Assam

Often referred to as the Land of “Blue Hills and Red River”, Assam is a land of diverse natural beauty. Assam is the gateway to North East India and has been described as the Sentinel of Northeast India. Seven Indian states and two countries, Bhutan and Bangladesh, surround Assam which is also at close proximity to India’s International borders with China and Myanmar. Surrounded by hills, crisscrossed by major rivers such as the mighty Brahmaputra and Barak and their tributaries, thick forest cover, lush green tea gardens enhance the scenic beauty of Assam. Its rich cultural heritage makes Assam a tourism hotspot in the region.

Assam – the very mention of this word brings to one’s mind the delightful blend of culture, heritage, faiths and beliefs of the numerous ethnic communities residing in this region. The culture and tradition of the state, its music, dance and literature are all interwoven into the social fabric and cross all barriers of caste, creed and religion.

While the history of Assam goes back deep into the ancient times, the mention of this place is found in various Tantric, Vedic, Buddhist and Puranic literature. Assam figures prominently in the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The earliest study of the planets was supposed to have been carried out here, in Pragjyotishpur, the city of eastern lights as Guwahati used to be once known. Kamarupa on the other hand is said to be the original home of Devi, the Mother Goddess. Several Hindu deities including Lord Shiva and Krishna are said to have frequently visited this land and the relationship is so deep that while Krishna’s wife Rukmini was from a place near Sadiya, the private parts of the Shiva’s wife Parvati fell in Guwahati where the Kamakhya Temple later came up.

Assam has been a highway of migration from the time immemorial. While the earliest human footprints have been traced back to the early Stone Age, the roots of various communities belonging to Assam are linked to Ausric aborigines, pre-Dravidians, Eurasians, Australoids, Mongoloids, Alpines or Armenoids, Mediterraneans, Indo-Aryans and Irano-Scythians as well. Assam now, is home to various ethnic tribes and tribal groups, adding to over 3.3 million, about 12.4 percent of the total population. Each has its own cultural heritage, socio-cultural customs, religious beliefs, language, attire, festivals, culinary tradition, songs and dances. Such diversity attracts and offers opportunities for domestic and international tourists to engage with communities through homestays, participation in festivals, etc. Assam is home to several major tribal communities. Because of sharing borders with many countries, Assam was the gateway to India for many nations; hence the state became the settling ground for many civilizations coming here through different routes at different routes at different points in history. Assam opened its heart to everyone and everyone adopted the land with mind, body and soul! The list of ethnic communities in Assam include Bodo, Rabha, Mishing, Deori, Dimasa, Sonowal, Karbi, Tiwa, Mech, Hajong, Barman, Zemi, Rengma, Kuki, Hmar, Khasi, Jaintia, Garo, Tai-Phake, Tai-Aiton and Tai-Khamyang, some of them also having presence in different adjoining states. Most of them belong to the Mongoloid race; while the Bodo, Dimasa-Kachari, Sonowal-Kachari, Mech, Barman-Kachari, Tiwa and Rabha communities came from the Bodo group of Indo-Mongoloid family, the Jaintias and Khasis are said to be of the Mon-Khmer family, all believed to have entered from the east. The Koch-Rajbangshi community too comes from the Mongoloid stock and is believed to have arrived through the Nepal route.

Fairs and festivals like Bihu (Bhogali bihu in January, Rongali Bihu in April), Ambubachi Mela in June, Jonbeel Mela which brings together various tribes of Assam, Majuli’s Raas festival in November, Kaziranga’s Elephant festival in February, Assam tea festival, Doul Utsav during the festival of colors, Brahmaputra river festival, Ali-Ai-ligang a spring dance festival in february attract tourist from all around the world across the year in Assam. The state is also famous for its music and dance forms like Bihu, Sattriya Nritya, Jhumur dance, Bhortal Nritya, Bagurumba, Deodhani, etc. Food is an integral part of the various festivities of Assam and Assamese cuisine is characterized by the extensive use of exotic herbs and plant products and very less use of spices. Fish, meat and poultry are consumed with rice.

Assam is home to Five National Parks and Eighteen Wildlife Sanctuaries, the highest concentration in India which are host to 25 percent of India’s floristic wealth and enormous faunal diversity including One Horned Rhinoceros, Pygmy Hog, Hoolock Gibbons, Tigers, etc. Manas National Park, also a World Heritage Site, is a constituent unit of the Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity region and is one of the two biodiversity ‘Hotspots’ in the country. With more than 950 species of birds, the state is home to 50% of the total bird species found in the Indian subcontinent. The mystery of Birds’ suicide at Jatinga, is a subject of interest of all nature lovers and researchers. The main rivers of Assam are the mighty Brahmaputra and Barak. Further, there is a network of over 100 large and small tributaries and distributaries that criss cross the State.

