Assam (bordering Bhutan in northeast India) is known for its dense forests, tea plantations and rich mineral deposits. It was largely unpopulated until World War II. A land of bamboo villages and mountains of all shapes and sizes, Assam's population is now on the rise because it has become India's largest producer of oil, tea and forest products. The climate is very humid. Assam gets a lot of rain.
Assam state covers 78,438 square kilometers (30,285 square miles), is home to about 31.2 million people and has a population density of 397 people per square kilometer. About 86 percent of the population lives in rural areas.Guwahati is the capital and largest city, with about 2.3 million people. Much of Assam's population lives along the mighty Brahmaputra River.
Native Assamese make up about half the population; Bengalis about a third. About 60 percent of the population is Hindu. Most of the remainder are Muslims. There are also some Christians and animists. Thousands of tea plantation workers, many of them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh known as Mymensinghy, live in Assam. The region is known for its numerous tribes, each with its own customs and traditions. These hill tribes have much in common with those found in neighboring Arunachal Pradesh and nearby Bangladesh as well as those in Thailand, China and Myanmar.
Languages of Assam (2011): Assamese (48.38 percent); Bengali (28.92 percent); Hindi (6.73 percent); Bodo (4.54 percent); Sadri (2.29 percent); Mishing (1.98 percent); Nepali (1.91 percent); Karbi (1.64 percent); Odia (0.70 percent); Santali (0.68 percent); Manipuri (0.54 percent); Garo (0.52 percent); Others (1.17 percent). Religion in Assam (2011): Hinduism (61.47 percent); Islam (34.22 percent); Christianity (3.74 percent); Buddhism (0.18 percent); Jainism (0.08 percent); Sikhism (0.07 percent); Animism (0.09 percent); Other or not religious (0.16 percent). [Source: Wikipedia]
Assam produces 60 percent of India’s tea and is famous for its tea plantations. Unlike many tea-growing areas elsewhere where tea plants is primarily grown on hills and mountains, the tea-growing regions of Assam are primarily flat and consist of tea plantation that go on and on as far as the eye can see. Sivasagar to the north was the capital of the Ahom kingdom for more than 600 years. Wildlife sanctuaries in the region include Drang, Manas and Kaziranga, home of the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos. Majuli, the largest riverine island in the world, is situated in the Brahmaputra River in Assam.
See Separate Article KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK AND WILDLIFE AREAS IN ASSAM
Tourism in Assam
Termed as the land of “Blue Hills and Red River” Assam is the gateway to the northeastern states and has been aptly described as the sentinel of Northeast India. Seven Indian States and two countries Bhutan and Bangladesh, surround Assam which is also close to India’s international borders with China and Myanmar. Assam is surrounded by hills, major rivers such as Brahmaputra & Barak and its tributaries, thick forest, tea gardens which enhances the scenic beauty of Assam. Infact the mighty Brahmaputra river of Assam is the only male river in the country.
Assam is the home to various ethnic tribes and groups, each having its own cultural heritage and unique features in its socio-cultural life including customs, religious belief, language, culture, way-of-life, food, songs, festivals including Bihu, Baishagu, Rongker & Chomangkan Festival, Bishu, Baikho, Ali-Aye-Ligang, Me-Dum-Me-Phi, Ambubachi Mela and many more.
Assam is a home to Five National Parks and 18 Wildlife sanctuaries, the highest concentration in India. They host 25 percent of India’s floristic wealth and enormous faunal diversity. The famous Kaziranga National Park. located in the Golaghat district of Assam. is home to largest population of world’s one horned rhinoceros as wild Asiatic water buffalo, Eastern swamp deer, wild elephants and migratory birds. This National Park has also the highest density of tigers. Manas National Park, also a world heritage site, is a constituent unit of the Eastern Himalayan Bio-Diversity Region; one of the two biodiversity “Hot Spot” in the country. The mystery of the birds’ suicide at Jatinga Dima Hasao District, is a subject of interest of all nature lovers and researchers.
The state is endowed with more than 600 tea gardens which gives soothing view to the eyes as one travels down to upper Assam. Around 20 tea gardens in Assam have developed and maintained golf courses within the garden area and a few have polo fields. The Jorhat Gymkhana Club is the oldest golf course in Asia and the third oldest in the World.
There are also religious, cultural and history sights. Located in the Nilachal hills in the western part of Guwahati, Kamakhya Temple is the oldest temple is dedicated to goddess Kamakhya. The temple is popular among pilgrims of Tantric worship, more so during the annual Ambubachi Mela Festival. Hajo is another spiritual center where people from three religions, Buddhist, Hindus and Muslims congregate for pilgrimage.
The mighty river Brahmaputra defines the geography of Assam.One can take a cruise along this river in style, on the “MV Mahabaahu”, with first class facilities, experiencing wildlife, tradition, adventure tourism on the way. It one survey it was rated as one of the Top Ten River Cruises of the World. Assam is blessed with the world’s largest inhabited river island Majuli, which has several satras vaishnavite monasteries, some dating back to the 16th centuries; as well as the world’s smallest riverine island in the world, home to Umananda Temple, built in the 17th Century dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Northeastern India looks like a wing that was connected to India as a kind of afterthought. It is linked to India proper by a narrow strip of land between Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Bangladesh. Northeastern India is made up of the seven states of 1) Assam, 2) Meghalaya, 3) Tripura, 4) Arunachal Pradesh, 5) Mizoram, 6) Manipur, and 7) Nagaland. Assam is a large tea-growing state. Arunchal Pradesh, the northeastern-most state of India, is also claimed by China and requires a permit to visit. Meghlaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura are small ethnic states set up for the main ethnic groups that live in each one.
