The State of 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 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 includes Bodo, Rabha, Mishing, Deori, Dimasa, Sonowal, Karbi, Tiwa, Mech, Hajong, Barman, Zemi, Rengma, Kuki, Hmar, Khasi, Garo, Tai-Phake, Tai-Aiton, Tai-Khamyang, etc. some of them also having presence in different adjoining states. Most of them belong to Mongoloid race; while the Bodo, Dimasa-Kachari, Sonowal-Kachari, Mech, Barman-Kachari, Tiwa and Rabha communities come 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 Rajbongshi community too comes from the Mongoloid stock and is believed to have arrived from the Nepal route Again, while Hmars and Kukis belong to the Kuki-Chin group, the Rengmas and Zemes belong to the Naga family. Aryan culture on the other hand was brought to Assam by the Alpines (kalita community) and Brahmins who were rapidly mixed up with other racial elements soon after their migration.
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 the region. The culture and tradition of the State, its music, dance and literature are all interwoven into a social fabric and cross barriers of caste, creed and religion.
Assam has been a highway of migration from times immemorial. While the earliest human footprints here have been traced back to Early Stone Age (pr Paleolithic Age: 40,000 – 35,000 BC), the roots of various communities belonging to Assam are linked to Austric aborigines, pre-Dravidians, Eurasians, Australoids, Mongoloids, Alpines or Armenoids, Mediterraneans, Indo-Aryans and Irano-Scythians as well.
The melting pot that Assam is today, has a culture that again has been enriched by contribution of diverse races, ethnicity and traditions, making the communities here most secular in character. Through a sizeable section of the Assamese people are Vaishnavites – who revere Vishnu and Krishna in a 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 traditional methods of worship. These practices and traditions in turn have shaped different cultures in the State, with the most wonderful aspect being that each one of them has contributed various elements to the others. This has made the culture of various communities in Assam interrelated and more importantly inseparable from one another.
Assamese, the language spoken by the majority of the people in Assam, is one of the first two languages alongside English which has developed prose even when all other languages were still on verse as a medium of knowledge dissemination and scholarship. The Assamese language developed out of Sanskrit as as in the 7th century AD, with its direct ancestor being Magadhi. While Austric or Mon-Khmer languages like Khasi and Sino-Tibetan languages like Bodo and Tai or Ahom had greatly influenced in shaping the original Indo-Aryan Assamese language, it is also said to be the most compact yet complex modern among all Indo-Aryan languages. Moreover, Assamese is also one of the two languages in the entire World which has developed prose literature as early as the 16th century, the only other language being English. While Northeastern India is home to over 220 languages, Assam’s share is about 30, which includes Bodo, Rabha, Mishing, Dimasa, Karbi, Tai among others.
Muslims on the other hand first arrived in Assam in the early 13th century, with a series of invasions from adjoining BEngal leading to both settlements of people who came as invaders as well as conversion of the local people. In 1630 came Shah Milan, a Muslim saint from faraway Baghdad, who not only preached Islam, but also created wonderful literature in the form of zikir and zari songs.
Yet another inseparable part of Assamese society and culture is the tea tribe community – combination of several groups of people, majority of whom were brought by the British to Assam in the 19th century from the Chotanagpur plateau and adjoining areas of central India to work in the tea plantations. These people today not only belong to Assam, but also have enriched Assamese art, culture, literature and social life.
Some of the major Tribes and People of Assam are ~
1| Singpho Tribe ~ Margherita ~ Assam
The Singphos are an important tribe inhabiting the North Eastern part of India. They are mostly concentrated in the Tinsukia district of Assam and Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. They are namely divided into four groups, locally known as Numhpuk Hkwang, Diyun Hkwang, Tieng Hkwang and Turung Hkwang. Hkwang is a term meaning of area and each of these groups is named after a local river. It is believed that the Singpho Tribe originally migrated from Mongolia at around 700 BC and entered to the South West of Tibet at around 600 BC. Later at around 300 AD the Singphos entered the Brahmaputra Valley and settled by the banks of the surrounding rivers.
The Singphos are mostly settled in the villages of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Although their villages are not well defined ones they have a mystic charm to it and the homes are mostly constructed out of wood, bamboo and thatched leaves. The villages are mostly clusters of houses spread over a considerable area facing all directions. Usually, the Singpho villages are large ones consisting of sixty of more houses and the name of the village is kept by the clan name of the founder.
The Singpho society may be broadly classified under three estates namely the chiefs, the plebeians and the slaves. The Singpho chief is known as the ‘Gam’ and is also the head of the village. The Singphos are also organized into a number of clans. Each individual bears a clan name to which he belongs. The Singpho term for clan is “Fan” which means belonging to the same blood. The principal clans of the Singphos are – Tesan, Mirip, Lophae, Lutong and Mayrung.
At the beginning the Singphos were not cultivators. They survived with the food they obtained from hunting and fishing. But recently they have started the cultivation of rice on permanent basis among. In the Singpho community the practice of shifting cultivation is nearly absent. However, they traditionally cultivate tea and prepare a drink called ‘Fallap’. At present, agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the Singphos. Besides agriculture they are now engaged in government and private jobs, local businesses and horticulture. They are also engaged presently in the cultivation of tea, vanilla, citronella, etc. on commercial basis. Animal husbandry, poultry, piggery and some other sources of livelihood. The Singphos are also skilled in cane and bamboo work and wood carving. The Singpho women weave fine quality traditional costumes.
The food habits of Singphos are still traditional and they prefer boiled foods and meat. Rice is their staple food locally known as ‘Chatmukai’ or Topola Bhat. A special type of beer that is brewed from rice is their conventional drink and it is a part of their festivities. The food is generally boiled using bamboo shoots, laisa, chilli and salt.
The Singphos practice Buddhism as their religion but have not given up their traditional beliefs of their ancestors. Spiritual worship (Nat) is also practiced. According to their belief, malevolent and responsible spirits causing miseries to the tribe are worshiped on ceremonies by offering sacrifices of cattle like bulls, pigs, cows and chickens to appease the spirits. The main festival of the Singphos is Sanken Poi that is observed with due solemnity, where the image of Lord Buddha is brought out of its abode and bathed ceremoniously with great devotion. This is their new year festival, during which the monks and villagers pour holy water on the image. The religious festivals are greatly popular among the members of the Singpho tribe and they celebrate them with great pomp and show. In the month of April, the Songkon festival is celebrated in memoir of Gautam Buddha.
The Singphos are a tribe who in addition to preserving their culture and tradition, have also started adapting to the practices of the Modern world.
2| Bodo Tribe ~ Kokrajhar District ~ Assam
The Bodo Tribe of Awesome Assam is an ethnic group of peope inhabiting the Brahmaputra valley in Northeast India and these tribal people use the term ‘Bodosa’ (which is pronounced as Borosa meaning son of Bodo) to describe themselves.
It is believed that very early on, the Bodos had introduced rice cultivation, tea plantation, pig and poultry farming, and silkworm rearing in North East India. Rice is a staple food of the Bodos and is often accompanied by a non-vegetarian dish such as fish or pork. Weaving is another integral part of the Bodo culture. Many Bodo tribal families rear their own silkworms, the cocoons of which are then spun into silk. Bodo girls learn to weave from a young age, and no Bodo courtyard is complete without a loom. Most women weave their own Dokhonas (the traditional dress of the Bodo women) and shawls. Almost every household owns a loom and handing over a shawl or a ‘dokhona’ to a visitor is an honour. The Bodos are also expert craftsmen in bamboo products. A detailed insight into the life and culture of the Bodo tribes of Awesome Assam can be seen by visiting the Manas National Park.
3| Karbi Tribe ~ Karbi Anglong District ~ Assam
The Karbi tribes of Awesome Assam are one of the major ethnic tribal groups of North East India. The Karbi tribe are the principal community of the Karbi Anglong district of Assam also inhabiting parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The Karbi people of Assam belong to the Tibeto-Burman linguistic group.
The Karbi tribal people of Awesome Assam are adept in the practice of Jhum cultivation. Primarily depending on agriculture, the Karbis grow a variety of crops including food grains like rice, vegetables, fruits, etc. The Karbi people mainly speak the Karbi language but also converse in the local Assamese language too. The primary festival celebrated by the Karbi tribes of Awesome Assam are the Chojun and Peng Karkli.
4| Mishing Tribe ~ Majuli Island ~ Assam
The Mishing people are an ethnic tribal group inhabiting the districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat and Golaghat of the Assam state in India. Their total population is more than 1 million in Assam. The Mishings belong to greater Tani people community which comprises many tribes in Arunachal Pradesh in India and Tibet Autonomous Region in China. All Tani tribes share linguistic, cultural and ritual similarities. The Mishings trace back their root to the Abotani or Abo Tani (The first man on earth) like any other Tani tribes.
The Mishings were believed to be original inhabitant of the northern part of Shansi river stretching Mongolian steppe. The Mishings are East Asian, similar to the mixture of the Mongoloid sub-races inside political China as people from Southern China may look more like the South East Asian brown-skinned Mongoloids and more towards the Northern China more fair skinned Mongoloids dwell. They were dwellers of the hills of present day Arunachal Pradesh. Somewhere around the 13th century, they started migrating towards the plains of Assam, most probably in search of fertile land.
Mishings presently living in plains of Assam were not a one single tribe, but evolved into one when many tribes from various Tani tribes in Arunachal Pradesh migrated to the plains of Assam in search of fertile land as well as in search of civilization progress. Over a period of time, they became known as Miris which means priest in Mishing language. This explains the presence of many Mishing clans with different Mishing dialects as well as different levels of development.
The Mishing Tribal people are a majority population on the World’s largest inhabited river island – Majuli. This island, has a very rich heritage and has been the abode of Assamese Vaishnavite culture with tremendous option for spiritual and Ecotourism. This island has been the cultural capital and cradle of Assamese civilization for the past five hundred years. The ‘Satras’ of Majuli preserve antiques like weapons, utensils, jewellery and other items of cultural significance. The handloom work of the Mishing people of Majuli are renowned internationally. Although handloom is a major occupation of the Mishing people of Majuli it is mostly a non-commercial occupation. Their practice of weaving is exquisite and intricate with the use of a variety of colours and textures of cotton and silk, especially the Muga Silk. Fishing, dairying, pottery, boat making and mask making are the other important economic activities of the Mishing people in this island.
5| Tangsa Tribe ~ Border of Assam and Eastern Arunachal ~ Assam
The Tangsas are an indigenous tribe who inhabit the easternmost part of the state of Assam and the Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Originally from Mongolia, the ancestors of the Tangsa Tribe came from Yunan in China and settled down in Myanmar by the banks of the Iravati river. Later they migrated to the Patkai Hills in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and settled by the banks of the rivers Kharsang, Namchik, Tirap and Dehing.
At present, this tribe inhabits in the hills of Tinsukia district in Assam and Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh at places named Tikak, Kharangkong, Monglai, Nampong, Jairampore, Miao, Kharseong, etc.
The Tansa people stay in homes named as ‘Chang Ghors’ that are made out of Wood and Bamboo. Every member of the village helps in constructing a house and the end its a ritual to celebrate the completion with Alcohol and Pork meat as a token of gratitude. Each Tangsa village has a head known as the ‘Gaon Bura’ and a group of villages have another head called the chief ‘Gaon Bura’. The village heads preside over the law and order of the village and also organize the major festivals of the village.
Although the hunting of wild animals and fishing are prevalent occupations of the Tangsa tribe their primary occupation still remains that of agriculture. The major produces are potatoes, maize, ginger, leafy vegetables, etc. It is noteworthy that the female members of the tribe toil equally as the men folk in the fields. The staple diet of the Tangsa people are Rice, Leafy vegetables, Meat and Fish (all grown locally in their fields and the Meat and Fish are obtained by hunting in the wild and fishing in the local river respectively). The rice is normally cooked by steaming. Meat and fish are cooked by roasting over wood fire and on ‘Khorika’ Sticks. The use of bamboo shoot in their recipes is a usual practice of the Tangsa people. The guest loving Tangsa people feel great satisfaction by serving the guests with a meal of fish, meat and rice. It is also interesting to note that these people are pretty aware of the medicinal properties of the local herbs that they seldom visit a Hospital to get treatment for their ailments. Instead, they prepare medicines from the local herbs and feed it to people who head for a speedy recovery.
