Assam was known as ‘Kamarupa’ or ‘Pragjyotishpura’ in the period of the Epics. Human inhabitation of this area dates back to about 2000 BC. The population of Assam comprises of the migrants from Burma and China. They came into Assam after the mongoloid migration. They came from Punjab through Bihar and North Bengal. Thus Assam presents a fusion of Mongol-Aryan culture. The early history of Assam is believed to be of the Varman dynasty. The reign of this dynasty extended from 400 AD to 13th century. The visit of Huien Tsang is said to have taken place during the 7th century at the time of Kumar Bhaskar Varman. The Ahoms ventured into Assam in about 1228AD. By 15th century the kingdoms of Ahom and Koch were established. This period witnessed a sea change in all walks of life in Assam. In the later part of the 18th century the Ahom Kingdom was weakened due to internal strife. The Burmese ran over the political authority in Assam thus invoking British intervention to subdue the Burmese. After a conflict between the Burmese and the English, the treaty of Yandaboo restored peace in 1826. The British then set out to organize the administration, transport and communication. Besides the various changes, the construction of railways, introduction of tea plantation, discovery of coal and oil etc. proved fruitful to the British during the World War II. After Independence of India, Assam witnessed several separations of territories. In 1948, NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) was separated, in 1963 Nagaland, in 1972 Meghalaya and in 1987 Mizoram.
The word 'Assam' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Asoma', meaning peerless. The land of Assam, is in fact, peerless, judging by her exquisite natural beauty, cultural richness and human wealth. The broad racial intermixture is the native of the state of Assam, called their language and the people “Asomiya” or “Assamese”.
Assam is famous for producing Tea, growing almost 500 million kgs, about 60 % of India’s Production. The British in Assam introduce this cash crop. The third largest tea auction center of the world is situated at Guwahati, the capital city in Assam. Agriculture however is the main occupation of 63% of the population, rice being the main crop and the staple diet. Other crops include pulses, jute, sugarcane, potatoes, cotton, oilseeds, coconut, areca nut etc. Agriculture is monsoon dependent and in addition to normal agricultural practices, the tribal population also practices jhum or shifting cultivation. Oranges, lemon, bananas, guavas, pineapple and mangoes are some fruits extensively cultivated. Forest and forest products are important part of the state’s economy, Cane and bamboo being substantial revenue earners. The forests also house some rare species of birds and animals for which there is a tremendous development in tourism of Assam.
Assam is also home to oldest refinery in India, the Digboi Refinery having started production in 1901, and played a significant role in Britain war effort during WW II in Burma. A substantial portion of India’s onshore oil assets is in Assam and is being systematically harvested by ONGC and OIL. Assam is also an important producer of silk of different varieties, like eri, pat (Assam silk) and muga (Golden silk). Oil, tea, bamboo and silk are the backbone of the economy here.
Air connectivity: Guwahati is well connected by air with New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad & Jaipur,. Apart from these air links to main cities in India, Guwahati also has flight services to few towns of the Northeast – Bagdogra, Imphal, Agartala, Jorhat & Dibrugarh, connecting them with the rest of the country.
Rail connectivity: Kolkata is the nearest metropolis to Guwahati and by rail it takes about 18 hours by Saraighat Express. Kanchenjangha Express also plies between Guwahati and Kolkata, while Kamrup express connects Dibrugarh to Kolkata via Guwahati. Rajdhani Express takes about 28 hours to connect Guwahati to Delhi and Dadar Express plies between Guwahati and Mumbai in about 54 hours. Rail connections from Guwahati to Bangalore and Trichy are also available by Bangalore Express and Trichy Express respectively.
Road connectivity: Guwahati is considered the gateway to Northeast and is hub of all road communications in the region. It is also the junction of National Highway 31 (Coochbehar / Hasimara – West Bengal), National Highway 37 (Arunachal Pradesh), National Highway 40 (Meghalaya), National Highway 52 (Pasighat / Itanagar – Arunachal Pradesh).
PLACES OF INTERESTS:
Kamakhya Temple : One of the most revered shrines of the Hindu faith, the temple is located on Neelachal Hill. The temple offers grandstand views of Brahmaputra river and its surroundings. The reigning deity here is Goddess Parvati (Sati). Legend has it that out of the pieces many of her body which was scattered across the land, her yoni fell on Neelachal Hill.
