Solo Drive To The Seven Sisters - A North East Travelogue

Secretariat

Well-Known Member
Road Reports

Road reports on this region are of questionable value as as they are valid only till the next monsoon which is round the corner. But then given the complete dearth of reports on this entire region in this forum, I thought I will catalog my experience to serve at least as a general guide for future travelers.

I will comment only on the roads in the North East. Getting to and fro Guwahati from wherever you are is easy.

Some common themes during the hill sectors

Extremely twisty and turning roads with not even 100 metres of a straight line. No mobile connectivity between start point and end point. Absolute desolation in between - you might see an oncoming vehicle only once in 15 minutes. A pothole is certain as you round a hair pin bend. Great scenery all around but you are flirting with disaster if you take your eyes off the road for even one second. Better to stop and admire. Max average speed you can hope for is 30-35 but that is with aggressive driving. I was happy with 20. Plan for not more than 200 kms in a day - the combination of bad roads and twisty hill drives makes it a tiring proposition. Nobody honks at blind corners which come every 100 metres, so beware.

Assume no fuel pumps enroute, and if there are, they are likely to be dodgy. Discipline of tanking up before starting is essential (tank up the previous evening as fuel pumps even in towns open late). Remember many fuel pumps in Nagaland and Mizoram are closed on a Sunday. You can usually find a chow/momo/tea/rice shack enroute, with probably questionable hygiene, but with hot food.


Guwahati - Agoratoli (Kaziranga) :

Excellent roads. Concrete dual carriageway up to Nagaon. Bumpy single carriageway thereafter until the Tezpur turn off. Excellent single carriageway thereon upto Kaziranga. Beware of numerous rumblers in the Kaziranga area.

Agoratoli - Itanagar :

Kaziranga to Tezpur has excellent roads and no problems even on the Kaliabhomora Setu across the Brahmaputra. No traffic jams. Tezpur to Arunachal border is also very good. There are two routes to Itanagar. One is a "short cut" that saves about 30-40 kms as opposed to the regular route through Banderdawa. There is a signpost indicating this and I was tempted and took it. Bad choice. No roads at all and it is pure off roading. In rains, you are sure to be stuck. Take the Banderdawa road which is better, even though it is longer.

Itanagar - Ziro :

There are two routes . One is a direct route from Itanagar. The second is coming back through Banderdawa to Assam and going almost upto Lakhimpur and turning off into Khimin a few kms before Lakhimpur. I asked 6 people and three vehemently said go direct and three vehemently said not to do it and go via Assam. Ultimately I went via Assam.

Itanagar to Khimin is no real problem, although the Arunachal side is not great. From Khimin, first 20 kms is sheer horror, crawling at 10 kmph over monstrous potholes and no roads. Then mix of good and tolerable bad roads. After meeting the Itanagar direct road, horror again for 15 kms. Then mixture again, ending with bad roads for the last 10 kms to Ziro. Overall a pain.

Ziro - Daporijo :

Another tough drive. First 50 kms are decent. Then the usual mix of fair and bad roads for the next 50 kms. Of this about 25 kms are terrible. After the village of Laa, the last 50 kms are better and not a problem. Interestingly named villages en route - Saddle, Raga, Gigi, Laa ! Nothing for food en route - must pack.

Daporijo - Along :

First 20 kms very bad. Then 35 kms good. Then 20 kms bad. Then the mix of good and bad until you reach Bame where the road joins with the Along -Likabali/Silapathar road. The rest of the road all the way up to Along is sheer torture. No food joints - only tea.

Along - Mechuka

Beautiful drive on awful roads. Brilliant scenery. First 15 kms very bad. Then good with some bad stretches until the 110 km mark. Next 20 kms to Tato is bad , especially around the waterfall. Post Tato the road is generally bad with torture upto the 155 kms mark. Thankfully, the last 15 kms into Mechuka is good. Please note there are no fuel pumps on the way (the one at Kaying is usually closed) and there are no pumps in Mechuka either. So you will need to stock up for the up and down journey. You can buy fuel loose from shops in Mechuka, but you can guess the risk. Eating joints are at Kaying, Pene and Tato, so don't have to absolutely pack food.