Northeast India is one of the country's most scenic region. The snowcapped Himalayas provide a magnificent backdrop in the northern part of the region for pine forest, flower-covered meadows and lush tea plants that thrive in the regions misty weather. A multitude of ethnic groups occupy the southern and eastern regions, where there are dense rain forest with rare plants and animals. The main attractions are hill stations, national parks, Himalayan peaks and ethnic minorities. Some areas receive quite a bit of rain, especially in the monsoon season. In the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland, upward of 90 percent of the population is tribal. However, in the remaining northeast states of Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, and Tripura, tribal peoples form between 20 and 30 percent of the population.
Certain tensions exist between these states and a relatively distant central government and between the tribal peoples, who are natives of these states, and migrant peoples from other parts of India. These tensions have led the natives of these states to seek a greater participation in their own governance, control of their states' economies, and their role in society. Emerging from these desires for greater self-governance are new regional political parties and continued insurgent movements. In addition to the more frequently analyzed regional movements in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and states such as Assam and Nagaland in the northeast, there are other regional movements, such as those in the Tripura and Miso tribal areas. [Source: Library of Congress]
There are more than 30 different separatist insurgent groups in Assam and northeast India. They include the United Liberation Front of Assam, the Manipur People’s Army, the National Liberation Front of Tripura and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland Some of them have been fighting since independence in 1947 and have a history of fighting that goes back before that.
For a long time many areas of Assam and Northeast India were off limits to tourists, and some areas still are, because of the insurgent groups and tensions with China and to a lesser degree Bangladesh. There is periodic fighting between Assamese and Bengalis, and the Indian army and the Nagas, a tribal group that has never been completely tamed. You need a special permit to some areas. In recent years an effort has been made to open up the area. Restrictions on traveling are slowly being lifted. In 1995, the restricted area permits were lifted for Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura. In 2010, they were lifted in Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. Arunachal Pradesh still requires a permit.
Brahmaputra River is one of the world's great rivers and as far as anyone knows no one has ever traveled its entire length. Extending for 3,080 kilometers (1,913 miles) through some of the world's most remote and inhospitable terrain, it begins in the Himalayas in western Tibet as a glacier-fed stream and changes its name and twists and turns through China and India before emptying into Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. The basin size of the Brahmaputra is 712,035 square kilometers (274,918 square miles). [Source: Jere Van Dyk, National Geographic, November 1988]
By some reckoning the Brahmaputra is the highest river in the world. Brahmaputra means "son of Brahma." Brahma is one of the most prominent Hindu gods. In Hindu cosmology the Brahmaputra is the only male river. The river is regarded as sacred by Buddhists in Tibet but not among the Muslims in Bangladesh.
The Brahmaputra is at its lowest in February, when water in the Himalayas is locked up in snow and ice. The river is at its highest in June when it is swollen from snow melt and early monsoons rains and September after the monsoons. In the dry season there is enough water to irrigate crops. New islands are constantly being creating and channels are consisting changing and on the move.
The Brahmaputra often floods in India, swamping fields and washing away villages. Sediment from floods helps fertilize the soil. Villages have to be move as the water cuts away at river banks. Freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, known locally as su, swim up the Brahmaputra all the way to Assam.
Route of the Brahmaputra
The source of the Brahmaputra is in Tibet 100 kilometers south of sacred Mt. Kailas in the Chemayungdung range in the Himalayas and near the sacred Lake Mansarovar . The river here is known to Tibetans as the Zangpo, or Tsangpo, which simple means "river." [Source: Jere Van Dyk, National Geographic, November 1988]
The Zangpo is the largest river in southern Tibet. It flows at a height of more than two miles (3500 meters) for 1125 kilometers (700 miles) to the east almost the entire length of the Chinese-Tibetan border with Nepal and eastern India. It wasn't until early in the 20th century that geographers were certain that the Zangpo and the Brahmaputra were the same river. A British surveyor wrote in 1788, "This river must have a very long course before its enters the Bengal Provinces, since for 40 miles it is twice as big as the Thames...[There is] the strongest presumptive proof possible of the Sanpoo and Burrampooter being one and the same river."
The Zangpo goes through several name changes. It starts out as the Maquan Zangpo and becomes the Yarlung Zangpo. The river that flows through Lhasa is a tributary of the Yarlung Zanpo. Most Tibetans live along the Yarlung Zangpo and its tributaries, from Xigaze to Zetang, where Tibetan Buddhism developed in the late 8th century and water form the river is used to irrigate crops in otherwise dry areas.
The Zangpo narrows at Pei and drops into a rapid-filled, 3050-meter (10,000-foot) -deep gorge that seems like an escape route carved out of the Himalayas. Here the river makes a right hand turn towards India and drops a phenomenal 2133 meters (7,000 feet) in 240 kilometers (150 miles). This section of the river is known as the Siang to the Chinese, who want to someday harness the river into the world’s greatest generator of hydroelectric power. The area is also the site of massive logging operations. Travel here is restricted and even if it wasn't travel in the region is very difficult. There are few roads and the ones that exist are treacherous and often washed out or closed by landslides. The river is too wild to negotiate in boats and is crossed by cables rather bridges.
The Siang flows through an area claimed by both China and India and has been the site of some fighting. China rejects the McMahon Line drawn between Tibet and British India in 1914. Many explorers who have attempted to explore this difficult stretch of the rivers did not return to tell the tale. It wasn't until 1924 that the area was explored by Europeans. In 1962, the Chinese invaded this area and the Indian military has a strong presence in the area today.