The Tangsa people wear traditional clothes weaved by the women folks of the village. They dye the threads with color from local herbs and themselves weave clothes on a loom which they operate by tying it to their hips (this is called the Naga Loom).
The Tangsa Tribe host festivals and these are celebrated around the year. The major festivals are celebrated during the onset of harvest of the ‘Jhum cultivation’ and are known as ‘Laiphak’, ‘Samphang’, ‘Dang Tong’ and others. During the festivals they dance to the tunes of the local folk songs, hunt and fish in groups and sing praises of the Lord almighty.
The Tangsa Tribal people are inhabiting today’s world far off the hustle bustle of the city life and cut off from the modern technological advances. Still surviving on the natural resources gifted by mother nature and the food they grow locally, these people have been successful in preserving their tradition, culture, practices and most importantly the legacy of the ‘TANGSA TRIBE’!!
6| Moran Tribe ~ Dibrugarh District ~ Assam
The Morans are an important tribe of North East India who inhabit the Doomdooma region of the Tinsukia district of Assam. The Morans are considered as the aboriginal people of Assam but for various reasons, in spite of their glorious role in the past history of Assam, they have been unable to attract the attention of the historians, excepting only casual and stray references.
It is believed that the Morans migrated from the Hukong Valley in upper Burma into Assam. Over time they moved from centres on the eastern edge of Assam, then to the Brahmaputra River and thence north to where they are found in numbers today in Tinsukia District but there are families of Morans who chose to stay in some of the early centers of Namrup, Sivsagar, Moran and Moranhat, Dibrgarh and Tinsukia. It is believed that the Morans came to Assam from across the Patkai Hills and settled in Upper Assam much before the coming of Ahom (1228 A.D.), which enabled them to set up and consolidate a principality of their own by the time the Ahoms came to Assam.
According to certain numbers of Elders, the word owes its origin to a myth. It is said that an old lady of the Moran community, a physician by profession, had the supernatural power of giving life to dead ones, for which she was called ‘Moran’, meaning one who can call back a dead.”Mor” means die and “an” means call back.
The Morans were the first among the tribes of Assam to accept initiation from the Mayamara Vaisanava Mahantas and at present happen to be the most dominant one among the disciples of the Mayamara Satra (founded by Sri Sri Aniruddhadeva) that is also the hati sect of Neo Vaishnavism founded and propagated by Sri Sankardeva. This has helped them in getting organized into a distinct community within the greater Assamese people and culture. This tribal community contributed greatly to the cultural, political and economic prosperity of the Ahom Kingdom, the successor state of the historic ancient Kamrupa kingdom.
7| Deori Tribe ~ Tinsukia District ~ Assam
The Deori Tribal people are one of the major ethnic ethnic tribes of Assam inhabiting the Sibsagar, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia districts of Assam and Lohit, Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
Historically, the Deoris have been known to live in the upper plains of the Brahmaputra Valley. The Deoris belong to the Sino-Tibetan family of Mongoloid stock. In the ancient times of Ahom and Sutiya kingdoms, the Deoris used to serve as priests in the temples of their kingdoms and therefore the origin of the name ‘Deori’ – that means ‘Priest’ in the local dialect. The Deori Tribal people of Assam have maintained their racial traits, languages, religion and folk tales, beliefs through centuries.
The word `Deori’ comes from the word ‘Deu’ meaning Great, Wise and O and R meaning Male and Female respectively. The term ‘Deori’ thus refers to a ‘Great’ or ‘Wise’ male/female human being! The Deori people are expert craftsmen who make exclusive bamboo handicrafts and their handlooms are well renowned across the State of Assam in North East India.
8| Sumi Naga Tribe ~ Tipong ~ Assam
The ‘Sumi Naga’ is one of the major tribes of the State of Nagaland – ‘the Land of the Warrior Tribes’. The Sumi Nagas mostly inhabit the central and southern regions of Nagaland in the Zunheboto and Dimapur districts. Although not many in number, a small population of the Sumi Nagas inhabit a small village in the eastern most corner of the State of Assam at Tipong Colliery. A right turn from the Historic Stilwell Road at Lekhapani will lead you to the Sumi Naga Tribal Village at Lal Pahar in Tipong Colliery. The Sumi Nagas of Tipong Colliery still practice traditional customs and have kept the age old practices of the fierce Naga Warrior Tribes alive. Keeping alive their traditional customary practices specially of Weaving on the Loom, the female members of the Sumi Naga society weave out exquisite wonders from their traditional ancestral looms at the small village.
The Sumi Nagas are one of the most united and most aggressive Naga nations. Since times immemorial, other Nagas have feared the Sumi Nagas. Despite their ferocity and aggressive nature in warfare, the Sumi Nagas are known for their simplicity and honesty.
The two major festivals of Sumi Nagas are: Tuluni and Ahuna. Celebrated in the month of July, the ‘Tuluni’ is a festival of great significance for the Sumi Nagas. This festival is marked with feasts as the occasion occurs in the bountiful season of the year. Drinking rice beer indispensably forms as part of the feasts. Rice beer is served in a goblet made of bamboo or made from the leaf of plantain. This drink is called Tuluni which gives the festival its name. Tuluni is also called “Anni” the word of which denotes the season of plentiful crops. This midyear festival is a time of communal harmony and merry-making for the Sumi community.
Celebrated in November, the ‘Ahuna’ is a traditional post-harvest festival of the Sumi Nagas. Ahuna signifies the celebration of the season’s harvest in ‘Thanksgiving’, while invoking the spirit of good fortune in the New Year. On this occasion, the entire community prepares and feasts on the first meal of rice drawn from the season’s harvest cooked in bamboo segments. The receptacles for cooking or serving on this occasion are freshly made, curved or cut, from locally available resources prolific and abundant in the countryside.
During your visit to the Lalpahar Sumi Naga village you may also interest yourself in visiting one of the oldest underground coal mines of India at Tipong Colliery. Started by the AR&T company during the British rule, the Tipong Colliery boasts of Colonial Bungalows of the British Era and one of the oldest operational Steam Locomotives in the world of the likes of ‘796’ and ‘David’ manufactured by W G Bagnall of Stafford in England in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The charming and warm hearted people, the lush greens and majestic mountains and the gushing waters of River Tipong will surely make your visit to Tipong Colliery one of the most memorable one of your lifetime!
9| Rabha Tribe ~ Chandubi Lake Area ~ Assam
Rabhas are among the nine plan tribe and fourteen hill tribes of Assam. The Rabhas belong to the Indo-Mongoloid group of people and have similarities with other members of Bodo group such as Garos, Kachari, Mech, Koch, Hajong and others.
The traditional economy of the Rabhas in general, is based on agriculture, forest based activities and weaving. In the past, the Rabhas used to practice shifting cultivation. They continued to cultivate the land with Gogo or bill-hook. Later they took up the job of settled cultivation and started cultivation with plough. Besides cultivation, hunting was also an old practice of Rabha people. Weaving was a traditional occupation of the Rabha women.
Like in most tribal communities, dances and music play an important part in the lives of the Rabhas. After every ritual they perform various dances to ingratiate their deities. Most of the Rabha women can both sing and dance. Like most tribal dances, those of the Rabhas are connected to some daily agrarian activity. They have a unique dance form named “Nakchung Reni” to celebrate fishing in the forest rivulets. Rabha women of all ages take part in this dance wholeheartedly.
10| Tai Phake Tribe ~ Naharkatia ~ Assam
The Tai Phake Tribal group belong to the better known Tai tribe of Assam and they inhabit the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam and the Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh in the north eastern most corner of India principally along the banks of the Dehing River that serves as a lifeline to the people of Upper Assam. Known to have migrated to Assam from the Shan Kingdom of Myanmar in the 18th century the Tai Phake people settled in the rich south bank of the Buridihing River, which came to be known as ‘Nam Phake’.
The Tai Phake tribal community ’til today rely on Agriculture as their primary occupation. They cultivate crops such as rice paddy, mustard, potatoes. Besides agriculture they also have other subsidiary sources of income from which the people earn good income. They also rear cattle, buffaloes. Fishing is a also major practice of the Tai Phake tribal people.
A special attraction of the Tai Phake Tribal villages are their traditional houses. The houses of the Tai Phakes are chang-ghars. Built on piles of wood above the ground locally known as “Haun Hang”. Materials is like takau (toko paat) leaves, timber and bamboos are used in the construction of their houses. There are two hearths in each house and the inside one is considered as sacred. Every house has a drawing room called “Kan Nok”, a prayer room called “Khok Tang-som” with a kitchen called “Haun Aom”. Each tribal home offers a traditional meal to a visitor at their village. This meals consist of cooked or steamed rice wrapped in banana leaves that known as “Khau How” and boiled vegetables. Moreover, many wild leafy vegetables such as “pukut”, “khi kai” etc. are also served. Beside this the meal also comprises meat, fish, eggs, steamed rice, dry fish, sour fish, dry meat, rice cakes. Also served regularly is the savory Assam Tea which is also the favorite beverage of the Tai Phake people.
11| Tea Garden Tribes ~ Various Districts ~ Assam
Have you ever wondered from where does the fresh cup of tea that you savor every the morning comes from? The answer ,without any doubt, that comes to your mind will be India! In India, tea is grown across several parts of the country across the East and South. But the best quality of tea is grown at the tea gardens of the beautiful State of Assam. The State of Assam has been blessed with a vast reservoir of natural resources like Oil, Coal, Minerals, Timber, Bamboo, Tea, etc. It was because of this availability of resources that the British put every bit of effort to develop means to harness the economic potentials of these resources. One of the most important resources that has put Assam into the map of the World is the Assam Tea.
It was in 1839 that the British incorporated the Assam Tea Company that started the production of Assam Tea across the fertile plains of Upper Assam. To cater to the labor needs of the vast tea gardens the British colonial planters brought in many people from the Chhota Nagpur Plateau region to Assam during this period in multiple phases for the purpose of being employed in the tea gardens industry as laborers. These people in due course of time became a part of the Adivasi community of Assam and also started to be known as Tea Garden tribes locally. As the Tea plantations started growing across the State these people spread across and today they are found majorly in the districts of Kokrajhar, Udalguri,Sonitpur, Nagaon, Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and almost all the districts of Assam in smaller numbers.
Known to be hard working workers, these people start their day as early as 4 AM in the morning when they head out to the nearby tea gardens and pluck the fresh tea leaves that are sent to the local factory for processing.
One prime characteristics across all the community members of the Tea Garden Tribes is their love for Music. Their music is usually collectively performed for a variety of occasions like weddings, festivals, arrival of seasons, ushering-in of new life, and harvests. The community is rich in a variety of music and dances. Through the folk music and dance, they try to convey their perspective on social issues and define their daily life styles and their history. In some dance forms, martial arts are displayed to convey their age-old rebellion against the British.
‘Jhumur dance’ is a famous folk dance form of the Adivasi community through which they are identified with in Assam. But they also possess other numerous dance forms like Santhali dance, Chhau dance, Karam naach, and Kharia dance which are performed during different occasions.
