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Shivani Kagti

Planning a girls’ trip to the Northeast?

Women travellers to the Northeast share their experiences and some great travel tips

On her website, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything, shares some wonderful insight about why she thinks women can have more memorable experiences travelling on their own. “What I mean to say is, a woman on her own does not telegraph a threat to anyone—which means that strangers all over the world will welcome you and trust you. They will let you into their houses. They will let you play with their babies. They will tell you their stories… I feel that, as a female traveler, I have had much more intimate experiences with new people than any man could ever have… I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything,” she writes. At the same time, she doesn’t discount the need for caution. “A rule of thumb: If you don’t see any women walking around alone (or at all) on the streets at night, you probably shouldn’t be there either,” she advises.

It’s pretty sound advice – one that Kolkata-based photo editor Amrita Das couldn’t agree with more. The 36-year-old, who has travelled on her own to different parts of the country, made a solo trip to Sikkim in December 2020. “Ideally, don’t travel at night. Most people from cities such as Delhi and Mumbai don’t understand realise that shops shut by 6.30-7.30pm in the mountains. It helps to acquaint oneself with the norms of the region,” Amrita says.

Amrita Das would often go for treks with a local guide during her solo trip to Sikkim

Women who are planning to travel to the Northeast on their own or as part of a women-only group, will be heartened to know that all the female travellers we spoke to only had good experiences to share. It was in 2018 that Bengaluru resident Seema Ravanan mustered the courage to travel to the Northeast with her adolescent daughter. “I had never travelled alone before; neither had I been to the Northeast. Plus, I had recently undergone a medical procedure so I was nervous,” the 49-year-old admits. But the trip went off without a hitch and the mother-daughter duo came back with great memories. From living in a quiet homestay in Jorhat in Assam to riding an elephant in Kaziranga National Park and shopping in Bara bazaar in Shillong, Meghalaya, one can hear the excitement in Ravanan’s voice as she recounts her experiences. But the biggest joy was bonding with her daughter, Anika, who was about 12 or 13 years old at the time. “We got to talk about many different things and she got to know a different side to me. At home, I am just a ‘Hitler mom’ setting rules. Here there were no interruptions, no chores….just a chance to make memories,” she adds. Seema was also bowled over by the high aesthetic sense of the people, unique food and local ingredients she found in the markets such as pea-sized potatoes, bhut julukia (ghost pepper) and one pod garlic.

Seema Ravanan with daughter Anika during a jeep safari at Kaziranga National Park

Bengaluru-based Sriranjini Vadiraj, who had travelled to Assam and Meghalaya, in an only-women group a few years ago talks about how amazed she was by people’s hospitality. “There was never a point when we didn’t feel safe. The only challenge was the lack of adequate veg food options and decent toilets when we were on the road,” says the 40-year-old, who had travelled with her mother and friend Aparna who came with her mother as well. Both in Shillong and Guwahati, the group had couple of home-cooked meals where they discovered ingredients they hadn’t tasted before such as fiddlehead ferns, black rice and a variety of leafy greens.

Sriranjini (centre) and Aparna (left) enjoying a lesson on cooking Assamese food in Guwahati with their host

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to a friend’s home in a Bodo village in Kokrajhar, Assam. “We were there during Bihu [a major harvest festival celebrated across Assam] and everyone insisted we visit their homes. There was feasting and dancing. Each house had a loom and we got to see how they use them,” recalls Sriranjini. She strongly suggests going off the beaten track and doing something “non-touristy” to really experience the flavour of the place. In terms of precautions, she advises carrying some basic first aid and medicines as one won’t find too many pharmacies on the road. Also, it helps to have a local guide or taxi driver accompany you as most locals in remote areas don’t speak Hindi or English.

Sriranjini enjoying a boat ride on the Brahmaputra with her mother

For Goa-based social media marketing consultant Gwen Stephens Jones, travelling solo has never been an issue. In fact, Gwen was in her 20s when she first decided to travel around the world on her own. So spending five days in Kalimpong, a hill station in West Bengal in April 2021, wasn’t that much of a stretch. “When travelling on your own, it helps to live in a homestay as there’s a family around you and you get to try local fare,” says Gwen, who also went on a trek accompanied by her host’s cousin who doubled up as her guide. “I always rely on local people instead of a book or the Internet. Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals who will introduce you to their customs, food and markets,” she adds. Originally from the UK, one thing that Gwen always does on her travels is get a local SIM card in order to stay connected and keep her family or hosts informed about her whereabouts. Other than that, she suggests carrying a book if you are dining out on your own to ward off unwanted attention.

Gwen on a trek during her solo trip to Kalimpong

Amrita, who also stayed at a homestay in Sikkim, says, “I prefer homestays in the Northeast as you get to interact with locals, learn about their customs and try local food. Hotels are not very personal.” During her five-day trip, Amrita went for multiple hikes accompanied by a guide and spent her evenings catching up on her reading. “Many people struggle in their own company whether you are travelling or not; I don’t have that. At the homestay, dinner would be served around 8-8.30pm, and I would feel like the day had ended too quickly. I wanted more hours to myself in the evenings,” says Amrita, with a smile in her voice.

For women who are worried about travelling alone or in a small group, she suggests sorting out transport and accommodation prior to leaving and reading up about the place. “Other than that, don’t do things like walk alone at night or draw attention by talking loudly on the phone or wear something inappropriate,” she adds. As always, it helps to inform one’s family or friends of one’s travel plans. Amrita says that she usually send her itinerary to her sisters “because I tend to be out of network so they’ll know that I’ll surface after a few days and send them a message”.

Seema, who has since travelled alone to the Chettinad region as well as gone to Dehradun with her daughter, swears by finding a reliable and known tour operator who will customise and plan the trip for you. Incidentally, her trips to the Northeast as well as the Chettinad region were planned by women with travel businesses. “If it’s a woman who has had experience of travelling alone, it makes a difference when they organise trips for other women. A man may not have the same perspective,” she explains.

So as our intrepid travellers suggest – pack right, do your research, plan your tour in advance and take that leap of faith – the rewards of discovering new places on your own or with your ‘travel sisters’ are worth it.

10 Travel tips for women travellers to the Northeast

  1. Pre-book your transport from the airport / station to your place of stay
    before you leave. Ideally, consult a reputed travel agency for
    recommendations and bookings.
  2. Research places of stay thoroughly and book in advance.
  3. Make sure to hire taxis for the duration of your stay as local transport /
    cabs may not be available or reliable in remote parts of the region.
  4. For outdoor activities – trekking or sightseeing – carry good walking
    shoes & comfortable clothes.
  5. Carry all prescribed medication as well as basic first aid and other
  6. Get a local SIM card if connectivity is a problem & you’re travelling on
    your own.
  7. Share your itinerary with family members / friends.
  8. Hire local guides for treks or sightseeing tours for a better & safer
  9. Avoid stepping out on your own after dark.
  10. Don’t be afraid to talk to & befriend locals – they can give you the best
    recommendations on what to do & where to eat.

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