I recently went to Arunachal Pradesh and Assam with Holiday Scout which if you follow this blog regularly you will have already known! I spent 11 days with them on the Monastery and Tribal Discovery Tour and this is my review of Holiday Scout. Please first check out FAQ about travel in NE India so you understand this unique part of India.
The Benefits of Traveling with Holiday Scout
- It’s not that the NE is impossible to get to, but it’s so far away that travelers put it on the back-burner. I did for three years. It’s really important to have a tour guide in this region for a variety of reasons.
- Our guide Sange (who is almost always the guide) is from NE India and knows people in every place we go on the tour. Because of him we could communicate. We could get what we needed with ease at chemists, hotels, and restaurants but most importantly we could talk to local people.
- Because Sange was with us we were invited into homes and accepted especially in the tribal areas, whereas if you’re alone they may shut their doors and hide. He helped us ask people for permission to take photos.
- Transport is difficult and there are little mini-vans more than local buses which you need a group to take or it can cost more. You spend a lot of time on the road, so being in a nice car rather than jammed into a mini-van is important. I’m serious, it’s a lot of driving which I’ll get to later.
- Knowing where is safe… one state in NE India is not safe now, but is not restricted. It’s good to know these things. In Nagaland, people may offer you opium openly. There are instances where you may feel best having a local with you.
- Permits taken care of. You need permits to go to this restricted area of India. Luckily, it’s included in the price so one less thing to worry about ahead of time.
- You are picked up at the airport and dropped back so you literally just have to get on the plane in your home country. This is perfect for new travelers or nervous travelers. You have no worries or question marks during the tour. You simply go along with it – unless of course you want to make some changes.
- The groups are SMALL! 2-4 people at a time.
- EVERY activity and entry fee on the itinerary is included. It just makes things easy when it’s ALL-inclusive and you’re not dealing with splitting bills or paying for bits and pieces along the way.
- Which brings me to this…. Since food is included, I was shocked to find out that he lets guests order anything they want!! So, if you’ve got a big appetite have no fear. You will not be hungry.
- They also did little things like cleaning the car perfectly each morning, putting water in and a little snack sometimes, and a couple little surprises like a dance show we didn’t know would happen!
- They have a focus on women. Anna and I would talk to Sange, our guide, about issues we face living in India and we were so impressed with his modern take on life. He never said ONE thing that was inappropriate, sexist, or negative about women. Which, I know it seems crazy to mention, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. The whole of Northeast India is free of dowry, child marriage and female foeticide which just shows the culture there is so different than other areas of India. Sange and the rest of the people we met in NE India were so open-minded and kind. I didn’t have ONE person ask to take a photo of me, no men stared at me… in fact, the people there could care less white tourists were in town – I don’t think they even see color. They are just chilled out Buddhists! lol
- The tours can be bespoke. If you want to change things up and go with a friend but see things a little different just email them and work it out. He’s happy to change focus, stay one place longer, cut others… whatever you want to do. We were meant to try Assamese thali but really needed tandoori (ha ha) so he found the best place to take us. In general, Holiday Scout was incredibly accommodating.
- Lastly, but most important: Sange is an amazing guide. You know how after some time people get on your nerves if you are with them 24/7? Sange never got on my nerves! I’m telling you, he’s just quiet when you want quiet, and talkative when you are bored. He’s very chilled out, educated, and impressive in the fact he’s 25 and running this company. We stayed at his moms house and met his family. It was just an extra touch that made this more than “a tour”.
Things you need to know ahead of time
- Choose your tour wisely. We did the monastery & tribal tour and unsurprisingly, there were many monasteries. If you weren’t interesting in monk life, Buddhism, Tibetan culture, and religion then you might have found it repetitive and would rather do a tribal tour only. Just read into what each offers. Some are more about nature and going on safaris. Make the perfect choice for you!
- Prices are set on sharing a room. 15% more to be solo. If you aren’t going with a friend it’s actually nice to meet someone else on the tour and share because you’ll have a buddy and it’s cold so hey, body heat! lol
- You must tip your driver. That’s the only thing not included so please keep in mind it’s customary to tip your driver at the end of the tour. Just something to budget in.
- Infrastructure isn’t great in the NE which I’ve mentioned in the FAQ about NE India article. You have to know if that’s okay with you. The roads are winding, and not great for those who get very car sick. You need to be okay that hotels don’t yet have heating through them and you may feel cold at night. There will be home-stays, bathrooms that are hole-in-the-ground outhouses. There will be some places with only bucket baths or it’s too cold, so that you may need to wait to shower. Even if you want more luxury, and want to pay the extra, some places like Dirang, Tawang, and Bomdila just don’t have that yet.
My Overall Opinion
I can honestly say of all the trips I have taken in the last few years, this has been my favorite. Smushed between China and Bhutan, places like Tawang were SO unique. If you are in India and want to see a variety, this is the perfect option for you. The tribal people of Ziro Valley will not be there for long as their culture is slowing dying. I feel blessed that I got to meet them and have lunch in their homes.
I would not have had this experience of a lifetime if I didn’t go with a tour guide who knew his shit, and Sange sure did. He is the heart of Holiday Scout and really makes it the perfect tour. If you’re on the fence or not sure how to fit NE India into your trip itinerary please email me and I’m happy to help you out and answer some questions.
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