Flowing all the way down from a Tibetan glacier, it is the mighty Brahmaputra River that has shaped life in Assam through the ages. In addition, there are over 19 wildlife sanctuaries where the star attraction is the one-horned Indian rhino (spotted widely at Kaziranga National Park, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and Manas National Park). But visitors can also look forward to spotting the Bengal tiger, golden langur, sambal and a rich variety of bird species.
Home to 14 lakh weavers, Assam has a vibrant handloom culture consisting of a rich repertoire of refined silks and colourful tribal weaves. A significant proportion of weavers continue to weave clothes for themselves and their families within the confines of domestic spaces. Weaving is, therefore, not just a source of livelihood but also a living cultural tradition, an identity strongly worn by the women of the various communities. Another flourishing craft culture is the bell-metal industry. The most famous seat of this cottage industry is in Sarthebari, 95kms from Guwahati.
Food is an essential part of travelling in Assam. Farmers’ markets and weekend haats are a regular affair, consisting of the best of local produce such as ‘ou tenga’ (elephant apple), ‘thekera’ (Indian kokum), ‘khorisa’ (bamboo shoots) and ‘posola’ (banana plant stalk). Jonbeel Mela that takes place in Morigaon district right after Magh Bihu is a large-scale example of such community fairs which host farmers, fishermen and indigenous growers.
Take a stroll through markets, interact with local communities and share a meal with them. Picnic along the banks of the Kulsi River or on the white sands of the Brahmaputra riverbanks. Celebrate the great outdoors by cruising along the Brahmaputra and visiting Majuli – once the world’s largest river island. Seek the goddess’ blessings at the Kamakhya Temple. Take home some fresh tea from an estate to remind you of your varied experiences in the land of the Brahmaputra.
Guwahati, the capital city, derives its name from ‘guwa’ meaning areca nut in Goalpariya, a local dialect, and ‘haat’ meaning marketplace. To discover this bustling city’s old roots you will get to visit a hidden gem, Ambari Archaeological Site, where the excavations trace the city to the Hindu kingdoms of Shunga–Kushana period between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. Located at the very heart of the city, it was accidentally discovered in the course of digging the foundation for the Reserve Bank of India in 1969.
Visit one of the oldest markets by the river, teeming with local produce like tiny baby potatoes, fiddlehead ferns and local lemons, with an Assamese chef and learn to cook with these ingredients. Enjoy a tea tasting session with a professional tea taster and make your own blend. Create your own artisanal stole with a master dyes using natural materials in an idyllic setting.
In 1904, the Vicereine of India, Mary Curzon, went on an excursion and found no signs of rhinos in the region. An ardent conservationist, she urged her husband Lord Curzon to notify the area as a reserved forest. Currently, Kaziranga, spread over 430 sq kms, is home to 2500-odd rhinos and a host of rare flora and fauna.
“This was my father’s favourite stomping grounds who was always on the lookout for the elusive cat. If he were here today, he would appreciate the tireless efforts of the forest rangers that have led Kaziranga to boast of the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world after it was declared a tiger reserve in 2006.” – Julie
Though Majuli had the distinction of being the world’s largest river island, every year, two rivers – Brahmaputra to the south and Subansiri in the north – have claimed parts of the island. It has been predicted that in about 20 years’ time this island will no longer exist. Explore this fragile landscape on foot, by car and cycle ride to capture gorgeous sunsets on your cameras, as you watch the migratory birds and life on the island go by.
The largest indigenous tribe to inhabit this island are the Mishings. Visits to their villages are always delightful, with a chance to meet the women who are skilled weavers and buy directly from them. Interact with the friendly village folks who invite you to their homes for a refreshing glass of home-brewed rice beer.
The institution of Satra is a unique feature of Vaishnavism in Assam founded by Sankardeva, the father of Assamese culture. These are not just monasteries, but centres of traditional performing arts. Watch a ritual dance of the monks. Visit mask-makers who have innovated on the traditional technique of making bamboo frame masks and will happily give you a demonstration on how to use them. Witness a folk performance of the Ramayana.
