When it comes to speaking of the various silk varieties of the World and the fabrics that are woven out of these silks then one name that definitely comes up is the Mekhela Chadors weaved out of the Muga silk variety of Assam. When it comes to the indigenous silks of Assam then there are three important varieties and these are the Muga Silk (the Golden Silk), the Eri Silk (the Warm Silk) and the Paat Silk (White Silk) and various handloom products are hand woven with these silk products and while the Muga and Paat are known to be used to weave the Mekhela Chadors, the Eri Silk is known to be used to weave out shawls that help keep a person warm in the winter season. With the advent of modern fashion various other fabrics are also now woven out using these silk varieties as well. When it comes to silk weaving these one very important place that comes to the mind of any person in Assam is that of Sualkuchi, a tinsel town that is located around 35km from the city of Guwahati along the northern bank of the Brahmaputra River and there are numerous cottage industries and units here in Sualkuchi that are constantly engaged in the weaving of the silk Mekhela Chadors and Sualkuchi is also referred to as the Manchester of the East and it is also the largest silk weaving village in the World as well.
A visit to Sualkuchi is a must for any person who is interested in textiles and would want to learn about the indigenous way of weaving of fabrics because at Sualkuchi the entire process of weaving of the Mekhela Chadors is done by hands on traditional looms that are made of wood and the artisans of Sualkuchi have been known to have been weaving since a very young age and are very skilled artisans and looking at them weave on the loom is a wonder to watch. Sualkuchi offers to the people of Assam and also the World weaving of the three varieties of silks viz. the Golden Muga, the White Paat and the light beige Eri or Endi silk. The Eri silk is also known as the Ahimsa silk as this doesn’t involve killing of the silkworm to extract the silk fibre from it and this silk variety is specially gaining importance in the Western World because of this characteristic and a special silk fabric called as the Ghisa silk that has the input of the Eri Silk to it is being recognized as well. Eri silk is also a silk that can be dyed with various natural colours and dyes and the town of Bijoynagar in Assam where a noted silk weaving artists by named Narmohan Das stays has taken the Eri weaving to a new level and he uses special natural dyes to this silk.
Apart from Sualkuchi, Bijoynagar and the various other places in Assam in the districts of Baksa (Bodo tribes) and Majuli (Mishing tribes) where silk weaving is an important occupation of the indigenous people another place that is known as a silk weaving village specializing mostly in the Eri or Endi silk is that of Umtngam in Meghalaya. The women of Umtngam village run a self-help group promoted by the a group of people in Shillong and they are expert in weaving of various handlooms out of the Eri silk that are mostly scarfs, stoles and wraps and they too use the organic colours to dye the silk as well.
The Muga silk worm feeds on the Sam and Soalu tree leaves while the Eri silk worms feed on castor tree leaves and the Paat silk worms feed on the mulberry tree leaves and this is what allows them to produce the special yarn that are later extracted from the cocoon and spun into the silk threads that are used for weaving. While the Muga silk worm needs to be boiled to obtain the silk, the Eri Silk cocoon is taken when the larvae leaves the cocoon and hence the silk worm is not killed to obtain the silk filled cocoon and hence it is termed as the Ahimsa silk. Muga silk is quite costly compared to the other silk varieties because of the cost needed to rear the silk worms and the time taken to weave a complete garment out of the silk. Muga silk is often called as the Golden silk and it has a very special characteristic that the lustre of this silk garment increases after every wash and when you are about to purchase the Muga silk Mekhela Chador do not be disappointed if the silk chador doesn’t have a bright shiny texture to it because it gets grand after gradual washing of the fabric. The popularity of Muga silk of Assam took the centre stage when the Ahom kings of Assam patronized this silk and since then on this silk of Assam started to become an integral part of the socio economic culture of Assam and the Ahom royals had transitioned from wearing of black co0louyrd clothes to garments weaved out of the Muga silk and thousands of weavers got to engage in the silk weaving business.