12| Sonowal Kachari Tribe ~ Tinsukia District ~ Assam
It was during the reign of the Mighty Ahom Dynasty that the kingdom of Assam started flourishing and the knowledge of the wealth of Assam spread far across the world. During the reign of the Ahom king his Majesty Godadhar Singha, a certain population of his subjects were engaged in washing gold particles from the sands of rivers of the Assam. These people in due course of time came to be known across the State as ‘Sonowals’ (Gold washers). The term ‘Sonowal’ was added to their name to their name to signify them. Also, according to an another anecdote, the ‘Kacharis’ of upper Assam who became the disciple of ‘Gossian’ (a religious head) named ‘Kechaideo’ were considered to have super-natural power of offering a certain quantity of gold in a bamboo tube and hence these people came to be known as ‘Sonowal Kacharis’.
The Sonowal Kacharis today, are one of the indigenous ethnic group of the North East part of India. They form a branch of great Bodo-Kacharis, a major tribal community in Assam, and are also found in other states of Northeast India. They are predominantly inhabitants of the Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Tinisukia and Dibrugarh districts of Assam. They are also scattered in the districts of Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and in the States of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
One distinguishing factor of the Sonowal kachari Tribes is their knowledge about medicinal herbs. The Sonowal Kacharis are strong believers in traditional herbal medicine and do not advocate alternative forms of medicine such as allopathic, homeopathic and ayurvedic medicines. Through generations of testing herbs and plants, the knowledge of herbs and plants in their medicinal properties are established and passed down from generation to generation. Knowledge on effective medicines acquired by the tribal people through experience is usually passed on orally as a guarded secret of certain families. The Sonowal Kacharis believe that the secret of medicinal herbs and plants boils down to the knowledge withheld and passed down from their forefathers. As such, the secret of medicines are kept to retain the efficacy of these plants and herbs. Among the Sonowal Kacharis, there are a few herbal specialists or medicine-men, who are called ‘Bez’. The bez have a wide knowledge of the available herbs and their various medicinal use, and most of them are the elders of the community, as the younger generation of today are less interested in being such specialists.
The following of traditional practices are common across all households the Sonowal Kachari Tribes of Assam. As per their Mythological beliefs, the Sonowal Kachari believe that they were the descendants of great Bhaskar Varma, Narakasur, Ban, Bhagadutta, Hadimba, Ghototkach, Bhim, Prahlad and Bali. They worship lord Shiva and performs the Bhouwa dance in praise of Lord Shiva. This dance signifies the beginning of a new life, a clean society and the removing of bad omen.
13| Tai Ahom People ~ Upper Assam ~ Assam
The Tai Ahom Tribal people are the descendants of the mighty Ahom Dynasty who ruled the kingdom of Assam for more than 600 years. Believed to have migrated from the Yunnan Province in Myanmar as early as in the early 1300’s , the Ahoms are the descendants of the ethnic Tai people that accompanied the Tai Prince ‘Sukaphaa’ into the Brahmaputra valley in 1228 and ruled the area for six centuries. Sukaphaa and his followers established the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826) and the Ahom dynasty ruled and expanded the kingdom until the British gained control of the region. The Ahom Kings were among the bravest rulers in the History of India. Although not spread across many books of History, but the Ahom Kingdom was the most feared dynasty in the eyes of the Mughal Kingdom who failed to defeat the Ahoms across many battles of history. One prominent name of the Tai Ahom kingdom whose name is mentioned across all the books of history in the State is of ‘Lachit Borphukan’ – the brave General of the Ahom Army who put forward his duties to his motherland before anything else. It is known that he beheaded his own Uncle for showing negligence towards his duties to his Motherland!
In the present day the Ahoms are found mostly in Upper Assam districts of Golaghat, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji. Tai Ahoms are also found in large numbers in Lohit District of Arunachal Pradesh. The Ahoms of present day form a part of the modern community of Assam and hold key positions across major Government organizations and business holdings. Their traditional practices of Ahom tribal community are still followed in certain distant villages of the Tinsukia district in Assam. One such practice is that of ‘Divination’ where the Ahoms still apply the method of ‘Geomancy’ i.e. casting of auguries with the aid of chicken’s thigh bone together with the hyoid apparatus (lin-kaii) of the fowl.
This practice is better known as the ‘Do-Kai’ (examination of the chicken’s bone). For this purpose, the Oracle thigh bone is prepared for the augury chicken (Kai-seng-moung) by killing it with a method call ‘Tham-kai’ (killing the chicken by casting a powerful spell). A pair of chicken bone of the same breed is chosen. The pair of divination fowl is then boiled and the thigh bones are cleared of the flesh. Small bamboo sticks are introduced in the holes of the oracle thigh bone. Then comparing the geometrical figures thus formed with those of the drawings of the astrological treatise called ‘Ban-seng’ predictions are made. ‘Ban-seng’ is actually making an appointment or fixing a date of religious function. Such religious practice of the Ahom community can be observed at the festival of ‘Me-Dam-Me-Phi’celebrated every year on January 31st, which is also a religious practice to show respect to the departed ancestors and remember their contribution to society.
Another celebration of noteworthy importance of the Ahom community is their practice of Marriage known as ‘Sok Long’, where marriages vows are taken across a hundred burning oil lamps and the bridegroom promises to keep his bride safe and happy throughout their life by holding a sword and swearing by the fire of the oil lamps!
14| Tai Khamyang Tribe ~ Tinsukia District ~ Assam
Across a majority of the tribes of north east India one can find a close resemblance with the communities of South East India. One such tribal community of Assam are the Tai Khamyang tribes. Known to have migrated to Assam from the Kachin State in Myanmar the Tai Khamyang people derive their name from the Tai word ‘Khamyag’ meaning ‘people having gold'(‘kham’ meaning ‘gold’ and ‘yang’ meaning ‘to have’). Many Khamyangs have also historically used ‘Shyam’ as a surname, which is a cognate with ‘Siam’, the old word for Thailand.
The Tai-Khamyangs, represent a brethren of Great Tai/Thai family of South East Asia. They are numerically tribal group found in Tinsukia, Jorhat, Sivasagar and Golaghat districts of Assam as well as adjacent parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Their population totals about 7,000 of which only a small minority speak the native Tai Khamyang language. The Khamyang are followers of Theravada Buddhism and are closely related to the Tai-Khamti. They maintain good relations with other Tai Buddhist tribes of Assam.
The Tai Khamyangs, in the Patkai Mountain Range, got divided into two groups namely the Maan Nam or Pani Nora (Low Land Nora) and Maan Loi or Dum Nora (Upper land Nora). These settlements lies near the great lake ‘The Lake Of No Return – India’s Bermuda Triangle’. In the mid eighteenth century, due to the critical surrounding for the presence of couple of Cobras in the lake and problems faced from the Kachins, the Tai-Khamyangs crossed over the Patkai hill and settled in a fertile valley of Arunachal Pradesh. It is said that they constructed a pagoda which is still present near the ‘Lake of no return’.
15| Hajong Tribe ~ Goalpara District ~ Assam
The Hajong tribal people inhabit the Dhubri and Goalpara districts of Assam and also parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The Hajong tribal people belong to the Indo-tibetan group. Primarily practicing Hinduism as their faith the Hajongs celebrate the festivals of Durga Puja and Kamakhya Puja. The Hajongs are adept in traditional arts and crafts.
Recommended Itinerary for your visit to explore the People of Assam ~
In this, we will cover various destinations across the State of Assam where we will discover the ancient culture, traditions, practices and livelihood of the indigenous people of Assam who have stayed in this region for many hundred years and also cover few of the important tourist destinations of Assam as well like Kaziranga National Park, Majuli Island, Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Manas National Park, Chandubi Lake, etc. We will start our explorations from Upper Assam continuing further towards the centre of Assam and lower Assam and ending our tour at the Guwahati airport. Below is your detailed Itinerary of your visit to cover the major tribes and indigenous people of Assam ~
Day 1: Dibrugarh Airport – Guijan
Arrive at the Mohanbari airport at Dibrugarh. Upon arrival you will be received by our representative offering you a warm welcome in traditional Assamese style and we board our comfortable vehicles to drive to Tinsukia town and further to Guijan at the site of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park. We will make a stop at the Hijuguri area near Tinsukia to visit the Heritage Railway Park and Museum that illustrates the various facets of the historic Dibru Sadiya Railway in Assam and the place displays old Steam Locomotives that plied on the tracks across the Dibru Sadiya railway. We spend some time at this park and later continue on our drive to Guijan.
In addition to exploring the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri Beel area here we will also get an opportunity to interact with the Tea garden people of Assam here. These tea plantation workers had come to Assam many years back and they were mostly brought in by the British from areas in Central India like Chhattisgarh, Orissa to work on the tea gardens of Assam when they had discovered tea and needed a huge workforce to catch up with the demand. Over the years these tea garden people have blended with the local people of Assam and they have now considered an integral part of Assam. We arrive at Guijan and go to check in to our place of stay preferably at the Banashree Eco Resort at Guijan. We check into our place of stay and retire for the evening.
Night Halt: Banashree Eco Resort at Guijan or Similar
Meals Included: NA
Day 2: Dibru Saikhowa National Park – Margherita
Today in the morning we will travel to the Maguri Beel area near the Resort that is a famed destination for bird watching at the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and during the migratory season of winter, hundreds of bird species come to the Maguri Beel in search of food from areas across the World and make it their home for a few months. We board a country boat here and take a ride across the Maguri Beel identifying the various bird species that are here accompanied by a birding guide and we also get to witness the traditional fishing techniques adopted by the local villagers here. These people have unique fishing traps made of bamboo called as the ‘Sepa’ and they use this for fishing where they set the traps in the water in the evening and come back the next morning to collect their catch. We spend about an hours’ time at the Maguri Motapung Beel and later head back to the resort to have our breakfast and later we will board a motor boat to cross the River Dibru to reach the other side of the banks of the river to explore the Dibru Saikhowa National Park.
Among the five National Parks of Assam, the Dibru Saikhowa National Park is known for its population of the feral horse species and various other fauna and especially for the bird species and orchids as well. We will hike across a local village to reach the area of the Kekjori tree that is a huge old tree sprawling across several acres of land and is a prime tourist attraction in the place. We spend some time across the tree and do a session of bird watching at the Mora Beel area here and later we hike back to the boat and the boat takes us to a point on the river that is called as the Dolphin point and here we go to witness the highly endangered Gangetic river dolphin species.
Earlier these dolphin species were to be found across Assam in the Brahmaputra river and its tributaries but across the years excessive hunting of this species led to a severe decline in their numbers and to an extent that they are now an endangered species and are found in the protected waters of various National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Assam and this spot at the Dibru Saikhowa National Park being one of them. We wait still on our boat and take the moment to watch them coming out of the water and dive back in again. With this we end our boat ride and head towards the area behind the resort where we visit a colony of the tea garden workers at Guijan and learn about their way of life and how they live in their colonies. We also have an opportunity to drink their local wine called as the ‘Hariya’ that is brewed from wheat, herbs, yeast and rice. This rice beverage is lower in alcohol content than the other local wines and so it doesn’t leave you intoxicated with a small amount of its consumption.
Later we head back to our resort and have our lunch post which we drive to Margherita area in Upper Assam crossing Makum and Digboi. We soon arrive at Margherita and we head to the Inthong village at Margherita to check into the Singpho Eco Lodge here. The Inthong village in inhabited by the Singpho people of Assam who also reside in parts of Arunachal Pradesh in the Changlang and Tirap districts and the owner of the place had come up with this unique idea of showcasing the rich traditions and culture of the Singpho people of Assam and so he built this place for the guests to come here and witness this way of living of the Singpho people. The place is constructed in a traditional fashion with wood, bamboo and thatch roof and there around eight rooms for the comfortable stay of the guests here at the Singpho Eco Lodge. At the entrance there are tea gardens all around and one interesting fact to be mentioned is that the Singpho people of Assam were the first o brew tea in the region and the British learnt about the availability of tea and the tea brewing process from the Singpho people and they later established the various tea gardens and tea factories across the area of Upper Assam to create the World renowned brand of ‘Assam Tea’.