As the river enters the Assam Valley it become officially known as the Brahmaputra. Here the river broadens and is fed by rivers coming out of some the rainiest parts of the world. River ferries run along some sections around Dibrugarh. Further down river the Brahmaputra passes by Kaziranga National Park, sometimes flooding it and killing rare one-horned rhinos. The Brahmaputra enters Bangladesh as the Jamuna, joins the Ganges to form the Padma and ends as the Meghna, which splits into a massive delta that empties into the Bay of Bengal at a rate of 2.3 million cubic feet of water a second.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the 77,700-square-kilometer (30,000-square-mile) delta created by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India is the world's largest delta. Ever year the Brahmaputra and Ganges system carries two billion tons of sediment out to sea. More than any other river system, even the Amazon. The sediment creates islands known as chars, which are utilized for farming but are vulnerable to floods.
Transportation on the Brahmaputra
Rafting on the Brahmaputra River can be done on the upper reaches of the river in Arunachel Pradesh. One 180-kilometer (110-mile) one-week trips starts near the Tibetan border at Tuting, where there is flimsy-looking cane hanging bridge across the river, and ends in Pasighat. The trip takes rafters through some Class IV (advanced) rapids that often flip the rafts. One of the highlights of the trip is the visit to the Dibang Valley, home of the Adi people, and Marmong Gorge, with spectacular sheer walls, waterfalls and dense rain forest foliage. . . After the Marmong there are still some challenging rapids but the water is generally calmer. There are some more hanging bridges. Trips in the region are sponsored by the Delhi-based Aquaterra Adventures.
One can take a cruise along the Brahmaputra in Assam on the “MV Mahabaahu ”, experiencing wildlife, tradition, adventure tourism on the way. It one survey it was rated as one of the Top Ten River Cruise of the World. The MV Mahabaahu runs seven-night sailings along the Brahmaputra, either upstream, from Guwahati to Jorhat, or downstream in the other direction. Downstream itineraries depart from Neamati Ghat, near Jorhat (accessible by air from Kolkata). The cruise stops in Kaziranga National Park, which National Geographic calls 'the Serengeti of India.', which visitors can explore in boat, jeep and elephant-back safaris and look for tigers, elephants, wild buffalo and one-horned rhino. Its sandy and ever-shifting banks are also home to large herds of deer and to birds, including great hornbills, large storks and black-necked cranes.
The Mahabaahu provides comfortable base for enjoying the river. The cabins have large windows. Several have balconies. Though not a 'luxury boat' by today's Western standards, Mahabaahu is well presented with crisp linen cloths and napkins in the dining room, silk hangings and cushions on the beds, and comfortable seating in the main Soma Lounge, up on the sun deck, and around the pool.
In Bangladesh, the Brahmaputra is so wide there are no bridges across it, only ferries. Even so the river is the Bangladesh's main transportation system. Boats of all sized and shapes fill the river. There are large passenger ferries, waters water taxis and noaka loaded with a variety of goods. Most are propelled by boatmen with a single oar. Some of the sailing vessels look like Viking ships. There are even some old paddle-wheelers in operation. Fishermen use variety of nets and poles.
Bridges Over the Brahmaputra
Bogibeel Bridge is a combined road and rail bridge over the Brahmaputra River between Dhemaji district and Dibrugarh district in Assam that makes transportation between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh much easier. Opened in 2018, it was started in 2002 and took 16 years to build.
The Bogibeel Bridge is the longest rail-cum-road bridge in India and second longest such bridge in Asia, measuring 4.94 kilometers. It has 41 spans of 125 meters and a superstructure of composite welded steel truss and reinforced concrete. As it is situated in an earthquake-prone area over a river than is famous for flooding and creating new channels, it is India's first bridge to have fully welded steel-concrete support beams that can withstand earthquakes of magnitudes up to 7 on the Richter Scale. The bridge was constructed by a consortium of construction companies headed by Hindustan Construction Company. The bridge has a double rail line on the lower deck and a 3 lane road on the upper deck.
Dhola-Sadiya Bridge is 9.1-kilometer-long, US$381 million bridge over the Brahmaputra river between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states that opened in 2017. The Dhola Sadia bridge link Dhola in Arunachal Pradesh to Sadiya in Tinsukia district of Assam is crucial from the strategic perspective as it is close to the border state of Arunachal Pradesh. cuts travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by four to five hours. It longest bridge close to the border with China and the Indian media made a big deal about the fact that the bridge has been built to support the weight of a 60-tonne tank. [Source: AFP, May 29, 2017]
At its inauguration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the structure will help farmers in mountainous Arunachal Pradesh transport crops and herbs to markets in Assam.“This bridge will not only save time and money, but it will bring about a new economical revolution for the people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh,” Modi said. On the military benefits, Ajit Singh, a defence research officer at New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management, said: “The bridge is going to help our troops get to parts that were earlier difficult to reach in times of crises.”
The Indian government is also constructing a 2,000 kilometers highway to connect the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh to the western side at an estimated cost of US$6 billion. It is also carrying out a study on a possible new railway network in the area and has set up a ministry to develop India’s remote northeast beyond the so-called Chicken’s Neck - a narrow strip of territory around Bangladesh.
