(Please note: These states of the North East have been lumped together, not because of a lack of interest or value, but because they are mostly off-limits to foreign visitors, and most Indians as well)
Bordered by China, Burma, Bangladesh and Bhutan and connected to the rest of India by only a narrow corridor of land, these seven states are considered a highly sensitive area. This fact, combined with ongoing violent unrest among the various groups living here has increased the restrictions placed on visitors from the outside world to this area, already remote for natural geographic reasons. In addition to intertribal conflicts tension has been further increased by the migration into the area of large numbers of Bengalis, sometimes to the point of outnumbering the original inhabitants. Further dissatisfaction arises from the conviction that the national government is unresponsive to their needs, this despite the fact that the per capita amount of national funds pumped into this area is the highest in India. However, Delhi's concern for this area is mainly because of its sensitive geopolitical location, and it is also likely that much of the money designated for the benefit of the people in these states never actually reaches its target population.
Six states are arranged on the hills and mountainsides around the seventh, Assam, which occupies the low-lying area to either side of the Brahmaputra River. With the highest precipitation in the world, most of it falling between May and September, the area is lush and heavily wooded, with many beautiful waterfalls and a wide variety of wildlife, including the single horned great Indian rhinoceros. Formerly covered with heavy teak forests, the lower slopes of the mountains have been severely depleted of trees over the last decades and the local ecosystems are feeling the effect.
The area is largely tribal and Christian, with more than seventy distinct languages being spoken. The violent independence struggles of various of these groups, including the Bodos of Assam, the Naga, the Kukis of Manipur and others have disrupted the area and cost many lives.
Population: 0.9 million
Languages: Monpa, Miji, Aka, Sherdukpen, Nishing, Apatani, Tagin, Hill Miri, Adi, Digaru, Mismi, Idu, Khamti, Miju, Tangas, Wanche
This state is the furthest northeast, and borders China, Bhutan and Burma. Almost without roads, sparsely populated and only recently opened to tourists, this beautiful area has remained in its natural state with rugged forested hills rising up to mountains over 6000 metres in height on its northern Tibetan border. Like Sikkim, this state prides itself on a dazzling array of more than five hundred types of orchids, and in the Namdapha Wildlife Sanctuary can be seen elephants, pandas, tigers, snow leopards, bears and deer. No roads are open between this state and Burma. In the western part of the state a single highway runs north through Bomdila towards the Tawang monastery, remote and isolated amongst the magnificent mountains. When China invaded India in 1962 there was heavy fighting in this area. The Chinese were overpowered and driven back by India's military but the area is still considered highly vulnerable border territory.
Population: 22 million
Assam is the source of over 50% of India's tea, grown on hundreds of tea plantations first established by the British. From here also comes a large part of the small amount of oil that India produces.
The state runs for seven hundred kilometres along the wide Brahmaputra River, with the mountains of the Himalayas on its northern side and a plateau to the south. It is a fertile state with large areas of grassland which are home to the one-horned rhino, almost extinct at the beginning of the last century but now with a population of more than a thousand, most of them living in Assam's Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary. This 430 square kilometre reserve also has elephants, tigers, bears, gaur (a type of buffalo), and is the breeding ground for large numbers of pelicans. Kaziranga is one of four sanctuaries in the state, the others being Orang, near Kaziranga, Nambar in upper Assam, and Manas, a Project Tiger sanctuary bordering Bhutan which has been inaccessible for years because of political unrest.
Guwahati is a transportation hub for the small numbers of people that come to the region, as it is here that all flights land. (All foreigners must fly in.) The city has a large tea auction centre which brings buyers to the area. Others are drawn here to visit the famous Kamakshya temple, destroyed by Muslims invaders and rebuilt in 1665, which is one of India's most important Kali temples and is the centre for Tantric Hinduism. Buddhists and Muslims come to Hajo, near Guwahati, the former to the Hayagriba Madhab Temple and the latter to the Pao (one quarter) Mecca Mosque whose name indicates its degree of sanctity as compared to the Great Mosque in Mecca.