The Singpho people have a unique blend of tea called as the ‘Phalap’ and the preparation is very different from the general tea brewing. To prepare the ‘Phalap’ tea blend at first the tea leaves are allowed to dry and later these are boiled and stuffed into hollowed out bamboo tubes and these bamboo tubes stuffed with the tea are heated over wood fire and allowed to be stored for a few weeks. Later when the tea is removed from the hollowed out tube it takes a cylindrical shape and it is sliced into smaller pieces and boiled in water to prepare this unique tea blend of the ‘Phalap’. This tea is served with jiggery and not with sugar. Coming back to the construction of the Singpho Eco Lodge, it is built on an elevated platform that follows the construction of various village homes in Assam called as the ‘Chang Ghar’ and down there are several traditional looms where the female members of the family work upon to weave out exquisite handlooms and in the evening we can witness the women folks providing a demonstration on how to weave on a traditional loom as well. The rooms do not have a bed and instead there are mattress laid out on the bamboo floor and the window is a big one. The entire place follows a traditional Singpho way of living.
We walk around the campus of the Singpho Eco Lodge and visit the nearby Singpho village and later come back to witness the handloom weaving at the Singpho Eco Lodge and our evening will be at leisure. We will be served an ethnic Singpho cuisine dinner that will have unique food variants like boiled country chicken cooked with herbs, chicken cooked with rice flour, banana flower sabji, etc. We retire after dinner to begin an early day tomorrow where we will explore the historic area around Margherita in Upper Assam and also visit the local village at Ketetong that has the highest concentration of tribes.
Night Halt: Singpho Eco Lodge at Margherita
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 3: Margherita – Ledo – Lekhapani – Margherita
We get up in the morning and we head to visit the Buddhist Monastery near the Singpho Eco Lodge that is a short walk away from the place and this will provide us an opportunity to spend some time in meditation here at the Monastery premises. We admire the beautiful construction of the place and get to witness the beautiful paddy fields of Assam that reflect the true spirit of the countryside of Assam. We come back to the Singpho Eco Lodge to have our breakfast and we will later drive from the Singpho Eco Lodge to the Namdang area near Margherita. An area famous for its tea gardens, Namdang tea is considered to be one of the finest in Assam and here again we get to sight the tea garden workers of Assam.
At Namdang we will visit the Namdang Bibi Majhar that is a burial of two young sisters who predicted people’s future life from a very young age to perfection and due to some health aliments both the sisters died at a very young age. It is said that your wishes are granted true here if you offer a ‘Chadar’ on top of the graves. We admire the vast natural beauty of Namdang and later head to the Ledo area where we will visit the International Meditation Centre at the Mounglang Khamti Buddhist Monastery and this will also provide us an opportunity to interact with the Tai Khamti people of Assam. The Mounglang Khamti Buddhist Monastery is renowned is a renowned place of the famed Bhante Baba who used to provide a unique stone to his followers (to be adorned on the ring finger in gold) who came to seek help from him in various affairs of life and this stone also protects the person from any mishappenings. This place is also renowned for the meditation centre present here that is visited by people from across India who come here to seek solace.
We spend some time at the Monastery premises of the Mounglang Khamti Buddhist Monastery and later drive to the historic Ledo airstrip nearby that served as a prime factor behind the victory march of the Allied Forces over the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Burma Campaign of World War II. The Japanese Forces had cut off the roadway to China via Myanmar and the Allied Forces needed some quick turn around to restore the supply route across the way and so they setup this airstrip for the landing of aircrafts and they started work on the historic Stilwell Road that was built by the American soldiers along with an army of locals to restore the supply route and this road stretched from Ledo in Assam to Kunming in China via Myanmar thereby allowing the Allied Forces to march over victor over the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army.
After this we drive towards Lekhapani that happens to be the actual start point of the Stilwell Road and there is a memorial here that depicts the history of the construction of this road. We drive along the historic Stilwell Road and continue on our drive to the Lalpahar Sumi village at Tipong. A village of the Sumi Naga tribes of Assam this village is an ideal destination to learn about the culture and traditions of the Sumi Naga people. These people are actual inhabitants of Nagaland but a small population live and thrive here at the Lalpahar village. They are basically Christians but follow their age old practices as was prevalent in the olden times. We walk across the Sumi Naga village and interact with the local people and understand their way of life along with their handlooms and handicrafts. Later we drive back to Margherita and we stop for lunch at the Singpho Villa Restaurant that is one of the very popular food joints in this area seeing visitors from far and near and this place serves ethnic Singpho cuisine as well and is known for it pork recipes and the boiled meat recipes. They also serve unique sticky rice that is wrapped up in a leaf and is called locally as the ‘Tupula Bhat’.
We enjoy a sumptuous lunch at the Singpho Village Restaurant and later we head to visit the India’s only coal museum at Margherita. The area around Margherita is blessed with natural resources of coal and the British had come here and setup the Makum coalfields for the extraction of coal from the underground coal mines that later went on to dig out coal from the opencast mines as well at the Tirap and Tikak areas. The underground coal mining have now stopped their operations and in order to preserve these mining practices the coal museum was setup to show to the people the glorious days of coal mining at the Makum coalfields. Along with the depiction of mining in the form of models various other old machinery also on display at this coal museum along with the Steam Locomotives of JOHN, SHELLY and HASSANG. There are old machines that were brought in from England and even though these machines are almost 200 years old they are still operational and are on display here.
A model of an underground mine is present here as well that depicts how the miners used to go deep under the ground to excavate coal and load the coal onto the coal tubs that would be pulled out from the mines along with the loaded coal. A model of an opencast coalmine is also present here that shows how excavators and bull dozers mine coal from the surface of the Earth and transported by the Tipper trucks to the coal dump sites. A large display room is present at the centre of the museum area that pays a tribute to Dr. John Barry White, the architect of the AR&T Company who is accredited with the establishment of the first Medical College in Assam and also the first X-Ray Unit in India and also the visionary of establishing the Dibru Sadiya Railway and the discovery of oil, coal and tea gardens across the area. There are also details on the construction of the Stilwell road and various other relics here as well. We explore the museum for a while and later we travel back to Inthong village where we will go to visit the Ketetong village where we will interact with more tribes of Upper Assam and learn about their ancient culture, traditions and practices. We return back to the Singpho Eco Lodge for night halt.
Night Halt: Singpho Eco Lodge at Margherita
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 4: Margherita – Digboi – Naharkatia
Today we leave Margherita to travel to the legendary oil town of Assam at Digboi and after exploring Digboi we will travel to the Tai Phake Ecotourism Camp at Naharkatia to spend time with the Tai Phake people of Assam who inhabit the area around the Tipam Phake village at Naharkatia ad stretching on the belt towards Dibrugarh and Sivasagar. We start after breakfast and we bid adieu to the members of the Singpho Eco Lodge and proceed on our drive to Digboi and it will take us around 30 minutes to reach Digboi. Digboi is the place where crude oil was first discovered in India and the British came to setup the Asia’s first oil refinery here at Digboi. The Discovery Oil Well no. 1 at Digboi is said to be the oldest operational oil well in the World as crude oil still seeps out from the underground to the surface here. We will at first travel to the World War II cemetery at Digboi that is a burial site of the soldiers of the Allied Forces who laid down their lives during the Burma Campaign of World War II. The Digboi War Cemetery was built and is maintained by the Common Wealth War Graves Mission and it has burials of over 150 soldiers of the Allied Forces.
The cemetery is a beautifully kept place and it has a well-kept lawn with a huge cross at the centre and the graves are mostly aligned along the ground. Each stone grave has a metal plate on top that mentions the name and platoon of the soldier who is laid to rest at the grave and there are flowers growing across each of the grave sites. We walk across the Digboi War Cemetery paying our respects to these brave souls who laid down their lives for a better tomorrow for us. We wind up our visit at the Digboi War Cemetery and head to the Digboi Oil museum that is a centenary museum that was built to mark the 100 year celebrations of the establishment of the Digboi Oil Refinery. At the entrance of the Digboi Oil Museum there is an Air Raid Shelter from the World War II built in 1942. At the entrance we park our vehicle and set out to explore the Digboi Oil Museum. The museum is made with an outside garden area along with the Discovery Oil Well no 1 and there is another display room that is at the right side of the entrance. We will start with the open area where we get to see various unique machinery that were used in the oil drilling and refining operations.
There is a model of a vintage petrol bunk that was setup some place near Digboi and on the right hand side is the Discovery Oil Well no 1. The place was chosen to be the site of the museum because of the presence of this Oil Well and visitors could get an opportunity to witness the first oil well dug in India that powers the vehicles and literally the economy of the country. With this we head on to explore the vintage cars at the museum and later the inner display room that details the discovery of oil in Assam and the setup of the Digboi Oil Refinery. There is a model of an oil refinery on display here and also a setup that illustrated the various by-products of crude oil. We walk across the display room admiring the various artefacts kept here at the Digboi museum and later we bid farewell to Digboi to head on our drive to Naharkatia. We will take a slight route diversion to get a taste of the cuisine of Arunachal Pradesh at the Ngai Lung restaurant that is located near Bogapani area near Digboi and this place serves some unique boiled food recipes and roast pork recipes in a typical flavour of the cuisine of Arunachal Pradesh.
The food at the Ngai Lung is loaded with herbs, chillies and garlic and various other ingredients including the famous Bhut Jolokia (the hottest natural pepper in the World) and the Naga Dhania (a coriander species rich in flavour and nutrients found in this part of the country). We savour a sumptuous early lunch at the Ngai Lung restaurant and travel back to Digboi and continue further to Naharkatia that is a short hour and fifteen minutes’ drive across the second oil township of Duliajan in Upper Assam. Along our drive we will cross the virgin forests of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary that is referred to as the Amazon of the East. The drive will be filled with forest cover all around us and all we hear are the chirping of the birds and insects and the occasional roar of a wild animal. We reach Naharkatia in some time and we check into the Tai Phake Ecotourism camp here. The Tai Phake people of Assam belong to the Tai group of people that include the Tai Ahoms who ruled Assam for over 500 years and we will catch a glimpse of their life when we visit the Sivasagar area. The place called as the Tipam village is one of the very green areas in Assam where people across the ages have learnt to live in harmony with nature and all you see around are the lush green mountains, vast expanse of paddy fields, clear water rivers and the locals making use of the gifts of nature to lead a happy and content life.
The Tai Phake people migrated from the Shan kingdom of Myanmar and they came and settled in Assam in the 18th century and they inhabit Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as well. Their population is considered to be around 5000 only and they practice Buddhism. Though over the years the Tai Phake people have started educating themselves and hold positions in the government offices many of them still live in their villages and practice agriculture, fishing, animal husbandry, handicrafts and handloom as their primary occupation. One thing to look out for during your visit here is the traditional food of the Tai Phake people and they too have a similar food to the Singpho cuisine where they have the sticky rice of the Tupula bhat and the roast pork recipes that is a delicacy. One of their interesting recipes is the fish roast soup that involves roasting a locally caught fish over wood fire and the fish is roasted and it is chopped into smaller pieces and a soup is prepared out of this meat with various herbs. We freshen up at the Tai Phake Ecotourism camp and latter head out to explore the vast natural beauty around the place.
We travel to the banks of the river here and learn about their traditional fishing technique on the river and how they use the river water to maintain their land and do farming in the fields. We travel to a local Tai Phake village and learn about their ancient traditions, arts, culture and language. There will be a traditional loom present in each of the households at the Tipam Phake village and we will get to witness some of the very exquisite handlooms products from these looms. Here we will understand about the structure of this Tai Phake village here at the Tipam Phake village and how they have an informal yet organized council among their society where the village is headed by a village chief called as ‘Chow Mann’ who settles any disputes among the people of the village. Across the Tipam Phake village you will observe that most of the local homes of the village are built on elevated platforms and the essential elements to build these houses are mostly wood, bamboo and thatch leaves for the roof. Though the modern houses are built with brick and cement mortar they follow the practice of building of certain rooms in the traditional architecture. After a walk across the village we return to back to the Tai Phake Eco Tourism Camp where we will have a bonfire and in the evening we will savour an ethnic Tai Phake cuisine of roasted fish soup with herbs, the tupula bhat, pork sticks, country chicken curry, etc. We retire for the night after our dinner.
