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Assam

The gateway to the North-East

One of the most easily accessible cities in the North-East, Assam is located along the Brahmaputra valley. Also known as Ahom, it boasts of hospitable people, a cuisine that has unique flavours and taste, a vibrant artistic heritage marked by incredible dance forms and some amazing temples, making your journey to this land truly memorable and delightful.

Although Assam has been invaded multiple times over centuries, it was never a vassal or colony to an external power until the Burma invaded India in 1821 and later it came under the British rule in 1824 during the First Anglo-Burmese war. Today, Assam has won global recognition for its tea and silk.

The state is also a prime wildlife conservationist, especially because it has successfully managed to conserve the one-horned Indian rhinoceros, that came quite to extinction in the recent past. Other animals that you can find here, includes wild water buffalo, pygmy hog, tigers, Asiatic elephants and various species of birds. In fact, wildlife has successfully helped Assam to improve their economy, with two of their parks namely Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park being declared World Heritage Sites. With a landscape that presents a scenic vista of golden green vistas of manicured tea gardens and rice fields, Assam is framed by the highlands of Meghalaya and Nagaland in the south, along with blue mountains of Arunachal in the north.

So although Assam has had a turbulent past in terms of protest, it is now heading towards a more firmer resolution.If peace holds in the state, it can truly result in a tourist boom. As anyone can say, it has quietly become a traveller’s bonanza, that is poised to go global very soon.

VIEW POINT

Choose A National Park to Visit

Tune in to the glorious chorus of wildlife!

One of the richest biodiversity in the world, Assam boasts of tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, riverine grasslands, orchards and numerous wetland ecosystems. It is currently home to several wildlife sanctuaries and national parks that are breeding grounds for some of the rarest global species. Here are five national parks that warrant a visit in Assam, so make sure you add them to your bucket list.

Kaziranga National Park: One of the most diverse national parks of India, Kaziranga National Park boasts of the one-horned rhinoceroses.  A World Heritage Site, the park is also home to the highest density of tigers among the protected areas in the world and in 2006 was declared a Tiger Reserve. Besides some incredible species of animals, the park is also a favourite among bird watchers. With birds like white-fronted goose, ferruginous duck, Baer’s pochard duck and Asian Openbill stork, that migrates here during the winters, don’t forget to carry some binoculars with you. If that is not enough for you, Kaziranga is also recognized as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International for conservation of avifaunal species, so this one is sure to live up to all your birding expectations.

What also sets the park apart is the fact, that the vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland and dense moist broadleaf forests make this is one of the country’s most scenic parks in the country. Plus the presence of the Brahmaputra river truly make this  a park that must be visited not just by wildlife enthusiasts but travellers of all types.

Best time to visit: November to April, as it is the best time to spot animals

Safari timings: 8-10 AM (morning) and 2-4 PM (evening)

Safari gates/zones: There are 4 zones in the park and each area has distinguishing feature regarding grasslands, density of mammals and birds, land topography and terrains. Some predefined tourists circuits include Mihimukh centra range in Kohara, Bangori in Western Range at Bagori, Agartoli in Eastern range and Gharakati.

Manas National Park: Located on the foothills of the Himalayas, Manas National Park is an acclaimed World Heritage Site, that is currently home to some truly incredible flora and fauna. It has to its credit 25 species of animals that are considered endangered, including 450 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles, 55 species of mammals and a few species of amphibians. Some popular animal species that you can spot here include clouded leopards, tiger, black panthers, elephants, rhinoceros, Asian water buffaloes, golden langurs, sloth bear, hog deers, among others. Further, this is also a great place for bird-watchers as some of the birds that you can spot here includes the bengal florican, giant hornbills, jungle fowls, herons, bulbuls and fishing eagles to name just a few.

Manas National Park has been named after the Manas river, which is a tributary of the river Brahmaputra and passes through the core area of the national park as well. Earlier the park was called the Manas RF and Manas Bioreserve, until later it was called the Manas National Park.

The best time to visit this park is from October to April, when you can avail both jeep safari and elephant safari.             