The fabric became a chief export of the Ahom kingdom and the Ahom queens were involved personally in the training of the Muga silk weavers and various expensive Muga silk attires were kept in tore to be gifted to royal dignitaries who visited the Ahom Kingdom. Muga silk is indigenous to Assam because the plants that are used to feed the silk worm to produce the authentic Muga silk fibre. The name Sualkuchi came to be associated with silk when the Ahoms patronized the Muga silk and the demand for the same started to increase drastically. However the credit to the establishment of Sualkuchi goes to the King of the Pala dynasty much before the arrival of the Ahoms in the 11th century when 26 weaver families were brought from Tantikuchi in Barpeta to Sualkuchi and this went to become the silk weaving village of Assam near Guwahati. Sualkuchi is well known for the weaving of the Muga and the Paat silk while the Eri silk weaving is better known of Bijoynagar and Umtngam in Meghalaya. Muga silk is the pride of Assam and the most prized possession an Assamese girl who wear the Mekhela Chador made of the Muga silk on the most special day of her life viz. the wedding day and only on certain special occasions across her lifetime.
The scientific name of the Muga silk worm is Aantheraea Asamenisis and they are raised on two special trees called as Som and Soalu as mentioned earlier. The caterpillars are carefully allowed to be placed on the tree and once these worms strips the foliage of the tree they make a mass exodus down the tree and they are collected by the growers and put on another tree for voracious feeding. The silk worms exit the tree once they are ready to spin their cocoons and this particular behaviour allows the people to control and collect the silk worm caterpillars and later each of these caterpillars are placed in containers built with dried twigs. The silk that anchors the cocoon is very fragile and therefore the caterpillars prefer a low hanging place with numerous twigs to protect them while in the cocoons. Once obtained the cocoons of the silk worm are boiled in a soap and soda solutions and are later reeled in a machine. To summarize there are four stages in the lifecycle of the Muga silk viz. egg, caterpillar, pupa and moth and man interferes in the cocoon stage to obtain the silk from these worms.
The Muga silk Mekhela chador that is a traditional dress of the Assamese women remains to be as one of the most prized fashion garment of the local women of Assam. What distinguishes the fabric is the golden colour and shine that is a very unique feature of the Muga silk Mekhela Chador and the shine is said to improve after each wash and this makes the produce to last a lifetime that also makes it one of the costliest silks in the World. Although the golden colour remains the top selling point of the Muga silk Mekhela Chadors certain added colours done while embroidery and zari works as well to make the silk Mekhela Chador more attractive and the traditional motifs that are done on the fabric are the Japi (traditional Assamese hat), Miri Gos Butta (mini tree) and Paro (pigeon). Although the main product weaved out of the Muga silk remains to be that of the Muga silk Mekhela Chador of Assam but these are various other fabrics that are woven like Reha, Shawls, dress materials and also hand bags as well that are made up of the Muga silk fabric. Globally also designers have adopted Muga fabric to weave dress materials and the Japanese designers use Muga silk to weave Kimonos and traditional Japanese dresses as well.
The Muga silk of Assam just like the Assam Tea is renowned Worldwide and a sight to view the local people rearing and weaving the Muga silk is a once in a lifetime opportunity that can be witnessed across various villages of Assam. Assam is known to be the gateway to North East India and is a very popular tourist state of the region renowned for the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park – home to the highest population of the endangered Indian One Horned Rhinoceros. Apart from the one horned Rhino, 41 listed endangered species of wildlife are found across the various protected forests, Wildlife Sanctuaries and the National Parks of Assam and these animals are of the likes of the Hoolock Gibbons, Golden Langurs, Pygmy Hogs, Hispid hare, Royal Bengal Tigers, Swamp Deers, Clouded Leopards, White Winged Wood Duck, Bengal Florican, Assam Roofed Turtle, etc. Assam can be described as an abundance of scenic grandeur and a wealth of rare and extinct wildlife as well. It can be also described as a state that is known for its breathtaking scenic beauty, rarest flora and fauna, lofty green hills, vast rolling plains, mighty waterways and a land of vast fairs and festivals. Apart from the wildlife tourism that is one of the prime revenue earners of the state, visitors to Assam can also explore the state for its tea tourism, silk production tourism, the various holy temples, including the mighty Kamakhya temple, the various indigenous tribes and their culture and traditions, the largest and the smallest river islands in the World, the royal heritage and the monuments of the ancient Ahom Kingdom of Sivasagar, the tea gardens of Upper Assam, the longest road and rail cum road bridges in India, the history of the Stilwell Road, India’s only coal museum and much more.