Night Halt: Tai Phake Ecotourism Camp at Tipam
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 5: Naharkatia – Sivasagar – Jorhat
We get up in the morning to visit an old Buddhist Monastery nearby the Tai Phake Ecotourism Camp and this is a very old Monastery from the time of the migration of the Tai Phake people from the Shan kingdom and their settling in Assam and so this place is a must visit and we will take out time exploring the beautiful monastery here. We spend our time in prayer here for a while and take a walk across the village to understand some more things about the Tai Phake people of Assam. We go back to the Tai Phake Ecotourism Camp for our breakfast and later we depart to Sivasagar from Tipam Phake village to the land of the mighty Ahom Kings of Assam. We will drive across a beautiful forest area and reach Moran to continue further on our drive to Sivasagar. The roads are not in the nest conditions due to the construction of a four way highway but the Innova vehicle will lessen our discomfort and we drive for about 3 hours to reach the historic town of Sivasagar in Upper Assam.
Sivasagar (earlier Rongpur) was the capital of the Ahom Kingdom and the Kings and Queens along with the Ahom army resided at Sivasagar. Being the capital of the Ahom Kingdom, this place has numerous architectures that are worth to visit during your visit to Sivasagar. Few of these monuments are the Rang Ghar, the Talatal Ghar, the Siva Doul temple, the Kareng Ghar, the Joysagar Lake, the Charaideo Maidams and many other temples across the area. We will restrict our visit to the Rang Ghar, Talatal Ghar, Siva Doul temple, Joysagar lake, Kareng Ghar and the Tai Ahom museum to understand about the life of the Tai Ahom people of Sivasagar before we drive to Jorhat for night halt. We reach Sivasagar and we visit the Siva Doul temple that is one of the most visited temple shrines in Upper Assam dedicated to Lord Shiva and the unique construction of this temple is a treat to the eyes. The temples built by the Ahom kings follow a unique Ahom architecture and it can be seen that most of the temples built during the Ahom era follow a similar construction be it the Kamakhya temple, the Umananda temple in Guwahati, the Sukreshwar temple, the Dirgheshwari temple or be it the Siva Doul temple.
The Ahom Kings were patrons of the Shakti cult that believed in tantra and sacrifices to appease Gods and so they were God fearing and hence constructed many temples across Assam. We will admire the grandeur of the construction of the Siva Doul temple that has a Dome of pure gold on top and later we will visit the Joysagar Lake area in Sivasagar that is said to be the largest man dug out lake in India. This lake is located at the heart of Sivasagar town with various official buildings and homes surrounding the lake and the interesting thing about the Joysagar lake is that the water level always remains the same here be it in the monsoon or in the winters. That was the skill of the Ahom architects several hundred years ago and they had expertise that could achieve such a feat. We take a drive around the Joysagar Lake and later head to the Rang Ghar at Sivasagar. On the way to the Rang Ghar we will stop for lunch at an ethnic Tai Ahom restaurant and relinquish the savouries of the Kings of Assam here.
The meal will be served on traditional Bell metal ware of Assam and it will contain special aromatic rice, pork boiled, county chicken, ferns and herbs, mashed vegetables and much more and after the sumptuous lunch we will head to visit the Rang Ghar at Sivasagar. The Rang Ghar means the House of Entertainment and this was the Royal Pavilion where the Ahom Kings and Queens watched the display of various wrestling games, bull fights, cock fights and the performance of the Grand Bihu dance performance of Assam that was introduced during the time of the Ahom Kingdom. The beautiful orange construction of the Rang Ghar is built with flat red bricks and a mortar of duck eggs and sticky rice. We admire the grand construction of the Rang Ghar – Asia’s Oldest Amphitheatre and later head to visit the Tai Ahom museum at Sivasagar that displays the various old relics from the times of the Ahom Kingdom of Assam. Various robes of the Ahom Kings, swords of the Ahom Generals, Chess boards made of ivory, chairs made of ivory, walking sticks made of ivory are on display here at the museum and we admire these ancient relics of one of the most powerful ruling dynasties of India and later we travel to the Talatal Ghar at Sivasagar that is known to be a most astounding architectures of the Ahom Kingdom.
The grand Talatal Ghar is the fort area where the Ahom army resided and it had a unique construction of the same flat red bricks that were held together with the mortar of duck eggs and sticky rice and the bond was so strong that the building had put strong resistance against two powerful and devastating earthquakes of Assam in 1897 and 1950. The construction of the Talatal Ghar had two stories above the ground and a network of mazes and underground tunnels that were built in a way to confuse the enemy in case they entered the underground maze here at the Talatal Ghar and in case any person is not familiar with the pathway inside the maze they were bound to get lost inside. The exit point of this maze was towards two separate river banks and the Kareng Ghar as well that was the actual palace of the King and Queen of the Ahom kingdom at Sivasagar and so just in case there was an enemy attack the soldiers of the Ahom army could find their way across this maze and either for the rescue of the King and Queen at the Kareng Ghar or reach the river banks to plan a counter attack on the enemy. This was the level of architecture that the Ahom’s presented around 500 years ago and we get to be a part of history to observe their unique construction of the Talatal Ghar.
We will explore the top floor of this unique monument and admire the grand construction. The lower floor below the ground has been sealed by the local administration so we can only observe the entrance door to the underground floor. We wind up our visit at the Talatal Ghar by admiring the ancient canon of the Ahom dynasty that are put on display at the entrance and these are huge sized cannons to admire because of their construction finesse. Next up we travel to the Kareng Ghar at Sivasagar that was the palace of the King and Queen of the Ahom Kingdom and it is a unique grand building to view. It is about a twenty minutes’ drive from the main town area towards the Kareng Ghar at Sivasagar and Sivasagar today is another important toil town of Assam with the flagship organization of the country ONGC having their drilling operations at Nazira area near Sivasagar. So it can be seen that even after the reign of the Ahom kingdom ended and Sivasagar no longer served as the capital of Assam it still continues to be a centre of trade importance to Assam because as we know that petroleum is one of the prime sources of revenue for Assam and thereby Sivasagar did not lose its significance in the map of Assam.
Along our drive we will observe the various other constructions of the Ahom regime including big gates, smaller temples and dome structures all around. We reach the Kareng Ghar area near Sivasagar and head to explore the wonderful palace construction that was restored after the palace suffered damage during the earthquakes of Assam and also due to drilling activities around because of the crude oil extraction. After exploring the Kareng Ghar we start on our drive to Jorhat from Sivasagar and we will make two final stops before reaching Jorhat where we will visit the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghor – home to the oldest burning oil lamp in the World and the Lachit Borphukan Maidam – the ancestral home cum museum of the brave Ahom General Vir Lachit Borphukan who was a man who single handedly commanded the Ahom army to victory over the mighty Mughal forces and the Mughals could never capture Assam and put the area under their map.
We will reach the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghor by late afternoon and a short right diversion drive from the road will take us here and this is a Namghar that has the oldest burning oil lamp in the World that has been burning here continuously since the disciple of Srimanta Shankardeva (the holy saint reformer and guru of Assam), Sri Sri Madhavadeva lit it here in the 15th century. Namghars are basically prayer halls that a mostly a part of the various Satras of Assam but the Namghar is limited only to prayers and is not a complete Neo Vaishnavite Monastery where monks stay and spend their time in prayer dedicated to the praise of Lord. These Satras and Namghars were popularized by the Holy Saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva who preached that all human beings are alike and they should not be discriminated on the basis of caste, creed and religion. The Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar was setup by the disciple of Shankardeva Sri Madhavadeva when he had visit the area and took shelter at the home of an elderly couple who had nothing much to offer him to eat and they simply offered him to eat rice along with Dhekia Bhaja and the Saint loved the meal so much that he decided to setup a Namghar in the name of the elderly couple and the next day he gathered the villagers and lit a lamp at the place and asked them to never allow the lamp to burn out and the villagers obliged him and the practice of refuelling the oil lamp continuously continued over the years and today this place is home to the oldest burning oil lamp in the World as recorded by the Limca Book of records.
The walls of the Namghar are elaborately painted with the life of Lord Krishna demonstrated and we admire the area of this Namghar and also get to witness the oldest burning oil lamp in the World at the main prayer hall of the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghor. We too offer our prayers and later proceed to visit the last place of the day at the Lachit Borphukan Maidam just before our entrance to Jorhat town. Lachit Borphukan was one of the bravest and most fierce generals of the Ahom army and though he had a short stature he was known to be very aggressive and he carried a sword that could be lifted only by him. His bravery in putting up a resistance against the Mughal army is well recorded in the books of history and the war tactics adopted by him did not allow the huge army of the Mughals to capture Assam under the Ahoms who had a much smaller army compared to the Mughals.
His bravery has been recognized by the Indian government as well and the top cadre from the NDA (National Defence Academy) in Pune is awarded with the Lachit Borphukan medal today. We get to be a part of the Ahom history of Assam as we visit the ancestral home of this brave warrior at Jorhat in Upper Assam. Various relics from the life of the brave warrior is present at the ancestral home and we walk across the place admiring the place and learning about the life of this brave Ahom general. With this we wind up our visit of the day and travel to our Hotel in Jorhat. It was a long say today and we will retire to the Hotel and prepare for our next day’s plan of visiting the largest river island in the World at Majuli. Majuli is home to the Mishing people of Assam and here we will get to witness their life and way of living tomorrow.
Night Halt: MDs Continental at Jorhat
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 6: Jorhat – Majuli Island
Today we set out to explore and witness the World’s largest river island and the hub of the Neo Vaishnavite cult of Assam at Majuli along with our day with the legendary Mishing tribes of Assam. We start after breakfast and proceed to the Neemati Ghat area near Jorhat from where we will board our ferry to travel to Majuli Island. The ferry services start at 7 AM in the morning and there are boats at regular intervals of 30 minutes (both Govt. and Private operated) and these boats ferry passengers, motorbikes, goods, cars and even trucks on the river Brahmaputra to Kamalabari Ghat from Neemati and vice versa. We will await our turn for the ferry and admire the pristine waters of the only male river in India – the mighty Brahmaputra. We board our ferry along with the vehicle and our hour long boat ride starts to the Kamalabari Ghat in Majuli from the Neemati Ghat. The beautiful sky horizon looks absolutely magical and we can observe the various local fishermen setting out on the waters of the Brahmaputra on their country boats and going for their catch and in case we get lucky we might get to sight the river Dolphin species again in the waters of the Brahmaputra River as well.
We reach the Kamalabari Ghat and from here we drive to the Kamalabari Township are where we will begin our visit to the Majuli Island by at first exploring the Sri Sri Samaguri Satra at Majuli Island. The Samaguri Satra in Majuli renowned as the place where the traditional mask making art is practiced with hand and these masks have found a place in the World stage and people from across the World come to Majuli to witness the dying art form in front of their eyes. To begin, a Satra is a Neo Vaishnavite institution founded and promoted by the Holy Saint reformer of Assam Srimanta Shankardeva and his disciple Sri Madhavadeva. We have already explored the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghor at Jorhat and at Majuli we will explore the Satras of Assam. These Satras are Neo Vaishnavite Monasteries that preach and promote the idea of Eksarna meaning that all human beings are equal and not to be discriminated on the basis of caste, creed and religion. These Satras are a centre of learning and have contributed immensely to the art, literature and cultural fields of Assam. Young boys enter these Satras at a young age and they learn various scriptures along with art form and spend their life in the praise of God.