The melting pot that Assam is today, has a culture that again has been enriched of contributions of diverse races, ethnicity and traditions, making the communities here most secular in character. Though a sizeable section of the Assamese people are Vaishnavites – who revere Vishnu and Krishna in the way shown by Srimanta Shankardeva, another major section practice Shaktism, with their rituals also including animal sacrifice. Different tribal communities on the other hand practice their own traditional methods of worship. These practices and traditions in turn have shaped different cultures in Assam, with the most wonderful aspect being that each one of them has also contributes various elements to the others. This has made the culture of various communities of Assam inter-related, and more importantly, inseparable from one another. Majuli is the largest river island in the World and has several Satras – vaishnavite monasteries, some dating back to the 16th century. The Satras of Majuli also offer guest accomodation where devotees and visitors not only take part in the worship of Vishnu and Krishna, but also watch traditional Bhauna performances. Young bhakats – celibates – are wonderful artisans and make masks, musical instruments as well as hand-fans and door frames. These Satras of Assam play an important role in the socio-cultural and literary development of Assam. While it was Srimanta Shankardeva, the 16th century saint-reformer who led the neo-vaishnavite movement of Assam, the Satra institution that he developed no only became religious centers but also the most important cultural epicenter that promoted literature, music, art, dance, drama and other related activities including manufacture of musical instruments, masks and other items required in various performances. Saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva not only gave a new meaning to Assamese life by propagating the Neo-vaishnavite way of worship and a society free of caste restrictions, but also brought about a renaissance by way of unleashing a whole new tradition of literature, music, dance, drama and related cultural activities. These continue to be the heart and soul of the Assamese society six centuries on. Villagers generally associate with a Satra on the basis of membership of a local center of devotional worship of the Satra called as Namghar – which also functions, whenever necessary, as the village court, meeting place, women’s club and theater for dance, music and plays. Thanks to the socio-cultural movement of Srimanta Shankardeva, the caste system, though it exists, is not as prominent in Assam as in other parts of India. Preecedings in Namghar can be presided over by a member of the so-called ‘lower caste too. Some of the Satras of Assam worth visiting are Auniati, Kamalabari, Dakhinpat, Garamur, Samaguri, Bengenati and Natun Kamalabari. The best time to visit Majuli is during the Raas Festival – a three day festival usually held in mid-November that celebrates the legendary love of Radha and Krishna as well as the devotion of the Gopis to Krishna.

History of Assam ~

Although it is not exactly precise as to how the State derived its name as Assam, some historians believe that it came from the Tai word (A-Cham) and Bodo word (Ha-sam). Some historians relate the name to the Sanskrit word Asama meaning unequaled, peerless, etc. Assam up to the 12th century was called Kamarupa and alternatively Pragjyotisha. Perhaps the first written records about Assam is dated back to 7th century, when Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang had visited Assam. His visit was during the reign of King Bhaskar Varman whom Hiuen Tsang described as the ‘Aristocratic king of Eastern India’ and devotee of Lord Shiva.

The State of Assam and its adjoining areas have evidences of human settlement from the period of Stone Ages. As per records, earliest ruler of Assam was Maharinge Danav from the Danava dynasty. Later the Gupta Empire under Samudragupta ruled Assam. The medieval era of Assam is marked by the invasion of the Tai Ahoms from Myanmar who ruled continuously over Assam for over 600 years. The culture and heritage of Assam today, is much linked to the practices of the Tai Ahoms.It was finally in the 19th century that the British East India Company arrived in Assam and colonized the region. The British administration merged the plains of the Brahmaputra valley with the surrounding hills and the tribal areas  and eventually named the State as Assam, deriving the name from the Ahom word ‘Axom’, meaning ‘the land like no other’.

