India’s enduring cultures, ancient architecture and stunning landscapes have drawn photographers since the infancy of photography more than 150 years ago. The vibrancy of color, the diversity of wildlife and the beauty of its people have held a special allure to those who not only enjoy traveling to distant locales, but who also hope to experience and make photographs of places whose history is measured not in hundreds, but thousands of years.
Despite the fact that India is a favorite destination for travelers from all over the world, there are areas of this amazing country that aren’t as frequently visited, but which offer unique and picturesque experiences.
The Seven Sisters region of India encompasses the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Located in the country’s northeast, these states feature outstanding opportunities to photograph wildlife, ancient temples, native tribes and a multitude of spiritual and cultural festivals. It’s a destination that offers a host of choices to satisfy and inspire those who love seeing and sharing the world with the help of a camera.
The opportunity to photograph wildlife abounds in the Seven Sisters area. One of the best locations to photograph both the exotic and endangered is the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. The 430-sq./km. park located near the bank of the Brahmaputra River is a refuge rich with wildlife.
Animals include the one-horned rhinoceros, a species whose numbers were once fewer than 200 but have now risen to the thousands. The large and impressive animal can be photographed amidst the tall grasses that form its habitat.
The park is also home to elephants, bear, Indian bison and an assortment of native birds, including the Himalayan griffon, oriental honey buzzard and bar-headed goose. The park offers the opportunity to elevate both yourself and your camera by traveling atop elephants, providing you a “near”-bird’s-eye view.
Also in Assam, Nameri National Park located near the Arunachal Pradesh border offers its own unique collection of wildlife, including tigers, flying squirrels, turtles and leopards. Birdlife is rich and features many species, including four species of hornbills and the endangered white wing duck. The 212-sq./km. park located near the foothills of the Himalayas also abounds with herds of elephants.
In the state of Tripura, the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary features a lush green landscape that’s inhabited by more than 150 species of native and migratory birds, including the white ibis and open-billed stork. Mammals include deer, monkeys, wild pigs and leopards.
The efforts at Sepahijala to sustain the natural habitat have helped to not only safeguard numerous species, but also have created a space where travelers can enjoy the beauty and fragility of a natural environment.
The Seven Sisters states border Myanmar (Burma), China, Bangladesh and Bhutan, which heavily influenced the region’s cultural diversity due to the proximity of these countries and societies over the centuries. The result is a mixture of indigenous tribes and migrants whose unique histories and traditions provide the backdrop for a variety of colorful festivals. These spiritual and cultural celebrations offer photographers great opportunities to comfortably photograph subjects up-close in native dress and decoration while they’re fully involved in dance and activities.
The Brahmaputra Beach Festival held in Arunachal Pradesh in January is a state-sponsored event that coincides with the Assamese harvest festival. This popular cultural event features numerous outdoor activities, including elephant racing, beach cricket, kite flying and more modern sports such as wind surfing and kayaking.
In Tripura, seven days of music and dancing celebrate Karchi Puja, the name for a collection of 14 gods. Held in July, it’s celebrated at the ancient Chaturdasha Devta Temple, where thousands of devotees and pilgrims come to participate in the festivities and public worship.
In October, the largest festival for Bengali Hindus in Assam occurs, the Durga Puja. Celebrating the victory of the goddess Durga in a battle against Mahisasur, the buffalo demon, the festival features the construction of numerous statues honoring the 10-armed goddess, which are carried and exhibited in the streets.
Shad Sukmynsiem, which means “dance of the joyful heart,” is held in Meghalaya in April. This celebration of thanksgiving includes three days of dance in traditional costumes of the Khasi people. The dance, which can only be performed by unmarried men and women, is a colorful performance that offers the potential for dramatic images.
These festivals and celebrations provide a wonderful chance for photographers who love or aspire to take images of people. The energy and interaction displayed at such events can lead to intimate portraits and travel photos.
Temples & Structures
India’s centuries of history are no more evident than in the many structures devoted to the spiritual lives of its people. You can capture close-up images of the amazing details that decorate these buildings.
In Arunachal Pradesh lies Tawang Gompa, the biggest Buddhist monastery in India. With some structures dated at more than 350 years old, it’s considered the world’s second-largest Buddhist monastery. A virtual walled city complete with streets and housing, it’s an impressive location.
Umananda Temple in Assam is an ancient Shiva temple situated in the middle of the Brahmaputra River on Peacock Island. Famous for its golden languor monkeys that loiter, awaiting treats from visitors, the temple is accessible via boat.
Also in Assam, the Nabagraha Mandir (Temple of Nine Planets) is a structure that was dedicated to religious practices, as well as home to the study of astronomy and astrology. The temple features nine monolithic Shiva idols.
The Water Palace of Neermahal in Tripura is a more recent structure that nevertheless showcases a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture. Built in the 1930s, the aging palace offers a wonderful collection of colors and textures as well as architectural details.
As with any foreign destination, it’s the people who can make a travel experience memorable. Numerous tribes inhabit the northeastern region, including the Apatani, Adi and Naga.
The Apatani resides primarily in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh and are identified by the tattoos that adorn their faces. Women modify their faces by the use of dats, wooden plugs worn through their noses, while the men tie their hair into a knot above their foreheads. While they’re increasingly adopting western ways, you’ll still have an opportunity to meet and photograph these striking people.
The Adi live in the same region. Both men and women wear a galae, a multipurpose cloth that hangs in strips. In some areas, men are known to wear a helmet made of cane and animal skin. The tribe gathers during the summer months to celebrate a nine-day harvest festival, Solung. It culminates in the display of native weaponry in the entryways of homes as a way of warding off bad spirits.
Residing in areas of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, the Naga people are known for their friendliness and loyalty. They live in communal longhouses, decorated with the skulls of native wild buffalo. Elders sometimes accessorize their native dress with a machete called a dao, which is worn by both sexes.
No matter which one of these undiscovered states you choose to visit, the world of India’s Seven Sisters provides an opportunity for the global traveler and the passionate photographer to have an unforgettable experience.