Safari timings: 9-12 AM (morning) and 2-5 PM (evening)

Dibru Saikhowa National Park: One of the 19 biodiversity hotspots in the world and also a biosphere reserve, Dibru Saikhowa National Park is located at an altitude of 118 metres above sea level. It is popular among bird watchers as it witness over 500 species of birds, both migratory and local, mainly due to the presence of wetlands that are present in the park. Beside bird species like white-winged duck, marsh babbler and white rumped vulture, it is pretty easy to spot animals like wild water buffalo, gibbon, tigers and elephants in the park.

PS: Don’t forget to take a boat safari, because if you are lucky you might get a chane to spot some Gangetic River Dolphins as well.

Best time to visit: November to April, as it is the best time to spot both animals and migratory birds.

Other parks that you can visit include Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary . The Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary, Bura-Chapori Wildlife Sanctuary, Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary and Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary.

Visit Tea Gardens

Because a good cup of tea is unbeatable.

Currently, the tea industry is worth 40 billion dollar, making it the second most popular drink in the world, right next to water. And while there are very few places in India that produce the finest quality of tea, Assam definitely sits right on top of the list. Considered as the champagne of teas, Assam is one of the few states in the country where you can savour tea in a cup, right next to the land from where those leaves were plucked from, overlooking hillsides and plantations.

All the 100 tea estates here are a variation on a theme: rolling hills covered with million of low, trimmed shrubs. Women wearing wide brimmed hats or head scarves roam around the fields, hand-plucking two leaves and a bud, then tossing them over their shoulders into wicker baskets that they carry on their back. In fact, each of these women will pick close to thousands of leaves in a day during their entire shift, day in and day out. That’s not all, even the on-site processing centers are filled with long trays, rolling machines and packaging sectors, which provides livelihood to a lot of locals within the state.  

Today, Assam is one of the most prolific tea-producing regions in the world and together all the estates yield approximately 1,500 million pounds of tea, every year. Most of this yield comes from the plantation that is spread across the Brahmaputra river, where you can even take a river cruise and visit Guwahati Tea Auction, which is the largest of its kind in the country.

PS: If you are a true tea lover, head to Assam during the Tea Festival, which is held in Jorhat, generally during the months of November and January.  

Pay your respects at the temples

More temples than you can count

After being one of the most accessible state in the North-east, Assam attracts close to 46 lakh tourists every year. It therefore goes without saying that there is a lot of heritage that is waiting to be explored in this scenic state. Although there is quite a few churches and mosques, temples are the main attraction in town. Here are our top picks.

Kamakhya Temple: An ancient Shakti Peeth in Guwahati, the Kamakhya Temple is one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimages in India. It is dedicated to the ten Mahavidyas, and is perched on top of the Nilachal Hills and overlooks the Brahmaputra river, making it a truly scenic and fulfilling experience. It is today one of the main Shakti peeths in India, and although the temple was initially destroyed by invaders, it was later rebuilt by King Nara Narayan, during the 17th century.

Inside the temple, there are beautiful sculptures of various goddess. The idols are the only extravagant touch here; the rest of the monastery is a study in aesthetic understatement.

Navagraha Temple: Located near Assam, the Navagraha Temple is situated on the Chitrachal hills. Devoted to the nine major celestial bodies or Grahas of Hindu astronomy, there are nine Shivalingams enshrined in the temple, dedicated to each celestial body including sun, moon, Mercury, Jupiter among others. In ancient times, this temple used as a centre to study both astronomy and astrology. Built by King Rajeswar Singha in the late 18th century, it has been renovated multiple times.

Umananda Temple: Built in 1594, the Umananda Temple was constructed by the Ahom King of Assam in 1594. Devoted to Lord Shiva, this temple was built on the Peacock Island, which is a riverine island and can be accessed only by boat. While boat services are available from Kachari ghat, you can also take a ferry service that is generally available during the day. During the Hindu festival of Shivratri, devotees from all parts of Assam and other parts of India come to this place to pay homage to Lord Shiva.