Navagraha Temple: The temple contains nine phallic emblems of Shiva covered with cloths of different colours sacred to the nine planetary gods, namely, Surya (Sun), Chandra (Moon), Mangal (Mars), Budha (Mercury), Guru or Brihaspati (Jupiter) , Shukra (Venus), Shani (Saturn), Rahu (Dragon’s head) and Ketu (Dragon’s tail). It is an important centre for the study of astronomy and astrology.
Umananda Temple: This Shiva temple is situated on the Peacock island. The island has a mix of Bamboo and evergreen tropical trees and is rocky at some parts. The temple is very small. Main attraction of the temple are Golden Langurs. Golden Langurs are endemic primates found only in Manas National Park bordering Assam and Bhutan. A priest of Umananda temple is said to have brought a few young ones to the island and let them free. They grew up in the island, confined by the Brahmaputra and have grown used to humans. Birds like Asian Koels, Warblers, Grey Tit, Magpie Robins, Jungle Babblers and Mynas can be seen here.
Deepor Beel: Deepor Beel (‘Beel’ Means Lake in Assameses language) is a permanent, freshwater lake, in a former channel of the Brahmaputra River, to the south of the main river south-west of Guwahati city. It is a large natural wetland having great biological and environmental importance besides being the only major storm water storage basin for the Guwahati city. The beel is endowed with rich floral and faunal diversity. In addition to huge congregation of residential water birds, the Deepor ecosystem harbours large number of migratory waterfowl each year The Lake supports threatened species of birds like spotbilled pelican, lesser adjutant stork, greater adjutant stork, blacknecked stork, and large whistling teal.
The lake is one of the staging grounds on the migratory flyways for several species. Some of the largest congregations of aquatic birds in Assam can be seen here, particularly in winter.
It supports 50 fish species belonging to 19 families. The diversity and concentration of indigenous freshwater fish species is very high. Natural breeding of some of these species takes place within the beel itself. It is Assam’s first bird sanctuary, a large natural wetland with an area of 4.14 sq.km, it houses 1200 species of local and migratory birds.
Sualkuchi & Hajo villages: Assam produces three unique varieties of silks, the Golden Muga, the White Pat and the warm Eri. Silk is grown all over the state find their way to Sualkuchi. Sualkuchi is one of the world’s largest weaving village. The entire population here is engaged in weaving exquisite silk fabrics. A renowned center of silk production, particularly known for Muga - the golden silk of Assam, which is not, produced anywhere else in the world.
One can distinctly hear the rhythm of the shuttles of the looms as soon as one enters this craft village. Sualkuchi, the biggest village of Assam with a population of around 50,000, is situated on the north bank of the mighty Brahmaputra (35 kms from Guwahati)
Hajo Village: The town of Hajo (35 km west of Guwahati and 20 kms from Sualkuchi) is a sacred place for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. The town also boasts of the Hayagriba Madhava Temple, accessible via a long stone stairway. The temple is said to contain a relic of Buddha.; one school believes that Lord Buddha attained Nirvana here. Numerous Bhutias congregate at the shrine in winter.
Pir Giasuddin Aulia established a mosque in Hajo in the 12th century, while visiting the place to spread the word of the Prophet. The mosque is often referred to as Poa Mecca – being fourth in the line of sanctity to the shrine at Mecca.
Hajo brass metal works are renowned and one can buy interesting artifacts made by the local craftsmen.
MANAS NATIONAL PARK ( Season: November to April)
Manas, at the base of foot hills of the Bhutan-Himalayas in the state of Assam, with unique biodiversity and landscape is one of the first reserves included in the network of tiger reserve under Project tiger in 1973. It extends over an area of 2837 Sq. Km from Sankosh river in the west to Dhansiri river in the east, with a core area of 500 Sq. Km. of the National park, which was declared in 1990. The average elevation of the area is 85 m above mean sea level. The river Manas flows into the national Park from the gorges of Bhutan and splits into two major streams. The main water course comes out of the National Park about 30 km downstream is known as ‘Beki”. The peace and tranquility of Mothanguri tourist site on the bank of river Manas close to Bhutan is the rarest gift of the nature and in its finest form. A total of 543 species of plants (Pteridophytes and Angiosperms) have been recorded from the area. Out of which 374 species belong to Dicotylendons and 139 species to Monocotylendons.
