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. Because a number of people in the Northeast are still agriculture-dependent, seasonal festivals are a big part of the culture of the region. One can explore the traditions, indulge in local delicacies and rice beer, an essential part of the festival’s palate. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to expect at different times of the year.
Short and sweet, summer is generally a good time to plan your visit to the Northeast. On average, temperatures in the plains range from 30 to 35°C, while the hills have a 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 does receive pre-monsoon rain that is needed by the locals to plant paddy. Nature enthusiasts will be happy to know that most wildlife sanctuaries such as Kaziranga National Park in Assam are open to the public until the end of April.
Meghalaya is at its best with a few light showers – this is the best time to witness its cascading waterfalls. The Yumthang Valley (in Sikkim) between mid-April to mid-May has rhododendrons in bloom. Even the Flower Exhibition Centre in Gangtok is worth a visit since alpine flowers usually bloom between late March and April. Arunachal Pradesh’s Sessa Orchid Sanctuary with over 200 orchid species is usually resplendent with colour during March–April. Manipur hosts the Shirui Lily festival in April in Ukhrul district to coincide with the flowering of the Shirui Lily (found only in this region).
The Assamese New Year festival, Rongali Bihu and the Aoling festival of the Konyak tribe of Nagaland are observed in April. Sikkim hosts the Hee Bermiok Festival in May.
Northeast India is one of the rainiest pockets of the country during the southwest monsoon season, so be prepared for blinding sheets of rain. Intrepid travellers, who do not mind running the risk of having their travel plans derailed by floods or occasional landslides, will be rewarded with a rare sight – rivers that run full, cascading waterfalls and an entire region cloaked in vast expanses of green. There is an obvious charm of visiting the region during the rains, what with the lush green landscapes freshly rejuvenated, sprawling tea gardens and ubiquitous rice fields.
Meghalaya, the abode of clouds, in particular, is majestic during the monsoon. But do not forget to pack your wellies and a sturdy raincoat. We do, however, recommend steering clear of the plains at this time of the year since they tend to get flooded. Many of the hotels in Assam offer discounted rates during the monsoons. The national wildlife parks are closed during this period.
Tawang experiences moderate rainfall at this time of the year. The Dree Festival is observed by the Apatani tribe in the first week of July. The festival that has brought Ziro to limelight is the Ziro Music Festival; it takes place in September. In Mizoram, the Anthurium festival takes place in the same month. The Saga Dawa Festival of Sikkim is celebrated between June and July to mark the birthday of Lord Buddha and is an important occasion for the followers of Mahayana Buddhism. Another very popular festival of the state is the Pang Lhabsol Festival that pays obeisance to Mount Kanchenjunga, the guardian deity of the Lepcher community.
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 and Sikkim , some parts of Nagaland get snowfall.
While in the month 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 November. 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 Sangai festival in Manipur (November) are held during this season. Warm clothes are a must if you are visiting the Northeast between November and March.