Is Northeast Safe for travellers?
If you are planning a visit to the northeastern part of India, you must have asked this question already to someone. Considering the turbulent history and the remoteness of the region, a lot of people hesitate to venture into it. This is the reason why tourism has not yet taken off the way it should have, considering the potential. However, to say that the entire region is unsafe will be a gross disservice to the region and the delights that it can offer to travellers.
Safety & Security in Northeast India
Understanding the Question
It must be said that this is a very generalized question, generally asked by people who don’t understand the region. A lot of people make this mistake but it is not surprising. It is a diverse region, although people tend to club it together. The situation can differ in different states and it can also be different in different areas of the same state. So, this calls for a more detailed answer. It depends on the areas you are planning to visit and also timings. But before that, let us have a little bit of background.
The political unrest in the region can be traced back to historical events, ethnocultural differences, and resultant identity politics. Anyway, the good news is that it used to be far worse. I grew up in Assam in the 90s and I have seen extreme violence and an overall sense of hopelessness. Every day, there used to be some violent incidents and you could not drive for one hour without passing through an army checking point. The situation has gradually softened over the years but some others areas still remain tricky. Nevertheless, it has been gradually changing. With more contact with the other parts of the world, newer generations have moved out for education and jobs. This is also true for people from other parts of the country. Conservative older generations were wary of visiting NE but newer generations are more willing to experience it and get introduced to new cultures. Anyway, let us have a look at the situation state by state.
Is Assam Safe for Travel?
Assam has had various political movements over the decades. Especially, it saw a very difficult period from 1979 to the late 90s, starting with the Assam Movement and the emergence of ULFA as well as the likes of NDFB, BLT, and DHD, and many other smaller identity-based organizations representing different ethnic groups. All of them demanded their autonomous regions, states, or even their own independent nation. Over years, the situation has gradually calmed down. Most of the organizations have made peace and some of them are now participating in the electoral process. Bodo organizations have made peace and formed the Bodoland, an autonomous region within Assam. Similarly, there are some other autonomous regions for many other ethnic groups. Most of the ULFA leaders have also given up arms and only a small fraction of ULFA still remain in action although they are now much weaker than they used to be.
Is Nagaland Safe for Travel?
Nagaland has taken many strides towards peace of late but things occasional incidents can always take place like it recently happened in the unfortunate incident at Mon District. The dissent in this region started as soon as India gained independence. The first major leader in this regard was A Z Phizo, who formed Naga National Council. He later escaped the country and eventually passed away in London in exile. However, it led way for the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), which again got divided into two factions, Isak-Muivah (NSCN I-M) & Khaplang (NSCN K). It ensued decades of unrest although efforts have been going on for the peace process. Especially I-M has been involved in a ceasefire with the GoI in recent times.
As far as tourists are concerned, popular areas around Kohima city should not have any issues. Mon district is remote and has its issues but at the same time, tourists do visit it. There are a lot of areas in the state, especially those bordering Myanmar, which is rarely visited by general tourists but hardened adventurers have had interesting stories to tell.
Is Arunachal Safe for Travel?
Arunachal is again a peaceful state although the situation widely varies from place to place. Native communities in Arunachal generally do not have any major insurgent organizations. However, the districts bordering Nagaland have some presence of the aforementioned NSCN, which is why these areas are not always frequented by tourists. Also, Arunachal shares a long border with China, and a lot of action took place in the Indochina war of 1962. Due to the defeatist mindset and strategic stupidity of the government, infrastructure remained poor in this area because they thought that spending so much will be a waste in case of another war. Only in the last couple of decades, they have shrugged off the inferiority complex and started working on the frontier roads.
Is Manipur Safe for Travel?
Manipur can be difficult to understand if you are new to it. The Meiteis have their own groups such as People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA), many hill districts dominated by Naga groups have the presence of NSCN. It is a very complex state with many distinct groups. Tourists usually visit some limited spots such as Imphal, Moirang, Moreh, and Ukhrul. There are other areas with great potential but rarely explored due to the situation. Nevertheless, tourists do frequent these state and usually, they receive great hospitality.
Is Mizoram Safe for Travel?
Mizoram is nowadays a mostly peaceful state. However, it also had its share of insurgency in the past. The primary period of unrest started in the 1960s. The situation was such that it even led to the only incident in the history of India. However, it was sorted out through a peace accord in 1986. Since then, the rebel leaders also joined mainstream politics and it has remained peaceful.
Is Meghalaya Safe for Travel?
Meghalaya is generally popular among tourists and does not have major insurgency issues but you still need to be aware of a few things. The Khasi and Jaintia hills regions are more frequented by tourists and although there are some organizations such as Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC) involved in armed conflict, they have gradually been weakened or simply surrendered. However, Garo Hills, which is a comparatively remote area, saw the emergence of Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), which was involved in certain incidents. However, even they have gradually weakened of late and infrastructure in Garo Hills is also gradually developing.
Is Tripura Safe for Travel?
Tripura had a period of unrest as indigenous groups objected to the immigrant influx after the kingdom acceded to the Indian Union in 1948. However, most of these groups have either gradually weakened or signed a peace accord with the government. In general, the major tourist spots in the state are easily reachable and you are unlikely to face any problems.
Is Sikkim Safe for Travel?
Sikkim is the most peaceful state in NE. It was always a separate area, without a common boundary with the rest of NE. There has never been any insurgency or violent incidents here. The only hitch is that it borders Tibet and there were some military engagements in the past as China had claims on Sikkim for a long time. This is why some frontier areas here require permits for these costs while foreign tourists are not even allowed to visit a couple of spots. However, there is much more to explore in this state.