Assam is dotted with monuments of the Ahom dynasty; which ruled the region for 600 years — the longest ruling single dynasty in Indian history and of the few dynasties that the Mughals could not conquer. From 1228 to the British annexation of the region, Assam was ruled by the Ahoms, a Han people that migrated from upper Burma. These people referred to the land they occupied as Assam, Asam and Aham and the name stuck. They ruled over six districts on the lower Brahmaputra or Assam Valley and kept records of their reign.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Tai-Ahom clan upon their migration from China established their capital in different parts of the Brahmaputra River Valley between 12th to 18th. Usurping the Barahi tribe, Chau-lung Siu-ka-pha established the first capital of the Ahoms at the foothill of Patkai hills and named it Che-rai-doi or Che-tam-doi, meaning “a dazzling city above the mountain” in their language and consecrated site with a ritual. While the clan moved from city to city, the landscape of Che-Rai-Doi or Charaideo continued to retain its position as most sacred where the departed soul of the Royals could transcend into the after-life. Their unique system of vaulted mounds continued for 600 years, until many Tai-Ahoms converted to Buddhism while others adopted the Hindu system of cremation. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
In 1820, the British added Assam to the East India Company’s territories. In 1822, the chief commissionership of Assam was set up by by the British. It consisted of the six Brahmaputra or Assam Valley districts, and two district in the Suma valley, six hill areas and two frontier tracts. Historically, the northeast part of India, including Assam, was sparsely populated. However, during the colonial period, the shortage of manpower in Assam was regarded as a major obstacle to British colonial plans (to clear the jungles, reclaim swampy lands for cultivation, develop tea cultivation, etc.). As a result, the British encouraged migration from East Bengal into Ahom. The inflow of people to the northeast continued even after the partition of India in 1947. [Source: Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland ~]
The population of northeast India has seen unprecedented growth during the past century. Assam increased from 3,290,000 around partition in 1947 to approximately 26 million in 2005 to 31 million today. After partition several hundred thousand Bengali-speaking Hindus left what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and migrated into Assam by late 1950. Since 1947, three tribal states have been separated from Assam: Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland. Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur of northeast India were considered for inclusion in Assam, but have also become separate states. In 1956, Jawaharlal Nehru's government created linguistic states in the wake of ethnic strife throughout northeast India. During the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971, hundreds of thousands of hungry refugees poured into Calcutta, West Bengal, Assam and other eastern India. In the late 1970s waves of anti-immigrant protests erupted in Assam and spawned separatist guerilla movements. ~
Guwahati (24 hour train ride from New Delhi) is the capital and largest city, with about 2.3 million people. The gateway to Assam and the business and transportation hub of the region, it lies on the southern fringes of the mighty Brahmaputra river. Kamakhya Temple, established in the 8th century, is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shakti, "the essence of female energy" and the patron deity of Assam. Its stands on hill overlooking the Brahmaputra River, It is an important center of Tantric Hinduism. Cruising on Brahmaputra and admiring the temple is a magical experience. Guwahati is also spelled Gauhati.
Guwahati is known for the resplendent silk sari and its yardages, known as Assam silk or Muga silk. The city throbs with culture, festivals, fairs, music, dance and arts and crafts. From the renowned Bihu dance and folk music to the energetic bhortal nritya, the city holds its culture close to its heart and displays it in an array of colors and merriment that leave tourists in awe. To sample the local flavors of the city, head to the old quarters by the river. Dotted with palms, ponds, quaint temples and imperial mansions, the area speaks of the glorious history of the region when it was ruled by the Ahom kingdom and the Koch Hajo. The city was once known as Pragjyotishpura or the Light of the East and is said to have been a powerful kingdom during the days of Mahabharata.
Getting There: By Air: Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport is located around 30 kilometers from the heart of the city. By Road: Good roads and NH27 connect the city to other Indian towns and cities. By Train: Guwahati Railway Station connects the city with all major railway stations in the country.
Sights in Guwahati
Umannanda, a temple perched on an island in the river, is important temple as are Bhubameshwari Devi and Ugratara temples. Basistha Ahram and Aswaklanta are nice picnic spots on the river. Cruising on Brahmaputra and admiring the temple is a magical experience. Also worth checking out are the Botanical Gardens, Anthropological Museum, Assam Government Cottage Industries Emporium and the State Archives. Cultural programs are offered at the Rabindra Bhawan and District Library Auditorium.
Assam State Museum (in the heart of Guwahati) has a fine display of archeological, cultural and natural history of the region. The collections include royal garments, weapons, paintings, sculptures, stone and copper inscriptions, woodwork and more. Some memorabilia from World War II is also on display. Established in 1940, it is among the bigger multipurpose museums in the country. It is divided into various sections like sculptures, natural history, folk art, crafts and epigraphy. Some interesting exhibits in these include bamboo items, coins, musical instruments, ivory paintings etc. A library inside the museum is particularly amazing, as it houses a rich collection of journals, periodicals and books relating to mythology, biography, art and culture, and other subjects.
River Cruises on the Brahmaputra River is an best experiences visitors should look into while in Guwahati visit. While on the boat you can check out birds taking shelter in its lush surroundings, look for other animals, observe fishermen and watch locals enaging in everyday life. The quaint and rustic hamlets scattered by the bank allow tourists to see local culture and traditions. The boat trips often include meals Live musical performances are also organised.
Assam State Zoo is the largest zoo in Northeast India. It is home to around 900 animals, birds and reptiles from 113 species of fauna from around the world. The zoo is a part of the Hengrabari Reserve Forest, which includes a botanical garden that is spread over 82 hectare. The zoo was established in 1957 and occupies an area of 175 hectare.
Temples in the Guwahati Area
Umananda Temple (on a hillock on Peacock Island in the Brahmaputra) has Lord Shiva as its presiding deity. There are several other deities worshipped in the temple. Thousands of devotees from across the country come here, especially for the festival of Shivratri. Kalika Purana, an ancient Hindu text, records that at the beginning of creation, Lord Shiva sprinkled bhasma (ashes) here and imparted knowledge to Goddess Parvati. When he was in meditation, he was interrupted by Kamadeva, who was then burnt to ashes by the lord.
