Assam is one of the most beautiful and scenic places to visit in India. Few other states have such variety and colour in their natural scenery or in the cultural treasures of their people. This land of contrasts is an amazing destination and each place has something special to offer.
In the district of Kamrup in South West Assam and set among the beautiful eastern hills of the Himalayas, Guwahati, striding the Brahmaputra River - so wide in places the far shore is often invisible - is the gateway to enchanting North East India. It is a 4 1/2-hour drive from Wild Mahseer.
Pragjyotishpura or Light of the East as Assam was known in ancient times meaning city of eastern astronomy, is said to have been a vast kingdom during the epic period of the Mahabharata. Today, the bustling metropolis of Guwahati (its name derived from two Assamese words guwa meaning areca nut and haat meaning market) is the main industrial, commercial and communication centre of the region and also its largest city.
Today it is associated with the region’s main products like tea, oil, forest produce and handlooms. It has been listed among the 100 fastest growing cities of the world and is also India’s fifth fastest growing city. Dispur, the capital of Assam, is its main suburb and is 10 kms from Guwahati.
Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, Guwahati
Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, located in a beautifully landscaped setting and inaugurated in 1998, is a multi-Arts complex showcasing the rich culture of the state. Named after the most honoured Vaishnava saint and the greatest integrator of Assamese society Srimanta Sankardeva, the Kalakshetra houses a Central Museum where objects and day-to-day articles used by different ethnic groups are exhibited. It preserves the cultural identity of various communities and tribes of Assam by promoting dance, drama, music and art.
There is also an Artists’ Village that creates the atmosphere of a typical Assamese community, the Lalit-Kala Bhavan art gallery where exhibitions, art and sculpture workshops are also held, a Heritage Park, an open-air theatre with the capacity to hold 2,000 people, a traditional Vaishnavite temple and the Sahitya Bhavan library of rare books and manuscripts.
Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati
Situated at the top of the Nilachal Hill at about 800 feet above sea level is the sacred shrine of Goddess Kali, as Kamakhya, the most important temple in Assam and one of the most powerful and venerated in all of India. The temple complex comprises many other smaller temples dedicated to other goddesses as well as housing all the people connected with them and has a beehive shaped structure that is a fine example of Assamese architecture. There are also five temples of Lord Shiva, each belonging to a different incarnation, and three temples of Lord Visnu.
The ancient shrine is one of the three most important tantric temples in India and is home to one of the fifty-one Shakti Peethams (according to legend, after Shakti and her consort Lord Shiva were snubbed by her father she sacrificed herself and her body, cut into fifty-one pieces, was scattered over India). The temple has an underground natural cave that enshrines the Shakti Peetham from which a spring flows.
King Nara Narayana of Koch Bihar built the present structure in the 17th century after Muslim invaders destroyed the original in the 1500s.
In addition to the daily puja (offering) made to the Goddess Devi Kamakhya a number of other special pujas are also held during the year. The temple is especially busy during the unique Ambubashi fair (mid-June), Durga Puja celebrations (September to October) and the Deodhani festival in mid-August.
The temple is a mark of identity for Assam and nothing important is carried out, like a marriage or students sitting for important exam, without devotees offering prayers at this temple first. People with unfulfilled desires, childless couples and those who want to recover from illness also visit and ask for help. The walkway to the temple has rows of shops selling pictures of different gods and goddesses, devotional CDs and prayer beads. Before entering the temple compound, which is always crowded with hundreds of devotees waiting for attention, visitors must wash their feet and cleanse themselves.
Navagraha Temple, Guwahati
In the eastern part of Guwahati located on the Chitranchal hill is the Navagraha temple, an ancient seat of astrology and astronomy. It is referred to as the temple of the nine planets and is believed to have existed since Puranic times with the present structure built by Rajeswar Singha, an Ahom king. Housed in a red beehive-shaped dome is a central lingam (stone phallus), which is encircled by nine representations of the planets. There is also an imprint of the solar system inside the temple.
This temple is one of the reasons Guwahati was referred to as Pragjyotishpura or city of eastern astronomy.
Umananda Temple, Guwahati
This temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is located on Peacock island in the Brahmaputra River (named by a poetic British Administrator). It is probably the world’s smallest human inhabited river-island and can be reached by country boat from Kachari Ghat. According to legend Kamdev, the god of love, was reduced to ashes here by Lord Shiva when he interrupted his meditation.
The presiding deity of the temple, which was built in 1694 by the Bar Phukan Garhganya Handique by order of King Gadadhar Singh (1681-1696) one of the ablest and strongest rulers of the Ahom dynasty, is Umananda. The original temple, however, was badly damaged during the devastating earthquake of 1897 and was later reconstructed by a rich local merchant.
The temple has some rock carvings that show the masterly skill of their Assamese craftsmen and that the original worshippers followed all the principal Hindu gods. It attracts devotees from all over the country during Shiva Ratri.
Nehru Park, Guwahati
This beautiful park at Panbazar is studded with forty-five concrete statues depicting different folk dances of Assam like Bihu, Deodhani and Jhumur. The sculptures also illustrate other facets of Assam’s rich culture.
