Travel Bucket List: India – Assam Part 4

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Sivasagar
57 km east of Jorhat and 362 km east of Guwahati, Sivasagar which translates to the ocean of Shiva and is well known for its Ahom palaces and monuments and today is an important centre for tea and oil. Formerly known as Rangpur, Sivasagar was the capital of the Ahom Kingdom who ruled Assam for six centuries from 1699 to 1788 until their kingdom fell to the Burmese in 1819 and the ruling class was all but wiped out. The province was conquered by the British in 1825 and completely annexed in 1826. It was said that the original name of Sivasagar was Kalansupar after the name of Kalansu Gohain who resided in a village that originally existed where the Sivasagar tank is currently located.

The Joysagar Tank and Temples are located in nearby Rangpur. Completed in a record 45 days in 1697, these massive structures along with the tanks and temples span an area of nearly 320 acres. There are also temples on the banks of the water body named Jeydol, the Shiv Temple, the Devi Ghar and the Nati Gosain temple. The famous Shiva temple known as Shivadol is located on the shores of the Sibsagar Lake and was constructed in 1734. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, Shivadol was built by Bar Raja Ambika, the Queen of the Ahom King Swargadeo Siba Singha. It is the tallest Shiva temple in India with a height of about 32 m and a base perimeter of 59 m.

The Talatal Ghar or the Rangpur Palace is impressive in Tai Ahom architecture and is also the largest of all Ahom monuments in the world. Boasting of a typical Mughal architecture style, the upper ground floor of the Talatal Ghar is popularly known as Kareng Ghar and was used as a palace by Assamese royalty. Raja Swargdeo Rudra Singha, the successor of Raja Swargadeo Rajeswar Singha, added the top floors during his regime making the palace a spectacular seven-story palace. The palace has been built with organic materials, out of bricks and a mixture of rice powder and duck eggs. What is truly notable is that this structure has been standing tall and strong for centuries. The palace was originally built as an army base by Swargadeo Rajeswar Singha between 1751 and 1769 and has two tunnels and three underground floors built to facilitate emergency evacuation for the King and his army. After Swargadeo Rudra Singha’s demise, the fort underwent major changes with three ground storeys added making the Talatal Ghar a seven-storey palace. Of the seven levels, four levels lay above the ground and three levels lie below. Visitors are only allowed to visit the upper three levels while the underground floors are closed.

Often referred to as the Colosseum of the East, Rang Ghar is one of the oldest surviving amphitheatres in Asia and is located near Rangpur Palace. The name translates to House of Entertainment and dates back to 1746 when the Ahoms used to rule. The two-storied building was originally built by Ahom ruler Swargadeo Pramatta Singha to be used by Ahom kings and nobles for witnessing sports held at the adjoining Rupahi Pathar. It served as a royal sports pavilion, particularly during the Rangauli Bihu festival. However, today, the condition of this monument is quite fragile with frequent earthquakes and seismic surveys causing at least 35 noticeable cracks on the walls. At a height of 10 meters, Rang Ghar is a brilliant specimen of the Ahom style of architecture, made exclusively of baked red bricks. The base of the structure is composed of a series of entrances, and its roof is shaped like an Ahom long royal boat with sculpted stone crocodiles found adorning the top of the ceiling and the exterior has an eclectic melange of exquisitely carved floral and geometrical patterns. Rang Ghar is open between 9 am and 5 pm and has an entry fee of INR 5.

The royal seat of the Ahoms, the Gargaon Palace or Kereng Ghar has located 13km from Sivasagar and consists of seven floors, three of which are underground. There are also many exciting underground passages with many of them closed to the public due to safety reasons.

Located 28 km from Sivasagar, Charaideo was the capital of the Ahom dynasty and was built by Sukhapa, the founder of the Ahom dynasty. The main attraction of Charaideo is its burial vaults or maidans of the king and members of the Ahom dynasty, which are however in ruins today. The Ahom Museum, on the banks of Sibsagar Lake, displays artefacts such as royal armoury, clothes and manuscripts which belonged to the rulers of the Ahom dynasty.

