Mizoram and Tripura are often clumped together, not because they’re much alike, in fact they’re actually very different. However, they are both the least accessible and therefore, least explored states in the Northeast region and both get very few visitors, rarely any foreigners.
Mizoram is perhaps the most isolated state, basically making you pass through Silchar in Assam to come in and out of the state by road (roads coming from Manipur and Tripura are too long, winding and in terrible condition, in fact, from what I could tell public transport doesn’t run on them at all), although once you’re there you wouldn’t think it was that isolated.
Tripura is an interesting state; a blend of cultures and religions, but is probably more ‘Indian’ than Mizoram and has a much similar vibe to Assam than to any other Northeastern state.
For exploring both Mizoram and Tripura by land, Silchar in Assam will be your base/start point and you may find yourself going back and forth from there a few times (as I did).
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Silchar is a bustling town with a lively bazaar street. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants around as it is also a major transport hub.
Where I stayed
I stayed at Sewak Lodge, which can be found on Booking.Com and it certainly is a top choice. The rooms are large, the location is perfect, staff were nice and the WiFi is also really good: what more could you want? I found it actually cheaper to book it online for some reason than turning up without a booking. It’s pretty popular and can often be full.
How I got in
Originally, I came by train from Lumding (a place I stopped as a half way point between Jorhat and Silchar). In Lumding I stayed in Hotel Maruti Nandan for the night and boy, what a rare sight a foreign girl must be there. I found it on the map and walked inside late off the train and the reception staff were overly excited to see me. They showed me my room (pink walls, pink bathroom tiles, pink table cloth) and wanted photos of me in the room and with them at reception!
Then I wanted to ask about some food for dinner but instead they took me upstairs to where they were hosting a wedding and they proceeded to take me inside. The wedding party was ecstatic to see me and all formed a line to each take a photo with me. I managed to escape from the wedding wanting to go to bed early as I had a 5.30am train in the morning to Silchar!
There’s not a whole lot to do in Mizoram, it doesn’t necessarily have any typical ‘tourist sights’ and people will ask you, “What are you doing here?”. Still, the green rolling hills make the views spectacular from almost anywhere in the state and the people are very friendly. English is extremely well spoken by most and many people will strike up a conversation with you either on the bus, in a sumo or on the street. They are genuinely curious and mostly want to know what you are doing in their state. Most people assumed I was either working or a Christian missionary and it took a bit of convincing to get them to understand that I was actually a real live tourist!
Aizawl is a sprawling, modern city perched on the top of beautiful rolling hills. It is best to be near the bazaar area, which is a clean, orderly and contemporary city centre if there ever was one in India (traffic even gives way to pedestrians!). It’s here you’ll notice the complete divide between Mizoram and other parts of India. Women smoke openly in public, go for early morning runs in tights and walk around late at night without a hassle. In fact, a few local women told me on various occasions that I should feel 100% safe walking around, even at night or early in the morning, which was a refreshing change from other areas in India.
One man I met, who was travelling with his family in the same sumo as me, passionately told me about the state’s history and what he believes would be their best future. He was very clear that the central government is not very well liked in Mizoram, after years of neglect and suppression. The Mizos are fiercely independent and believe that history somehow went wrong for them and perhaps they would have been better off joined with China.
Interestingly, the Mizos share much more of their culture and traditions with ethnic groups in Myanmar and further north to the Chinese border. In fact, their ancestors migrated from Myanmar to the hills in Mizoram centuries ago and so many of them (probably mostly the older generation) don’t truly feel ‘Indian’.
There is limited industry in Mizoram and they have had to rely on trade with neighbouring Bangladesh and Myanmar as they have been relatively cut off from India as such. Much of the economy is based on agriculture, yet surprisingly a lot of the hills are still covered in forest rather than crops which keeps the views spectacular.
Where I stayed
I stayed at Arini Hotel, recommended by Lonely Planet, and seems to be very well known in general. I found the staff to be so friendly and always up for a chat and the rooms are really large, I was happy to spend a few days there. The food is a little overpriced, however, I found a lot of the restaurants in Aizawl were pretty similar.