Located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra in the district of Kamrup approximately 20 kms from Guwahati, Sualkuchi is one of the world's largest weaving villages and is often referred to as the Manchester of the East. It produces three unique varieties of silks: the white pat, the warm eri but it is particularly known for the golden muga silk, since Assam is the only place in the world to make this.
Silks grown all over the state find their way to Sualkuchi, a renowned centre of silk production, and virtually the entire population is engaged in weaving exquisite fabrics.
Haflong lies in the district of North Cachar Hill in central south Assam. It is a picturesque hill resort about 345 kms southeast of Guwahati.
It’s main attraction is the beautiful lake at its heart which is one of the largest water bodies in Assam and has grown into a popular spot for boating. Assam’s only hill station it is known as the Switzerland of the East, Haflong is set amidst azure blue hills teeming with a rich variety of exotic orchids and plants, rare species of birds, meandering streams and cascading waterfalls.
The surrounding hills are inhabited by tribes and ethnic groups like the Himar, Karbi, Khelma, Mizo and Naga and because of it’s hilly nature the region is popular for adventure sports like gliding, para gliding and trekking.
Set among tea gardens, military cantonments and built around several lakes, Tezpur is located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River in the district of Sonitpur, central Assam, and only a 20-minute drive from Wild Mahseer. With the snow-capped Himalayas as its northern backdrop, this scenic town has a fascinating history.
The name Tezpur is derived from the Sanskrit words teza (meaning blood) and pura (meaning town or city) and it is located on the ancient site of Sonitpur (meaning City of Blood) so named, as legend has it, because of an epic battle fought there between Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. It is steeped in mythology and folklore and renowned for its magnificent archaeological ruins and scenic beauty.
Tezpur is the administrative headquarters of the Sonitpur district and largest of the north bank towns with a population exceeding 100,000. It is a commercial, administrative and educational centre and its economy mainly depends on its many Tea Gardens.
Sri Mahabhairab Mandir, Tezpur
Sri Mahabhairab Mandir is an ancient temple located on a hillock in the northern part of Tezpur where King Bana worshipped Mahabhairab, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It is a famous landmark and is visited by devotees from all over India. It houses one of the largest shiva linga (stone phallus) in India.
Holeshwar Temple, Tezpur
Holeshwar temple is located roughly 7 km outside Tezpur. This is another ancient site dedicated to an incarnation of the Lord Shiva that also houses a shiva linga. It is believed that when one prays earnestly at this temple the prayers will be fulfilled.
Agni Garh, Tezpur
1 km east along the Brahmaputra River is the hill of Agni Garh, a famous battlefield featured in the epic Mahabharata which dates back to hundreds of years BC. The Mahabharata tells the story behind the Kurukshetra war and describes the fates of two royal families: the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Agni Garh, meaning rampart surrounded by fire, is one of the most beautiful places in Tezpur. According to legend King Bana imprisoned his only daughter Princess Usha there in a palace surrounded by a rampart of fire to keep her from her lover Prince Anirudha, the grandson of Lord Krishna. Facing the Brahmaputra the hillock provides a panoramic view of both Tezpur and the river.
Da-Parbatiya, a few kilometers outside Tezpur, has within its limits the ruins of the oldest temple in Assam consisting of the remains of a brick temple of Siva from the Ahom period that was erected upon the ruins of a stone temple of the earlier Gupta period, circa 6th century AD. In 1897 an earthquake caused the Ahom brick temple to collapse revealing a door frame from the older structure, one of the three rare Gupta period architectural pieces in existence in India. It depicts two goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, holding garlands in their hands standing at the foot of the door-jambs which are decorated with beautiful ornamental foliage carvings.
Cole Park, Tezpur
Cole Park, established and named after a Commissioner of Assam under British rule and renovated in 1996 by Mr Bhanu, Deputy Commissioner of Tezpur, is a centre for many recreational activities and sports. Now named Chitralekha Udyan, it has a horseshoe shaped lake with rowing and paddle boats, a restaurant and an open air stage. The park is home to two massive ornamented stone pillars and sculptural remains of the famous Bamuni hills dating back to the 9th and 10th century, which are a major attraction.
Rangapara Buddhist Monastery, Rangapara
Rangapara, in north central Assam, is a beautiful 45-minute drive from Wild Mahseer through tea estates in the direction of the Thakur Bari Planters Club. It has a population of 18,800. At the famous monastery there guests can meditate and listen to tantric hymns.
Surrounded by hills and evergreen forests Bhalukpong in the district of Sonitpur is approximately 58 kms north of Tezpur and a half-hour drive from Wild Mahseer. It is situated on the border of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam on the bank of the Jia Bhoroli River.
It is famous for its unique natural beauty and is home to hot springs, an orchid centre at Tipi and hosts the Nyethidow festival in March every year. It is a popular place to go for angling and rafting, and, far from the madding crowd, it is a place of peace and tranquility.