Gaurisagar Tank, an artificial reservoir near Sivasagar, is spread over 150 acres with temples scattered all around it dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Durga. The landmark of the town, the Sibsagar Lake is also an artificial lake built by Queen Ambika, wife of King Shiva Singha, in 1734. The pretty lake is surrounded by parks, gardens, museums, masjid, Buddhist monastery, church and temples.

Majuli
A lush green, pristine, environment-friendly and pollution-free freshwater island on the Brahmaputra, Majuli is located about 20 km from Jorhat and about 347 km from Guwahati. With a total area of 1250 sq km, Majuli is the world’s largest river island and in 2016 it became the first island to be made a district in India. The island is formed by the Brahmaputra River in the south and the Kherkutia Xuti, an anabranch of the Brahmaputra, joined by the Subansiri River in the north and is accessible by ferries from Jorhat. Majuli was formed due to course changes by the Brahmaputra and its tributaries, mainly the Lohit and is the home of Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture and is mostly inhabited by tribals. Majuli was a long, narrow piece of land called Majoli or the land in the middle of two parallel rivers that had the Brahmaputra flowing in the north and the Burhidihing flowing in the south until they met at Lakhu. It was once known as Ratnapur and was the capital of the powerful Chutia kingdom. Frequent earthquakes between 1661 and 1696 set the stage for a catastrophic flood in 1750 that continued for 15 days, as a result of which, part of the Brahmaputra discharged southward into what was the Burhidihing’s lower channel and Majuli island was formed. The Burhidihing’s point of confluence moved 190 km east and the southern channel which was the Burhidihing became the Burhi Xuti. The northern channel, which was previously the Brahmaputra, became the Luit Xuti. In due course, the flow in the Luit Xuti decreased, and it came to be known as the Kerkota Xuti; and the Burhi Xuti expanded via erosion to become the main Brahmaputra River. Majuli has been the cultural capital of Assamese civilisation since the 16th century with Sankardeva, a pioneer of the medieval-age neo-Vaishnavite movement, preaching a monotheist form of Hinduism called Vaishnavism and who established monasteries and hermitages known as satra on the islet after which the island soon became the leading centre of Vaishnavism. After the arrival of the British, Majuli was under the rule of the British until India gained independence in 1947. The locals speak mainly the Assamese and Mising languages with a few also speaking the Deori language.

The Kamalabari Satra is very famous which houses significant articles related to art, culture, literature and classical studies. The North Satra, another portion of the Kamalabari Satra participates in several cultural events of satra art across the country. The Dakhinpat Satra was the chief satra patronized by the Ahom rulers with the Rasotsava festival of Assam celebrated with great enthusiasm and passion and the highlight of the festival, the performance of Rasleela on a full moon night. The Auniati Satra is famous for its Apsara and Paalnaam dance forms and was founded by Niranjan Pathakdeva and features a wide collection of traditional Assamese utensils, jewellery and handicrafts as well as old utensils, jewellery and handicrafts. An important attraction in Majuli, Gamur is among the many holy seats here with others including Auniati, Daksinpath and Kamlabari. This Vaishnavite spot preserves ancient artefacts and articles, the most prominent among these being Bortop.

Located on the banks of the river Brahmaputra, Tengapania is a spectacular and popular picnic spot bound by Dhakuakhana, Machkhoa and Disangmukh. Often referred to as the one-man forest, the Molai Forest is a famous forest on Majuli and is named after Jadav Payeng, a forestry worker and environmental activist. When the forest was abandoned in 1983, Jadav single-handedly put in an effort spanning over 30 years into making this a full-fledged 1360-acre forest reserve which has been widely appreciated. Molai Forest is home to the Indian tiger, Indian rhinoceros, deer, monkeys, rabbits, several apes and a variety of birds including vultures. Around 100 elephants visit this forest annually and stay for 6 months. Molai Forest is open throughout the day on all days and there is no entry fee to see this forest. However, tourists are requested to visit this forest during daylight hours to ensure their safety.

