Travel Safari in Assam along the Brahmaputra

A few days back I dreamed of the desired vacation. And I had them, a wonderful and different vacation from all the vacations I've had so far. Everything, in addition, in an improvised, unexpected, totally arbitrary way. And sometimes, one is lucky. To go to Assam you have to go through New Jalpaiguri, which is the main train station in the area.

I decided to buy another ticket that would take me from New Jalpaiguri to Guwahati. Making a direct trip from Kolkata to Guwahati is possible, but deep down I think it was not a bad idea. Many things on this trip seemed bad at first but then proved to be the opposite.

We left actually at dawn from Howrah. After some delays, in the end, we arrived at New Jalpaiguri after 12 in the morning, after more than 11 hours by train. New Jalpaiguri is the largest station north of West Bengal and it's just that, a very large train station.

We tried some street snacks, bargained, bought clothes, fruit (some delicious mangoes) and ate Tibetan food in the street (5 vegetable momos for 10 rupees). To give you an idea, in a restaurant, they cost from 45 rupees onwards.

We returned to New Jalpaiguri to wait another three long hours for our night train. With nothing to do, we decided to go to the deck and play cards. We spent hours playing. Little by little, some men began to stand around us watching our game curiously.

It is normal in India to see groups of men at any time and any day of the week, sitting on the street, on the floor, playing cards with a deck. Women do not play cards. The cards are frowned upon because they relate to gambling and betting.

At the end, we realized, there were about 20 men surrounding us, commenting on our game, asking questions about the deck. We ended up showing them the deck and the game in detail.

Assam images wallpaper


1 Day in Assam

Finally we took our train, after saying goodbye to our gamblers, to spend another 9 hours waved by the rattle of the train, to Guwahati. 9 hours that became 11 or so, because we came back at least two hours late. When we arrived in Guwahati it was no longer morning but past noon.

We went first to see the hotels on my Lonely Planet guide, but the prices in Assam have gone up almost three times in three years, and the guide was very outdated about it. Also, everything was full. The hotels of the guide and those that were not in the guide and not by the tourists, but by the locals.

Apparently, there were some state exams, like some competitive exams, in Assam that weekend. All of Guwahati was filled to the brim with the candidates and their families. We kicked two neighborhoods, asking in several hotels, where as soon as we enter the door they said there are no rooms.

We ended up fed up, sitting on some stairs in a corner, in the shade, killing time thinking about what to do. An old man we had met in one of the hotels walked by, greeted us, and asked if we had got a room. Finally, he offered us a small room in his own home. The first thing we did was to unpack our backpacks.

Immediately we had tea and sweets ready at the table, and we showered to relax, take off the sweat and change our clothes. After lunch, we went for a walk along the bank of the Brahmaputra, one of the sacred rivers of India, which was born in Tibet and empties into the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. It is the only Indian river with a male name.

Tired as we were, we still went to a museum of traditional art and culture in Assam, where we saw an exhibition of masks that they used (or used) in a traditional theater, with heroes and monsters from Indian literature (especially the Ramayana).

There were also the wicker utensils, which are typical of Assam, as well as wood carvings, cotton and wool fabrics, and traditional clothes. Finally, we returned home to have a good family dinner, with rice, lentils, various vegetables, some meat, and chili. The bamboo shoot and chili pickles that have stolen my soul are one of my favorite things about Indian food now.

After chatting with more tea until many, watching from time to time a game of cricket on TV, we finally went to sleep in the main room.

2 Days in Assam

The house lady prepared a breakfast of tea with biscuits and roti with chana dal (which I could not eat in the morning) and a little mango, especially for us. I felt a little bad and I ate one of the rotis, but not the beans but I was not the only one who felt unable to swallow that so early in the morning.

We immediately left by car to Kamakhya Mandir, the most important temple in the area, which is on a hill not far from Guwahati. The name Kamakhya is the nickname of a goddess, and means the one who grants the desires. The temple is very old but had to be rebuilt in the 17th century, and renovated several times later.

The story goes that Sati (or Shakti, or Parvati), Shiva's wife, after a fight with her father who disliked Shiva, could not stand the humiliation and threw herself into the fire at her father's house. Shiva found out about this and immediately went to his father-in-law's house, but Sati is already dead.

Shiva became furious and began to dance, which is the way in which he destroys the world. But Vishnu (who is the God who preserves things) came to calm him down and prevent Shiva from destroying the world. But by then he had destroyed his wife's body in pieces, which fell in different parts of India. In each place, a sacred temple has been erected. In Kolkata, one toe of Sati fell, where today is the temple of Kalighat.

In the temple, there is no image of the goddess, but a stone yoni that is located just above a spring so that it is a kind of fountain. The yoni represents precisely, a vagina. The yoni and the lingam are the typical symbols of Shiva and his wife and they are everywhere.