The most striking feature of this temple is the multiple figures of Hindu gods and goddess that are engraved on its rock walls. These are a true testimony to the high skill and expertise of the artisans of the state. Other temples that are located near the Umanada temple include Kamakhya Temple, Bhubaneshwari Temple, Shiva Temple, Navagraha Temple (the Temple of nine planets) among others.

Spend a day in Haflong, the Switzerland of the East

The only hill-station in Assam!

Lahe, lahe, in Assamese means (go) slowly slowly, and it should be the guiding phrase for when you are visiting the North East part of India. The world moves slower here. And that should be your cue, especially when you head to Haflong. Literally translating to "White Ants Hillock" in Dimashi,Haflong is the only hill-station in Assam. If that does not warrant a definite visit, what does right?

Haflong offers picture-perfect views of dramatic skies above green valleys and hills. One of the most captivating sights here is the Haflong lake that is situated right in the centre of the town. You can do some boating on the lake and even spot some migratory birds here, if you come during winters.

Another major attraction located near Haflong is Maibang, which is the regional headquarters of North Cachar Hills. Located two hours away from Haflong, the town is renowned as the old capital of the Kachari rulers and boasts of stones houses and a monolithic Ramchandi Temple that is famous for its two-roofed temple structure that was constructed in the 12th century. This place was also the capital of Kachari Kingdom from 16th to 18th century, and now the place is littered with a lot of ruins from this period, although many stone carvings and sculptures from this time period have been preserved in museums as well.

You can also check out the Haflong Tiniali, where the Kopili river turns into an incredible waterfall, making it a perfect spot for enjoying a sunset after a day of sightseeing.

How to reach: From Guwahati by train or car via Lamding (350 km), from Silchar Airport (107 km)

Visit Majuli, the Largest River Island in the World

A waterway to heaven

Floating like a breakaway branch on the waters of the Brahmaputra river, Majuli is the largest riverine island in Asia. A cradle of Assamese culture, Majuli, is home to multiple satras or monastic centers, that have for decades worked hard to preserve and practise various forms of spiritual and artistic expressions. From music, dance and art that celebrates Lord Vishnu or scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, these satras were patronised by Ahom kings and it is located only 2 hrs away from Jorhat. If that is not reason enough for you to visit, Majuli became India’s first island district in June, besides being a Guinness World Record-holder for being the largest river island on the planet. Trust us, this is an essential Assam experience.

Unfortunately, Majuli is eroding at an increasingly rapid pace thanks to a combination of factors, the most significant being climate change, especially over the last 40 years. And although it is currently home to 1.68 lakh people, many of whom belong to the Mishing tribe, and also the Deori and Sonowal Kachri tribe, many of them migrated to safer areas. The island also has fertile soil that yields many varieties of rice, some of which are unique to the island. While earlier, there used to be 65 satras on the island, but these days there are only 22. The others had to relocate to safer locations less prone to flooding and erosion. Climate change is very real, and Majuli and its satras are prime examples of the consequences of climate change on both nature and culture. (In fact, surveys indicate that, at current levels of erosion, the island will disappear within the next two decades)

Majuli is one of the few places in the country that you will find hard to tear yourself away. It’s a very strange thing, because sometimes you need to journey thousands of miles before you find yourself at home.

PS: The best time for Majuli Island Tour will be during the Raas festival of Lord Krishna, which is held during the full moon in the month of November.

How to reach: Ferries ply between the Kamalabari Ghat at Majuli and Nimati Ghat in Jorhat, (1.5 hr). Jorhat airport is located 7 km/15 min southwest of the city centre.

If you are itinerary allows, other places that you can stop by includes Tezpur (popular for its archaeological sites, mythological connection and scenic beauty), Agnigarh Fort, Sivasagar (known for its palaces), and Barak Valley.

activities

Witness The Religious Harmony of Hajo

A spiritual getaway for everyone!

An ancient pilgrimage centre that is important for Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, Hajo lies on the banks of river Brahmaputra. Dotted with ancient temples and sacred artifacts, this place warrants a visit not just from religious devotees but from anyone who has even a little bit of interest in understanding the culture and history of this place.