The Assam Majuli Festival is held on the bank of river Luit, with many cultural programs as well as exhibitions of Assamese products as well as a food festival showcasing Assamese and tribal dishes. The festival is usually held in November so that the weather is mild and there are no floods in the Brahmaputra.

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Dhemaji
95 km north of Majuli and 459 km northeast of Guwahati lies the serene town of Dhemaji whose name is derived from the Deori word Dema-Ji which means great water indicating it to be a flood-prone region. Established by the first king of Ahom reign, Chow Chukafa, Dhemaji is located in the northeastern part of Assam and borders Arunachal Pradesh and is part of the Brahmputra plains. Considered very important from an archaeological point of view, Dhemaji is inhabited by many Assamese tribes including the Chutia, the Ahoms, the Sonowal Kacharis, the Koches, the Kalitas, the Kaibartas, the Mishings and the Deoris.

Gerukamukh, located around 45 km from Dhemaji, is a beautiful natural spot on the banks of the river Subansiri, the largest tributary of the Brahmaputra. Surrounded by rolling hills and dense evergreen forests, it is a popular picnic and angling spot during the winter months. Gerukamukh is also important due to it being the location for the under-construction Subansiri Dam, which when completed, will be the largest hydroelectric power project in India. Malinithan which is located 32 km from Dhemaji at the foot of the Siang hills close to the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border is a site of ancient temple ruins. With many relics within the ruins, it holds great religious importance for locals. The shrine was dedicated to Goddess Malini, also known as Goddess Parvati. The ruins of the temple suggest that it was built with granite stones under Aryan influence with archaeological finds including many idols of Goddess Durga and Lord Shiva, indicating that Shakti was worshipped in this region. Local mythology mention that when Lord Krishna wanted to marry Rukmini, he abducted her before her wedding with Shishupala. On their way, they stopped at Malinithan, where they were welcomed by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati who presented them with garlands made of flowers plucked from her orchard, which impressed Lord Krishna so much that he gave Goddess Parvati the title of Malini or the mistress of the garden. The findings unearthed here reveal an exceptionally designed pedestal of the temple as well as statues and sculptures of various Gods and Goddesses, animals and flowers. There are also some ruins of columns and panels that probably formed the facade of the temple.

Located 25 km south-west of Dhemaji, the Maa Manipuri Than is a temple, established by the then Ahom King, Gourinath Singha in tribute to the people of Manipur or the Manipuris for their aid in controlling the Mua-Mariah renaissance during the later period of Ahom reign. The temple is frequented by a large number of devotees and pilgrims throughout the year. Ghugulani is a temple and part of the historical site of Ghuguha Dol which was constructed in the memory of Queen Ghuguhi, who was the wife of the then Ahom King, Tyao Khamti. According to legend, Bamuni Konwar, son of Tyao Khamti and his wife Ghuguhi, had taken his first breath where the temple stands.

The Bardoibum-Beelmukh Wildlife Sanctuary is located about 46 km southwest of Dhemaji and is shared between the districts of Dhemaji and Lakhimpur. Covering an area of around 11.25 sq km, this bird sanctuary was officially declared a sanctuary in 1996. It is the breeding for many bird species, most notably the Whistling Teal. The best time to visit the bird sanctuary is in the winter months when many migratory birds migrate here to escape the harsh winters of north Asia. Common bird sightings here include the fishing eagle and the adjutant stork. Among the prized bird species to be spotted here include Chestnut Bittern, Openbilled Stork, Indian Roller and Blackheaded Oriole. Aquatic flora dominates the sanctuary due to it mostly being a water body with semi-aquatic vegetation and trees found along the banks of the bil or lake.

