Best time to visit the Northeast

Is there a best time to visit the Northeast? No, to be honest! 🙂 The region is gorgeous in every season and depends on what you want to do on your holiday. Are you planning to chase waterfalls? Watch wildlife? Or do you wish to celebrate a festival or two with the locals? Let me share a small story that illustrates the wide-ranging beauty and climate of the Northeast.

On a family vacation some years ago, we were driving up from the plains of Assam to the higher reaches of Tawang in Arunachal. It was April and orchids were in bloom in the temperate climes of Arunachal’s plains where crystal clear streams sparkled under the sunlight. As we climbed higher and got closer to Sela Pass situated at 13,700 feet above sea level, it got freezing cold. It was the first time I had seen snow and we had a great time mucking about in the cold slushy mountains of Arunachal. That’s the beauty of a holiday in the Northeast. This gorgeous region is full of surprises even in terms of the weather!

Like the rest of the country, the Northeast of India experiences three main seasons – summer, monsoon and winter. However, depending on which part of the region you visit – the plains or the hills – there can be marked variations in temperature. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to expect at different times of the year.

Summer – April to May

Short and sweet, summer is generally a good time to plan your visit to the Northeast. On an average, temperatures in the plains range from 30 to 35°C, while the hills have a mean temperature of around 20°C. So, depending on where you are situated, the weather will range from hot and humid to pleasantly warm. Nonetheless, the region receives pre- monsoon rain that is needed by the locals to plant paddy. It is a great time to visit if you want to catch the Assamese New Year festival, Rongali Bihu in April, marked by colourful dancing and traditional feasts. Nature enthusiasts will be happy to know that most wildlife sanctuaries such as Kaziranga National Park in Assam are open to public until May. It’s a good time to catch animals at their favourite watering holes.

If you happen to be in Yumthang Valley (in Sikkim) between March to May, there’s a good chance of catching the hill state in full bloom. Even the Flower Exhibition Centre in Gangtok is worth a visit since alpine flowers usually blossom between late March and April. Arunachal Pradesh’s Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, which is home to over 200 orchid species, is usually resplendent with colourful orchids during March-April. Manipur hosts the Shirui Lily festival in Ukhrul district in this season. Meghalaya is at its best with a few light showers and cascading waterfalls.

Monsoon – June to September

Northeast India is one of the rainiest pockets of the country during the southwest monsoon season. Almost 30% of the seasonal rainfall is contributed by this region so be prepared for blinding sheets of rain. Intrepid travellers, who don’t mind running the risk of having their travel plans derailed by floods or landslides, will be rewarded with a rare sight. Rivers that run full, cascading waterfalls and an entire region cloaked in verdant green.

Meghalaya, the abode of the clouds, in particular, is majestic during the monsoon.  But don’t forget to pack your wellies and a sturdy raincoat. We, however, recommend steering clear of the plains at this time of the year since they tend to get flooded by the overflowing waters of the Brahmaputra. A lot of hotels offer  monsoon discounts. Tawang experiences moderate rainfall at this time of the year.

Winter – October to March

Most locals would recommend autumn-winter as the perfect time of the year to visit every region of the Northeast. The weather ranges from pleasant to freezing cold depending on the month and altitude. And apart from the higher parts of Arunachal Pradesh, like west Kameng and Tawang, there is no snowfall. While the mean January temperature in the valley region of Assam is around 16 °C, the temperatures in the mountainous region of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland hover around a maximum of 14 °C and a sub-zero minimum temperature.

After recovering from the fury of the monsoon, most wildlife sanctuaries re-open to the public in September. Numerous harvest and cultural festivals such as the Hornbill festival of Nagaland (December), Magh Bihu in Assam (January), Myoko festival in Arunachal (March) and the Anthurium festival in Mizoram (September) are held during this stretch. Manipur hosts the Sangei festival in November. Warm clothes are a must if you are visiting the Northeast between November and March.