How I got in
I took a shared sumo from Silchar at 8am. There are multiple companies in Silchar and they all leave at 8am and 7pm, it’s best to book the day before in order to get a decent seat. It took around nine hours, but the views were beautiful, especially once you crossed into Mizoram.
At the state border, foreigners need to register with the officer on duty there. He didn’t even know how to fill in the registry book for foreigners so I had to help him out a bit and I still don’t think he did it right!
The official sign at the office says that foreigners still require a permit but that is untrue as of 2018 and only Indians from other states require an ILP.
How I got out
From Aizawl there is the State Transport Corporation (MST) bus and multiple sumo companies plying to Lunglei, the state’s second largest city. I chose to go with the bus and there were two leaving at 6am. They were mostly empty when I bought my ticket and only had around 15 people on it for the whole journey. I stopped half way in Thenzawl as I heard that it was a nice town, however, it’s really unnecessary unless you’re there after the rainy season and the waterfall is full of water, it is the tallest in the state.
Thenzawl has a good government-run Tourist Lodge, restaurants are a little few and far between in town but the food at the Lodge was delicious and reasonably priced.
From Thenzawl I took a sumo from Mim Restaurant where you’ll find the only counter. There are sumos leaving throughout the day I believe but I took the 6.30am one.
In Lunglei, I found myself admiring the view mostly and not much else. There are beautiful national parks and wildlife sanctuary’s to the south of the city, however, with limited tourist infrastructure and me being on my own these places are a little inaccessible.
Where I stayed
Hotel Elite in Lunglei is perhaps one of the best places I stayed in the Northeast region. The owner is a very nice lady and the food was also very good. However, the view from the windows and balcony of the rooms is exceptional and I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a view from a hotel before, especially not a budget hotel for 600R per night.
There wasn’t many other people there and I simply found it on the map as the Tourist Lodge was too far out of town. The owner was lovely and provided me with one of my favourite quotes from my time in the Northeast: “I never understood why you people want to come to these faraway places, why you’re interested in such places…” Sometimes I don’t know myself!
How I got out
From Lunglei back to Aizawl there was the MST bus at 6am or the sumos leave at the same times throughout the day; 6.30am, 10am, 12pm and 2pm. There are around 6 counters next to each other on the main Lunglei-Thenzawl Rd and all leave right outside these shops (around 5-10 minutes walk from Hotel Elite).
Tip: on a Sunday EVERYTHING is closed and all transport stops in Mizoram, so plan accordingly as you’ll most likely be spending the day inside your hotel room and eating at the hotel restaurant.
Tripura actually boasts some tourist sights, which is good because after coming from Mizoram the landscape is not much to look at. The tourist offices and lodges all offer newly printed brochures and information on the state, but most of the sights are easily accessible on your own.
Agartala, the state’s capital, is by no means a large city, it definitely has a small town vibe and is very walkable. The main sight in Agartala is the Ujjayanta Palace, which houses the State Museum. It was so much more impressive than I had imagined and it’s definitely worth the 150R entrance ticket. It gives a nice detailed history and general information about Tripura but also the Northeast region as a whole with some beautifully displayed artefacts.
Where I stayed
For my first night in the city I stayed at Hotel Welcome Palace, recommended by Lonely Planet and one of the most popular and well known places in the city. I discovered they are not exactly a budget choice and start from around 1000R+, although when I arrived they said they only had 1500R rooms available. It was a nice bit of luxury for a change and the only hot water shower I had in the state.
I moved from there to Prantik Hotel for 500R per night, an unassuming place on the back roads behind the main drag. It’s by far one of the most basic and smallest places I’ve stayed and wouldn’t recommend it to many but the manager was extremely nice and helpful and the wifi was also really fast, so I didn’t mind.
How I got around
From Agartala the main tourist sites in the state are relatively accessible. The South Bus Station, south of the Battala Mahadev Temple roundabout and across the river, is the main transport hub for exploring the attractions in the south such as Neermahal and Udaipur. There are buses, shared sumos and all sorts of other vehicles leaving in a constant stream and you only have to take one step near the place and you’ll have plenty of touts asking where you want to go.
