India's e-visas are back. Take the chance to discover the country's hidden gems

Pnar, or Jaintia, tribals carry 'Rongs' or chariots and dance in muddy waters during the Behdienkhlam festival in Tuber village, in the northeastern India's state of Meghalay.
Pnar, or Jaintia, tribals carry 'Rongs' or chariots and dance in muddy waters during the Behdienkhlam festival in Tuber village, in the northeastern India's state of Meghalay.   -   Copyright  Anupam Nath/AP
By Giulia Carbonaro

India has finally reinstated e-visas for British travellers, allowing visitors to apply online to visit the beautiful South Asian country instead of having to book in-person appointments and interviews to secure a visa. 

The electronic visa (e-visa) scheme, which is valid for travellers from 164 countries -- including the UK -- was halted in March 2020 at the height of the COVID pandemic and partially restored last year for visitors from 156 countries. The UK was left out of the list, putting hundreds of holidays to India at risk of cancellations and postponements as many travellers were unwilling or unable to go through the laborious process of getting the visa.

This eventually led India to a u-Turn on the policy. On Monday, Indian High Commissioner Vikram K. Doraiswami announced that the country was "rolling out e-visas once again" for British nationals, adding that a system upgrade was underway.

The move is expected to bring a surge in bookings from British travellers, which is exactly what India is wishing for.

From backpackers and adventurers to high-end tourists looking for luxury, India is eager to embrace visitors once more, after months of closures due to the COVID pandemic.

The country has now put the painful memories of a devastating 2021 - which brought the country's health system close to collapse - behind it, quickly revitalising its tourism industry after reopening its borders on 15 November last year.

"We are reviving very fast, because we opened up early," Secretary Arvind Singh, a senior officer at India's Ministry of Tourism, says.

"We were one of the first countries and all expectations are that we will get back to normal faster than most of the countries in the region."

With its stunning range of cultures, religions, traditions, food, architecture and landscapes, there's literally something for everyone in India, no matter what you’re looking for. But where should you start?

For those who have already been to India and are looking for a new take on this multifaceted country, or those who want to start exploring India for the first time, Singh recommends the Northeast.

"The Northeast of India is unexplored territory, it's beautiful," Singh says. "And new facilities are coming up. Jammu and Kashmir have also opened up, and domestic tourists are flocking there in very large numbers."

Should I visit Northeast India?

The Northeast is often overlooked by tourists, in part because of the region's troubled past as a border area marked by ethnic tensions and independence struggles. But the protests which still occasionally occur in the area are always internal, and tourists are safe and welcome to travel across the region.

The area borders Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Nepal, and it includes seven states called the "seven sisters", these include Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. Within these remote states, tourists can find the different tribes, languages, religions and traditions that make up the complex identity of this part of India.

Anupam Nath/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
A Rhinoceros with its calf grazes in the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary, outskirts of Guwahati, northeastern Assam state, India, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.Anupam Nath/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

These states are hardly visited by foreigners and tourists, though the scenery is absolutely breathtaking, and you could even spot some rare and endangered wildlife as the region has one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world.

Northeast India is one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth too, and the best way to approach the immense variety of cultures and traditions is to attend one of the many festivals which take place annually in the region between April and December, and to spend time with the locals staying at a homestay.

What are the transport links like in Northeast India?

Travelling across the Northeast isn't as easy as going to Delhi though. Assam and Meghalaya are the most visited states, and the easiest ones to journey across because they have better infrastructure than many of their sister states. Arunachal Pradesh is more difficult to visit, as it requires a special permit (the Protected Area Permit), and Nagaland isn't very well connected.

But the extra effort that it takes to visit this region of India is worth it if it means leaving behind the crowds in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa.

New to Northeast India? Here's where you should go

The city of Guwahati, the gateway to India's Northeast in Assam, is probably the best place to start your journey through India's Northeast. Here you can visit the beautiful Kamakhya Temple a bazaar, and enjoy all the comforts of a city.

For a full immersion into India's unspoiled nature and a rare glimpse into the lives of the local wildlife, including one-horned rhinos, elephants, tigers and panthers, head to the Kaziranga National Park, in the heart of the state of Assam.

While in Assam, you should visit Majuli, an island you can reach by ferry boat from Jorhat. The landscape is otherworldly, and a visit here is made even more precious by the fact that the island is continuously sinking due to sediment discharge, and won't be around forever.

Anupam Nath/AP
Hindu devotees gather by the river Brahmaputra and offer prayers during Chhath Puja festival in Guwahati, northeastern Assam state, India, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.Anupam Nath/AP

Where should I go in Meghalaya?

Moving onto Meghalaya, you should visit Cherrapunji, a natural area full of sightseeing opportunities including waterfalls, mountains, forests and the famous root bridges.

In the tiny village of Mawsynram, known to be the wettest place on Earth, you can find one of the most stunning landscapes in India, and the impressive Mawjymbuin Cave. A visit to Meghalaya wouldn't be complete without seeing Shillong, likely the most visited site in Northeast India. Surrounded by a mystical-looking fog, this city among the clouds is a dreamy spot for those looking to relax while also admiring the breathtaking nature.

AP Photo/Anupam Nath
A tribal Khasi woman walks carrying tea leaves she plucked in a garden at Moronga village, along the Assam-Meghalaya state border, India, Tuesday, July 19, 2022.AP Photo/Anupam Nath

If you obtain a permit to visit Arunachal Pradesh, you should see the picturesque villages of Dong and Tawang, still mostly unexplored by tourists.

You should also go to Agartala, in Tripura, to admire the region’s most stunning temples and visit Manipur, called "the Switzerland of India", for serene and spectacular landscapes and to visit Khangkhui Mangsor Cave., which is considered the oldest archaeological site in the entire country.

For more suggestions, check out India's Ministry of Tourism website.