Assam – The Land of Red Rivers and Blue Hills
Assam, with its sprawling tea gardens and unending stretches of paddy fields interspersed with groves of coconut, areca nuts, and banana trees, is one of the biggest States in the North East of India and the most accessible. It is a land that could mesmerize you with its mythology and magic; its flora and fauna and the sheer variety in its population (a confluence of streams of different races and tribes like the Austrics, the Aryans, Negroids, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Tibetans, and Mongoloid). This superb blend of heritage extracted from different races makes Assam a place of colourful festivals which are compelling and mesmerizing, a cuisine with its own distinctive aroma and flavour, a vibrant artistic heritage marked by exotic dance forms, and a string of elegant Hindu temples that is comparable to the architectural marvels all across mainland India.
Assam is bounded in the north by Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan; in the east by Nagaland, Manipur, and Burma; in the south by Bangladesh, Tripura, Mizoram, and Bangladesh; and in the west by West Bengal.
Assam can be broadly divided into three distinct physical units, the Brahmaputra Valley in the north, the Barak Valley in the narrow protruding south, and the state’s hilly region separating the two valleys.
The region of Assam was mentioned by the Chinese explorer Chang Kien of having trade links with China in 100 B.C. The Australoids or the pre-Dravidians were the earliest inhabitants of this state. The Mongoloids entered the land through the eastern mountainous passes and occupied the land.
When the Ahoms entered Assam crossing the eastern hills in 1228, they chanced upon a period in its history when it was at its most susceptible. Among the local tribes, the Chutias and the Kacharis could offer only a semblance of resistance. The entry of Ahoms in Assam started a new beginning, and many scholars opine that the state was named after this dynasty that ruled it for six centuries. With the advent of the Ahoms, the center of power shifted from Kamrup in Lower Assam to Sibsagar in Upper Assam.
The Mughal Empire at its zenith attacked the state 17 times. The last of the wars was fought near the present-day Saraighat Bridge over the river Brahmaputra in Guwahati. In this war, the Ahoms gave the Mughals a crushing defeat under the leadership of the able general Lachit Barphukan. Assam went on a gradual decline in the 18th century and was annexed by the Burmese. However, in 1826, the British forced them to cede Assam by the Treaty of Yandaboo.
With the rest of India, Assam also played an important role in the war of independence. It was declared a state under the Union of India after it achieved independence in 1947. At that time, except Manipur and Tripura, the whole of the Northeast region was called Assam. However, due to strong regional distinctions, different areas were carved out as separate states, starting with Nagaland in 1963 and ending with Arunachal Pradesh in 1972.
Assam has always been the strategic location for the coming together of varied races and cultures; the cultural mosaic that has thereby evolved is both diverse and vibrant. Situated at the ‘tri-junction’ of Indo-Chinese, Indo-Malayan, and the Indian sub-regions of Southeast Asia, Assam is more akin to other Southeast Asian regions than say – Northern India – both in terms of climate and vegetation. As far as ethnicities are concerned, the region has absorbed and assimilated with the Mongoloid population groups who entered into Assam in several waves from their homelands in Tibet, China, Thailand and Southeast Asia.
The demographic structure of Assam consists of a racial intermixture of Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, and Indo-Iranian and Aryan origins. This broad racial mix is the peculiar to the state of Assam, and its people are referred to as “Asomiya” or the “Assamese” – which also denotes the state language of Assam. The hilly tracts of Assam are mostly found to be inhabited by tribes of Mongolian origin. In the tribal languages one may discern borrowed words and conceptions from Assamese and vice versa – all of which again point to the subtle racial intermixing.
State Emblems of Assam
The One Horned Rhinocero, or gor as it is locally known is the state animal of Assam. It can be found in many of the protected reserves of Assam.
The White-winged Wood Duck, Deo haah, one of the largest species of duck is the state bird of Assam.
The Foxtail Orchid is the state flower of Assam.
Places of Interest
Guwahati derives its name from two words, guwa (meaning betel nut) and hati (meaning little market). It is the key urban centre of Assam and the biggest city in North-East India, Guwahati serves as the starting block for most Northeast itineraries.
Places to visit in Guwahati
The Kamakhya Temple is one of the most venerated Shakti shrines in India, and is regarded as one of the Shakti Peethams associated with the legend of Shiva and Daksha Yagna. It is located on Neelachala Parvat or Kamagiri near the city of Guwahati in Assam. Assam traditionally has been known as the Kamarupa Desa and has been associated with Tantric practices and Shakti worship.
Brahmaputra River Cruise
The river cruise on the mighty Brahamaputra, the fastest-flowing waterway in the world. View the skyline as the sun sets on the river, watch the fishermen haul in their days catch and enjoy a traditional Assamese dinner along with cultural performances as you cruise the river.
The Assam State Zoo & Botanical Garden (popularly known as Guwahati Zoo) is the largest of its kind in the North East region and it is spread across 432 acres (175 hectare). The zoo is located within the Hengrabari Reserved Forest at Guwahati. The zoo is home to about 895 animals, birds and reptiles representing almost 113 species of animals and birds from around the world.
2. Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga National Park, the first and the oldest National Park in Assam situated in Golaghat District, is 217 kms from Guwahati and 96 kms from Jorhat by road. Kaziranga is spread over an area of 430 sq. kms.and is the natural home of the one-horned Indian rhinoceros and a number of other exotic animals like Asian Elephant, Indian bison, Swamp Deer, Samber, Hog Deer, Sloth Bear, Tiger, Leopard cat, Jungle cat, Hog badger, Capped Langur, Hollock gibbons and numerous bird species.
Majuli, the world’s largest river island is situated in the midst of river Brahmaputra. It is the center of Vishnava culture and is inhabited by tribes like the Mising and the Deoris. Majuli is also the center of a living heritage of colorful costumes and festivals. During migratory season large numbers of migratory birds come to Majuli.
Sibsagar is situated 369 km east of Guwahati. Sibsagar was the seat of power of the Ahoms who ruled Assam at a stretch for six hundred years before the British captured Assam. The Sivasagar tanks, also known as ‘Borpukhuri’, large artificial lakes and a huge Shiva temple are special attractions of this town. The ruins of the Ahom temples and palaces which have been excavated by the Archeological Survey of India, have become a major attraction in recent years. These ruins provide an interesting insight into the past glory and splendor of Assam.
5. Nameri National Park
Nameri National Park – About 35 Km from Tezpur is a comparatively smaller National park than Kaziranga but is well known for rare birds and insects. Tigers, elephants and Leopards and many other wild animals also live here.
Festivals of Assam
Rongali or Bohag Bihu is the main festival of Assam. It derives its name from the Sanskrit Vishuvam when day and night are rendered equal through the vernal equinox. People welcome the spring season and pray for a bountiful and rich harvest. This festival is celebrated in the month of Bohag (mid-April), the first month of the Assamese calendar. The exact date in the English calendar varies, but the festival normally starts from the 13th day of the month of April. Other Bihus are Bhugali Bihu (also Magh Bihu) and Kangali Bihu (also Kati Bihu).