Saturday, February 28, 2009


Cuppa with Kamdev

Guwahati, part of the Kamrup district, is North-East India’s potpourri and a virtual epicenter with almost every soul from this part of the globe visiting it once in their lifetime, be it en route another destination, for commercial or educational purposes, tourism, health issues - you name it! The mighty Brahmaputra forms the very life-blood of this Assam metropolis both nourishing its fish-crazy gourmets, and ravishing its shores during monsoons. And Guwahati emerges phoenix-like and continues to absorb citizens and foreigners alike. Right from the annual floods, Bhupen Hazarika and Zubeen Garg (the favorite singers), Bihu functions held at every nook and lane to the Digholi pukhuri cruises, grandma’s muga mekhela-sador (traditional draping), Cotton-Handique (colleges) love-war stories, Kamakhya legends, Assamese films, Tea Auctioning - and what not, Guwahati makes finest sepia-memories to be cherished at leisure.

Tale of the City

Guwahati finds mention in the great Indian epic Mahabharata as the capital of the demon king Narakasura of Pragijyotispura. Another lore has it registered as the birthplace of the Hindu God of love and fertility - Kamdev (hence, Kamrup). The name however is a combination of two words - ‘Guwa’ meaning betel nut and ‘Hat’ meaning market, hinting at its commercial-connection that dates back some quaint age.


Kamakhya Temple : Every tourist visiting Assam, religious or not, visits the Kamakhya temple at Guwahati. A 10 km drive uphill the Nilachal range brings you to this 10th century Koch King Naranarayan’s landmark to the kernel of Tantrism (not to be confused with Black magic) or Shakti worship. Unfortunately though, Kamakhya makes it to the headlines more than often for some other reason - the mass massacre of animals during festivals. But amidst the scholarly circle and believers, Kamakhya is a name revered. Devotees from all over India converge on this holy place during Ambubachi and Manasha Puja. Another belief is, blessings of Goddess Kamakhya may help a barren woman bear child. It is also one of very few Indian temples where foreign tourists are allowed to its inner sanctum inspite of its strict Hindu decorum. Also visit the Bhubaneswari Temple further uphill. Incase you are amused to the extent of picking up a novel while on your way, Assamese writer and Jnanpith awardee, Dr. Mamoni Raisom Goswami’s “The Shadow of Kamakhya”, is a recommended read.

Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra : Named after the greatest Vaishnava saint and the greatest integrator of the Assamese society, Srimant Sankardeva, the Kalashetra is a classic stopover for that sweeping-glance at the State’s culture, artistic excellence and heritage. The Central Museum houses objects and collectibles of different ethnic groups of Assam, the Open Air Theatre hosts regular folk performances and cultural festivities, an Artist’s Village, a Sahitya Bhavan with its rare collection of books and manuscripts, the Lalit-Kala Bhavan where some or the other exhibition, art and sculpture workshops is held round the year, and a Heritage Park. By now, you must have realized that once in Guwahati, it will be sacrilegious almost to miss out Kalashetra.

The Shiva Temple, Umananda : Go there not just to pray or seek blessing, but to partake in typical South Kamrup religious ambiance. Call it adventure or discovery jaunt, it begins at boarding the public ferry or the motor boat and ends in the same, but on your way back, the Brahmaputra currents will seem less fearful and you can try standing on top of your motorboat (with the herd of two-wheelers) and act out your Titanic-act (hands spread) or count river dolphins.

Cotton College : Life starts here and ends at places all over the world. Be it politics, drama, media, culture, this college has infallibly given Assam the best performers ever and over the years. Recently, on the occasion of the College’s Centenary celebration, the bee-hive of alumni from across the globe would have left anybody slack-jawed at the phenomenal ‘loyalty’ a Cottonian feels and will forever feel for his college. With some 8-9 hostels all over Panbazaar, it won’t be very difficult to get a clubable Cottonian help you tour around the college premises and load you with lores. Especially the Cotton-Handique (a nearby girls-college) love stories!

Brahmaputra River Cruise : With the world’s fourth largest river flowing by, a river-cruise is sine qua non for the tourists. Luxury cruise vessels like ‘Jolporee’, ‘Al Fresco’ offer a dramatic evening cruising experience with the vermilion sun melting into his (unlike other Indian rivers, referred to as ‘she’, Brahmaputra or the Son of Brahma, is an obvious ‘he’) azure waters, in the backdrop. You can also join the music troupe there with your favorite Bob Dylan number and enjoy your moment of instant fame.

Consider visiting these landmarks : Balaji Temple of Tirupati, Navagraha temple (temple of the nine planets colored red), Vashistha Ashram, State Zoo-cum Botanical Garden, which is the largest natural zoo of the country, The Guwahati planetarium, the State Museum, Forest Museum, Cottage Industries Museum, Guwahati Tea Auction Center (GTAC), Gandhi Mandap, ISKON Temple.

Festivals: If you ask for the best month to visit the Assam capital - Guwahati, it is undoubtedly April. This is the period when Nature decks Herself in Her best attires to mark the advent of spring. What Baisakhi is to Punjab and Vishu to Kerala, Bihu is to Assam. Locally called Rongali or Bohag Bihu. Celebrated on 13th & 14 th April, it marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year. The main attraction is the Bihu dance competition held at every bend of the street in Guwahati and rest of Assam. Both men and women partake in the dance extravaganza. The ladies decked in mugar mekkhela-sador (traditional saree made from a kind of silk), gracefully match their steps to the rhythm of the instruments. Some spectacles are best witnessed, words only diminish their aura. And Bihu truly is one of them, especially, the truly amazing movement of the waist of the Bihu dancers! You should not miss it! Consult with our agents or your hotel manager to find out the best venue around to enjoy the Bihu dance competition and the various local cuisines.