Melaghar for Neermahal
Neermahal is a former royal palace built in the 1930s and although it might not be as extravagant as similar one’s in Rajasthan, it’s still a beautiful place to visit. It’s built in the middle of the lake and there are boats available to take you there. You can either hire a boat yourself or pay per head and wait until it fills up.
I went at sunset, which was a perfect time for two reasons. First, there were plenty of other locals going at the same time so I was able to jump on with them and pay just 30R round trip. Second, the lighting was perfect and I would say the best time to go for photographs.
It’s empty and so there’s not much to see there, but the architecture is nice and you are free to roam around the palace for an hour before taking the boat back.
Neermahal was one of the seven highlights of the Northeast that I wrote about for Lonely Planet, you can read the article here.
Where I stayed
Nearby, in fact literally 150 metres away, from the boat dock is the Tourist Lodge where you can stay at 700R for a single room. They also have food available which was delicious too. The manager is nice and handed me every brochure ever printed on tourism in Tripura that he found in his cabinet before I left!
How I got in and out
There are frequent shared transport and buses leaving Agartala for Melaghar and back again. In Melaghar, you only have to wait on the main street for a couple of minutes before a bus or other form of transport will come past for Agartala.
Udaipur for Tripura Sundari Temple
The temple is more than 500 years old and is one of the holiest Hindu shrines in the entire region. It’s still common practice to slaughter goats at the temple as a sacrifice, and many people come to bathe in the water of the lake behind. To be honest, it’s not very spectacular and despite it appearing on Tripura’s ‘must see’ attractions I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it, unless you time it with a religious ceremony or festival.
How I got in
There are frequent buses leaving Agartala for Udaipur and vice versa, the journey only takes about two hours one way. Once in Udaipur you can take a shared autorickshaw for 20R to the temple.
Kailashahar for Unakoti
The archaeological site is a pilgrimage place for worshippers of Lord Shiva and the rock carvings there date back to the 7thand 9thcentury without any real evidence to suggest why or how. There’s not that many rock-cut sculptures and a lot of the smaller ones have been defaced over the years. However, the larger ones are extremely impressive and are not something you will see anywhere else in India, adding to the intrigue. The site is also FREE for both Indians and foreigners (although I’m not sure how long that will last) and it’s a very popular place for dignitaries and officials to visit when in the Northeast region (apparently only since the Thai Prince visited recently).
At the moment, it’s a very underexplored place in the Northeast and I was an absolute celebrity for the one night I was there. Every second person stopped Rahul (my guide) to ask where I was from and I had many people wanting photos. I even met young girls in college who had never seen a white person before and wanted to hold my hand for a bit! People were still relatively friendly, it was just a tiring place to spend time.
Where I stayed
I stayed at the government Tourist Lodge in Kailashahar for 800R per night. I arrived in the morning and the lodge manager spoke zero English and kept shaking his head when I asked for a room. He pointed to a sign that said all guests must pre-book online (which I hadn’t needed to for the lodge in Melaghar). After standing my ground and not moving for a while, he finally called the only local guide who speaks English who came to translate and finally, I was given a room! The guide, Rahul, told me there was actually a hotel in town as well called Hotel Nirmala (I actually ended up eating here and for 50R you can get a veg thali) where I could have stayed for less, but I hadn’t known that.
How I got in and out
I caught the train from Agartala (the same line that goes to Silchar) and got off at Kumarghat where there are shared autos and vans waiting to take you to Kailashahar, just 20km down the road. There are a few trains per day taking this route, I left on the earliest one at 6.15am. I returned to Kumarghat the next day for the train to Silchar which passed through at 2pm (an hour later than scheduled), shared autos and buses leave from Kailashahar for the station when full.
Guide services for Unakoti
You don’t technically need a guide to see Unakoti, although the lack of English in the whole town makes it difficult to communicate with people. Rahul is the main English guide in town and is the one who takes a lot of the VIPs who come through and so I was happy to have him show me around both Unakoti and the town. He’s very nice, although a bit over friendly and I felt as though he really just wanted to show me off to everyone around town that he knew a foreigner! But still, his number is 7628999724 if you get stuck or want a contact.
He informed me that the town sees approx. one foreigner sighting per year and even though I only stayed 24 hours in town, apparently every single person will be talking about it for days to come!