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Hi everybody 🙂

Welcome to my “Travelling through the North East of India” series. Today’s post is on the culturally rich state of Assam. Those of you who have missed the earlier parts of this series, here are the links:

Travelling through the North East of India: Manipur

Travelling through the North East of India: Arunachal Pradesh

The Hornbill Festival of Nagaland, India

Travelling through the North East of India: Nagaland

Assam

A bit about Assam…

Assam is the central state and the largest and most accessible of the seven states in the North-East region of India.  Its capital is Dispur, located within the municipal area of Guwahati city which is the gateway to the state and the rest of the seven states. Guwahati is not only the most important city in the state but also one of the 100 fastest growing cities in the world.

Assam is best known for its tea. Around 60% of India’s tea is grown here.

The state is rich in culture and literature. Most of the cultural heritage dates back to the early 13th century when the Ahom Kings travelled from Thailand through northern Myanmar to this region. Their rule lasted for 600 years.

The state is famed for its rich biodiversity. It’s most famous attraction is the Kaziranga National Park, home to the rare Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros.

A land of high rainfall, Assam is endowed with lush greenery and the mighty river Brahmaputra.

Besides tea, Assam silk is internationally well-known. The state has large and old petroleum resources. In fact, the first oil reserves of India were discovered here in the late 19th century.

My journey...

In Guwahati…

Guwahati serves as a base to travel to the other places in the North East. I had to visit this sprawling city three times during my more than three week trip. I first landed here by a Mumbai-Kolkata-Guwahati flight. After spending a day, I proceeded by road to Shillong in the neighbouring state of Meghalaya. To catch the flight to Manipur I had to travel to Guwahati airport as Shillong does not have an airport. For the third and last time, I returned to this city from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh before catching my flight back home.

The city has numerous interesting temples. It is home to the goddess Kamakhya. Kamakhya Temple is one of the most venerated temples in the country and the earliest of the surviving ancient monuments in Assam.

In Jorhat…

Jorhat in the Brahmaputra valley is one of the important towns in Assam, centrally located for visiting Majuli Island, Karizanga Wildlife Sanctuary and Sivasagar.

Majuli Island is the largest inhabited river island in the world, nestling in the lap of the mighty Brahmaputra. Not only that, it is also the seat of neo-Vaishnavite culture, a monotheistic offshoot of Hinduism. This is where the 15th century saint and fountain head of Assamese culture, Sankardeva, first established a Satra (neo-Vaishnavite monastery), born of insightful discourses with his spiritual successor, Madhabdeva. Since then 65 Satras came up for the propagation of ethics and socio-cultural ideals but today only 22 of these Satras are in existence. The others had to be shifted to safer places due to the devastation of flood and erosion.

Sivasagar was once the capital of the Ahom Kings who came from Thailand to this area in early 13th century, and ruled for 600 years. The ruins of the Ahom palaces and monuments dot the landscape around this historical town. The Shiva Temple, built by the Ahoms, is believed to be the tallest of all existing Shiva temples.

I was told there were plenty of beautiful Shiva temples in Sivasagar. Majuli was seen as a strife-torn place, its only treasures being the Satras. I was going to visit Kaziranga from Tezpur so I had to choose between spending an entire day either in Majuli or Sivasagar. I chose the former.

Majuli was appealing not only because of the attractive combination of famous Hindu monasteries and Mishing tribal villages but also because it entailed a ferry ride across the mighty Brahmaputra.

Accompanied by a “plain clothes” military escort, I set out in a hired vehicle for Nimati Ghat, the main ferry boarding point for Majuli.

Watch my videoBrahmaputra River Cruise to Majuli Island

http://youtu.be/LobmgKIt9BY

The ferry…

Assam, India

The mighty Brahmaputra…

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

It was an enjoyable cruise of more than an hour. The state’s Chief Minister had also chosen the same day and same time to make a trip to the island, which was his home constituency.