Brahmaputra Beach Festival, organized by the Assam state government, every year in January, gets the city romping with traditional contests like elephant race and kite flying, adventure sports activities like beach volleyball, kayaking, canoeing, hot air ballooning, para-dropping, wind surfing, and the most participated, beach cricket.


Assam’s indigenous products like items made of bamboo and cane, Assam silk and Muga constitute the most recommended buys at the Capital City markets. Fancy Bazaar and the Pan Bazaar area has all the shopaholic crowd is the main shopping area and has everything from cane to silk in its myriad shops.

For exciting curios like cane jewelery, baskets and decorative items, jute bags, bamboo utensils and masks, countless local handicrafts, Assam traditional wear, visit Pragjyotika (G.N.B. Road, near Ambari). For those enticing silk and muga drapes and sarees, reha stoles, visit Kolpotoru (Pan Bazaar), Sualkuchi Silk House and Kumar’s Silk Center (Pan Bazaar).


An Assamese if often nicknamed “Khar”. You will soon know why. Khar is actually a form of baking-soda made from the ashes of dry banana-peel, once used as an alternative to salt. Though its use is now restricted to specific recipes, the lore that due to Khar the Assamese tongues have become inert and difficult words don’t roll out correctly, thereby resulting the appellation - “Khar khua Axomiya” (who only has Khar). This is added to different vegetables or cereals and had with rice.

Masor tenga (a cuisine that has fish and bottle-gourd tangoed with tomatoes), Bah-gaj (bamboo-shoot) dishes and pickles, Tomato tok (sweetened tomato sauce), Payesh (rice & milk-based dessert), kharoli (made of mustard seeds), different pithas (steamed or roasted rice cakes) and of course that peerless cuppa are specialties of every Assamese kitchen. Add to it the influences from the neighboring states and nations, that lend Assamese cuisine its tinge of Tibetan and tribal flavor. Non-veg dishes are a commonplace, especially fish-based. Pork Momos (dumblings stuffed with pork) and bamboo-shoot Pork curry is one of the local favorite, phenomenally popular amongst the youngsters. Infact the entire nations Momo-infatuation can be traced back to these roots in the North East India. Go to Momo-Ghar for that original bite. Hotel Paradise (Goswami Service), Ehaaj (Zoo Tiniali), Jooti Logai Kham (Near Ganeh Mandir, Ganeshguri) are names to mug-up for a lip-smacking Assamese thali. Chinese food is best served at Mingroom (near Commerce College) and Chung-Fa (near Zoo-Tiniali). Recently opened lounge-bars (Bluez and Traffik) give you the choice of both befriending the localites and soothing your journey-blues.


Hajo (25 km West): A site where Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist pilgrims coalesce. The Hayagriba Madhava Temple with its giant ancient turtle is the most famous. Some belief that this is where Lord Buddha attained Nirvana and this temple contains his relics. Muslim saint, Pir Giasuddin Aulia built a mosque here which later came to be known as Poa-Mecca.

Madan Kamdev (35 km): History has been curiously silent about this site of archaeological ruins where legends hold that the God of Love, Kamdev or Madan was reunited with Rati, his beloved in this historic hillock.

Sualkuchi (32 km): An weavers village on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, famous across the globe for its silk weaving. The look and feel of Assam silk is best termed - enamoring!

The Manas wildlife sanctuary (176 km): Visit Manas, an UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its Big Cats.

Chandubi (64 km): The dilapidated cliffs and forests make beautiful natural lagoon a favorite picnicking spot of the city-chafed localite. Try fishing and boating in the pristine lake lacing it while the children can embark on a treasure-hunt jaunt.

Nagaon (120 km): Here, at Bordua, is the birthplace of Srimanta Shankardeva. Pose with the friendly deers or feed the fearless school of fish in the pond nearby, there is much more that awaits the vision there.

Cherrapunjee (1300 m): above sea level, known all over the world as the rainiest place on the planet. Cherrapunjee is 160 km from Guwahati.

Jatinga (330 km south): A sleepy village in North Cachar Hills, hosts a mass-suicide of migratory birds every year. The suiciding-spree lasts for 4 months beginning August and ornithologists from across the world flock here to study the phenomenon. Go there like a tourist and come back enlightened about secrets nature refuses to share with just anybody.

Jorhat (200 km/4hrs): The tea capital of the world hosts the Assam Tea festival (every November) where varied flavors of tea enchant tealovers and bidders from across the globe. At a distance of 20 km is Majuli, acclaimed as world’s largest fresh-water river island and has regular visits from rare migratory avian species. Besides, Majuli is also the famed center of many Vaishnava Monasteries, established by the great Vaishanav revivalist, Sankardeva.

Location :
On the banks of Brahmaputra, Assam

Go there for :
Kamakhya Temple, Tea

Climate :
34°C to 20°C (Sum); 20°C to 8°C (Win)

When to Go:
October to April

Local Tongue:
Assamese, English

STD Code :
+91 - 361

1 comment:

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