Madan Kamdev Temple (40 kilometers north of Guwahati) is a mysterious ruined temple. Not much is known about the source of this temple and there are no written records about it. Around 35 years ago, remnants of 12 temples were unearthed here, scattered over a hillock dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries. The ruins also have sculptures similar to the ones found in Khajuraho.
Asvankranta Temple (on a the rocky river bank of Brahmaputra) is one of the greatest shrines of Lord Vishnu in Assam, It houses the Lord's footprints in his tortoise avatar. According to legend once Lord Krishna and his army, camped here before he killed demon Narkasur. The temple is also linked with Lord Krishna and his wife, Rukmini, wherein it is believed the temple was constructed at the same spot where Lord Krishna’s horse was surrounded by a number of enemies back then. On the northern bank of River Brahmaputra stands the rare star-shaped Manikarneswar Temple, on a hill. It is said to be one of the oldest ones constructed in the 10-11th century by the Pal dynasty. Temporary tin sheets act as the roof of this temple as the original was apparently destroyed in an earthquake.
Dirgheswari Temple (northern banks of the Brahmaputra river in Guwahati) was built by Ahom king Swargadeo Siva Singha between 1714 and 1744. It is said to be a shaktipeetha (devotional shrines where severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell). Though the presiding deity is Goddess Durga, there are a number of images of gods and goddesses engraved in the rocks of the hill. Locals consider it to be the next holiest place after the Kamakhya Temple.
Kamakhya Temple (on top of Nilachal Hill on the banks of the Brahmaputra River) is Guwahati’s main landmark. One of the oldest temples in the city, it is said to date back to the 8th century. Dedicated to mother goddess Kamakhya, the temple has four chambers: a garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum), which is a cave under the ground level that houses a rock fissure instead of an idol, and three mandapas (outdoor halls) known as calanta, pancharatna and natamandira. The current temple structure has been built by the Ahom kings. One of the classic features is the shikhara (spire) that looks like a beehive of sculpted panels and images of Hindu gods and goddesses.
Counted among the most sacred shaktipeethas (devotional shrines where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell), the temple is believed to be the place where the womb of the goddess fell. Thus, it is also synonymous with supreme female power and fertility. Thousands of devotees visit the temple every year, especially during the Ambubachi Mela in June.
According to legend Goddess Sati immolated herself when her husband, Lord Shiva, was disrespected in her paternal home. Grief-stricken Lord Shiva traversed the universe with her body on His shoulders, wrecking havoc. To calm the enraged God, Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body with his divine weapon, the Sudarshana chakra, and pieces of the body fell across India, leading to the creation of shaktipeethas.
Sights outside Guwhati include Hajo (20 kilometers from Guwahati), a multi-religious center with Hindu temples, a mosque and a Buddhist pilgrimage center; Madan Kamdev (35 kilometers from Guwahati), said to have the finest temples in the Brahmaputra valley (dating to 10th and 12 centuries); Suralkuchi (32 kilometers away), a major silk weaving center; Chandubi Lake (65 kilometers away); and Bhairabkunda (130 kilometers), on the border of Assam and Bhutan. You can enjoy climbing at the Elephant Rocks in Morigaon, about 78 kilometers away. In the Mikir Hills in Assam: swarms of green parakeets and bats, chatters of monkeys and the roar of tigers.
There are trekking trails and camping sites near Guwahat. Crisscrossed by waterways that pass through wildlife sanctuaries, the Guwahati area enjoys a rich bounty of flora and fauna. Jungle for safaris are offered in Kaziranga National Park and other nearby parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Among the animals you can see are flying foxes, Indian cobra and a number of endemic and migratory birds. If you are lucky maybe you can spot an elusive river dolphin in the waters of the Brahmaputra.
Nalbari (70 kilometers north of Guwahati) is located in the the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, and is famous for its temples. One of the most famous temples is the 500-year-old Billeshwar Mandir, which is dedicated to Lord Krishna. Built in the 18th century, the Basudev Devalaya is another popular temple in Nalbari. Tourists can also pay obeisance at the Hari Mandir, dedicated to Lord Krishna. Nalbari is home to the Shripur Devalaya, which is said to have been built by Ahom king Sib Singha (1714-1744), and is dedicated to Goddess Parvati. The town is near the Indo-Bhutan border.
Sualkuchi Sari Weaving Town
Sualkuchi (five kilometers west of Guwahati) is one of the Saree Weaving Clusters of India that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Sualkuchi has a glorious history in production of muga and mulberry silk since at least fourth century B.C. and finds a mention in Kautilya's Arthashastra (referred to as Suvarnakunda of ancient Kamrupa). Of a naturally rich, golden color, muga is the finest of India’s wild silks. The loom is a prized possession in every Assamese home. Weaving has been a way of life in the state since time immemorial.” [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“Assam tribal weaver clusters: The Karbi, Mishing, Rabha, Singpho and Tai-phake tribes have a strong textile tradition. The Mech tribe is silk-weavers in profession. The Dimasa tribes are renowned for their expertise in silk-culture and weaving-prowess and are the producers of Endi. Weaving among the tribal societies of Assam is a home craft using the back-strap loom or loin loom, which is simple and portable. The vernacular houses Assam provide maximum ﬂexibility and adaptability to the local environmental conditions as well as meet social and cultural requirements. The courtyard has multiple uses like drying of crops, winnowing, cloth weaving and children’s playing space.”