Along to Tinsukia via Likabali/Silapathar

This is a real problem stretch. First 65 kms till beyond Basar is sheer torture. Even SUVs have to be careful with scraping their underbellies. I am voting for this as the worst road in India. After that the rest of the way up to Likabali is great and therefore fun to drive in the twisty hilly, great scenery atmosphere. What a contrast between the two stretches.

After coming down to Assam, the way to Bogibil is not signposted, not on GPS and therefore you have to ask, ask and keep asking. The ferry crossing has been described in my earlier post on Assam and post crossing, the road out is also a mystery. Very different in doing the crossing during peak water time and low water season (as I did). When waters are low, you have to drive 3-4 kms on the river bed !

There is really no alternative other than to suffer the torture of 65kms to get to Along - the gateway to both Mechuka and Tuting. The route via Passighat is reputed to be even worse and when I went, the Passighat route was being closed at 9.00 AM every day for road works. Maybe when they do up that road it might be the better route (don't hold your breath).

Tinsukia - Lekhapani- Tinsukia

One word. Brilliant

Tinsukia - Jorhat

Tinsukia to Dibrugarh is a very good road but running parallel to the railway tracks makes it a pain as it narrows the road and there are all sorts of slow /stopped traffic to be overtaken. Dibrugarh to Sibsagar is good but the top is starting to erode. Sibsagar to Jorhat the top has peeled off but no major issue other than bumpiness. Easy drive overall.

Jorhat - Mokokchung

There are two routes. I took the direct route from Jorhat. Decent roads in the plains up to the Nagaland border. Then the hills start and the roads are bad with a million potholes. Changki to New Camp 5 kms is particularly horrible. Bad all the way thereafter to Mokokchung. Truck traffic exists and they don't honk, so be particularly careful. Food en route is heavily non vegetarian; if you are a veggie, pack.

The alternate route is the National Highway which turns off somewhere in between Jorhat and Sibsagar. It is better and is the recommended route even if longer. Take that and not the one I took.

Mokokchung - Kohima

Another section of wild contrasts. First 40 km is a brilliant road with not a pothole in sight. No traffic and a great drive. Then the potholes start to appear. but still good road up to Wakho. Then the bad roads start. Bad till 85 km mark and then sheer torture until the 110 kms mark. Becomes bad again, instead of torturous, all the way upto Kohima. There's a decent fuel pump as you exit Wakho. Decent eating joint called Tizhu resturant at the 85 kms mark.

Kohima - Imphal

Oh boy, what a drive. Logically it should be a fine drive , but the whole issue is one of timing to avoid the trucks. Trucks are not allowed inside Kohima in the day time and so I thought they would all travel during the night and I would have a clear road in the morning. Completely wrong. It looks like the trucks time it to just cross Kohima in the morning before the curfew starts. So the usual morning start saw me behind hundreds of trucks having to overtake each one of them on twisty narrow roads.

Roads starts off good, but there are a lot of broken patches on the Nagaland side where the trucks throw up a huge volume of dust. It is like driving in blinding fog. Sheer hell. Once you cross into Manipur, the roads are great and it is flat plains, so an easy drive.

Check locally, but I think the right time to start the drive is around noon time from Kohima and early morning from Imphal.

Imphal - Moreh - Tamu - Moreh - Imphal

Roads are brilliant all the way through. First 50 kms is flat from Imphal and then the hills start. But lovely roads.

The problem really is army checking. There are multiple check points on the way and the checking is vigorous . The biggest check, and therefore the longest wait, is at Khudengthabi. Prepare for a long wait. They check the car thoroughly. Real thorough. They open the bonnet and check everything - they even opened my fuse box to see if any drugs were stashed - it is that thorough. But once you cross Khudengthabi, there are no more checks - not even when you cross the Indian Myanmar border.

One big tip. Keep all your luggage and everything possible back in your hotel at Imphal and travel with nothing in your car. Speeds up the process. When I tell you they opened my stock of engine oil and coolant, poured out a little and smelt it, you know what I mean. Come with zero things in your car and it will be faster.

When you reach Moreh, opposite the police station is a small office (ask the locals). Here you get a day permit to take your car into Tamu. You pay Rs 100 fees and fill a small form. It takes 5 minutes. Then at the Myanmar checkpost you pay Rs 120 fees (Indian rupees accepted). That's all to get into Tamu. No problem at all.

