The Narrow Road to India’s Deep North East – Episode 1

Philip Game sets forth on a tortuous road into India’s remote north east, from the banks of the Brahmaputra up into the Himalayan foothills and the very edge of Tibet.

My opportunity to venture into north eastern India, once largely off limits, came at short notice. An invitation to explore Meghalaya, Manipur or Mizoram, Nagaland or Tripura; or even Arunachal Pradesh, said to be India’s wildest and least explored state? Yes, who could resist? But which way?

People of the North East: Manipur tribal dancers perform at the Sangai Festival in Imphal, Manipur

India’s Seven Sisters, the seven states of the north east, group themselves around the enclave that is independent Bangladesh. Assam, the most populous and the most prosperous state, cradles the sprawling floodplains of the Brahmaputra, with some tracts of verdant hill country that include the great tea plantations. The other six states rub their mountainous spines against the borders of Bhutan, Chinese-occupied Tibet and Myanmar (Burma).

This is not the India of great cities, of regal hotels and sumptuous shopping. Think vibrant tribal cultures and abundant wildlife, including those elusive big cats: tiger and leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard. Smaller cats, simian species and other mammals roam these highlands and forests. Endemic bird species number in the hundreds. After Assam, Nagaland, which shares a border with Myanmar, is perhaps the best-known of the Seven, thanks to its annual Hornbill Festival. The others are simply names to conjure with.

Crossing the Brahmaputra, Assam

Arunachal Pradesh is one such. The ‘Land of Dawn-Lit Mountains’ rises abruptly beyond the Brahmaputra as a mass of hills clothed with subtropical forests. These hills eventually top off as snow-capped Himalayan peaks . Twenty-six major tribes share the former North East Frontier Agency, speaking more different languages than in any other Indian state. Some still practise animist beliefs whilst others follow the major religions.

C’mon, they need your answer… I opted for the epic road trip to Tawang in the Himalayan foothills, best known for its eminent three-hundred-year-old monastery.

To be continued

Maison Bellevue, Munster, France

Ever caught a whiff of a wild dog pining to be released from its chain? In that case, you’ll be approximately familiar with the smell of Munster cheese. This unpasteurised “gem” is hand-crafted in farm cottages dotted throughout the Munster Valley of Eastern France, and testifies to the “terror” of the terroir around these parts.

MUNSTER, ALSACE, FRANCE: A fine range of cheeses is on sale at the weekly town market

But Munster is no monster!

What is now the city of Munster just recently celebrated its 800th birthday. Munster is now home to the world-renowned Munster Jazz Festival (next to be held from January 8-15, 2018), which brings some of the world’s top jazz talent to this picturesque city. The creator of the festival, vibraphonist Michel Hausser, has played with such top talent as Lionel Hampton and Stephane Grapelli, and Australia’s own trumpet legend James Morrison has twice played in the Festival.

Right in town Bellevue Apartments, founded by veteran hoteliers Suzanne and André Haumesser, are perfect as a base for exploring Alsace and the surrounding areas.

Alsace, France: A fine view of Munster town, from the heights of Obersolberg

Each with two bedrooms, TV, kitchen, living area and panoramic views over Munster, the apartments are great for families. The first floor apartment is particularly plush, with gourmet kitchen, balconies and fine antique furniture.

Maison Bellevue apartments are now managed by the Haumessers’ daughter Gabrielle, who in delightful style presents the weekly Forever French program on Sydney’s Eastside Radio (89.7 Mhz FM, at 8 pm Wednesdays):

Whatever you do in France, don’t miss Munster. You may even get addicted to Munster cheese – but don’t count on it!