In case you are planning to visit Assam and undertake a tour of the state with a special interest in the silk weaving and silk rearing practices of the state of Assam then we would recommend the below itinerary for you where you will not only explore the various places where the silk is harvested and later weaved but also the other places of interest of the state that includes the famed wildlife destinations of the state as well. Assam is known for the weaving of all the four types of silk and sericulture has been practices across Assam since times immemorial especially the two varieties of the Muga Silk and the Eri Silk. Muga silk weaving is endemic to Assam only and the state is the largest producer of the Golden silk variety. Muga silk as well as the Eri silk culture can be found in the districts of Kamrup, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Dhemaji, Majuli, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Golaghat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, etc. while the mulberry silk is limited to Jorhat, Golaghat, Sivasagar and Darrang and the oak Tasar is confined to limited areas like North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong hills.
In this itinerary focused on exploring the silk rearing and silk weaving of Assam we will start with Upper Assam where we will visit the various silk weaving centers and places like Majuli, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, etc. and continue on our journey across Assam via the famed Kaziranga National Park to end our journey at Sualkuchi where we will explore the Manchester of the East and finally visit the Kamakhya temple and later continue to your onward destination.
Day 1: Jorhat – Sivasagar
Day 2: Sivasagar – Charaideo – Sivasagar
Day 3: Sivasagar – Majuli Island
Day 4: Majuli Island
Day 5: Majuli Island – Dhakuakhana – Majuli
Day 6: Majuli – Kaziranga National Park
Day 7: Kaziranga National Park
Day 8: Kaziranga National Park – Guwahati
Day 9: Guwahati – Bijoynagar – Sualkuchi – Guwahati
Day 10: Kamakhya Temple – Guwahati Airport
Day 1: Jorhat Airport – Sivasagar
Arrive at the Jorhat airport and upon arrival you will be welcomed by our representative offering you a warm welcome in traditional Assamese style and from the airport we board our comfortable vehicles and begin on our drive to the land of the mighty Ahom Kings at Sivasagar. We have lunch on our way and we will make a stop at the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar that is a religious shrine and is also home to the oldest burning oil lamp in the World. This Namghar (Prayer hall) was established by the disciple of the great Saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva, Sri Madhavdeva and the story goes that once Madhavadeva had come to this place and as it got dark he took shelter at the home of an elderly couple who were quite poor.
The elderly couple were surprised to hear about the arrival of the saint and they did not know how to welcome him because they did not have any money. The old lady went out of the house to collect the Dhekia Xaak (Fiddle head fern) and it was one of the herbs that are available in the jungles nearby and it tastes quite good when fried in oil and so she brought it and fried it and offered it to Madhavadeva with rice and this was one of the tastiest meals the saint had had so he was so intrigued by the elderly couple’s hospitality and so he decided to establish a Namghar in their name and the next morning he gathered the villagers and setup a small place and he lit an oil lamp here and asked the villagers to ensure that this lamp never burns out by running out of oil and with this the lamp has been burning continuously since and today this is one of the very sacred sites for the Assamese community and as per the Limca Book of Records, this is the oldest burning oil lamp in the World. We will explore the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghor and later continue on our drive to Sivasagar where we will go to explore the historic monuments of the Ahom Kingdom viz. the Talatal Ghar and the Rang Ghar.