In the temple, there is always a huge queue of people with entire families, who come to pray. You have to leave your shoes in one of the shops at the entrance, which sell all kinds of offerings and images of various gods. In the temple, where cows and goats wander at leisure, locals come to marry, perform ceremonies with small children, to pray for having children, a good marriage, success in business, practically anything. For that is the goddess who grants the wishes.

After Kamakhya, we change the hills by the river bank. In the Brahmaputra, there is the smaller island, where the temple of Umananda, also dedicated to (one of the forms of) Shiva, is located. When we reached the shore, the boatmen asked us 700 rupees to cross the river to the island, for a round trip.

Reading my guide, I said that on the government ferry the trip cost 10 rupees. They immediately responded saying that the government ferry did not work. But we did not believe them and we approached the ferry post, while they were behind us, lowering the price. Now 500 rupees, then 450.

The ferry post was effectively closed, although the boat was there, but on the other side, there was another ferry. We started to approach, but the boatmen chased us, lowering the price more and more from 350 to 200 rupees.

So we stopped walking to the other ferry (which, on the other hand, had not moved for half an hour, which I began to suspect was not working either) to go to the island in some wooden boats where we had to sit with care not to lose the balance of the boat.

Going to the island is nice, but the temple has nothing interesting. It's a good place for a picnic, or it would be if there were no golden langur monkeys in sight. After the trip, we went to the market of vegetables and fruits that there are two days a week in the neighborhood.

In the market, there were also wicker craft shops, which seems to be the specialty of the area, and I bought two fans as souvenirs. Holding them by the handle, you spin them to give air.

At noon, we were free and were able to take the road to the Kaziranga National Park. It is a natural park where there is the 2nd largest number of rhinos in the world. We head towards Jorhat and reach Kaziranga in the evening.

3 Days in Assam

In the morning we got up early to take a ride on a jeep and go to admire the fauna and flora of the park. We see elephants, one-horned rhinoceros, buffaloes, very beautiful birds, and deer. What struck me the most was seeing monkeys jumping into the river and swimming. I knew it was a very complete animal but I didn't even know that they swim! I was so shocked seeing them that I didn't even remember to take the picture!

In the afternoon we turn back and stop at Tezpur, one of the most important cities of Assam. And just the bus ride through this area of ​​the northeastern states of India makes me think that we are no longer in India. It is all super spacious, natural and quiet. When we arrived in Tezpur, we saw that it is a small city, but quite charming.

It is quieter than most Indian cities and has a large park, a river and beautiful areas for walking and visiting. What first surprised us is that it cost us a lot to find a hotel as they were all full. But there was not even a tourist. In the end, we found one not very cheap especially.

After this, we went for a walk and met two teenagers, who showed up and told us to go for a walk with them very kindly. They explained many things to us from Assam. These two guys proposed us to go to a friend's wedding at night. So we tried to put on our best clothes and went to see an Assamese wedding.

They set up a super bright and colorful tent, and all of them are there. The bride and groom received guests and gifts and then they serve a dinner themselves.

It occurred to me to say that they wore some pretty saris (the traditional dress of the Indian woman), and they told me that this was not saris, it was the traditional Assamese dress called Mekhela Chador. After this, the dance started, and although they dance traditional Assamese dance, it is very similar to Bollywood.

The men and women took steps and wanted me to imitate them. They thought I was going to be embarrassed or something, but how little they know me. So each time they made more complicated steps for me to imitate, and it was like a constant provocation, but at the same time they screamed and laughed and it seemed fun.

Then our friends told us that they had to take us to the hotel because it was almost 10 o'clock at night. But we are happy to leave now. We arrived at the hotel exhausted! How many emotions, how many experiences and how many incomprehensible things. We take a bus to Manas National Park. And so we said goodbye to Tezpur.

4 Days in Assam

It took us 7 hours to get to Manas but it was worth it! We were received well at the Bansbari lodge. In the morning we boarded a jeep at 6am to visit the park. It is really different from the previous one, much bigger but just as beautiful! It contained many more elephants (for my pleasure) and lots of peacocks too.

We drove to the Bhutan border where we had breakfast on the other side of the line, at Bhutan! The view was not super clear but we could see the beginning of the Himalayas! Once back from the safari, we had to go back to Guwahati, where we both had a plane to catch in the afternoon.

Assam may not be the first tourist destination in India, but it's definitely worth it. It's a beautiful region and so different from the rest of India!

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Jeevan said...

Fabulous... the script brings warm to winter. Beautiful writeup kalyan!

Max Coutinho said...

Hi Kalyan,

The story couldn't continue in a better fashion.

The sensation she describes (as feeling home with that man) is one well described by all real Lovers in literature. One could think that it only happens in the books, but I don't think so...the couples matched in Heaven feel that way.

Excellent piece :D!

Cheers

 
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