60 species of mammals are recorded from the reserve. 21 of them are placed in Schedule 1 categories. Of these 3 are primates, the Capped Langur, the Golden Langur and Slow Loris, while 6 are cats namely Tiger, Black Panther, Leopard Cat, Clouded Leopard, Golden Cat and Fishing Cat. The Binturong, Sloth Bear, Elephant, Indian Bison (Gaur), Sambar, Asiatic water Buffalo, Swamp Deer, Parti-coloured flying squirrel, Hispid Hare while the pigs comprise of the wild Boar and the Pygmy hog. The Pygmy hog, Hispid hare and Golden Langur are among endemic to this area. The only viable population of the smallest and rarest wild suid, the Pygmy hog, exists in Manas and nowhere else in the world. 312 species of birds are recorded. Out of this 10 are placed in Schedule I category. These are Black crested Baza, Lagger Falcon, Shahin Falcon, Bengal Florican, Pied Hornbill, Great Pied Hornbill, Rufous necked Hornbill and Peacock pheasant. It’s a paradise for birdwatchers for it has stunning selection of avian life.
"MANAS NATIONAL PARK" was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1985.
NOTE: Sighting of animals in Manas is not as good as in Kaziranga but the diversity of the habitat is very high. Manas is probably a site of what the earth looked like before the arrival of man. Accommodation is at Bansbari Lodge which is outside the Park.
KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK ( Season: November to April)
Kaziranga, on the south bank of the Brahmaputra River is world famous for its great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, of which there are plenty. Spread across 430 sq km (166 square miles), it is a dazzling mosaic of dense rain-forest, tall elephant grass and swathes of reeds interspersed with vast tracts of marshes and shallow pools. But Kaziranga is not all about rhinos; it has many other animals, ducks and birds, which visitor can witness as easily as possible either from Jeep or an elephant back (early morning).
Herds of barasingha and wild buffalo are seen in the marshes and an occasional herd of elephants or wild boar is also sighted. The grasslands are raptor country and the crested serpent eagle, the Pallas fishing eagle and grey-headed fishing eagle can be seen circling over the marshes. The water-bird variety includes swamp partridge, bar-headed goose, whistling teal, the Bengal florican, storks, herons and even pelicans.
"KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK" was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1985.
NOTE: Kaziranga National Park lies just off National Highway 37 between Guwahati and Jorhat. It can be easily accessed by road from either of these. Guwahati airport is 250 kms and Jorhat airport is 105 kms from Kaziranga. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Indigo, Spicejet, Jetlite operates flight to Guwahati and Indian Airlines & Jet Airways fly to Jorhat from Kolkata.
NAMERI NATIONAL PARK (Season: November to April)
Nameri National Park covering an area of about 200 sq. kms is located at the foothills of eastern Himalayas about 35 km from Tezpur, the nearest town (Tezpur is 200 kms from Guwahati). The park consists of deciduous forests, hills and the river Jia Bhoroli flows through it. Nameri was set up as a sanctuary on 1985 with an area of 137 sq. km. In 1998 it was officially established as a National Park.
Nameri National Park is birder’s paradise and more than 300 species of birds have been identified here - four species of hornbills, an abundance of Mainas, Bee Eaters, Barbets, Babblers, Bulbuls, Plovers, Ibisbills etc. In recent years Nameri has become famous because of the rare and endangered White Winged Wood Duck. The world population is estimated at around 700. Above 50 of these resident birds are found in the Park. A plethora of reptilian and insect life bare testimony to the immense biodiversity of the area. Assam Roof Turtle, multicouloured butterflies and insects like Lantern fly are a common sight adding colour and charm to the scenery.
The snow fed Jia Bhoroli river flows along the southern periphery of the Park adding to the breathtaking scenery. On a clear winter morning one can see the snow capped peaks of Eastern Himalayas as a backdrop.
DIBRU-SAIKHOWA NATIONAL PARK (Season: November to April)
Dibru Saikhowa National Park is the largest national park of Assam, spread over an area of 650 sq. km. It is located about 13 kms north of Tinsukia town and about 515 kms from Guwahati and is bounded by the Brahmaputra River and Arunachal hills in the north and Dibru and Patkai hills on the south. It was declared a wildlife Sanctuary in 1986 by the government of Assam by uniting two Reserve forests, viz., Dibru and Saikhowa including some other areas. It attained National Park status in 1999 restricting its core area to 340 sq. km. with a large buffer zone. Dibru Saikhowa National Park is one of the 19 (nineteen) biodiversity hotspots of the world. It mainly consists of semi wet evergreen forests, tropical moist deciduous forest, bamboo, canebrakes and grasslands.