Two things to remember. Drive on the right of the road in Tamu. And return back well before 4 PM India time (5 PM Myanmar time - there is a one hour time difference). Borders close then and you are in serious trouble if you overstay.

Imphal - Silchar

This was a dreaded route, but is now surprisingly not so bad. It is a hill road through and through. First 50 kms to Tupur is fantastic roads. 50-80 kms OK with small potholes. 80-95 kms bad but still tolerable. Then alternate 10 km stretches of good and bad till 135 kms mark. Road turns brilliant then till the 185 kms mark. So far way better than expectations.

185km - 195 km is sheer torture and has been left like that to remind drivers of how bad the entire road was in the past. No way of escaping scraping in a sedan - there are virtually ridges to climb and there is no asphalt at all. Once you cross this (whew), its OK all the way into Silchar.

Roads are being done up except that awful 10 kms stretch and will likely be completed before the monsoon. This has the potential for being one of the best drives anywhere with great roads, twisty hill drive and no traffic. But that 10 kms horror doesn't look like it will be done up anytime.

Remember there are many many army checkpoints, at each of which you have to stop, get down, go to an office and enter details in a register.

Silchar - Aizawl

Fine roads overall (another surprise because this was also a famous horror section in the past). First 50 kms good. Then brilliant roads from Vairengte to Kolasib ( watch out for overspeeding; these are hills remember). Kolasib to Kaunpui has potholes, but nothing to really worry except slowing down. 2 kms after Kolasib, there is a fork - one road goes up and the other goes down. Both go to Aizawl and both are good. The up road is wider, newly laid and an easier drive, but longer. The "down road" is the older road - shorter, but twistier and still a good road.

The real problem is catching the right road out of Silchar As you leave Silchar there is a very confusing fork - the broader highway goes to Hailakandi which is not where you want to go. The left turnoff towards the Aizawl highway is well hidden and not signposted at all. In my Silchar - Aizawl drive I missed this and landed up in Hailakandi. You can still get to Aizawl from there but those roads are a complete nightmare and only a sadist will take it. Ask a million times as you come out of Silchar if you are on the right Aizawl road.

Silchar to Shillong

Another surprisingly good section which was horrible as recent as 7 months ago. First 50 kms are in the plains in Assam and bumpy with potholes, but no issues. At 55 kms you enter Meghalaya and into the hills, but these are gentler hills and not like the other states. 55-85 kms is a brilliant newly laid road. 85-100 kms has broken stretches which will slow you down but tolerable. Post 100 kms the roads are fine all the way into Shillong. No issues on this drive other than increased volume of trucks. Lots of fuel pumps and eateries on the way

Shillong-Mawlynnong-Dawki-Shillong195 kms done in 6 hours

Lovely roads. Only the section near Dawki and upto Tamabil border has potholes.

Shillong - Cherrapunjee-Mawphlang -Shillong161 kms done in 5 hours 45 mins

Great roads. Full stop.

Shillong - Guwahati

Four laning going on but it looks like it won't be completed anytime soon - in some stretches even land acquisition doesn't seem to have been done. Overall easy drive and no issues. I started at 9.00 AM from Shillong and didn't encounter any serious truck traffic.

Some overall driving impressions

This entire region can be done in any car in the dry season. A few scrapes of the bottom in a low GC car is inevitable (I took 7 or 8 in the entire trip), but if you are going very slowly and carefully, these are only scratches and not an issue. The real dilemma is coming in the wet season when this region is at its beautiful best. I would not recommend it at all, but here are some facts in case you are contemplating it.

There are every sort of craters you will encounter including virtual ridges. If visibility is a problem and water has filled the craters , then it is a real problem to drive. Frequently, I tried an approach, felt midway that my belly would scrape, backed off and tried a different way out. In the rains you can hardly do that. The roads will also be very slippery and sometimes you have to decide whether to go on or turn back.

The other problem in the wet season is getting stuck. In a non 4WD, on a lengthy trip like I did, it is almost certain that you will get stuck more than once and will have to be towed out. Carry a towing rope or bar and some passing SUV will help out. The issue of landslides blocking roads is ever present (your getting caught in one physically is remote). Therefore be prepared for flexible schedules.