Dibrugarh
Moving on, our next destination is Dibrugarh which is located on the banks of the Brahmaputra about 70 km east of Dehamji and 442 km northeast of Guwahati. The largest city in Assam in upper Assam with sprawling tea gardens, Dibrugarh also serves as the headquarters of the Sonowal Kachari Autonomous Council, which is the governing council of the Sonowal Kachari tribe which found predominantly in the district. Dibrugarh also acts as the endpoint of the North-East Frontier Railway Zone with Dibrugarh railway station ranking as the top largest railway junction in the entire Northeast.

Dibrugarh derives its name from Dibarumukh, a renowned encampment of the Ahoms during the Ahom Sutiya War. Either the name Dibru evolved from the Dibaru river or from the Dimasa word Dibru which means a blister and Garh meaning a fort. Both Dibru and Dibaru are Dimasa words with the Dimasas adding the prefix Di, which means water wherever there is a small stream, a river, or a large river in a town or city. Dibrugarh was part of the Chutia kingdom until 1523 when the Ahoms annexed it due to the weak rule of the Chutia king Nitipal and was known as Ti-Phao in Ahom Buranji. Buridihing, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, divides the district from east to west and at a later stage in its course, acts as a divider between Dibrugarh and Sivasagar districts. Dibrugarh, along with Tinsukia and Sivasagar account for approximately 50% of India’s Assam tea crop, and so Dibrugarh can rightly be called the Tea City of India. Bogbeel Bridge, the longest train cum road bridge is located here.

A replica of the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri known as Shrikshetra Dhaamhas a height of 85 feet and is expected to be a major religious centre in eastern Assam. Dinjoy Satra is located around 5 km towards the north of Chabua Township and was a Satra found by Aniruddha Dev at Bisnubalikakunshi village towards North Lakhimpur that was later shifted to Khutiaputa. In due course of time and after many disturbances, the Satra was named Dinjoy Satra when it was brought to Dinjan at Chabua and has since then been kept here and is popularly called Dinjoy Satra. The Dehing Namti Satra is located on the banks of Disang River in Sasoni Mouza and is the main branch of the Satra is located at Namti in Nazira and was found by Binandashyam Gohain who had a follower named Lachit Borphukan. The Raidongia Dol is Dibrugarh’s most famous site and is a magnificent structure at a height of about 45 feet. The tea gardens in and around Dibrugarh boasts of scintillating greenery where one can watch the tea pickers at work, and gain an insight into the tea making process. One can also taste the premium quality tea here and take back some. A maidam is an ancient burial mound of royalty and aristocracy and the Barbarua Maidam consists of two ancient graveyards, said to be devoted to high ranked officials. There are two others in the area, devoted to dead soldiers. The Bahikhowa Maidam is dedicated to Bahikhowa Dasarath Dowerah Borphukan who was the chief of army staff of the Ahoms during the rule of Rajeswar Singha and this maidam is dedicated to him but is presently in ruins. There are 3 more small maidams located very close to the Bahikhowa Maidam. The Lekai Chetia Maidam is presently known as Thaan, which is a religious institution and has a site towards its north, which is known as Lekai dedicated to Lekai Chetia, an officer of the Ahom kingdom under Swragodeo Pratapsingha. The Sarumechlow and Bormechow Maidams are two maidams which are the graveyards of the two queens of King Sukhampha Khura, of the Ahom regime, Bormechow and Sarumechlow.

The Jokai Botanical Garden cum Germplasm Centre works on developing trekking routes inside the Jokai reserve forest and the introduction of boating facilities at the Era-suti. The Jeypore Rainforest situated 60 km southeast of Dibrugarh is India’s easternmost rainforest and one of the very few wildlife reserves on earth housing seven wildcat species including the Royal Bengal Tiger, the clouded leopard, the common leopard, the golden cat and the marbled cat. The Jeypore reserve forest and Dilli reserve forest combine to be the only rain forest in the state spread across three of Upper Assam’s districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sibsagar and comprises an area of 575 sq km. The forest is listed to be the last lowland forest under the Assam valley wet evergreen forest area in the region. The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is in the Dehing Patkai rainforest in an area of 111.19 sq km and is famous for the Assam Valley Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests bordering Arunachal Pradesh. The Sanctuary is a part of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve having World War II cemeteries nearby, along with the Stillwell Road and the oldest refinery of Asia in Digboi and open cast coal mining at Lido.