Geography and Climate of Assam ~

The State of Assam is located in the North East region of India extending from 89 to 96 degree longitude and 24 to 28 degree latitude covering a total area of around 78,500 sq. km. Assam has three of the six physio graphic divisions of India viz. the Northern Himalayas (Eastern Hills), Northern Plains (Brahmaputra Plain) and Deccan Plateau (Karbi Anglong). The river Brahmaputra is the lifeline of Assam flowing in from Arunachal Pradesh and eventually merging with the River Ganges to flow into the Bay of Bengal. Apart from the Brahmaputra, some 60 other of its tributaries and rivers flow across Assam. The Brahmaputra river is among the widest rivers in the World and owing to this, Assam is home to India’s longest bridges both road and rail cum road at the Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Bridge and the Bogibeel Bridge. This characteristic of the river Brahmaputra in Assam has allowed the growth of many river islands in the State of Assam. Majuli Island in Assam is the largest river island in the World and the Umananda Island is the smallest river island in the World.

Assam has some of the densest forests in the World owing to its location in the tropics with abundant rainfall. These forests of Assam are home to a wide variety of Flora, Fauna and Avifauna. The grasslands of the river Brahmaputra of Assam form part of the major National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Assam. The tropical forests of Assam are mostly filled with broadleaf evergreen trees and a wide variety of orchids.

Assam has a moderate climate around the year apart from a few hot and humid days across July and August. Assam’s climate has four seasons viz. Summer from June to September where temperatures are hot and humid but accompanied by abundant rainfall especially across July to September. The winters in Assam sets in from November to March characterized by sunny and dry days with cold nights. The spring season is from April to May with a favorable climate in April which is also the month where we celebrate the Assamese New Year – the Rongali Bihu festival. The spring season in Assam sees a varied growth of beautiful flowers across the State. The autumn in Assam sets in October and extends to mid November characterized with pleasant day and night temperatures along with occasional post monsoon showers.

Culture of Assam ~ 

Owing to the fact that many indigenous tribes and communities inhabit Assam, their culture, traditions and practices make Assam a land of diverse culture. To be seen historically, the roots of the culture of the State of Assam dates back to almost 200 years when the first cultural assimilation took place among the Tibeto-Burman tribes, Indo-Aryans and the Ahoms who contributed greatly to the culture and traditions of Assam today. Assamese culture can be said to be an integration of various kingdoms that ruled powerfully over the ages with prime importance of the Ahom Kingdom who ruled continuously for 600 years and gave Assam the colorful Bihu Festival and the Bihu Dance. The Vaishnavite movement led by the great Saint and reformer Srimanta Shankardeva also contributed a great value to the culture of Assam. Supported greatly by the Koch and Ahom Kingdom of Assam, the movement resulted in adding social institutions like the Namghar and Satras to the Assamese way of life. Festivals and Fairs form an integral part of the communities of Assam with a majority of them being linked to the agrarian practices of Assam as agriculture is the primary occupation of the people of Assam. The three major festivals of Assam viz. the Rongali Bihu, the Magh Bihu and the Kati Bihu are based upon the harvest seasons of Assam. The Bihu dance performed during the traditional new year celebration is one of the most colorful dance forms of India. Coupled with the classical Sattriya dance of the Vaishnavite Monks and the mystical Deodhani dance make the culture of Assam an unforgettable experience to any visitor to the State!

Some of the prominent indigenous tribes of Assam are the Bodo tribe in western Assam, the Mishing tribe in Majuli Island, the Tai Ahoms, Tai Khamyangs, Tai Phakes, Tai Turungs, Tai Khamtis and the Tai Aitons tribes of Upper Assam, the Karbi tribe of Karbi Anglong, the Dimasa Kachari tribe of Dimasa Hasao Hills, the Sonowal Kachari and the Moran tribes of Upper Assam. Other tribes of Assam are the Rabha tribe, the Tiwa tribe, the Hajong tribe and the Tea Garden tribes.

Each of these tribes of Assam have their own eating habits and traditional liquor. The cuisine might taste different but the major ingredient across the recipes of each  of the tribes of Assam are very similar. A traditional Assamese meal comprises of rice, lentils, fish and meat curry with vegetables an herbs. The two main characteristics of a traditional meal in Assam are ‘Khar’ (an alkaline made from dried out banana stem) and a sour dish called as ‘Tenga’. Another important ingredient of an Assamese meal is fermented bamboo shoots known as ‘Khorisa’. Many tribal households of Assam brew their traditional liquor variously called as Laupani, Apong, Sai Mod, Xaaj, Zudima, etc. The sumptuous Assamese cuisine if often served in Bell metal dishes and in platters like ‘Kahi’ and ‘Maihang’.