I still have to cover the third teaser I posed at the start of my travelogue. Where is Barhi ? When I started out from Guwahati, on my return journey, the signposts started with mentioning 1000 odd kms to Barhi. I had no clue where on earth is Barhi. You are trying to find Goalpara, Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, Siliguri and there is not a squeak of any of them, Instead there is a continuous run down of the kms to Barhi. When I left Siliguri for Bhagalpur and beyond the next day, the same thing happened. Only countdown to Barhi. This is just a symptom of how there are no signposts anywhere and even where they are they are completely useless.

I later learnt that Barhi in Jharkhand is where the NH31 and NH 33 meet the NH 2. Seriously, from Guwahati, the most helpful signboard is to Barhi ??
 

Secretariat

Well-Known Member
Great great report... Roads in Assam are really awesome
Thanks. Not all roads in Assam are great. The East West corridor is great, but for example Silchar - Lumding is a horror. So patchy, at best. But it is improving quite fast.

Extremely detailed and helpful posts for future travellers.

A good map of the region is non-existent (for security reasons I guess).
Thanks. Google Maps is not too bad. Outside of Arunachal, its decent - I was downloading the maps and using them offline when I reached a place, and it was OK . Not as great as they are in other places, but reasonably good. Arunachal Maps are a real problem , possibly for the very reason you mention.
 

Secretariat

Well-Known Member
THE END OF THE ROAD

Day 42 : Agartala to Guwahati (Flight)

Caught the flight back to be reunited with my faithful companion.

It has been a bright sunny day, here in Guwahati, as the Indian summer has started in the plains. T shirts are out and everybody is in summer wear. People are hurrying back home from work. The cars are all honking. Traffic is piling up. Just another day. But, for me, it is not just another day.

It is evening. I walk up to the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. The air is still and the mighty river is calm. The waters are low and flowing gently. I gaze into the distance. My thoughts are far away . It has been twenty five years since I last came here. I was a callow young man then with stars in my eyes. It is a completely different place now and I myself am a different man. But the Brahmaputra is just the same, as it has been for time immemorial. The one fixed beacon in an ever changing world.

I reflected on my month and a half's journey. I have been blessed with incredible luck. For that I thanked Mother Nature, symbolised by its finest manifestation - the lovely river.

The sun has started to flirt with the horizon. The air is pleasantly cool. I let myself sigh in a mix of emotions. Out comes my camera for one last photograph on this trip.

IMG_20150316_172846.jpg


The sun goes down. I stand still for a moment. I don't know if I will come this way again. Maybe somebody dear to me will come and gaze into the waters some day. May the Brahmaputra smile kindly , as he has done for me.

I give one last lingering look. Then I turn back. It is time to go home.

Days 43 to 47 : Guwahati - Siliguri - Durgapur - Bhubaneswar - Vijayawada - Bangalore ( 3067 kms)

Well, 11,000 kms and 47 days later, I came back ! What else is there to say. With a rush of emotions, I turned the key in my front door and re entered into a very different world.

Thank you for reading this travelogue and I hope you enjoyed being in the co passenger seat with me. Wish you safe travels on your own journeys.
 

Secretariat

Well-Known Member
Its just a gem of Log..

Hats off to you spend one and a half month in those remote areas that to solo :)
Thanks my friend. You are a star traveller of this region, and coming from you it is the highest compliment. Thanks for reading and commenting on every post of mine.

WOW!!! A gem of a log...so another go to man for NE is here after our beloved Tapas.
Take a bow mate for such a journey and so detailed log.


:prayer::prayer::prayer::prayer:
Thanks so much for the generous encouragement. I am much honoured.

Good description nice photos
Thank You.

So it took you five days to return home to Bangalore from Guwahati ? No pics?

Please post some from Odisha.
Oops sorry EnglishAugust, this trip was focused on the North East and I didn't venture into Odisha with any intent of seeing the place. Just drove as fast down the highway as possible. Eyes down from Guwahati, pedal to the floor, etc etc to go back home. Yes five days, especially because of the horrors of crossing the Ganga at Bhagalpur. No photos of Odisha at all, unless you want the one below of the wonderfully scenic, eye catching, pleasant, soothing, thrilling ........ view of the backsides of trucks at Jaleswar .:lol:

IMG_20150207_153943.jpg

(I had to squeeze through that gap)
 
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