A veritable paradise on earth
Unknown to many travellers, the little northeastern state of Assam is the perfect spot to experience the best of India! This vibrant city offers breathtaking natural sceneries, rich cultural sites, and populous wildlife, finds out Dee Taluqdar
Being tired of the same old attractions in India, I and my friends decided it was time to look at the northeast of the country! We found to our delight that located south of the eastern Himalayas, Assam is a place of unspoilt natural beauty, with deep valleys, vast mountains and the massive Brahmaputra River which runs through the length of the state. Why we fell in love with this tiny state, find out:
Wild at the national parks
Five national parks are scattered across Assam, each boasting a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. We spotted a wide range of wild creatures, such as elephants, hog deer and water buffalos. We did not, but if luck’s on your side, you might even spot the elusive tiger stalking in the thick grass. Our visit includes Kaziranga, which is famously known for preserving the world’s largest population of great one-horned rhinoceroses, as well as Manas, a reserve for the golden langur and the pygmy hog. It’s worth noting that these national parks are often the last strongholds for these endangered species.
Their rich heritage
The populace of Assam is intermingled with a diversity of ethnic groups throughout history. Cultures and heritages of various local tribes and migrating populaces, once scattered across the state, have been slowly assimilated into the local way of life. We encountered different racial backgrounds as you walk around the urban centres, ranging from Indo-Aryans, Dravidians and Sino-Tibetans, as well as tribal groups such as the Bodos and the Karbis. The state has played host to several ruling dynasties in ancient times, with the existence of several architectural monuments around the country that stand as a reminder of their past glories. The town of Sivasagar is a great place to start for checking out these exceptional structures! We stopped by the Rang Ghar, which is one of Asia’s oldest surviving amphitheatres that once played host to royalty viewing buffalo fights and other sporting events, or the Talatal Ghar, an ancient army base that holds plenty of secret escape routes. Another top spot we visited was the Agnigarh in central Assam, which is a small hill that overlooks the Brahmaputra and the city of Tezpur. Not only is it a scenic spot for picnics among the locals, the place is also associated in Hindu mythology as the place where the Asura King, Banasura, imprisoned his daughter Usha to prevent her from marrying Prince Anirudda. There are defined sculptures that depict the story as you make your way up to the crest of the hill.
A visit to the Kamakhya Temple
Another attraction was the Kamakhya temple in the capital of Guwahati. This temple is situated on Nilachal Hill in the western part of the capital city of Guwahati, and serves as an important pilgrimage site for devotees of Shaktism, the ones who reverently follow the beliefs of the Hindu goddess Kamakhya. The place of worship is associated with the Hindu legend of the goddess Sati, who was the wife of Shiva and daughter of King Daksha. When Sati’s body was dismembered by Vishnu in hopes of pacifying Shiva’s rage at her untimely death, her womb and genitals fell from the heavens to the top of the hill, where the Kamakhya temple now resides. This act blessed the surrounding area with a special energy known as Shakti, a form of cosmic energy. Hindu believers from around the country, especially women who are seeking help in terms of fertility, travel here to attain blessings and favours from the goddess.
The Bihu festival
There are plenty of local festivals celebrated in Assam, the most popular being Bihu, which is a harvest festival that takes place on not one, but three different times in a year! The Bihu festival is concurrent with the crop cycle, where Assamese locals celebrate important phases in the farming schedule. The first event, Bhogali Bihu, takes place in mid-January when locals mark the end of the harvesting season with eating and enjoyment. The second event, Kongali Bihu, occurs in mid-October, and the festivities are more solemn in nature as the crops are in their growing stage. The last and most popular event in the Bihu festival is the Bohag Bihu, which happens in mid-April.
Delicious tea & tea estates
The whole state of Assam is devoted to tea-growing, with a large number of tea estates scattered across the region and situated nearby on either side of the Brahmaputra River. The location, plus the tropical climate of Assam, gives it’s tea the unique malty taste that people have come to enjoy.
Sail on the Brahmaputra River
The Brahmaputra River is one of the major rivers in Asia, which winds through China, India and Bangladesh. The river plays a significant role in the state of Assam. Not only has it sustained and nurtured major urban centres throughout history, it’s also responsible for maintaining the diverse flora, fauna and wildlife that Assam currently enjoys. The river is also a hotspot for cruises and boat safaris, where tourists can enjoy scenic views of forest reserves, city landscapes and monuments of cultural significance as they travel down the channel. From the deck of the boats, we spotted migratory birds circling around the air, the temples, tribal villages and monasteries on the river banks and watched as the locals go about with their daily lives! We were lucky enough to spot the rare Ganges River dolphin breaking out from the surface! These endangered freshwater dolphins are affected by the decrease in river depths due to global warming and human interference. They are currently protected by law and sightings of the Gangetic River dolphin in the Brahmaputra are slowly becoming rarer as the years go by.
The river island of Majuli
Once clinching the biggest river island in the world, Majuli has been proudly acknowledged as the cultural capital of the Assamese civilisation throughout history. It’s mainly home to the Mising tribes that settled here from the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh centuries ago. There are also other tribes, such as the Deori and Sonowal Kacharis that call the island home as well. Majuli is also known for being the hub of neo-Vaishnavite culture, where it was founded since the 15th century. A few monasteries, or satras, that were originally constructed still remain intact and are populated with devotees who have preserved the colourful heritage.
Nature adventure around the state
The locals here have taken upon themselves to convert the state’s tough terrain, which was once helpful for warding off potential foreign invaders, into an adrenaline-inducing outbound destination! Those with a penchant of mountaineering will enjoy climbing the various hills in the districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, while those looking to put their feet to work can join in the trekking trail from Basistha to Garbhanga Reserve Forest, which stretches to a winding 17 km in distance!
It may not be on equal footing with the main Indian states when it comes to modern-day attractions such as shopping, malls and nightlife, but there’s a sense of unparalleled tranquility in the country that’s hard to find in anywhere else. If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, a short retreat to Assam is quite the awesome idea!