“Craftsmanship means more than technical virtuosity. It is not only a profound understanding of materials, and of the tools with which materials are fashioned, but most importantly it involves a genuine pride which drives an individual to craft and weave as well as can be done, beyond what is required, beyond economic considerations of reward. An excellent example of such craftsmanship is sari weaving in India. The sari is undoubtedly distinguishable as the Indian woman’s traditional attire and is essentially a valuable Indian contribution to the world’s cultural heritage and diversity. Rooted in history and maintaining continuity as a contemporary garment, the sari survives as a living traditional clothing. Traced to the Vedic civilization, evolving with cross-cultural influences of trade, confluences of techniques and patterns, the sari still has innovations in its production processes. As an unstitched garment for women, it has no parallels in terms of versatility, richness of color, texture, and variety of weaving techniques using different kinds of yarn, including cotton, silk, gold and silver thread.
“However, the craftsmanship is not only limited to the final product i.e. the sari but also in the space in which they are produced. The houses of craftsmen are example of vernacular architecture, where the architecture has evolved over a large span of time. The Plan of a weaver’s house developed from the livelihood needs of the inhabitants. Built from local materials and available technology, they aptly cater to the needs of the craftsmen. This pan-India serial comprises of sites from five Indian states: Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. It focuses on the tangible elements of sari weaving clusters irrespective of the popularity of the sari.”
Wildlife Area Near Guwahati
Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary (15 kilometers from Guwahati) is spread out over 78.64 square kilometers and has a wide variety of birds and mammals, including flying fox, slow loris, leopard, rhesus macaque, capped langur, jungle cat, greater adjutant, wild pig, sambar, barking deer, gaur, porcupine, slender-billed vulture, python, lesser-pied hornbill, monitor lizard and Indian cobra. Visitors can engage in activities like trekking, rock climbing, zip lining and mountain rappelling. Amchang was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 2004.
Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary (10 kilometers from Guwahati) embraces an important riverine wetlands in the Brahmaputra Valley. Shortlisted as an Important Bird Area site by Birdlife International, Deepor Beel is the natural habitat of about 219 varieties of birds and 70 species of migratory birds. Some of the threatened birds one can spot here include Pallas’ sea eagle, spot-billed pelican, lesser adjutant stork, greater adjutant stork and Baer’s Pochard. Tourists can also spot fauna like Asian elephants, leopards, sambar, barking deer and Chinese porcupine. Moreover, the park is home to about 20 species of amphibians, 12 kinds of lizards, 18 varieties of snakes and tortoise and turtles, along with 50 kinds of fishes. The best time to visit is from October to March.
Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (40 kilometers east of Guwahati) covers 38.81 square kilometers and is a microcosm of Kaziranga and is often referred to as the national park’s show window. The sanctuary is home to a sizeable population of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros. Ensconced in the grasslands of Assam, it the sanctuary is a birdwatcher's haven as one can find a wide variety of birds. The wetlands host birds like the greater adjutant, lesser adjutant, swamp francolin, white-bellied heron etc. River dolphins are sometimes spotted in the Brahmaputra river here.
See Separate Article KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK AND WILDLIFE AREAS IN ASSAM
Jorhat (250 kilometers east of Guwahati) is the second-largest city of Assam. Spread across a lush green landscape dotted with tea plantation and bungalows, it is an eclectic mix of cultures, diverse tribal communities, vibrant festivals and bustling markets. A good place to shop for Assamese jewelry, Jorhat has several renowned craftsmen who have been practicing their art for generations. The city is popular for pure gold jewelry made in Ahom (Assamese) style, and is a little dull in its shine. The gold jewelry is filled with lac, in which gemstones are embedded with the help of gold leaf.
Jorhat also boasts some of the most spectacular tea gardens in the state that are sprawled across vast expanses. With the distinctive aroma of tea in the air, one can stroll through breathtaking lush greenery and enjoy the serenity of the beautiful gardens. Historically, Jorhat has been one of oldest and the most important centers of commerce and trade in Assam. It was the capital of the powerful Ahom dynasty (1228-1826). Jorhat was built around two major markets, the Chowkihat and Macharhat, which came up on the banks of the pristine Bhogdoi river that flows through the city. In fact, 'jor' or 'jora', in Assamese means two and 'haat' means a market.
Getting There: By Air: Jorhat Airport is located at Rowriah and is approximately 7 kilometers from the city center. The airport has flights connected to various cities Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati etc. By Road: Jorhat is well connected to the roads of other north eastern cities and NH37 connects it with other major cities. By Train: There are regular trains from major cities of the country to Jorhat Town (JTTN) and Rowriah Sdg (RWH).
Dibrugarh (140 kilometers from Jorhat) is famed as the 'Tea City of India' and lies near the Brahmaputra River at the northern end of a vast tea-growing region. Walking through lush green British-era tea gardens is an enjoyable experience. The Jokai Botanical Garden cum Germplasm center attracts nature lovers with some of its rare and endangered species of plants. You can also visit the beautiful white temple of Radha Krishna in Jalan Nagar. The most popular temple in the town is the Jagannath Temple, which is a replica of the famous temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri, Odisha. Nearby Dibru Saikhowa National Park was established to protect the rare white-winged wood duck and is also home to rare creatures like capped langurs and water buffaloes.