Population: 1.8 million
This relatively low lying state, located on the border with Burma, is home to more than twenty different tribal groups, primarily the Meitheis, or Kukis. During World War II this area was a significant area of confrontation between Japan and British India. Most of what is now the state of Manipur was occupied by the Japanese who from there launched attacks on the Assam area. A four hundred and thirty kilometre road was built from southern Arunachal Pradesh to Myitkyina in north eastern Burma. Named the Stillwell Road, after the general in charge of its construction, it was completed in 1944 at a cost of $US137 million and was abandoned a few months later, remaining unused to this day.
Manipur became part of India after its war with Burma in 1826 and became a part of British India towards the end of that century. From being part of Assam it became a Union Territory and finally an Indian state in 1972. In the decades since then the area has been plagued with violent unrest, first with struggles for autonomy, later because of a bloody war between this tribe and the Nagas to the north.
Imphal, with a population of just under 150,000, is the state's capitol.
Population: 2.8 million
Languages: Bengali, Kok Borak
Ruled for centuries by the Manikya dynasty until overpowered by the Moghuls, this state, particularly the city of Udaipur, displays architecture that reveals both influences. Though eventually becoming part of British India, it was Bengal which in the end had the heaviest influence on the area. The last Manikya king, who took the throne in 1870, was a friend of Bengali artists and intellectuals, including Rabindranath Tagore, and felt such an affinity for the culture of Bengal that he made Bengali his own court language. That, and a large influx of Bengalis into Tripura in the 1900s has meant that Bengali culture and language has come to dominate the state, though in the northeast there are still pockets where the struggle for independence is kept alive.
Few forests remain in this state due to widespread slash and burn agricultural practices as well as the inability of the ecosystem to comfortably sustain the number of people who depend on it.
Population: 1.8 million
Languages: Khasi, Garo and English
The most rainfall of anywhere on earth falls in this state. It collects and crashes down in magnificent waterfalls, most spectacularly at Cherrapunjee in the central southern part of the state. Cherrapunjee, final destination of Alexander Frater's charmingly described journey in Chasing the Monsoon, is famous for its globally record breaking average annual rainfall of 1150 cm - eleven and a half metres of rain per year! Records report that in a single 24 hour period in 1876, 41 inches of rain fell. (Though actually, the recipient of the world's most rain has in recent years shifted to nearby Mawsynram.)
Sixty kilometres to the north east and 1500 metres above sea level is Shillong, the state capitol known for spectacular views and a beautiful climate. Becoming a popular holiday spot for the British in the 1800s, they finally made it the capitol of Assam in the 1870s. The decayed remnants of that era are still visible in Shillong, but the charm of the town has been undermined by unplanned growth, political violence, deforestation of the hills surrounding the town, as well as communal tension caused by the migration into the city and the region of large numbers of Bengalis.
The three main tribes in Meghalaya are the Jaintias, originally from Mongolia, the Khasis who migrated from southern China and the Garos, probably of Tibetan origin.
Population: .7 million
Languages: Mizo and English
Of the northeastern states, Mizoram stretches the furthest south. Squeezed between Burma and Bangladesh, Mizoram is a hilly state occupied by the Mizo tribe - formerly animists, now mostly Christian. Slash and burn agriculture has resulted, except for the still forested southeast, in the replacing of forests with large areas of bamboo. A two decade long violent struggle for independence preceded the incorporation of Mizoram as a state of India in 1987.
Arriving from Burma in the 1700s, the Mizo tribe has preserved much of the best of their traditions, despite most of the population converting to Christianity after the introduction of missionaries into the area in the 1920s. The Mizo are a hospitable and egalitarian group whose capitol is Aizawl, a bustling and pleasant community in the north central part of the state.
Population: 1.2 million
Languages: Angami, Ao, Chang, Konyak, Lotha, Sangtam, Sema, Chakhesang
This remote and hilly state shares a border with Burma and continues to be a politically sensitive area with a heavy military presence.
The capitol is Kohima, which was built by the British as an administrative centre. Strategically located during the second world war on the road through a mountain pass that the Japanese planned to follow in their advance into India, in 1944 it became the site of a prolonged several-month-long battle which cost over a thousand Allied lives, the dead now buried in a military cemetery that overlooks Kohima.
The Nagas are farmers, who, it is believed, came originally from Tibet. Sixteen main groups exist in the area, each with its own dialect, though a standardized Nagamese has been developed.