserve, showcase and promote understanding of their tribal customs, foods, games, dances and religious ceremonies. (B,D)
We regroup at breakfast and again head to the Hornbill Festival site to attend both sessions till around 2.30 pm. You will have another chance to sample Naga cuisine for lunch (on direct payment). We will return to our accommodation, stopping on the way at Kohima Cathedral. Nagaland is a predominately Christian state and the Mary Help of Christians Cathedral was interestingly mostly funded by Japan to commemorate its fallen soldiers at the Battle of Kohima. For those that may not be interested in the architectural or religious features of this unique cathedral, its hilltop site offers panoramic views of Kohima.
Breakfast at the hotel before we farewell Kohima and drive to Dimapur. Board your nonstop flight to Kolkata. 6E417 departs Dimapur at 12:55 hrs. Arrive Kolkata by 6E417 at 14:25 hrs. Meet and greet at Kolkata Airport and transfer to Holiday Inn Kolkata Airport. The remainder of your time at leisure. We stay tonight in Kolkata as flight delays/cancellations from Dimapur are relatively common. Accommodation at The Holiday Inn Kolata (B)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today is free or perhaps you will like to join an optional excursion to the Weaver Studio. Later this evening we transfer to the airport and check-in for our flight home.
The Weaver Studio Textile Study Centre a pioneering private initiative by Kolkata local Ms Darshan Shah dedicated to the study and sharing of knowledge on the rich textile traditions of Bengal and India. They have a collection of 1200 rare and old textiles. Here you can enjoy a creative and fun block printing workshop, creating your own piece of fabric to take home as a souvenir. After a lunch break at the Taj Bengal, there is time to browse the Weavers Studio’s retail outlet before we return to our hotel. (B)
Connecting in Singapore, we arrive back in Auckland late this evening