Security arrangements in place during his visit…

Assam, India

The Institution of Satra is a unique feature of Vaishnavism in Assam. It propagated a modified form of Vaishnavism which gradually shaped the cultural landscape of not just Majuli but the entire Assam. It rejected the discriminatory varna (caste) system of Brahminical Hinduism and emphasised on egalitarianism. Monotheism, the uttering of the name of God as the only form of worship, rejection of animal sacrifice and idolatry, are the other hallmarks of the sect.

The Satras are not just monasteries built by the followers (who are devotees of Lord Krishna and Lord Vishnu) of Saint Sankardeva, but centres of traditional performing arts. Most of them house celibate monks. The songs and dances initiated by Sankaradeva are taught and promoted here apart from numerous other crafts, of which mask making is particularly significant.

The Satras consist of a large prayer hall facing a simple shrine, surrounded by dormitories and bathing tanks for monks. Here, the Lord is worshipped through dance, drama, music and poetry.

Each Satra is known for a special craft like intricate masks with sun-dried bottle gourd and the bark of the betel nut tree, hand-fans, fine wooden boats, etc.

Yours truly with the spiritual head of one of the Satras

Assam, India

I was lucky to meet him and we had a very interesting conversation. The spiritual heads of the other Satras that I later visited had left to attend the Chief Minister’s meeting.

Assam, India

Ancient artefacts…

Assam, India

Musical instruments…

Assam, India

A temple…

Assam, India

Inside the temple…

Assam, India

One of the Satras had a small museum with an assortment collection of ancient artefacts, Assamese old utensils, jewellery and handicrafts.

A mask…

Assam, India

A game of chess…

Assam, India

A traditional boat…

Assam, India

Assam, India

Due to the annual floods and constant land erosion, Majuli is slowly but steadily shrinking to one-third of its original size of 1256 sq. km. as recorded by the Imperial Gazetteer in 1901. This has forced many of the Satras to shift base to Assam’s mainland. The government has yet to initiate effective measures to save Majuli from the ravages of the mighty Brahmaputra.

Majuli produces about a hundred different varieties of rice without a drop of pesticides or artificial fertilisers. Paddy fields, migratory birds, cotton trees…a walk through the village is truly delightful!

Assam, India

A Hornbill…

Assam, India

Hornbill nests…

Assam, India

The return journey provided me with a lovely opportunity to test my skill in capturing the beauty of the “blue” Brahmaputra with my camera…

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Not bad, huh? 🙂

Read this earlier post of mine: Sunset over the Brahmaputra

Watch my video: Evening cruise across the Brahmaputra River, Assam

I was so happy to capture this beautiful sunset over the Brahmaputra…

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

In Tezpur…

Tezpur abounds in lush greenery and …tea gardens! The Sonitpur district has 73 tea gardens including world’s biggest tea garden, Monabari. A visit to a tea garden is a must to discover the secrets of Assam tea and why it is strongest tea in the world.

Some 55 KM away from Tezpur lies the Kaziranga National Park, a World Heritage site and home to more than 75% of the world’s total population of one-horned rhinoceroses. Kaziranga also has the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006.

I took an early morning elephant safari to view the one-horned rhino.

Watch my videos: Kaziranga National Park

Sunrise at Kaziranga…

Assam, India

Assam, India

Sighting the one-horned rhinos…

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Assam, India

Kaziranga is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broad-leaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and the park includes numerous small bodies of water. It is also a bird watchers paradise with over 400 species in the park.

Assam, India

The park is home to large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer.

Assam, India

Assam, India

Late in the morning, I went on a jeep tour in the park.

Assam, India

Assam, India

Watch my video: Close Encounter with an Elephant at Kaziranga 

Assam, India

Assam, India

Ok, guys…that’s it for today! I hope you had a great time visiting me. My next post is on the lovely, lush green state of Meghalaya. Do keep visiting!

See you soon…till then, take care 🙂

If you’re interested in knowing all about Mexico, do check my three e-books which are available for sale on this blog:

Discovering Mexico

Mexico: The Country, Its History & The Maya World

A Guide To Mexican Cuisine

If you’re a fan of Mills & Boon novels or love reading romance novels, here’s one for you available for sale on this blog:

The Blue-Eyed Prince of Natlife

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