There are Satras that do not allow the monks to lead a married life while some of them do. The Samaguri Satra allows its ‘Bhakats’ to lead a married life and under the patronization of its Satradhikar Dr. Hemchandra Goswami, this Satra has become a favourite tourist destination in Majuli because of its traditional art of mask making with hands. We reach the Samaguri Satra in Majuli Island and we will head to the Satra premises where we will witness the local artisans deeply engaged in the making of these traditional masks. These masks were introduced by Srimanta Shankardeva when he used these masks to enact plays called as Bhaonas to teach about the characters of the various epics in the Hindu mythology to his followers. The Saint reformer realized that people could connect well with these mythological characters of these plats when they could see the person resemble the characters and so he came up with the concept of adorning the members of the ‘Bhaonas’ with these masks and traditional attires to make the enactment of the Bhaona more lifelike. Today the masks of the Samaguri Satra are used in the enactment of the Bhaonas that are conducted at certain auspicious occasion at the main Satras of Majuli and also people buy these masks just as a memoir of their visit to Majuli island and display them as a showpiece in their living rooms as well.
These masks look very life like mostly due to the perfection in creating them and here at the Samaguri Satra in Majuli we get to witness this art form. We can observe that the base of these traditional masks are made with bamboo and later the base is covered with a cloth and a special mud is smeared on the structure and it is left to dry in the sun. A special factor introduced by Dr. Goswami in these masks was to allow the jaw of these masks to move in tandem with the moving of the jaws of the person earing this masks during the dialogue delivery and this made the masks look life like and people begin to associate more closely with the characters being enacted in these ‘Bhaonas’. Once the masks are dried these are painted with organic colours that are derived from the bark, roots, leaves and fruits of certain plants and the final mask is ready with this. We will get the opportunity to meet the man behind the preservation of this art form and taking it to a global stage viz. the Satradhikar (Head) of the Samaguri Satra Dr. Hemchandra Goswami and learn about the art of mask making with the man himself.
Later we will go inside the display hall area of the Samaguri Satra where we get to view the various masks present and how this art has received recognition across the World. A short demonstration of an artist wearing the mask and demonstrating its various facets will also be witnessed and after looking at the masks and admiring their deep artistry and making a small donation to keep this art form alive we will travel to the Salmora village in Majuli Island where we will get to witness another dying art from to be found only here viz. art of traditional pottery making with hands and without the use of any pottery wheel. The village is a short drive away from the Samaguri Satra and we reach the Salmora village where we head to the home of a local person who will help us learn this pottery making art. This pottery art of Salmora village was earlier renowned across Assam and the demand for the pottery items was high but across the years with the availability of the steel and plastic containers the demand has gradually declines but still the patrons prefer to use these traditional pottery items in their daily use and the village makes a living out of making these pots with their hands.
The clay is a special one that is brought in from the ricer banks and it is dug out from deep inside the soil of the Brahmaputra river and this allows the clay to have a longer life when mixed with cow dung and made into earthen ware. They make a wide variety of pots and other earthen ware all with their bare hands and it will be demonstrated in front of our eyes. One unique thing about this pottery art of Salmora village in Majuli is that the wok is mostly done by the women folks which otherwise in a male dominated industry. The mal members generally work in the fields and practice other crafts like bamboo handicrafts and the female members make these pottery items. We admire this art form and later head to travel to the main town area of Majuli at Garamur.
At the main town area of Garamur we will have our lunch at an ethnic Mishing cuisine restaurant and this will be our first time in our tour trying the Mishing cuisine of Assam. The Mishing people also eat food that is prepared with lots of herbs from the jungle area, organic vegetables and meat and fish as well. Though eating of meat or fish is prevalent but they do not consume too much of the flesh but they ensure to add little meat to a vegetable preparation so that the flavours of the meat blend with the curry e.g. like when country chicken is prepared in various recipes like with black lentil (Mati Dali) and for this a small country chicken is chopped up into very small pieces and while the dal is cooked with lots of ginger, garlic and green chillies the meat pieces are sprinkled in the preparation while frying so that the flavours blend with the dal and this small chicken is going to feed around 15 members which is really surprising and interesting as well. The Mishing people of Majuli believe in eating food that are available naturally in the environment and not something that is grown to eat like broiler chicken and so when you have food at Majuli island you can be rest assured that you are relinquishing something that has been grown or raised naturally.
We will savour some more ethnic delight recipes when we will be visiting a Mishing village in the evening and learn to know more about the people here. After lunch we will check into our place of stay at Majuli and relax for a while enjoying fresh green atmosphere around us. We come out in the later afternoon and set out to visit the local Mishing village in Majuli where we rent a cycle and travel to the village area nearby our place of sty and here we get to witness the true rural life of the Mishing people of Majuli Island. We witness how they harvest their crops and carry the paddy grains to store them in the local storehouse. We watch them fishing in the nearby lake and rivers and how a rural life typically is. We also get to witness the various handicrafts and handloom products of the Mishing tribes of Majuli as well. We will visit the banks of the River Luit to witness an amazing view of the sunset at the World’s largest river island of Majuli. Post this we will visit another local village near the Garamur area and here we will be a part in preparing an evening dinner with the local Mishing family and understand to cook certain traditional cuisine and recipe of the people of Majuli.
Here we will observe that the entire meal is prepared from scratch be it the rice that is grown in the local fields that is later harvested and stored for use. The vegetables are plucked from the home garden nearby. The Mati Dali is from the local fields along with the mustard oil that is derived from the mustard seeds that can be seen flowering across Majuli lsland. The meat is fresh raised pork or chicken and in case there is a fish recipe it must be the fish caught from a natural pond nearby. Even the turmeric powder used in from the turmeric grown in their fields and perhaps the only thing that has been brought from the market is the salt due to unavailability of a sea near Assam. This is how the Mishing people in the villages cook and eat their food and no wonder you will find them to have a very lean built with a good body structure and glowing skin. Due to their diet they do not suffer from any major diseases and the prevalent way of the people passing away is due to old age. We will get together with this family and start our preparations for dinner.
There will be not too many varieties of food as they mostly prefer to cook a curry with vegetable, fish or meat together, a roasted chutney of wither fish or a vegetable like brinjal/potato, a roast pork stick recipe along with a salad of lime and green chillies and this is what makes the meal curry flavourful because you do not have to taste too many items and your attention is focussed on mostly the curry along with the roast pork and the chutney. The main force that drives the taste of the Mishing cuisine is the use of ginger, garlic, green chillies and lots of organic herbs in their food preparations that makes the food not only delicious but highly nutritious as well. It is a common practice to have rice beer or rice wine before the food and we too will be offered a traditional rice beer that is brewed by fermentation of rice after mixing it with various herbs and this rice beer is called as the ‘Apong’ and it is served in bell metal saucers. You can opt not to drink it as well as it is not compulsory but among certain tribes especially in Arunachal Pradesh in case a family offers you the traditional alcoholic beverage and you refuse it they consider it to be sign of disrespect and you will up to an extent be asked to leave their house or even their village. The rice beer can be had with the meal as well and this helps to ease down the food though your throat and as the food is often quite spicy the beer soothes the effect of the green chillies or even the Bhut Jolokia, We will wind up our dinner and thank the family to return back to our place of halt and retire for the night.
Night Halt: Homestay at Majuli Island
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 7: Majuli Island – Jorhat – Kaziranga National Park
Early morning we take our cycles and travel around the island admiring the green paddy fields and mustard gardens and we will get to see the early morning activities of the Mishing people of Majuli. These people follow an early to bed and early to ride policy and they go out to the agricultural fields as early as 4.30 AM in the morning where they toil for the first half of the day and return back by early afternoon when they allow the cattle to graze a in the nearby fields and perform the other household chores along with the clearing of rice husk and storing the rice in the barn called as ‘Bhorals’. The other village folks who practice occupations like fishing, handicrafts and handloom can all be seen engaged in their day to day activities from early morning as well.
We visit a local village and experience traditional weaving here and later we come back to our place of stay for breakfast. One interesting thing about the Mishing people is that for breakfast they have a complete of rice as well and they head out to work. They will prepare a fresh batch of rice and boil a potato or tomato along with it and make a chutney of the vegetable to be had with left over curry from the evening or some even prepare a boiled fish recipe with the catch that is brought in by the fishermen who come as early as 5 AM in the morning travelling across the homes in the village selling the catch. For people who go out early to the fields they head out with a special rice called as ‘Kumal Saul’ and along with that they carry some sprouts and a special dry fish chutney called as ‘Namsing’ and once it is time to eat they just add water to the rice and leave it for about thirty minutes and the ‘Kumal Saul’ gets soft on its own without requiring to be boiled and this is had with the sprouts, Apong and the chutney or some roast a fish or meat that they carry with them.
We will have a normal everyday breakfast of bread, butter, roti sabji, eggs and after our breakfast we will pack up and start on our journey from Majuli to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park after we explore two more very important Satras of Majuli at Uttar Kamalabari and the Auniati Satra. The Uttar Kamalabari Satra is a short drive away from the Garamur main town area and we reach the premises of this Satra. This Satra is renowned for the practice of the heritage Sattriya Nritya classical dance performance of Assam that happens to be one among the eight classical dance forms of India. The Sattriya Nritya was popularized by the holy Saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva across the various Satras because this was used a medium to impart religious discourses to the disciples. Along with the Bhaona performance, the Sattriya Nritya was used as a powerful performance of art to depict the life of Lord Krishna in an art form. When the Sattriya dance form was introduced it was performed only by the male members of the Satra but towards the 20th century it was started to be performed by both men and women and the Sattriya Nritya dance performance found its place in the global stage and later it was recognized as one of the eight classical dance forms of India as well.
Today the artists from the Uttar Kamalabari Satra travel to countries as far as Germany in Europe and Canada in North America to perform the Sattriya Nritya on a World stage. The young boys enter the Satra at a very young age and they learn about the various arts and literatures and they practice the Sattriya Nritya dance performance. We will explore the Uttar Kamalabari Satra and engage with a monk here who will let us understand the various facets of the Neo Vaishnavism culture practiced here. Later we will travel to the Sri Sri Auniati Satra in Majuli Island. The Auniati Satra is one of the most prominent Satras of Majuli and it has branches across Assam to allow its patrons to engage closely with the activities of the Satra without having to travel to Majuli all the time. This Satra hosts the various important festivals of Majuli Island related to the Neo Vaishnavism cult and these festivals are the Raas Leela, Paalnaam, Falgutsav, Janmastmi, etc. All celebrated in the name of Lord Krishna and the various facets of the life of the God.
We will admire the construction of the Auniati Satra and visit the main Namghar area that is a huge room with area for the prayers and an inside Monikut where the prayers are offered. Later we will visit the museum at the premises of the Auniati Satra that has on display various artefacts from the time of the introduction of Neo Vaishnavism culture in Majuli Island along with relics from the times of the Ahom Kingdom including the sword of the brave Ahom general Lachit Borphukan. With this we will wind up our visit at the Majuli Island and travel to the Neemati Ghat where we will board our ferry to cross the Brahmaputra to reach Neemati Ghat. This time the ferry ride will be longer as well will ride against the current of the waters of the Brahmaputra and we will need almost an hour and forty five minutes to cross over to the other side. At the Neemati Ghat we start on our drive to Kaziranga National Park and we will stop at Jorhat to have our lunch. Jorhat is another bustling town of Assam and is known to be the knowledge city of Assam and the prominent doctors of Assam hail from Jorhat.
After lunch we will leave Jorhat to reach the Swargadeo Sukapha Samanway Kshetra near the Kaziranga University and this is a huge memorial cum museum cum park dedicated to the founder of the Ahom dynasty Swargadeo Sukapha. Sukapha is credited with the founding of the Ahom Kingdom in the 12th century when he had migrated from the Shan Kingdom and he went on to establish one of the most powerful ruling dynasties of India – the Ahom kingdom who put up a brave resistance against the Mughals. The various details about his life and the Ahom kingdom can be witnessed here and we spend some time here and later continue on our drive to Kaziranga National Park. We will reach Kaziranga National Park by late afternoon and at Kaziranga we will check into our place of stay. There will be no time left to explore on our safari rides today and so we will call it a day and spend our evening at leisure. Our Elephant Safari ride will be scheduled early next morning and so we will retire after an early dinner.