The Ahoms had migrated to Assam from the Shan Kingdom in the early half of the 13th century and the founder of the Ahom Kingdom Swargadeo Sukapha had come to Assam with his family, a handful of courtiers, elephants and a small army and he went on to establish the Ahom Kingdom at Charaideo and later the capital was shifted to Sivasagar (Ocean of Lord Shiva and Ex-Rongpur). The Ahoms went on to establish their empire across Assam and it became that longest unbroken ruling dynasties in India. The Ahom converted to Hinduism after learning about the practices of Shakti and Tantra at the Kamakhya temple and they went on to build several of the important temple and historic monuments of Assam and two of these monuments are the Talatal Ghar and the Rang Ghar. The Ahoms also patronized the Muga silk and it was under their regime that the Muga silk of Assam found royal patronage and it became one of Assam’s most exported goods during their time as mentioned earlier. The Ahom royals and courtiers used to earlier wear black but later they turned to Muga and this silk of Assam started to be associated with Royalty and the Golden colour added to the charm as well.
Our first stop will be at the Talatal Ghar that was the royal fort of the Ahoms and this was where the Ahom army was situated near the Royal capital. This is a beautiful red coloured architecture that is made with red flat bricks that were bound together with a mortar of sticky rice, lime and duck eggs that provided it a bond so strong that this monument had survived two major earthquakes with much damage. The fort is spread across a sprawling area and there are lush green lawns all around the place. What is the distinguishing feature of the Talatal Ghar monument is the presence of a network of several underground tunnels that were designed in a way to confuse the enemy army in case of an attack and only the soldiers of the Ahom army knew their way out at either of the two exits that are present viz. one at the Royal Palace of the Kareng Ghar and other by the banks of the River Dikhow where the soldiers would regroup and plan the counter attack while one army group would rush to the other exit to protect the Royal family. This was the planned architecture of the Ahoms many hundred years back and the construction that was done to last almost a lifetime.
The unique construction of the Ahoms of Assam who patronized the Muga silk of Assam can be seen across many of these monuments across Assam and another very unique construction is that of the Joysagar Lake in Sivasagar as well. This Joysagar Lake is said to be the largest man dug out lake in the country and it has a special characteristic that the water level in the lake always remains the same be it in the harsh monsoon season or the dry winter season that speaks highly of the knowledge of the Ahoms. Today only the ground and the first floor of the Talatal Ghar are present to be explored by visitors and the underground maze has been sealed because of the reports of people going missing inside these tunnels and here it is sealed. Next up we travel to visit the Rang Ghar monument at Sivasagar that is located a short drive ahead of the Talatal Ghar and this was the Royal Pavilion of the Ahom Kings. This monument is believed to be Asia’s first amphitheatre and this was where the Ahom Royals and their courtiers used to gather to witness the various traditional games like wrestling, bull fighting, cock fighting, etc. and also a grand Bihu dance performance used to be held at the open grounds of the Rang Ghar monument and this is conducted even today during the first day of the Assamese New Year where the boys and girls all dressed in their traditional Muga silk Mekhela Chadors perform the Bihu Dance at the Rang Ghar monument.
The Ahoms who patronized the Muga silk associated the silk with grandeur and therefore it was to be adorned by the local women during special occasions like her wedding or the Bihu day. The first record of the Bihu dance being performed on such a grand stage was recorded here at the Rang Ghar monument itself and since then the Muga silk is associated with the performance of the Bihu dance. The Rang Ghar is a monument that is shaped in the form of an inverted boat on the top and it too follows a build that is similar to the construction of the Talatal Ghar with flat red bricks used for construction and the mortar of sticky rice, lime and duck eggs and this monument too has survived the two major earthquakes of Assam with only minute repairs needed. With this we will call it a day and go to check into our place of stay at Sivasagar at Hotel Piccolo. In the evening we will go to visit the nearby market area of the town and here we will go to visit a silk emporium that will display the various Muga silk Mekhela Chadors that are sourced from the local weavers and we will be able to catch our first glimpse of the Golden Silk of Assam in the land where it is grown and weaved. We will visit a nice Tai Ahom cuisine restaurant in the evening and here we will dine in royalty and get to eat the diet of the kings of the Ahom Kingdom and later we return to our hotel to prepare for another day of exploration of the royal land of the Ahom kingdom at Sivasagar and we will plan a visit to the Charaideo Maidams – the Pyramids of India and the Kareng Ghar (Royal Palace) to be followed by a visit to the Ahom museum and the Sivadoul temple.