Majuli, the world's largest river island and accessible only by boat, is situated in the midst of the Brahmaputra River in the district of Jorhat to the east of Sonitpur and 20 km from Jorhat town. It is a pollution-free island currently totaling approximately 700 sq km. Measuring roughly 90 km from east to west and 16 km from north to south Majuli is a natural and cultural heritage site. With its abundant water bodies it attracts many species of birds, both local and migratory, including the pelican, Siberian crane and adjutant stork.
Majuli is a fascinating place to visit. It produces pottery and has a rich ethnic culture of traditional tribal village life. It is a melting pot of different plains tribes all of whom possess colourful and resourceful identities. The main tribes residing there are the Mising, Deoris and Sonowal Kacharis.
It is also famous for being the centre of the Vaishnava culture in Assam. In fact the Vaishnava sattras (monasteries) were founded by Sankardeva, the father of Assamese culture in the early 16th century when he took shelter in Majuli and spent a couple of months there. Originally sixty-five sattras were developed for the propagation of ethics and socio-cultural ideals, but now only twenty-two remain, the major ones being Auniati, (known for its jewellery and handicrafts), Garamurh (housing a rich collection of ancient weapons), Samaguri (centre for mask making), Dakhinpat (known for the traditional performance of Raasleela), Bengenaati (a treasure house of antiques) and Kamalabari. All the others, threatened by flood and erosion, were relocated to safer places. The sattras are regarded as the main centres for Assamese art, music, dance, drama, handicrafts, literature and religion.
The best time to visit Majuli is during the dry season between October and March.
Sibsagar, sometimes spelled Sivasagar, on the south bank of the Brahmaputra River and headquarters of the district with the same name, is in the North East of Assam around 370 kms east of Guwahati. It was the ancient capital of the Ahoms who ruled Assam for six hundred years before the invasion of the Burmese and the advent of the British. Formerly known as Rangpur, it is a beautiful town with a rich cultural fabric.
Sibsagar’s main feature, and from which it gets its name, is a huge water tank of over 230 acres constructed by Queen Madambika in 1734 which is at a higher elevation than the rest of the town. On its banks are three temples named Shivdol, Vishnudol and Devidol. Shivdol, the most important, is probably the tallest Shiva temple in India.
It is also home to the Rang Ghar, an oval shaped two-story amphitheatre built in 1746 that served as the royal sports pavilion where Ahom kings and nobles watched games and buffalo fights. On the roof is a design of an Ahom royal long boat on top of which is a decorative pair of carved stone crocodiles.
Around 6 km outside Sibsagar is Kareng Ghar (meaning royal palace in Assamese) originally a beautiful four-story structure, built by Swargadeo Rudra Singha between 1696 to 1714. Rajeswar Singha, one of his successors, added three underground stories at a later date and these are known as the Talatal Ghar. It has two secret tunnels connecting to the Dikhow River and the Garhgaon Palace that served as escape routes in case of enemy attack.
Swargadeo Rudra Singa also excavated a 300 acre lake named Joysagar on the edge of the town, said to be the largest in India, in honour of his mother Joymoti.
The new Tai Ahom Museum is also interesting to visit. It displays artefacts from the times of the Sibsagar rulers, like swords, clothes, manuscripts, goblets and platters.
Sibsagar is also a leading tea and oil producing district.
Surrounded by numerous tea gardens and mystic blue hills, Digboi is a major oil town. It is located south of the Brahamaputra River in Tinsukia, the most northeastern district of Assam. In 1901 the first oil refinery in Asia and second in the whole world was built there and today Digboi’s oil field and refinery are the longest producing in the world.
Bomdila Buddhist Monastery (Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh)
Bomdila is the headquarters of West Kameng district in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Situated at 8000 feet above sea level it is the perfect place to view the brilliant landscape and snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas. It is a mini paradise with its apple orchards and in addition to its craft centre is also home to Bomdila Monastery which was founded in 1965 by the 12th reincarnate of Tsona Gontse Rinpoche.
The monastery is an imitation of the one called Tsona Gontse located at Tsona in South Tibet. The main prayer hall was added later by the 13th reincarnate of Tsona Gontse Rinpoche and was later sanctified by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama in 1997. Bomdila Monastery also comprises a temple of Lord Buddha and residential quarters for the monks. Also known as Gentse Gaden Rabgyel Lling Monastery, it is one of the most important centres of the Lamaistic faith of Mahayana Buddhism.
Tawang Monastery (Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh)
Even further north and at an elevation of 10,000 feet above sea level is Tawang town. Tawang monastery located there, or more properly Gaden Mamgyal Lhatse, was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1680 and is one of the highest monasteries in the world. It stands on the spur of a hill and offers a commanding and picturesque view of the Tawang-chu valley.
Tawang Monastery is the largest of its kind in the country, is one of the largest monasteries in Asia and one of the oldest in the world. It has the capacity to house 700 monks, although at present there are only 450 living there. It is revered for its large collection of books, gold lettered Buddhist scriptures, tapestries and a colossal gilded statue of Lord Buddha.