Night Halt: Bon Habi Resort at Kaziranga or Similar
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 8: Kaziranga National Park – Guwahati
Today is our day of Jungle safari at the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park and we will witness two safari rides of both the Elephant and jeep safari rides at Kaziranga National Park along with the Kaziranga Orchid Park before we head to Guwahati by afternoon to reach by early evening. We get up by 5 Am and get ready to travel to the Western Range of Kaziranga National Park at Bagori by 5.30 AM to reach by 6 AM and collect our passes from the counter at the Elephant Safari office for our 6.30 AM Elephant Safari ride. The Elephant safari ride at Kaziranga National Park are conducted at two safari ranges of the park viz. at the Central Range of Kohora for Foreign Nationals and at the Western Safari range of Bagori for Indian nationals and there are two slots for the elephant ride in the morning one at 5 AM and the other at 6.30 AM each lasting for about an hour and we get to witness the flagship species of Kaziranga National Park viz. the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros from up close on our elephant back rides. These elephants are very obedient to their Mahouts as they are well taken care of and trained and they take you eagerly on their back for a ride across the forest reserves of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park and show you the varied flora and fauna of the place.
We take our elephant back ride and later come out of the interiors of the Kaziranga National Park and we travel back to our resort to have our breakfast. You do not need to take a bath just about now as you will be going on a jeep safari ride later again into the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park and hence it is not advisable as we will encounter a lot of dust as the roads inside the Kaziranga National Park are not pitched and so the tracks are on soil and so it would be better to freshen up after our jeep ride at Kohora area of Kaziranga National Park. The jeep will pick us up at the resort and we will go deeper inside the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park on our jeep ride and cover more area meaning we get to sight more animals and bird species inside Kaziranga National Park. We enter the central safari zone of Kaziranga National Park and the jeep ride commences and upon entering we will have the opportunity to sight the various rhino species along with the Asiatic water buffaloes, Indian Elephants, Hog Deers, Wild boars, Jungle fowls, Assamese macaques, Capped Langurs and if our luck favours then perhaps the Royal Bengal tigers as well. We travel deeper into the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park at Kohora range and sight many bird species of Kaziranga National Park here.
We complete our hour and half long jeep safari ride in the forest reserves of the central safari range of Kaziranga National Park and we come back to our resort to freshen up and later after a cup of tea we will pack up and board our vehicle to drive to the Kaziranga Orchid Park. The largest orchid park in India, the Kaziranga Orchid Park boasts of having on display various indigenous orchid species sourced from across the forests of Assam and North East India. The vast floral diversity of the North Eastern region is home to various orchid species around 1200 of the total 1800 species to be found across India and the two orchid parks cum gardens viz. at Kaziranga Orchid Park and the Tippi Orchard near Bhalukpong in Arunachal Pradesh aims to preserve and promote these species and display it to the public as well. The Kaziranga Orchid Park is not just an orchid garden but also a cactus garden and a bamboo garden and spreads across a sprawling area. This is the largest orchid park in India drawing visitors from far and neat to Kaziranga National Park to witness this beautiful place. We will take about an hour’s time to explore the place before we have our lunch at the ethnic restaurant of the Kaziranga Orchid Park – that serves one of the best and most gigantic Assamese Thali in the region and later we will start on our drive to Guwahati.
We will start by exploring the green house area at the Kaziranga Orchid Park that displays the various orchid species along with their local and scientific names. The place is very aesthetically designed and not very congested and the various orchid species can be easily viewed. A local guide accompanies us here and she describes to us about the various orchid species and their habitat. We will take a tour of the green house at the Kaziranga Orchid Park and later explore the section of handicrafts and handloom here at the Kaziranga Orchid Park. This section depicts the various artworks that are crafted from bamboo and cane by the artisans of Assam and you will be surprised as to what all items that can be made from the humble grass of bamboo. There are things from furniture made of bamboo and cane, musical instruments, fish traps, wall decorations and hangings, stools, kitchen ware, etc. all made with bamboo and cane out on display here at the Kaziranga Orchid Park. There are also the traditional looms of Assam here and these looms are used by the local women folks to weave our exquisite handlooms.
The local ladies demonstrate the art of weaving on these looms and we can see how they spin their threads and weave out a fine piece of ‘Chador’ from the looms. Later we will visit the orchid photo gallery to witness various captures of the orchid species in the wild. There is a rice museum here as well and this place displays the various indigenous rice varieties grown across Assam and North East India. The people of this region prefer rice as their diet and they consume it for three meals a day and the soil condition of this region allow the growth of various rice varieties alike the day to day rice of Aijong, the sticky ‘Bora Saul’, the brown Mishing rice, the sticky Karbi rice and even the rice that cooks without boiling called as the ‘Kumal Saul’. We admire the rice grains that are hung up on the walls as display and later we visit the cactus garden and finally assemble at the open stage area to witness the performance of the traditional folk dances of Assam here at the Kaziranga Orchid Park. There are generally two dance performances every day at regular intervals for the guests at the Kaziranga Orchid Park and these are the traditional Bihu dance of Assam and another traditional bamboo dance.
We take our seats and the young boys and girls all dressed in their traditional attires take their places on stage and perform both these unique dance forms starting with the bamboo dance and later the Bihu dance performance. The audience is also invited on stage to try out their moves to the Bihu dance of Assam. With this we will wrap our visit at the Kaziranga Orchid Park and also Kaziranga National Park and proceed to the ethnic restaurant for an early lunch where will be served a gigantic Assamese thali. The entire meal is served on a large bell metal plate with small bell metal bowls containing the various offerings to be had with the rice. There will be three different types of dal viz. the Mati dal, the mogu dal and the Masoor dal along with vegetables fry offerings of herbs and other seasonal vegetables as well. There will be mashed potatoes, mashed brinjals, salad, chutneys and a sweet dish and we can also order a non-veg thali as well that will have an offering of country chicken or fish. We will savour this unique thali at the restaurant of the Kaziranga Orchid Park and after lunch we will start on our drive to Guwahati.
We will cross the Western range of Kaziranga National Park at Bagori and continue to the Burapahar range finally bidding farewell to Kaziranga National Park and to reach at Jakhlabandha from where we drive towards the Nagaon Bypass crossing Koliabor and Amoni and here we will hit the four way lane and continue on our drive towards Jagiroad crossing Raha. At Jagiroad we will take a tea break at the Ni4 restaurant and after tea we finally drive to Guwahati crossing Sonapur and Jorabat and the bustling city of Guwahati welcomes us. We will drive to the Garchuk area and here we will check into our place of stay at the Hotel Bhargav Grand. It has been a long day and so we will spend our time at the Hotel itself and go for an ethnic dinner at the Hotel’s restaurant in the evening, Tomorrow we will visit the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati followed by the Garbhanga area where we will interact with the Karbi people of Assam who basically inhabit the area of Karbi Anglong but a good settlement of these people is present in the Garbhanga and Lokhra area of Guwahati as well.
Night Halt: Hotel Bhargav Grand
Meals Included: Breakfast.
Day 9: Guwahati
Today morning we will depart to the Kamakhya temple after an early breakfast situated atop the Nilachal hills near the Maligaon area of Guwahati. The Kamakhya temple is one among the 51 Shakti Peethas in India and the most revered temple shrine in North East India dedicated to Goddess Kamakhya. Goddess Kamakhya is also referred to as the bleeding Goddess because it is said that the womb of the mutilated body of Goddess Sati fell atop the Nilachal hills when Lord Shiva was carrying here body in hands and performing the Tandav Nritya out of rage (more details about this at the tab on Kamakhya temple at our website) and so every year in the month of Asad (June) it is believed that the Goddess menstruates and the waters of the Brahmaputra turns red. These three days of occasion is called as the Ambubachi Mela and is referred to as the Eastern Mahakumbh when devotees and holy Sadhus from across the country come to visit the Maa Kamakhya temple and take part in this festival that marks the spirit of womanhood and the ability of a woman to give birth to a child. The Kamakhya temple was earlier revered as a shrine when practices of black magic were carried out due to its cult of Shakti and tantra.
As a very revered temple shrine there are certain guidelines to be followed when it comes to clothing while visiting the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati and it is advisable to wear clothing that covers your body however t is not compulsory though. We reach the parking spot of the Kamakhya temple shrine and we will be welcomed by a temple priest (Panda) who will be guiding us on our Darshan here at the Kamakhya temple and we will ascend the stairway that will take us to the top where the actual temple shrine is located. We need to remove our shoes/slippers and keep it at a counter before we start our Kamakhya temple Darshan and at first we will visit the temple pond area where we need to clean our hands and feet. A statue of Lord Ganesha is present near this pond area and we must seek the blessings of Lord Ganesha because as per Hindu customs before we are about to do something auspicious we must seek the blessings of the Elephant God – Ganesha and what could be more auspicious that going in to seek the blessings of Goddess Kamakhya. We will be on a VIP entrance ticket and this will allow us to bypass the queue of devotees who stand in line to await their entry to the main temple shrine inside as they believe this is a way to penance before they can seek the blessings of the Goddess.
We will admire the grand construction of the Kamakhya temple that was patronized by the various ruling dynasties of Assam but mostly by the Ahoms who had restored the temple to the structure that can be seen today after it came under an invasion. Later we will reach the doors of the inner temple dome where both the queues merge and hence it will take a little while to enter the inner sanctum of the temple from here. Inside there are numerous carvings on the walls of the temple shrine and is sometime we visit the inner sanctum of the temple where there is a shrine of stone that is fed continuously with waters by an underground stream and this water is consider holy and to touch it is a blessing. Devotees revere the shrine to an extent that they even drink the water and sprinkle it on their head and a special red cloth os distributed to the devotees here that is said to be a cloth that is dyed with the blood of the Goddess and with this our Darshan at the Kamakhya temple ends and we come out of the main shrine and take a walk across the temple campus admiring the grand architecture of this renowned temple shrine.
As mentioned earlier, the Kamakhya temple shrine was patronized by the Ahom Kings of Assam who believed in the principles of Shakti and Tantra and hence they became devout followers of Goddess Kamakhya. The practice of tantra and black magic was prevalent at this temple shrine in the olden days and various rituals including human and animal sacrifices were done here as it was believed that a sorcerer could attain certain supernatural power by offering these rituals of sacrifice to appease the Goddess or even the devotees who believed that they could get rid of their problems in their life if they could appease the Goddess by offering the sacrifice of certain animals. The practice of human sacrifice has been abolished at the Kamakhya temple long back but animal sacrifice continues to be a practice to be followed and behind the temple shrine is a place where the animal especially goats are brought in the be slaughtered and offered as a token to appease the Goddess. We will avoid to see this place and confine our exploration at the front of the temple where the remarkable stone carvings and architecture on the walls of the Kamakhya temple are a treat to the eyes and with this we will have our Prasad and leave the temple premises to head to the Lokhra area in Guwahati where we will interact with the Karbi people of Assam.
The Karbi people are often referred to as the oldest indigenous people of Assam along with the Bodo people (whom we will visit on our trip to Manas National Park the day after tomorrow) and they are mostly dwelling in the Karbi Anglong hills and district of Assam. There were spread out across the State of Assam earlier but during the time of the invasion of the Burmese they took refuge in the hills and forests of Assam and one such place was the Garbhanga Reserve area near Guwahati where deep inside the forests you can find small villages inhabited by these people. Eventually they started to settle down at the plains but confined themselves away from the busy city and they practiced agriculture an animal husbandry on the outskirts of the city limits. At Guwahati they can be found to be living in the hilly areas of the city and gradually as the city expanded these people started to mingle with the people of the modern world and they have since long adopted the modern business practices and jobs as well. At Lokhra we will visit a local Karbi home and here we will understand the life of the people here and their various ethnic practices and savour their local food a s well.
