The Rongali Bihu Festival in Assam
I admit with all honesty of having left from my place of origin with a scarce knowledge of the culture of the land that would host me. I only had a great desire to learn new things from such a different culture. I can say today that my expectations have materialized. In my experience, I had the pleasure of approaching a reality that seemed to me like one mosaic of different cultures and religions.
Assam really has a lot to offer. Just thinking of the experiences that I actually lived, such as pilgrimages, safaris, cruises on the mighty Brahmaputra, visits to vast tea gardens and the oldest refinery in Asia. It is synonymous with natural beauty, wildlife, tea gardens, river cruises, and revered temples.
Day 1 - Guwahati
I remember the departure trip with great emotion. It was January 1. What better way to start the new year! I had to change two flights to take me to Guwahati. At the airport my host immediately welcomed me with great warmth, giving me one gamocha. The latter is a sort of traditional Assamese scarf given to a guest in a sign of respect and welcome.
After a few photos, we left the airport directly towards the homestay. The trip by car lasted around forty-five minutes. The car trip also allowed me to make eye contact with the world out there. Around me is a hilly landscape, rich in vegetation, inhabited by countless numbers of people walking the streets. I remember the colors of their clothes, and the houses all close to each other. I was beginning to become aware of how that reality was so different from what I live every day. However, this awareness increased my curiosity to discover even more.
Once I got to my stay I had the opportunity to taste several typical dishes that the owner has thoughtfully prepared for me. They have reserved for me, a cozy room. In afternoon I was the protagonist of an unexpected welcome party. Around 10 am I leave my room and go downstairs to the dining room where I have a local breakfast with sira, doi, akhoi, cream, gur and many other fantastic dishes. I had the opportunity to watch a film and play billiards.
We did a tour around the city, stopping in several local shops and bars. Moving in the car, we crossed the hilly vegetation until we reach the highest part of the city. The view was spectacular! The dark sky in the evening allowed us to see only the lights of the city below immersed in nature. The cliff of those hills is also loaded with a deep mystical sense, as they house the Kamakhya temple.
Many pilgrims make their way to touch a black rock representing the vulva of the goddess. In the evening we gathered in the courtyard of the house and prepared an excellent barbecue with meat and vegetables. After having dinner, I left for the Guwahati railway station. We travel by train all night for about ten hours to Jorhat. It was a new and exciting experience for me!
Day 2 - Jorhat
During the morning we checked in to the hotel room in Jorhat. In the afternoon we visit the Tea Research Institute to know everything there is to know about tea plantations. Assam has over eight hundred plantations and produces the most volume of tea by a single region of the world. We visit some of the tea gardens that extend over two thousand acres! They offer breathtaking views of a lush green landscape.
We spent the evening attending the rongali Bihu dances held in every corner of the city. Rongali Bihu marks the agricultural New Year at the advent of seeding time. Marking the occasion young boys and girls don traditional dhoti, gamosa and mekhela saadar. They sing Bihugeets or folk Bihu songs in traditional bihutolis or Mukoli Bihu. In one of those performed Papon, a very popular artist here. So we also almost dance and enjoy his songs.
I eat that night some street food with the chicken momo.
Day 3 - Majuli
After a breakfast early morning, we boarded the boat for Majuli. Majuli is the largest fluvial island in the world and the largest island of water sweet of South Asia. It is located in the breast of the mighty Brahmaputra, only twenty kilometers from Jorhat. The trip on the boat in the early morning was an unforgettable experience!
We could admire the beauty of the natural heritage of the place. We were greeted by the chirp of many migratory birds. Once we reached the ground, we reached the resort, where we would stay that night and visit the island's cultural treasures: the Vaishnavite satras. Majuli is an enchanted place and the best way to experience its "secrets" is through its culture.
In the afternoon, we stopped in an isolated place, and as if by magic dozens of people appeared from nowhere, initially one by one, then in groups, men and boys first and then women with babies. They did not let go before sunset and even after the night fell they brought us green tea to drink immediately and Chira, a kind of dehydrated rice dish that we eat by putting in his tea, a kind of porridge. In the evening we have dinner and stay overnight at the guest house.
Day 4 - Kaziranga National Park
After breakfast, we took the ferry to Jorhat. We then headed to the Kaziranga National Park. We stay in an ideal resort amidst wilderness and nature. It is surrounded by immense woods. In the afternoon we explore the park through the first jeep safari of my life! Kaziranga is located on the banks of the mighty river Brahmaputra.
It hosts rhinos and also boasts the highest density of tigers between protected areas. The park is also home to large populations of elephants, wild buffaloes, and deer. In the evening we have a tasty outdoor dinner and enjoy once again some traditional Bihu dance performances by the locals.
Day 5 - Nameri National ParkWe leave the Kaziranga National Park after drying our soaked tents at a very rainy night. Fortunately we had early morning sun. During the drying we were able to take a shower at the souvenir shop where we had a great welcome.
After breakfast with samosa and teas, we left for the Nameri National Park. On the road we follow the long stretch of national park. A little before noon, I stop to take pictures of some birds in the mangrove, when I see appear in the plain opposite, a rhino and her baby. We decided to stop for lunch and enjoy the show.
Even though they were far away, it was great. A little later other rhinos accompanied by babies came out of the woods just like deer. After having benefited greatly, we drove all afternoon. We reach the Nameri National Park. It is the most scenic nature reserve in the state of Assam.
Located at the foot of the eastern Himalayas and Jia Bhoroli River, Nameri is the ideal place to escape. Once we get there, we checked in at an eco-camp, a stay nestled in the jungle where the accommodations were tents with colorful fabrics, but equipped with a private bathroom, sturdy beds and thatched roof.
In the afternoon we trek through the jungle. We had fun in the river rafting. The park is a delight for bird lovers. I still remember with emotion the walk in the park and the show of breathtaking flight of birds and all that wildlife.