What precautions do I need to take?
Please note that the tips in this post are applicable only if someone is following a minimalist agenda on the road less travelled. As a regular tourist to north east India, you do not need to arm yourself, worry about insurgents, etc.
North east India is one big forest. The lungs of the east, if you may. Save the plains of Assam, the region is also mountainous. As such, it makes for an ideal terrain to camp. Here’s what Dzukou Valley looks like.
Experienced hikers / campers would know the importance of maintaining an apolitical stance and relying on your gut / intuition / hunch (or whatever else it may be referred to as).
In addition, let me share a few things that I found useful in north east India.
Guest houses are not expensive. Given that the region is yet to bloom on the tourist map, most of the places (except perhaps Aizawl) offer relatively cheaper boarding as compared to other destinations in India. You could sleep for as low as ₹ 200 – ₹ 400 for a night. So this is the first tip. Should you ‘feel’ unsafe, just know that you do not have to shell a fortune to find a room to sleep. Keep that money aside at all times. In remote areas, religious places like churches or temples may offer free beds too.
Arm yourself. In the wilderness, the usual risk from animals/reptiles may persist. So keep a daav (machete) handy. You would notice locals carrying it all the time (depicted in the picture below). Its also helpful to slash tall grass if you find yourself hiking through uncharted territory. PS: If you come across an elephant, there’s not much you can do. The daav is not particularly useful. Moreover, elephants, like hoolock gibbons, are revered in parts of north east. Simply pray that it chooses to ignore you. 🙂
You could buy a daav / machete from any market.
Insurgents – their argument is not with visitors. It is worth to mention that a few places in the north east India continue to be affected by insurgencies. Many of these groups operate from jungles / forests along the state or international borders. From what I experienced, it is not the insurgents who pose a threat, since their argument is not with travellers. Rather, the threat comes from their duplicates posing as the Real McCoy. Word on the street is that these ‘duplicates’ could peel off your skin for whatever your pocket’s worth. Sometimes even ₹ 25 to get that next shot of syrup or whatever their poison is. It is best to avoid camping in forests along the borders. But if you nonetheless happen to venture in (as I did too), then for your own safety, always inform the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) or the Range Forest Officer (RFO) about your plans. These officers along with their forest guards serving in these terrains carry ‘courage’ as their middle name. They are your saviours.
Respect. Remember always that, as a traveller, you are on someone else’s land. Respect the owners. Seek permission from locals / authority before you pitch that tent. Languages or dialects change rapidly in north east India. Learn these on the go. Pick up words to seek directions, ask for food, water, police, doctor, telephone, etc. Talk to people, enjoy food at local eateries. Essentially, live their life.
Bottom line: People in the region are incredible hosts. They would make sure you bring back the choicest of memories.