Tinsukia
An industrial town 49 km east of Dibrugarh, 480 km northeast of Guwahati and 84 km from Assam’s border with Arunachal Pradesh, Tinsukia was the capital of the Motok kingdom founded by Swargadeo Sarbananda Singha as well as the site of Bengmara, originally known as Changmai Pathar. Swargadeo Sarbananda Singha, known as Mezara, was a member of the erstwhile Chutia royal family and rose to become an able administrator who adopted the name Sarbananda Singha after he became the ruler. Tinsukia is a popular tourist town and serves as a base for nearby towns.

Famous for its tea gardens, Doomdooma is a famous Tinsukia attraction. The plantation is also known as the Hindustan Lever’s Doomdooma Tea Gardens. The Doomdooma Reserve Forest is also close to the tea garden. Rangagora village which is about 10 km from Tinsukia and Dighaltarang, about 15 km from Tinsukia are also known for their tea plantations. The starting point of the historic Stilwell Road, Lekhapani is situated in the Patkai foothills on the Assam – Arunachal Pradesh border and the main residents of the place are the Tangsa Naga tribe. Bardubi is a scenic and mesmerising small village located 12 km from Tinsukia and is surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks. About 6 km from Margherita, Ledo is known for the Indo – Burma Highway which is about 430 km long built during World War II. The Bell Temple is located 17 km from Tinsukia is a major attraction of the town. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is also known as the Tilinga Temple, where Tilinga stands for a bell. There is a huge banyan tree in the complex which is tied all over with pretty bells by devotees who believe that in doing so, their wishes will be fulfilled. The biggest attraction in town, Na-Pukhuri is a group of nine lakes on the periphery of the town and a historical monument built during the period of King Sarbananda Singha. The central tank is the most popular one which covers over 10 acres and is filled with natural water. Due to its area and the method of filling, it is also called a lake and has tiled pathways and jogging tracks along with many playing equipments. This park also has a triple cascade fountain in its central area. The Bherjan-Borjan-Padumoni Wildlife Sanctuary lies just 6 km from Tinsukia and has various species of animals including the hoolock gibbon, the stump-tailed macaque, the capped langur, the common macaque and the slow loris.

Digboi
Famous as the Oil City of Assam, Digboi lies 33 km east of Tinsukia and 488 km northeast of Guwahati. It houses the oldest refinery in India, a hundred-year-old oil field where crude oil was discovered here in the late 19th century. Digboi is also known for its golf courses which are left by the British. There is an interesting story about how the town got its name. It is believed that it is derived from the phrase dig-boy-dig as told by the English to the labourers digging for crude oil. Apart from the Digboi Oil Refinery, Digboi Lake is serene and has picturesque views. The Digboi Oil Centenary Museum is dedicated to the history of the Assam oil industry exhibiting some of the best original engines and pump models and has grand photo halls and facts listed on them. The museum is closed on Mondays and other days is open between 10 am and 6 pm. The Digboi Golf Club with its 18 holes was founded in 1888 and spans an area of over 6300 yards and hosts several major tournaments. The War Cemetery is also a place of interest where the most dramatic event in Digboi’s history took place during World War II when the belligerent Japanese came close to within three days marching distance of Digboi. Margherita is a centre of tea gardens, plywood factories, and coal mines, with many picnic spots dotting the sandy banks of the River Dihing. Take a day trip here and breathe in the cool, misty air fresh with the aroma of fresh tea leaves.

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