Rice is the major staple food crop in the North Eastern Region of India (26.2 million hectare geographical area) and the region has a deficit of 1.40 million tones of rice, mainly due to low productivity (1.72 t ha−1). Field experiments were conducted for the first time to evaluate the new techniques of rice cultivation, viz. the system of rice intensification (SRI) and integrated crop management (ICM) along with conventional rice culture (CRC) for improving productivity, water and energy use efficiency during the rainy seasons of 2004–07 at the ICAR Research Complex for North Eastern Hill Region, Umiam, Meghalaya (950 m msl), India. Three stand establishment methods, viz. SRI, ICM and CRC in main plots, and five nutrient management practices, viz. recommended dose of fertilizers (RDF = 80:26:33 kg NPK ha−1), farmyard manure (FYM) 10 t ha−1, RDF + FYM 5 t ha−1, 50% RDF + FYM 10 t ha−1, and a control (no fertilizer and manure) in sub-plots, were tested in a split-plot design; only few meaningful interactions were found. Results showed a higher number of panicles per square metre under CRC and ICM compared with SRI. However, the number of panicles per hill, grains per panicle and the test weight remained higher in the SRI method. In terms of mean grain yield, ICM (4.86 t ha−1) and SRI (4.72 t ha) produced 12.8 and 9.6%, respectively, higher grain yield over CRC (4.3 t ha−1). Among the nutrient management practices, the application of RDF + FYM 5 t ha−1 (5.0 t ha−1) and 50% RDF + FYM 10 t ha−1 (4.87 t ha−1) not only produced higher grain yield of rice (23.8 and 20.5%, respectively, higher yield over control) but also maintained higher soil available N, P and organic carbon at harvest compared with other nutrient management practices. Photosynthesis rate and water use efficiency were found to be significantly (p < 0.05) higher under SRI, whereas the transpiration rate was higher under CRC. The ICM method recorded maximum net return and energy output to input ratio, which was followed by SRI and CRC. Therefore, the ICM method of rice cultivation would be the preferred option for the sub-tropical mid-hills of eastern Indian Himalayas.