The last capital of the Ahom kings, Jorhat is at the heart of the tea industry in Assam. With the Jorhat airport being within comfortable driving distance of Kaziranga, Majuli, Sivasagar and Nagaland, it has become a popular tourist destination. Here you will get to visit a tea garden and try your hand at plucking the perfect two leaves and a bud. Spend a night in a colonial bungalow that retains the charms of the glorious tea era.
The oldest tea research center in the world is located here and on appointment a visit is possible to explore it. The researchers are a storehouse of knowledge about tea and its history.
If you are a wildlife buff, the Hollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is a treat. It is home to the country’s only ape family, the Hoolock Gibbon.
Admire one man’s tenacity to build a forest on the sand banks of Majuli that is accessible from Jorhat. Jadav Payeng, who single-handedly planted trees and nourished them, can lay claim to 1,360 acres of dense forest that now is home to many wild animals including the tiger.
This ancient town is well-known for its Ahom palaces and monuments. The Ahoms, originally from the Thai states near Burma, ruled Assam for about 600 years. The grand monuments they constructed continue to withstand the weather.
Walk around and admire these structures that were built 200 years ago using thin, baked bricks and a paste of rice and eggs as mortar. Observe how indigenous natural materials like powdered lime and bricks that were used to cover the surface of the inner walls have kept the Rang Ghar (house of entertainment) interiors so cool. Visit temples that were built by the kings.
Assam’s famous oil town is steeped in history. Legend has it that it got its name from the phrase, “Dig, boy, dig!” which was uttered by an English geologist who had discovered a large pool of fossil fuel seeping up from the ground beneath the thick rain forest close to the borders of Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh. This led to the establishment of the first oil refinery outside America.
The objective of the massive Japanese onslaught through Manipur and the Naga Hills during World War II was to capture Upper Assam and gain control of the railway line as well as the Digboi Refinery. The Oil Museum in Digboi is a must see. Julie and her sisters were born in this town and you will get to drive past some beautiful examples of colonial bungalows that are so unique to this town.
Named after an Italian queen, this coal town in Assam got its unusual name in the late 19th century as a token of appreciation for the Italian Chief Engineer who supervised the construction of a railway line connecting its collieries to mainland India. Julie spent many of her growing years camping and picnicking hereabouts, and if travelling with her you will surely be taken to see a few of those scenic spots.
Visit the Singpho tribe, who live in villages surrounding this town and grow tea in their backyards. Sip a cup of green smoky tea with a piece of jaggery, called coin tea by the tribals, in the bamboo and wood eco-lodge built by them. Listen to tales of how they introduced tea to the British. Also skilled weavers, you will get a chance to see firsthand their work displaying a melange of brilliant colours and intricate designs.
Home to the Nameri National Park, with the Jia Bhoroli river running through it, this park has been a favoured destination for anglers since the time of the British. The prized catch for anglers is the Golden Mahseer.
The Mishing tribe, also known as the river people, have small villages nearby. Visit a guesthouse set up by them for some authentic Mishing cuisine and walk around the village to observe a way of life that is slow paced and in complete harmony with its natural surroundings. Get invited for a cup of ‘lal sah’ (red tea) and amble towards the river to watch the kids play.
A treat for any birdwatcher, wait patiently for a Great Indian Hornbill to fly above you, its shadow large enough to cover two people. Go rafting and enjoy a lunch cooked by the boatmen on the sandbanks. Spend the evenings camping around a bonfire and sleeping in a tent; or for a luxury experience, stay in a heritage tea bungalow where all your comforts will be met along with a tea tasting session and garden visit.
The Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, lies on the foothills of the Himalayas. Covered by alluvial grasslands and tropical forests, it is an important biodiverse region that is home to many endangered species of wildlife. The Manas river running through it adds beauty to the already stunning landscape surrounded by the forests of Bhutan and the rugged mountains.
Manas covers an area of 950 sq kms and shares a border with the Royal Manas National Park of Bhutan. It is the only sanctuary to be declared a biosphere reserve, Project Tiger Reserve, Project Elephant Reserve and a natural heritage site all at the same time.
A treat for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, an ideal winter getaway when most of the animals can be sighted. Or go river rafting down the Manas River to indulge in some adventure! The villages of the Bodo tribe who inhabit this region are a treat to visit; enjoy a local meal in one of the houses here. We can arrange for you to watch one or two of their cultural performances and dances too.