Sivasagar (50 kilometers from Jorhat) is built in an area of tea estates around a 129-acre artificial water body called the Sivasagar Tank. Previously known as still called Sibsagar, which literally translates into the ocean of Lord Shiva, the town and tank were built more than 200 years ago. Historical monuments from the Ahom period (1228-1826) include temples around the tank namely, the Shiva dol, the Vishnu Dol and the Devidol. All these temples were built by Queen Madambika in the year 1734. Talatal Ghar, Kareng Ghar and Gargaon Palace are some of the popular palaces in the town.
Shyam Gaon (30 kilometers from Jorhat) is the home to tribals of the Khamyang community, also known as the Shyam tribal group and embraces the Buddhist villages of Balijan Shyamgaon, Betbari Shyamgaon and Na Shyamgaon. The 100 or families that live here are said to be the descendants of people who had moved to Assam from Thailand in the 13th century. The three villages are unique and special enough that a number of Buddhist scholars from Myanmar, Japan and Thailand have researched them. These villages are home viharas (monasteries), where monks teach Tai and Pali scriptures to students. The Balijan shrine is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists.
Majuli Island: World’s Largest River Island
Majuli Island (North of Jorhat) is recognized by the Guinness World Record for being the largest river island in the world. Among its attractions are ethnic communities like the Mishing tribe, the Deoris, the Sonowal Kacharis and the Ahoms, some of whom will invite you into their homes for a bowl of fresh rice beer. The festivals of Majuli provide glimpses of Assamese culture with various dances performed by young men and women. The spring season in Majuli witnesses the Ali-ai-Ligang festival (that marks the onset of sowing seeds); autumn is dedicated to the Raas Mahotsav (a four-day festival to honour Lord Krishna).
The island is also home to several species of endemic and migratory birds and lakes on and around the island are good places for birdwatching. The island is also the seat of the neo-Vaishanavism movement in Assam. More than 25 satras (monasteries) are located here. The most influential is the Kamalabari Satra. Shoppers can buy exquisite Mishing shawls, handwoven gamusa, a multi-purpose cloth used in Assam, and blankets made by tribal communities living in the island. The people of Majuli use bamboo to make a variety of items ranging from musical instruments and fishing equipments to even their houses.
River Island of Majuli in midstream of Brahmaputra River in Assam was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Majuli Island is a fluvial landform (a riverine delta), a unique geographical occurrence and a result of the dynamics of this vast river system.The island itself extends for a length of about 80 kilometers and for about 10-15 kilometers north to south direction with a total area of about 875 square kin. It is 85 -- 90 meters above the mean sea level. It is formed in that stretch of the river where the largest number of tributaries drains out and forms their deltas on the Northern and theSouthern banks. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture, Government of India]
“Majuli is purely a region of fluvial geomorphology. It rises from the Brahmaputra basin and in course of time turned into a flat-level alluvial plain. The geomorphology of this region is directly related with its physiographie characteristics. The island is bounded by the river Subanisri and her tributaries Ranganadi, Dikrong, Dubla,Chici and Tuni etc. on the North west, the kherkatia Suli ( a spill channel of the river Brahmaputra) in the northeast and the main Brahmaputra River on the South and the South west. These tributaries usually bring flashy floods with heavy load of fine silt and clayey sediments. They has also very steep slopes, shallow braided shifting channels and had course of sandy beds.
“Another significant feature of this system is the formation of the islets locally called the Chaporis around the Majuli Island. This is resultant of the braiding of the river. 22 Nos Chor- Chapar present in the waters surrounding the island. At present, 18 have been included as stable/permanent under Majuli Circle. The banks of the island as well as the North and the South banks of the river Brahmaputra have the wetland a characteristic feature of the hydrology of the system. These are locally known as the Beefs. They are the abodes of rich flora and fauna unique to this region, unique for the breeding ground.
“All of the above the river, its tributaries, the wet lands and the chaporis along with the island of Majuli make it the largest mid river delta system in the world. The island today is separated from the mainland of Assam by 2.5 kilometers. It is approached from Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district by ferry, which is on the south of the island, and Kamalabari in Majuli is where one lands. The other mainland towns in proximity to the island on the North bank of mainland are North Lakhimpur and Dhakuwakhana.”
Majuli Island Culture and Village Life
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The island of Majuli today houses a total of 243 small and large villages. Of these 210 are Cadastral Villages (revenues generated by the administration and supported with revenue maps.) and 33 are Noncadastral village (these are villages with no revenue maps, in Mafuli they are mostly resettled or rehabilitated villages shifted due to flood and erosion). There are a total of 30 Sattras in Majuli many of which are in the mainland, few of them are in Chapori areas, with a distinct spiritual influence region. These are located primarily towards the middle of the island. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture, Government of India]
“Each Sattra, represents, within its region, a center for cultural activities and even acts as a democratic institution to settle local disputes. Most of the villages associate with respective Sattra, and the villagers partake in the activities of their own Sattra during festivals and occasions. These Sattra Villages house the Narnghar (council house) where all the activities related to the Sattra are carried out. Many of these Sattra villages are also important centers for the Majuli Island. For instance Kamalabari, Garmur and Dakhinpat are the semi-urban places, juxtaposed with Natun Kamalabari Sattra, Garamur Sattra and Dakhinpat sattra, which are the main commercial places of trade and commerce.
“These sattra villages and other vernacular settlements house people from various ethnic origins all of whom have settled in Majuli like Mishings, Deori, Sonowal Kachari, Koch, Kaivartta and Nath. The settlements have their own characteristics and building typologies. The Mishing and Deori population, which is the largest, has probably the most unique house form, which is on Bamboo stilts being located near the riverine tracts,wetlands and other hydrological features. All these settlements are interspersed in the unique natural landscape with wide variety of land types and water bodies that have resulted due to the unique interplay between geomorphology and hydrology of the island and the river. These diverse water bodies and groves house unique flora and fauna of the island. The understanding of the systems of this natural phenomenon by the local people is complete and exhibited in the local knowledge systems, the nomenclature of each natural component of the landscape has evolved over a. period of time.