Situated in the flood plains of Brahmaputra, at an altitude of 118 m above sea level, Dibru-Saikhowa is a safe haven for many extremely rare and endangered species of wild life including over 300 avifauna both endangered and migratory, as well as various species of shrubs, herbs and rare medicinal plants. It is also home to wild ferral horses.
GIBBON WILDLIFE SANCTUARY (Season: November to April)
Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is the only sanctuary in India to be named after a non-human primate, Hoolock gibbon (Hylobates hoolock). Hollock Gibbon, the only ape found in the Indian sub continent, requires prime evergreen forest for survival. The Park located 22 km from Jorhat town and 5 km from Mariani town. Total area of the National Park is 1915.06 Hectares.
Faunal Composition: Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is the most diverse spot for primates in India. Out of 15 species of Primates in India, seven species of primates are found in Gibbon WLS, and they include: Slow lories, Rhesus macaque, Assamese macaque, Stum-tailed macaque, pigtailed macaque, Capped langur, Hoolock gibbon. The Avian diversity of the sanctuary is also very high and includes the Hornbill, Racket-tailed Drongo, Parakeets, Doves, Pigeons, Owl, Eagles, Kite, Tree pie, Flower peaker, Fly catcher, Kaleej pheasant, Red jungle fowl, Crow pheasant etc. Amongst reptiles Python, Cobra, Monitor lizard and Tortoise, etc. is found in the sanctuary. Floral Composition of the National Park includes - Dipterocarpus macrocarpus (Holong), Aqualaria agolacha (Agaru or Sachi), Terminalia myrocarpa (Halakh), Artocarpus chama (Sam), Michelia champaka (Titachopa), Canarium reiniferum (Dhuna), Lagerstoemia flosreginae (Azar), 8 Garcinia species (Thekera), Sepium buccatum (Selng) and many more. Various species of bamboo, fern, orchids and medicinal plants are also found here.
MAJULI (Season: November to April)
Majuli is the largest fresh Water mid-river deltoid island in the world. It is situated in the upper reaches of the river Brahmaputra in Assam. This Island, with a population of 1.6 Lakhs, majority being tribal, is endowed with a rich heritage and has been the abode of the neo-vashnavite culture. The island is a bio-diversity hotspot and has unique ecology with rare species of flora and fauna.
From the beginning of their settlement in the island the people of Majuli have been facing the challenge of the roaring force of nature of the river Brahmaputra and have acquired the art of utilizing this mighty force of nature for their benefit. With the advent of Vaishnava saint of Assam the people have made their tiny island a Nerve Center of Assamese Religion, Art, Culture and Education and they have been preserving it as a living culture for the last five hundred years despite all the challenges faced due to a multitude of calamities - natural, political and social. This is a unique in this world and deserves recognition. Majuli for the past five centuries has been the cultural capital of Assam. The main depositories of cultural and spiritual heritage are the Sattras, which are just like Gurukul (hermitages) of yore. Here up to 400 celibates' stay for life preserving spiritual and cultural heritage, renouncing worldly desires. From the time of the great Vaishnavite renaissance of 14th and 15th century AD, under Srimanta Sankardeva, Srimanta Madhab Deva and other saints this island became the seat of Vaishnavite religion, art and culture. The famous Satriya Nritya (Dance) and Ankiya Bhaona (Traditional Drama) created by Sankardeva are now internationally acclaimed and nationally honoured. Majuli is equally famous for Tribal Folk Culture and Heritage. It is said to be the cradle of Missing and Deori cultures. The ancient Indian "GURU SISHYA PARAMPARA" system of education is prevalent only in the Satra Institutions of Majuli, Assam. The system confines the universal code, humanitarianism, the path of devotion, renunciation, truth, non-violence, well-being of the people, liberation from birth and death, under restrain, charity and compassion. The antique social customs of indigenous Assamese society are in practice only in the Sattras of Majuli in lineage system. In the Sattra institutions of Majuli there is ample scope for learning every faculty required for leading a cleansing successful life. "
THE THAI (OR TAI CONNECTIONS)