Economy of Assam ~     

The economy of Assam is primarily dependent on Agriculture, Tea and Oil. The heritage Tea gardens are a pride of Assam and Assam is the  largest exporter of Tea in India. Crude Oil is another important contributor to the economy of Assam owing to the fact that the first Oil well in Asia was drilled at Digboi in Assam. Agriculture still remains a primary occupation of the people of Assam accounting to more than a third of Assam’s income and employing 69% of the workforce of Assam.

Other contributors to the economy of Assam are tourism, minerals, handicrafts and handlooms. The people of the tribes of Assam are expert craftsmen and weavers. The traditional bamboo/cane crafts and handlooms of Assam are renowned across the World. The people of Assam are well known for their excellence in weaving clearly to be seen in the Muga silk ‘Mekhela Chadors’ of Assam. A traditional loom can be spotted at most tribal households of Assam and these weave out exclusive silk costumes and the traditional towel of Assam called the ‘Gamusa’. The decorative farmer hat called as ‘Jaapi’ is found in all Assamese households. Bell metal crafts is also an important handicraft of western Assam where the craftsmen prepare the Xorai utensil, Bell metal plates, Bell metal saucers, etc. The island of Majuli has been able to preserve one of the classical crafts of Assam viz. the lost art of traditional mask making.

Tourism in Assam is a fast evolving economy and visitors from India and across the World visit Assam every year to spot the varied Wildlife at the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Assam. The Island of Majuli in Assam is a place of prime historical importance and the hub of the Neo Vaishnavite movement of Assam. The culture and traditions of the tribes of Assam also make Assam a must visit place that awaits to make its mark as a global tourist destination. We welcome you the State of Awesome Assam and strive to ensure that “Once you visit Assam, it stays with you forever”! 

Tourism in Assam can be categorized under the following diverse verticals ~

Ethnicity and Culture:

Assam is home to various ethnic tribes and groups, adding to over 3.3 million people, about 12.4 % of the total population of Assam. Each tribe has its own cultural heritage, socio-cultural customs, religious beliefs, language, attire, festivals, culinary tradition, songs and dances. Such diversity attracts and offers opportunities for domestic and international tourists to engage with communities through homestays, participation in festivals, etc.

Wildlife and Ecotourism:

Assam’s five National Parks and 18 Wildlife Sanctuaries, the highest concentration in India, are host to over 25 % of India’s floristic wealth and enormous faunal diversity including the One horned Rhinoceros, pygmy hog, hoolock gibbon, tigers, etc. Manas National Park in Assam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a constituent unit of the Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity region – one of the two biodiversity “Hot Spots” in India. The mystery of birds’ suicide at Jatinga, is a subject of all nature lover and researchers.

Spiritual and Pilgrimage:

Focussing on Kamakhya Temple (most famous Shakti-peeth) in Guwahati city, its four day annually held Ambubachi Mela (also known as Mahakumbh of the East) and mysticism of Mayong, the religious/spiritual tourism gives Assam a significant place in spiritual tourism destination in the country. Hajo is another spiritual center where people from three religions; Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims congregate for pilgrimage.

River Tourism:

The mighty Brahmaputra river decorates the geography of the State of Assam and one can take a cruise along this river with A class facilities experiencing marine life and wildlife, tradition and adventure tourism on the way. Immense opportunities to experience water sports, river safari and leisure activities encompassing canal barges, taxi services between banks, boating, luxury cruisers, motor boats, dolphin shows, underwater exploration, parasailing, river rafting and other amusements can be experienced here in Assam.

Adventure Tourism:

The challenging terrain, valleys, pristine hill and lush green forests and fast rivers offer ideal opportunities for tourists interested in experiencing an adrenaline rush here in Assam. Visitors to Assam can experience adventure sports like mountaineering, trekking, bike safari, rock climbing, rafting, camping, etc.

Tea and Golf Tourism:

Tea gardens are an integral segment of Assam’s landscape. Around 20 tea gardens across Assam have developed and maintained golf courses within the tea garden areas of Assam while some even have polo fields. Further, there are at least 30 tea garden managed airstrips and helipads which are near the golf courses. Assam also boasts of Jorhat Gymkhana, Asia’s oldest and World’s third oldest Golf Course.

Medical and Health Tourism:

The rapidly growing healthcare sector in Assam’s main city of Guwahati has gradually started to attract international patients from neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, etc. Assam is home to over 300 types of medicinal herbs and plants which are found in abundance with the Brahmaputra valley alone having 150 varieties of herbs and plants of commercial value.