Just like the other tribes of Assam, the Karbi people too believe in eating what is provided by the nature around them and they consume a lot of herbs and organically grown vegetables from their gardens. They raise their own livestock of country chicken and ducks and also rear pigs for their meat. At the local home that we will be invited here there will be a feast as well as these feasts are a way of celebrating and calling over the friends and relatives and an animal will be slaughtered for its meat and they have a unique way of cooking food during these festivals where they prepare the food in hollowed out bamboo tubes. They have a unique rice variety that is in the form of a sticky rice and this rice is best consumed with a unique preparation of the pork intestines cooked with a lot of herbs, garlic, ginger and green chillies. The entire pig is chopped up and each and every part of the meat is consumed and nothing is sent to water apart from the bones of the pig. We will get to witness certain preparations of their food and enjoy a sumptuous lunch with the local Karbi people of Assam. Late afternoon we will travel to the interiors of the Garbhanga Reserve forest where there are local villages and we will get to experience a true rural life of the people here and how they live in tandem with nature and grow their own crops and vegetables and lead a self-sufficient life in these forest villages. With this we call it a day and head back to our hotel and in the evening we will be at leisure.
Night Halt: Hotel Bhargav Grand
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 10: Guwahati – Chandubi
Today will be our day to explore the life and culture of the Rabha people of Assam where we get to explore the pristine Chandubi lake and the local villages around the lake. We started after breakfast on our drive to Chandubi and the drive will take us across the beautiful Deepor Beel lake area near Guwahati crossing the Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary and the Rani Reserve Forest area towards the Pamohi area where we take a left diversion to continue on our drive crossing the beautiful countryside of Assam at Rani. The lush green paddy fields of Assam welcomes us and we drive along the Assam and Meghalaya border towards the West Khasi Hills district until a point where we need to take a right diversion and we drive towards Chandubi. The entire hour and half long drive is very scenic and picturesque filled with lush greenery and the bounties of Mother nature all around. We now reach the local Rabha villages of Assam here and a beautiful tea garden area welcomes us here as well. These Rabha people of Assam inhabit the Boko and Kamrup district area of Assam and they also occupy parts of Meghalaya as well because of the proximity of the border of Assam and Meghalaya and they live in harmony with the Garo people of Meghalaya. In fact here at the Chandubi area you can find a good population of the Garo people as well.
We keep driving and slowly approach the forest reserves of Chandubi welcomes us and we soon arrive at the pristine Chandubi lake area. This lake was created after the great earthquake of 1897 and is a natural lagoon located at the base of the Garo hills of Meghalaya bordering Assam. Chandubi Lake has a diverse aquatic life and during the winter season this place becomes a haven for bird watching as migratory birds from across the World come to Assam and they make the place their home and with abundance of food available for them they settle around the Chandubi lake during the winters and provide naturalists, ornithologists and bird lovers flock to the Chandubi area to identify the species. Just behind the lake is a dense Chandubi Reserve forest area that is home to a varied flora and fauna and animals of the likes of Wild Elephants, Royal Bengal tigers, Leopards, Hoolock Gibbons, Slow Loris, Hog deer, Sāmbhar deer, etc. are found the forest reserves here. The Chandubi area is also home to various reptiles including the Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons and the King cobra as well.
We will get down from our vehicles here at the Chandubi lake and board a country boat (equipped with life jackets) and our luggage will accompany us on a separate boat and we cross the Chandubi Lake to reach the Chandubi Jungle Camp. Owned and operated by a colleague who has worked in the tourism sector of Assam since many years, Kaushik Das will welcomes us at the Chandubi Jungle Camp and we will check into our rooms at the place and we are offered a cup of fresh tea before we start our visit of the day. There are various local Rabha villages around the Chandubi Jungle Camp and we will freshen up and go to experience these local villages that will detail us about the life, traditions, culture and the artwork of the Rabha people of Assam. These Rabha people weave and wear their own cloth and they have traditional looms at their homes at the courtyard and we can see them weaving out on these looms. We explore the villages and learn about the life of the Rabha people of Assam understanding how they grow their crops and sustain themselves by selling these crops to vendors who taken them to the city markets. Many of the villagers grow fruits, betel nuts, vegetables and they send them to the city limits where these are sold for good profits the local people are able to sustain themselves.
Tourism is also gaining popularity here at Chandubi and the locals have found opportunity as guides, boatmen, cooks and caretakers at the various guest houses and eco camps that are now setup near the Chandubi Lake. Picnic season sees a lot of rush to the Chandubi lake area and this gives locals an opportunity to earn a decent livelihood. We return back to the Chandubi Jungle Camp where we will have a sumptuous lunch and Rabha cuisine that is prepared over wood fire in their traditional Rabha kitchen at the camp. Evening we will get together with the locals of the camp and cook a meal with the organic vegetables, herbs and choice of meat/fish. After lunch we explore the area around the Chandubi Jungle Camp and later we will go on a boat ride across the Chandubi Lake admiring the beautiful waters of this pristine lagoon and spend time bird watching by the Chandubi lake. The reserve forest has numerous Hoolock Gibbons and their cry can be heard aloud along our boat ride. At the evening the roar of the wild elephants could be heard from the camp as well. We wind up our boat ride on the Chandubi lake and return back to the camp where we will have our evening tea and sit down to enjoy a performance of the Rabha tribes cultural performance session here.
The Rabha people are primarily farmers and to mark the occasion of harvest they celebrate with song and dance and the young boys and girls dressed in their traditional attires sing and dance to the local tunes. At the performance hosted for us at the Camp we will witness the young Rabha boys and girls perform a dance from the works of their daily life and how they go about their activities and this will be narrated to us in the form of a dance and musical story form. We admire the dance performance and also learn a few moves from them and participate along with them in the performance as well. After the performance we will gather at the local kitchen at the Chandubi Jungle Camp and get together with the co-owner and his wife (Diganta Rabha’s family) and start our preparations for dinner. We will get to witness the various organic vegetables that will be used in the preparation of the dinner and we will work with them and prepare an elaborate dinner for us savour by the banks of the Chandubi Lake. The Rabha people brew their own alcoholic beverage called as Rohi and we will savour this rice wine along with a starter of fish fry with the fish caught from the Chandubi Lake itself and savour a traditional Rabha cuisine here at Chandubi. After dinner we spend our time in calm by the banks of the Lake and retire to our rooms.
Night Halt: Chandubi Jungle Camp
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 11: Chandubi – Manas National Park
Today morning after breakfast we cross the Chandubi Lake to board our vehicles to travel to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Manas National Park where we will get the opportunity to interact with the oldest tribes inhabiting the area of Assam – the legendary Bodo tribes of Assam. We bid farewell to the Rabha people at the Chandubi Jungle Camp and board our vehicle to start on our drive to Barpeta road towards Manas National Park. This time we will take a different route and drive towards the Azara area and further hit the airport road towards Guwahati city. The drive to Manas National Park will take us around 5 hours and the roads are good so it will be a smooth drive and we soon reach the Azara area and we drive towards the Guwahati area and at Jalukbari we take a left diversion to drive towards lower Assam. We will cross the famed Saraighat Bridge over the river Brahmaputra and continue our drive towards the Changsari where we will take a break to have tea and refreshments. Later we continue on our drive towards Barpeta road crossing Rangia, Nalbari, Barpeta and we soon reach the Barpeta road area that is a bustling market town in lower Assam and here we break for lunch at a nice restaurant.
We will have a sumptuous lunch that will have the delicacies of lower Assam on a platter and it is mostly a meal with lots of vegetables, rice and a fish curry. After lunch we will travel to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Manas National Park that is a short 45 minute drive. The river Manas greets us and it is a picturesque drive across the pristine forest cover and once we are about to reach the Bansbari area of Manas National Park we will be welcomed by the beautiful tea gardens of Assam and the local Bodo women who wear a colourful skirt wrap called as the ‘Dokhona’ is a real treat to the eyes. At Manas we will check into the Bansbari Lodge here that is a decent property right at the entrance of Manas at the Bansbari range. We will take time to freshen up and in the late afternoon we will go out to explore the local Bodo villages around the place and we learn about the traditions, culture, practices and the artworks of the oldest tribes of Assam here at Manas. The Bodo people are the largest ethno-linguistic group in Assam and they are mostly concentrated in the Bodoland Autonomous region in Assam.
The Bodo people like the other tribes of Assam practice agriculture as their source of livelihood and they are adept weavers who weave out exquisite handicrafts and handlooms. The Bodo ‘Dokhona’ is a wrap that the women folks wear and this is made with bright colour cotton fabric that is all woven by hands. They believe that their entire food sources have been provided by the nature around them and they use the plant and vegetable to cook various delightful recipes. They also use the plants for medicinal purposes as well. We will get to witness their culture and traditions of the people during our stay here in Manas National Park. In the evening we will have a traditional dance performance of the Bodo boys and girls called as the ‘Bagurumba’ at our place of stay and the girls wearing the vibrant ‘Dokhonas’ are watching this dance performance is a real treat to the eyes. The dance performance is choreographed to the movements of a butterfly and the steps indicate how the butterfly moves around from flower to flower carrying the pollination. With the wonderful dance performance we savour our dinner at the Bansbari Lodge and prepare ourselves for eh day of jungle safari at Manas National Park the next morning.
Night Halt: Bansbari Lodge at Manas National Park
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 12: Manas National Park
Today is our safari day at Manas National Park and we will go for both safari rides inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Manas National Park where we will go for an elephant ride as well as a Jeep safari ride and later in the afternoon we will explore the local Bodo villages. Manas National Park is a prime story of successful conservation where the poachers have turned protectors after rehabilitation and they now take the task of protecting the place from unscrupulous people and preserve the flora and fauna of Manas National Park. Known to a be a haven for bird watching Manas National Park has some of the highly endangered bird species in the World along with the likes of Royal Bengal Tigers, Clouded Leopards, Indian One Horned Rhinoceros, Leopards, the highly endangered primate of the Golden Langur, etc. We will go for the elephant back ride in the early morning admiring the rich flora and fauna of Manas National Park and later come back for breakfast at our place of stay to continue on our half day long jeep ride inside the forest reserves of Manas National Park sighting the various flora, fauna and avifauna of Manas National Park. We venture deeper into the forest reserves of Manas National Park and explore more area trying our luck to spot more of the flagship species of Manas National Park. After our jeep ride is over we will return back to our Lodge to freshen up and we travel to a Bodo village to enjoy an ethnic Bodo cuisine lunch.
The Bodo people have various sorts of leafy vegetables, herbs in their diet and they use the traditional alkaline ingredient of ‘Khar’ to prepare their meals that is basically the burnt stem of a banana plant and it aids in digestion. They prepare Khar with papaya and fish, Khar with Mati Dali and pork and the unique food of crabs and snails. The Roselle leaves are an important ingredient during the summer season and they use to prepare pork, fish and even fry crabs with these leaves. We explore the village admiring the various arts and crafts of the Bodo people and later savour an ethnic lunch with them at their village. We return to our place of stay and our evening will be at leisure exploring the area around the lodge on our last day of stay here in Assam.
Night Halt: Bansbari Lodge at Manas National Park
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 13: Manas National Park – Guwahati
Today we depart from Manas after an early breakfast and drive to the Guwahati airport. We will start after an early breakfast from our lodge and travel to Guwahati where we will reach the Guwahati airport by early afternoon and we drop you at the airport for you flight to your onward destination thereby ending our Toru of the people of Assam across the various destinations in Assam. Tour Ends. Bid Adieu!
Night Halt: NA
Meals Included: Breakfast