One of the things that was bound to happen on the trip to Assam, a part of the country I’ve never ventured to before is that I’d have to unlearn everything I knew about the place which truth be told, would be easy enough given that (as I realized) I hardly knew that much. For one thing, it wasn’t the Arctic, so even in fog-ridden January, we discovered upon (belatedly) disembarking the plane, that the weather was remarkably cheerful. Even though we had lost a day’s work from our packed itinerary, the drive from Guwahati Airport to the town through palm-fronded paddy fields only boosted our weary morales and we ‘warmed up’ to Assam a lot sooner than we’d imagined.
Our hotel, the Prashanti Tourist Lodge run by Assam Tourism, provided a decent stay with a very decent view of the Guwahati Club’s tennis court from my balcony. We spent some time watching tennis under the stars, neither of which I really get much in Delhi, and turned in early to begin Day 2 at the crack of dawn.
Other than the fact that I’d only seen dawn about 6 months ago, the morning held lots of promise. We started by making a stop at Kamakhya, the sacred shaktipeeth where Sati’s yoni fell. While Bodhi carried on up Nilachal Parbat to get views of the town, I took off my shoes to enter the hallowed pit of the Devi Temple charged with primordial energy and the flutter of white pigeons.
I didn’t stay long but there is something about Kamakhya that doesn’t require a souvenir for recollection. Nonetheless, I took photographs, bought some cool calendar art and continued on our pilgrimage, via the Saraighat bridge, to the temple town of Hajo.
Hajo, with its blend of Vaishnavism (the Hayagriva Madhab Temple), Islam (Poa Macca) and Buddhism (this is where the Buddha is said to have attained Parinirvana), is not your average tourist destination. At least not for the tourist with weak knees because you’ve got to climb, and climb, and climb, steps. But the effort is eminently worthwhile as are the photo-ops.
We carried on to Sualkuchi, Assam’s primary centre of silk weaving, where we watched weavers at work and also bought some fabulous samples to show back home.
Our boss soon joined us and she and I proceeded to Bashistha Ashram, which was set up by Bashistha Muni though any more probing questions as to when and why just left most locals baffled and well, unperturbed.
We ended the day on a spectacular note, whetting our appetites with the Assamese thali in the beautifully done up Paradise Restaurant on GNB Road, Guwahati.
Next day, we awoke at the crack of dawn again – and by now I was getting to like the sound of that phrase a fair bit – to head out eastward. Our first stop was the Ujanbazar Fish market in Guwahati, where we discovered, strangely, it was not Brahmaputra fish but imported fish, that was being sold. We also stopped at some interesting temples along the way and then followed the course of the Brahmaputra all the way
to the town of Tezpur. Tezpur, with its many parks and lakes, is like one all-encompassing picnic spot. It has a nice Station Club, and the proprietors are always eager to show visitors around.
Making our way across the Kalia Bhomora Setu, we headed on to the state’s biggest and most romantic draw, the reason that so many naturalists keep booking tickets, sometimes one-way, to Assam – Kaziranga National Park.
The adventure began on the highway itself where we caught our first glimpse of the great Indian one-horned rhinocerous. In the one evening that we toured the Park though, we saw enough rhinos to draw them blindfolded, and someone was even impelled to remark, ‘They’re like cattle’.
Having soaked in the bewitching ambience of Kaziranga, we proceeded to have our memories and our selves frozen in a remarkably badly insulated ethnic hut in Jupuri Ghar.
This time I awoke much before the crack of dawn, but was prepared nonetheless to make forays into Upper Assam. First we stopped at the lovely stilt houses of the Mishing villages in Aghoratoli.
The journey to Jorhat therafter was past many beautiful tea estates, many of which started before we had left the periphery of the Park even, and punctuated with some memorable eating stops,
a jaunt in a local haat
and a visit to the Negheriting dol which with its abundant monkeys could have passed off for a set from Planet of the Apes. After a short stop at the Jorhat Tourist Lodge, we visited the beautiful Gibbon Sanctuary where boss and i discovered more primates and the problems of human encroachment in forested areas
while Bodhi discovered the fine art of wearing a gamosa on the head like a true craft-sensitised man of the woods.
We began the next day by visiting some significant namghors and satras, that set the tone of reverence for the main stop – Sibsagar. The Ahom kings had a gala time building tanks, temples and palaces in Sibsagar and we didn’t have too bad a time discovering them.
Later, after stopping to eat at a fabulous stilt-restaurant, we headed to Nimati ghat in the evening from where boats ply to and from Majuli.
The trip was rounded off by a beautiful night’s stay at a tea estate bungalow on the outskirts of Jorhat. The roads were not nearly as smooth as they had been through the rest of the journey, but the stay made up entirely. On the final day, after a leisurely breakfast, we surveyed the tea factories
and plantations around Jorhat,
learnt some tea-speak, and picked up some half-kg of drinking silver each. In the afternoon, we sat at the airport, listening to the iPod in between announcements of the delayed flight, but by then, we had learnt that in Assam, the wait was always for a good cause.
Hang about for a bit… the Assam Travel Guide is on its way!