That tourism in Northeast India is predominantly nature-based is a well established fact. Its many national parks, sanctuaries, reserves and wealth of animal life draws visitors to this region eastwards of the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ (the Siliguri corridor that connects the Seven Sister States and Sikkim to the rest of India). To say that the Northeast is equal parts civilization and untamed wild, is no hyperbole. Assam, in particular, is known for its world famous reserves. In fact, the forest cover constitutes about 35 per cent of the total geographical area of the state, effectively making it a biodiversity hub. The Brahmaputra is the potent lifeblood that sustains this large ecosystem – home to a plethora of flora and fauna that thrive in this evergreen environment. However, the river is also the primary cause of havoc and destruction in these parts of the country.

Floods are a common occurrence during monsoons, and they result in huge loss of life, property and crops in the Brahmaputra basin. Thus, most of Assam’s parks and reserves shut down during this season. In winter, the river becomes somewhat tamer, as the water recedes and the parks re-open. The weather is agreeable too, which makes the wildlife experience quite pleasurable.

Dhritiman Mukherjee
A Great Indian rhinoceros crossing a trail in Kaziranga NP
A great Indian rhinoceros crossing a trail in Kaziranga NP

There are a total of 16 national parks and 54 wildlife sanctuaries in the northeastern region of India. Assam itself has five national parks, which cover 2.51 per cent of the state’s landmass and 18 wildlife sanctuaries, which make for 1.88 per cent of its geographical area. Amongst these, two – Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park – are World Heritage Sites recognised by UNESCO. Kaziranga National Park is the largest protected area in the state with an area of 858.98sq km, followed by the Manas National Park with 500sq km. Nameri and Dibru- Saikhowa national parks are fairly large as well spreading over a total area of 200sq km and 340sq km respectively.

The Khangchendzonga National Park in Sikkim is spread across an area of 850sq km and is home to many endangered species and preseves a rich biosphere with medicinal plants, herbs and alpine grasses. The Namdapha National Park comes under the Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot in Arunachal Pradesh, covering an area of 1,985sq km. There are also various tribal settlements within the area of the park.

The Pakke Tiger Reserve, also in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, houses 2,000 species of plants, 300 species of birds, and over 30 species of mammals in its area of

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Where to Go                       What to Watch Out For

Kaziranga NP                       Great Indian rhinoceros

Manas NP                            Royal Bengal tiger

Dibru-Saikhowa NP             Feral horses

Nameri NP                           Royal Bengal tiger, Asiatic elephant

Khangchendzonga NP         Snow leopard, Himalayan black bear

Namdapha NP                     Indian giant squirrel

Pakke Tiger Reserve           Tiger, clouded leopard

Phawngpui NP                     Tiger, leopard cat, Asiatic black bear

Sepahijala WLS                    Clouded leopard, jungle fowl, rhesus

Balpakram NP                      Water buffalo, red panda

Nokrek NP                           Stump-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque

861.95sq km. Located in the blue mountains of Mizoram on an area of 550sq km, the Phawngpui National Park is a heaven for naturalists as well. The Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary in Tripura covers a comparatively smaller area of 18.53sq km and houses a botanical garden, a deer park and a zoo on its premises. The Balpakram National Park and the Nokrek National Park, both in Meghalaya, are home to some of the rarest species of wildlife.

Guneet Narula
Great pied hornbill, Pakke Tiger Reserve
Great pied hornbill, Pakke Tiger Reserve

Reserves in the Northeast are made up of many forest types, namely tropical wet evergreen, tropical semi evergreen, tropical moist deciduous, tropical dry deciduous, sub tropical pine forests and savannah grasslands. These jungles are home to many mammals, but the pride of place belongs to the great Indian rhinoceros in Kaziranga NP. The Royal Bengal tiger, Asiatic elephant, hoolock gibbon, eastern swamp deer, Assamese macaque, rhesus macaque, stump-tailed macaque, mongoose, Indian giant squirrel, leopard, red panda, water buffalo, and Chinese pangolin are some of the other animals sighted in these forests.

The avian population (endemic as well as migratory) of this region makes this a rewarding destination for naturalists and birdwatchers. Hornbill, greater adjutant stork, lesser adjutant stork, Bengal florican, spot-billed pelican, white-winged wood duck, great grebe, osprey, purple heron, whistling teal, Blyth’s tragopan, white ibis and dark-rumped swift are some of the species spotted here.

This travel guide to the Northeast covers the major national parks in the area and a few of the lesser-explored wildlife sanctuaries. No trip to this region is rendered complete without a visit to the most popular of them all – Kaziranga National Park. Manas is a must-visit for those who wish to catch a glimpse of the Royal Bengal tiger, while a stay at Nameri promises Asiatic elephant sightings. Dibru-Saikhowa offers a unique experience as well – feral horses are found here in abundance. The Nokrek National Park is considered the best destination for wildlife photography in the northeastern region because of its diverse flora and fauna and a landscape that comprises hills, forests, rivers and waterfalls. Come April and various species of butterfly add colour to the Balpakram National Parkwhich also houses several other rare species of fauna.

Guneet Narula
An Indian giant squirrel in Namdapha NP
An Indian giant squirrel in Namdapha NP

Some things to bear in mind before embarking on a trip here is to ensure one’s safety as well as preserve the sanctity of the forest. Acquiring a permit of entry is imperative for everyone.

It is advisable that you hire trained, authorised guides to accompany you, who are well informed about the ways of the wild and can identify species that laypersons may not. On a safari, visitors must always be clothed in dull and inconspicuous colors such as brown, olive or grey. Red is especially inappropriate and black and white are best avoided as well.

Entry to reserved areas is strictly prohibited. It is dangerous to disembark from the vehicle/elephant. Deviating from the prescribed route is hazardous and animals must be given right of way at all times.

Cooking, smoking, playing music, consuming alcohol inside the park are deemed illegal activities. It is critical for visitors to understand the significance of these rules, so as to maintain the fragile ecosystem of the forest.