The most important temple in Hajo is the Hayagriva Madhav Mandir, which is situated on the Monikut hill. According to some historians, this temple was constructed during the Pala rule in the 10th century. Enshrining an image of Hayagriva Madhava, this is a stone temple, that sees a constant stream of visitors, almost all year round. Additionally, this temple is also the same place where Buddha attained Nirvana, which is why it attracts people of both religion.

Another major tourist attraction in Hajo is Poa Mecca, which is an important pilgrimage centre for the Muslim community. The word powa/poa means one fourth, meaning that it is equivalent to one fourth of the Mecca (in Arab Emirates), one of the holiest city for the Muslim community. Built by Mir Lutufullah-i-Shiraji in 1657, during the rule of Shahjahan, it is believed that the soil from Mecca was used to lay the foundation of this mosque.

 

Thrill it up with some adventure

Injects a shot of adrenaline into a relaxed vacation

Known for its vast, lush valley that is sandwiched between the Himalayan foothill in the north and the Meghalayan hills and plateau to the south, Assam continues to be a favourite destination for adventure junkies. So whether you want trek through some scenic mountains valleys or take a bike ride through the state, Assam has you sorted on all fronts. Here are our top three adventure picks from this state:

Trekking: Treks are rarely so perfect both logistically and in terms of the variety they offer. And a trek to Karbi Hills and North Cachar Hills will take you through some truly scenic vistas. Overall, trekking in Assam is perfect for both beginners and experts, and can last anywhere from one to nine days. Just make sure you pick something that matches your requirements in terms of both time and stamina.

Mountain Biking: The hilly terrain of Assam offers an unforgettable challenge to mountains bikers. Assam Tourism Department in collaboration with ATDC Ltd and other adventure organizations have over the years organized several bicycle and motorbike rallies in and outside the state. This sport is very popular among foreign tourists and groups, who actively participate in these activities.

Angling: Angling is a pretty popular sport in Assam, especially around the Jia Bhoroli river, Manas and Kapili river. The most popular angling fish in Assam is the Golden Mahseer, which is found in a lot of abundance around these rivers. In fact, there is even a Angling competition that takes place at Jia Bhoroli river in the month of November.

Take a cruise down Brahmaputra River

Celebrating the source of life

The soul of Assam, a cruise on Brahmaputra river is a truly extraordinary affair. A major lifeline for Assam, the Brahmaputra river has for many decades nurtured the topography and culture of the state, while at the same time sustained major urban centres, including Guwahati on its bank. That’s not all. This river is also at the core of folklore, literature, art and music produced in the state.

What also strikes people on the cruise is the silence that will envelop your mind and take you far away from the hustle and bustle of crowded cities. Most of the cruise on the Brahmaputra river passes through the Kaziranga National Park, where might spot both the one-horned rhinoceros and royal Bengal tiger, if you lucky. Depending on what crusie you pick, you will get to stop not just at national parks, but also at other major tourist spots like Majuli, village walks and tea gardens.Make sure you confirm the availability of specific activities that you’re looking forward to before booking your cruise.

The Brahmaputra is considered to be the only ‘male river’ in India—and he’s got the muscles to match. The river rises so quickly and powerfully during the annual Himalayan snow melt that it destroys everything in sight. And this is precisely why there are no ghats, temples and villages along the river. Instead you will get to see grassy, picturesque riverbanks and hundreds of islands on the way. Overall, this is a part of India that has managed to remain untouched and magical, far away from the chaos of the city.

how to get there

By Air - All major domestic airlines have flights to Borjhar Airport. The other cities in Assam connected by air with the rest of India are Silchar, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, and Jorhat. 

By Rail - You can travel to Assam by train also. There are direct trains from most cities in India such as Kolkata, New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Cochin and Bengaluru to Guwahati

By road - You can visit Assam by road. The national highways connect Guwahati with Mizoram, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. However, it is not a good idea to travel by road during the months of June to September as the state is lashed by heavy rains and driving can be quite dangerous.