Throughout Asian History, ethnic politics inevitably set forth images of conflicts between indigenous peoples and the larger migrant group. One such dominant migrant ethnic group, which is found across South, Southeast Asia and China, is the Tais. The Ahoms are an important branch of the Tai people. The Tai-Ahoms entered the Brahmaputra valley from the east (from Moung Mao in China through the Shan states of Burma) in the early part of the thirteenth century. They established a small kingdom in the easternmost corner having conquered the Morans and the Borahis, two small Mongoloid tribes of that area. By the first half of the sixteenth century, the kingdom had grown in size and number after the conquest of many indigenous communities like the Chutiya kingdom on the northeast, that of the Kacharis in the southwest and the Bhuyan chiefs in the west and northwest. In the seventeenth century, the kingdom was further enlarged by the annexation of Kamrupa - the south most part of the Assam valley. As the Tai-Ahoms came from Muong Mao during first part of the thirteenth century, they might have brought to the Brahmaputra valley a Tai language spoken in the Muong Mao region of the present-day Dehong Dai-Jingpow Autonomous Prefecture in Yunan, China and the nearby areas inside Myanmar. Initially, it was probably advantageous for Siukha-pha (the first Tai migrant to the Assam Valley who later became its ruler) and his followers to keep the Tai language alive, speaking both the Tai & the Assamese languages. The Phakial speakers are scattered in different villages situated on the bank of the river Buridihing. They are Buddhist in religion and this is why they could maintain their separate identity socially and culturally within the sea of Hinduism. Though the Phakials are small in population, they are still maintaining their own individualities, their gorgeous and typical multi coloured costumes, the Phakial language, their customs and tradition.
It has its own separate scripts and has also preserved in a few manuscripts, which are mainly religious scriptures. These manuscripts are written in Tai-scripts, which are preserved in their village Vihars.
An exotic destination four kilometers away from Naharkatia (65 kms from Dibrugarh) town in Assam. Spread three-odd kilometers along the bank of the Dihing, a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra, the picturesque village has an enticing old-world charm. It is the largest of the Tai-Phake villages in Assam, boasting 70 odd families, which trace their ancestry to the great Tai race. The village folk speak a dialect similar to the language in Thailand and still follow the traditional customs and dress code of the great Tai race. The hamlet is also home to the Namphake Buddhist Monastery, one of the oldest and most respected Buddhist Monasteries in Assam. The villagers live in ‘chang ghars’ – bamboo and wood houses built on raised platforms and are mostly engaged in agriculture.
The Singphos, a powerful tribe living in the plains and hills of Assam has a glorious story to tell. Of Mongoloid descent, folklore trace their origin to the Singra-boom hills of Tibet from where they migrated in many directions and one such group came and settled in the foothills of Upper Assam, in the Dihing Patkai region. However in the early 19th century, the invasion by the Manns and after the Sadiya Saikhowa battle, most Singphos returned to join other migratory groups in present day Myanmar and the other remaining in what is present day Lohit and Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh and in the region covering Bisagaon, Inthem, Ketong, Khatanpani, Kotha, Ulup, Hassaek village.etc, in the Margherita Sub Division under Tinisukia District of Assam. The story of Tea in Assam is very intricately connected to the Singphos, who knew about its existence and were also drinking it much before its official discovery. It was their King, Bisa Gam who introduced Major Robert Bruce of the Marhatta (Maratha) Regiment of the East India Company to this plant, and on whose initiative, Assam and its story of tea started. It is said that on not being paid royalty, the King ordered the chopping of the plants grown by the new plantation and that resulted in the technique of hedging/pruning of tea bushes.
Physically mongoloid, Singpho men grow their hair long and tie their hair in a topknot, so too their women who decorate their hair with silver chains and married women distinctly tattoo their legs from ankle to their knees. While the womenfolk wear traditional neck pieces earrings and finger rings of their own traditional designs, the men do not wear jewellery albeit they all carry a sheathed dao (sword) with the King’s dao having embedded tiger claws. Their various clans have their own Chief, and they reside in houses on stilts (Chang ghar), usually near a stream. They are meat eater with rice being their staple diet and rice beer and its consumption form part of their traditions. Exogamy is practiced in marriage; they do not marry intra clan, preferring to confine marriages to certain clans only. Once a man marries to another clan, it becomes customary for his successors to seek wives from the same lineage. The Singphos are a unique race, steeped in their traditions and belief, and time spend with them is an experience one should not forego.