When you think about traveling to India, famous tourist destinations like the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, and the bustling streets of Mumbai might immediately spring to mind. Also, tikka masala. Because who doesn’t love tikka masala?
But India is a massive nation, and travelers who stick to the well-worn tourist trail will miss out on a lot of the special experiences it has to offer.
Last year, Sam and I had the opportunity to travel to Nagaland—a northeastern Indian state bordering Myanmar—for Sam’s good friend Atsen’s wedding. Not only were we thrilled to stand beside a good friend on his wedding day but the event also allowed us to spend some time exploring a remote Indian state very few foreigners will ever see.
With a rich tribal history, gorgeous landscapes, and a unique culinary tradition, Nagaland is certainly worth a visit on a tour of India—though getting there takes some doing!
Here are some things you should know before planning a trip to Nagaland, India:
What to Know Before Visiting Nagaland
Dimapur is the main entry point.
Though not the capital, Dimapur is home to the state’s only airport and likely where you will start your travels. At the time of our visit, the airport received only a few flights per day from Kolkata and Delhi. You will likely need to originate or layover in one of those cities to get to Nagaland if you’re traveling by air. Two domestic airlines fly into Dimapur: Air India and IndiGO. We flew from Atlanta to Mumbai on Delta Airlines and then on to Dimapur on Air India.
Very few tourists visit Nagaland.
We saw very few other tourists while we were in Nagaland. Actually, I’m not sure if we saw any. Unlike at places like the Taj Mahal or Jaipur, Nagaland is far off the well-worn tourist trail. So while the tourist infrastructure is not well developed, travelers willing to work a bit harder will be in for a wonderful, unique travel experience.
A visa might be necessary.
As Americans, our Indian e-visa was sufficient for travel to Nagaland. Be sure to check the visa requirements for visitors from your home country. (Americans can apply for their India visa here. Ours was approved within 72 hours and we did not have to send away our passports.)
You will have to register upon arrival.
Once we arrived in the terminal in Dimapur, we were instructed to register our visit with the Dimapur police at a kiosk in the airport. Apparently, we stood out as foreigners! Thankfully, the process was quick and easy and we were soon on our way.
Most people speak English.
Because we were traveling to such a remote part of the world, we were worried that we would face a pretty extreme language barrier. But we were surprised to discover that nearly everyone we met spoke at least passable English, and many people spoke English fluently. (Most Nagas can speak three or more languages/dialects, something that made us feel like massive underachievers.)
Nagaland is part of India, but also distinct.
As we spent time with Atsen and his friends and family, we discovered that even though Nagaland is a part of India, it is also distinct from the rest of the nation in many ways. It has its own unique history, culinary tradition, dress, and religious practices. And because of its geographical location, its culture has a lot of influences from neighboring nations. So don’t expect to find the India of Bollywood films in Nagaland.
It has a prevalent tribal culture.
There are 16 major tribes in Nagaland. And though we didn’t notice many differences on the surface as outsiders, any Naga you ask will be able to tell you which one they belong to. Each tribe has a different culture, including traditions, food, and dialects—something that became particularly evident during the wedding festivities, as the bride and groom belonged to two different tribes. As with any destination, taking some time to learn about the local culture will give you a much richer travel experience. We were fascinated to learn about Nagaland’s tribes, since the concept of tribal culture is very foreign to us as North Americans.
Don’t expect tikka masala.
If you wander into any Indian restaurant in America, you will likely find a list of Indian “staples,” including tikka masala, buttered chicken, naan, etc. But in India—like in most other nations—the food varies by region. We learned that many of the Indian dishes we were most familiar with were actually more common in southern India. In Nagaland, particularly in Atsen’s tribe, bamboo shoots and pork are both incredibly common. (Sam, who will eat nearly anything, developed a particular dislike for bamboo shoots during a previous visit to Nagaland!.) In order to get the true Naga experience, it is important to sample the authentic local cuisine.
Christianity is the dominant religion.
When most people think of religions in India, they tend to think of Hinduism, which is the most widely practiced religion in the nation. But Christianity is by far the most widespread religion in Nagaland. In fact, our friend Atsen likes to joke that there are more Baptist churches in Nagaland than there are in our home state of Georgia! So don’t be surprised if you see more churches than temples dotted throughout the area.
The roads are challenging.
We’ve experienced some pretty sketchy roads throughout our travels, especially in places like Uganda and Sri Lanka. But the roads in Nagaland are unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Many are unpaved with dangerously huge ruts. We blew out a tire on our drive out toward the mountains. Thankfully, we had a spare handy. If you plan to drive, proceed with caution and prepare to face some challenges!
Auto rickshaws are abundant (in the city).
Within the city, auto rickshaws make up the bulk of the traffic. As always, be sure to negotiate a price before getting into the vehicle to ensure you get the best price.
Power is unreliable.
I’m not sure if this is normal or just our experience, but during the five days we spent in Nagaland, we lost power at least once or twice per day. Sometimes it would return quickly; other times it would be out for an hour or more. We were glad we traveled with our power bank so we could charge our electronics even when the electricity was spotty.
The restaurant/cafe culture is still developing.
Though not as developed as in other parts of India, the restaurant and coffee culture is beginning to develop in Nagaland—which is unsurprising considering excellent coffee is grown in the state. Sam even bought a bag of locally grown coffee to take home.
Don’t stay in the city.
Your flight will land in Dimapur, but don’t stay there! The real beauty of Nagaland is evident once you leave the city behind and enjoy the beautiful mountainous landscape. I wasn’t able to explore the surrounding area very much, because we were pretty tied up with wedding festivities the few days we were in Nagaland. But Sam was able to explore more of the rural areas on a previous visit, and he was amazed by the beautiful landscapes.
People are incredibly hospitable.
One thing that amazed me during my brief stay in Nagaland was how hospitable the Naga people we met were. Even though I only knew one person in the entire state when we arrived, we were welcomed into homes, fed delicious homemade meals, and treated incredibly kindly. They all seemed genuinely pleased to introduce us to their culture. By the time we flew home we had made many new friends!
Though it isn’t on the tourist trail and little-known outside of India, Nagaland is a fantastic destination for adventurous travelers who aren’t afraid to get off the beaten track! It might take some extra effort—and quite a few flights—a trip to Nagaland, India, is an experience you won’t soon forget!
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