- Shillong to Assam - 227 kms via AH1/AH2

- Imphal to Assam - 323 kms via NH2 and NH29

when to visit

Visit Assam between Novemeber to May. At this time of the year, the weather is pleasant and ideal for sightseeing and enjoying the various activities Assam has to offer. Make sure you do not plan a visit during the rains (June to September) when heavy downpours cause the Brahmaputra River to flood its banks all across the state.

 

Local Shopping

Shopping in Assam

The land of tea and silk!

Assam has so much to offer to shopaholics and to those who like to take a piece of the place visited by them in the form of a souvenir back home. The state has been recognized to have traditional craftsmanship skills which result in manufacturing of exquisite bell metal and brass items, wood crafted and bamboo/cane articles, jewellery, paintings as well as fine Muga and Paat silk sarees.

The Assam Silk Sarees or the Mekhlas are the most popular shopping commodity of the state hands down. The Muga (exclusive to Assam), Eri and the Paat sarees and Mekhlas, which are the three famous varieties of Assam Silk are available in million designs. Again, within them, they have further sub categories, which are colourful thread work or Zari (fine gold thread) work. Besides this, the state is also famous for its intricate cane and bamboo products. Hence, your shopping experience in Assam is sure to be a memorable one.

Next in line is the fiercely strong Assam tea. The best way to buy Assam tea is directly from retail outlets situated close to the tea estates. That way, you get fresh produce at unbelievably cheap prices. The varieties that are worth trying are Green Tea, CTC and CTC Premium. The bell metal and brass items can also be bought from Guwahati, however, these items are so common in the households in Assam that they are practically available across the state. Assamese jewellery is also something that a tourist would like to buy as it is unique and exceptional.

Summing up, shopping in Assam can be done at any of the Government Emporia and handicraft shops. But, if one is looking at a true Assam experience, then the local markets of that town are the best bet.

Assamese Cuisine

Simple food that is sure to win your hearts!

What truly sets the cuisine of Assam apart from the rest of the country is that fact that it focuses on the simplicity of all its recipes. Offering a host of exotic dishes that go much beyond masor tenga (a tangy fish curry), Assamese food is largely dependent on herbs, rather than spices. This may seem like an anomaly, given that bhoot jolokia (ghost pepper) is a native of Assam and is one of the hottest chilies on the planet.But that being said, this chili is used very less in the cuisine of the state, because the emphasis still remains on subtle flavour, which completely complements the stunning landscapes present in the state.

Some of the main dishes that you have to try in this state include the following:

  1. Assamese Thali - A traditional Assamese thali is based on fresh and unusual herby flavours. You will be spoilt for choices with dishes that include the popular masor tenga (fish in a sour gravy), khar (a vegetable preparation made by using dried banana skin), meat dish (chicken or duck), kharoli (a paste made from mustard seeds), bamboo shoot chutney and Assamese aloo pitika (mashed potato). In desserts watch out for the kheer, which is also called Assamesepayox.
  2. Duck Curry: The only trick with duck meat is ensuring that is cooked properly. In Assam, duck meat is a delicacy that is cooked with ash gourd and whole spices, which in turn give it a distinctive flavour. It is also cooked with other ingredients like sesame, pumpkin, lentil and is usually served on special occasions.
  3. Khaar: A meat delicacy from Assam, khaar is made from raw papaya, pulses and taro along with a non-vegetarian item, generally fish or chicken. These items are filtered through dried banana leaves, which gives it a unique yet refreshing taste. It is normally served with rice, during lunch.
  4. Pickles: Usually home made, pickles are an essential element in all Assamese meals. Made from a variety of different ingredients that include bamboo shoot, beef, tomato, chicken, and dried fish, these pickles are an instant hit with both locals and tourists.
  5. Aloo Pitika: A simple side dish that is generally served along with rice and dal, aloo pitika is local favourite. Made with mashed potatoes along with mustard oil, coriander and salt, it is generally served during both lunch and dinner.

PS: Don’t forget to indulge in some tea here, because Assam has some of the best teas, available not only in the country, but the planet as well.

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