“Majuli today is a Mohkuma, a sub division of the Jorhat District, Administration Boundary with its headquarters at Garnnur. The Revenue Circle is Majuli, Kamalabari. There are three mouza in Majuli, Salmora, Kamalabari and Ahatguri. Population of Majuli as in 2001 was 1, 53,362 of which 79,490 were males and 73,872 females. Main centers in Majuli: are Garamur, Kamalabari, Auniati, Bengena-ati, Dakhinpat, Rawnapar, Jengraimukh, Bongaon, Salmora, Ahatguri, Ratanpur, Rangacahi, Borguri, Nayabazaar, Karatipar,, Bhakatiduar, Phulani, Bali chapori, Kamalabari ghat. The whole sub-division is said to be rural and agrarian.
“Of the total land area of Majuli only 32237.16 hectares was found suitable for cultivation. Another 14834.66-hectare remains always under water and 7671.23 hectares was found not suitable for productive purposes. A number of 22 nos of `Char areas' have covered 5939.01. hectares. In addition to this, 61153.09 hectares have been reserved as Government reserved land. Thus from the table it. is seen that only 25.85 percent of total land area of Majuli is suitable for cultivation. Though the cultivable land is small in size in comparison to its total area yet it is fertile and suitable for production of different crops. Paddy, mustard, potato, pulses, sugarcane, wheat, is the main crops cultivated in the island. Besides, various seasonal vegetables and fruits like orange, banana, pineapple, jackfntit, etc are also grown in abundant quantity.”
Charaideo: the First Ahom Capital
Charaideo (near Sonari, 100 kilometers east-northeast of Jorhat) in the foothills of the Patkai range was the first capital and the most revered landscape of the Tai Ahoms. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Believing that their Kings were Gods on earth, the Tai Ahoms chose to bury the deceased Royals in Charaideo, the most sacred core of their Kingdom. The continuity of this funerary for over 600 years has manifested in creating an undulating landscape, reminiscent of the mountains of heaven and reflected the Tai Ahom belief of life, death, spirit and the ‘other world’.The Moidams of Choraideu (See Below) remains the only area where the largest concentration of these vaulted-mound burial chamber exist together, demonstrating a grand royal burial landscape unique to the Tai Ahoms. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The Tai-Ahom tribes upon their migration from China established their capital in different parts of the Brahmaputra River Valley (Northeast India) between 12th to 18th.Usurping the Barahi tribe, Chau-lung Siu-ka-pha established the first capital of the Ahoms at the foothill of Patkai hills and named it Che-rai-doi or Che-tam-doi, meaning “a dazzling city above the mountain” in their language and consecrated site with a ritual. While the clan moved from city to city, the landscape of Che-Rai-Doi or Charaideo continued to retain its position as most sacred where the departed soul of the Royals could transcend into the after-life. Their unique system of vaulted mounds continued for 600 years, until many Tai-Ahoms converted to Buddhism while others adopted the Hindu system of cremation.
“The series of Moidams at the foothills of the Patkai range together show the sculpted burial landscape reminiscent of the hills. Although to subject to vandalism by treasure seekers in early 20th, the group of Moidams in Charaideo has been systematically restored to safeguard its structural integrity. The undulating man-made burial landscape of Charaideo demonstrates the funerary traditional Tai Ahoms, a practiced which creased to after its rulers converted to other religions (Hinduism and Buddhism). Described elaborately in their canonical text (Phukan), the landscape created by a series of Moidams together with the material objects recovered from the vaulted chambers shows the Tai Ahom belief of life, death and the appropriation of this belief system to create a landscape that is ’like a dazzling city above the mountain’ befit for their God-like Kings.”
Moidams: Burial Mound System of the Ahom Dynasty
Moidams — the Mound-Burial system of the Ahom Dynasty — was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Moidams are vaulted chambers (chow-chali), often double storied entered through an arched passage. Atop the hemispherical mud-mound layers of bricks and earth is laid, where the base of the mound is reinforced by a polygonal toe-wall and an arched gateway on the west. Eventually the mound would be covered by a layer of vegetation, reminiscent of a group of hillocks, transforming the area into an undulating landscape. Excavation shows that each vaulted chamber has a centrally raised platform where the body was laid. Several objects used by the deceased during his life, like royal insignia, objects made in wood or ivory or iron, gold pendants, ceramic ware, weapons, clothes to the extent of human beings (only from the Luk-kha-khun clan) were buried with their king. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“There is a great variety in materials and systems of construction used in building a moidam. From the period between 13th to 17th, wood was used as the primary material for construction whereas 18th onwards stone and burnt bricks of various sizes were used for the inner chambers. The Changrung Phukan (canonical text developed by the Ahoms) records the materials used to construct a Moidam. It records the construction using bricks and stones cemented by the mixture of black pulse, molasses, eggs of duck, barali fish, lime (from lime stone and snail shell). Boulders of different sizes, broken stones, bricks, and broken brick were used to construct the superstructure, whereas large stone slabs were used for the sub-substructure.
“In addition to recording material used in constructing a moidam, the Changrung Phukan also documents the number of labourers, duration of works, votive offerings made and rituals followed during in cremating the Royals. The crematory rituals of the Royal Ahoms were conducted with great pomp and grandeur, reflecting their hierarchy.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020