Night Halt: Hotel Piccolo at Sivasagar
Meals Included: Dinner
Day 2: Sivasagar
Today we have an early breakfast and we set out to explore the Charaideo Maidams at Charaideo that is about an hour’s drive from Sivasagar town. The drive is across a narrow road and therefore it takes a while to cover the distance and we reach the Charaideo Maidams crossing the beautiful countryside of Assam here at Sivasagar. Charaideo was the earlier capital of the Ahom Kingdom and it was setup during the time of Sukapha and this is also the place where the Ahom Royals were buried after their death in a manner similar to the Pharaohs of Egypt. One question might come to mind as to why the Ahom Royals were buried although they practiced Hinduism wherein the practice is generally to cremate the dead body. To mention this, the Ahoms were first Buddhists and they belonged to the greater Tai Ahom community and it was only after the Kings of the Ahom dynasty became interested in the practices of Shakti and Tantra that were prevalent at the Kamakhya temple that they decided to convert to Hinduism and post this only they started to practice the rituals connected with this religion and previously they followed the various other practices like the other Tai communities of Tai Phake, Tai Khamti, Tai Khamyang, etc.
So while the Ahoms still practiced the system of the burial of the dead it is believed that once the Ahom Royals had died all the things that were close to him would be buried along with him that included his prized possession, jewellery, pets, servants and even his wife and this was a things that is hard to believe but it is said to be true that makes the Charaideo Maidams the Pyramids of India and this is what makes the place popular to be visited in this silk tour of Assam. Huge burial graves in the form of inverted domes are to be seen here at the Charaideo Maidams and there were large chambers that were dug underneath the ground and these chambers had a unique entrance that would be very hard to enter as the burials is a place of respect for the Ahom Royalty. However after the reign of the Ahoms ended miscreants who had heard about these Maidams and the vast riches that were present to be found inside the graves became greedy and they went about destroying many of these burials and now after the site was declared as a protected area by the ASI there are 26 burials that are to be found here at the Charaideo Maidams near Sivasagar.
We will take our time to explore the Charaideo Maidams and later we will travel to Garhgaon near Sivasagar that is home to the Garhgaon Palace or the Kareng Ghar. The Kareng Ghar is one of the renowned and classy constructions of the Ahom period and this Royal palace is a stunning architecture that is spread across seven floors. This is again a naturally beautiful red coloured building that is built on a similar structure compared to the Rang Ghar and the Talatal Ghar and it is absolutely a scenic view to see this place. The secret tunnel that is connected to the Talatal Ghar has once exit here at the Rang Ghar. The Kareng Ghar is a uniquely built structure that was designed in a unique way to keep the enemies out of the place. The construction had huge drains dug out around the place and these used to be filled with water so that when the enemies came to attack the palace it would take them a while to enter the palace and in the same time the reinforcements would arrive from the Talatal Ghar to counter the attach of the enemy. Such was the planned process of the Ahoms several hundred years ago and this is what had allowed them to rule Assam for over 600 years.
With this we wind up our visit at the Kareng Ghar monument and after this we go to have our lunch at a nice restaurant and post lunch we go to visit the Tai Ahom museum where we will learn about the history of the Ahoms and how they went about to setup an empire that went on to become the longest unbroken ruling dynasties in India. This museum illustrates the various lifestyles of the Ahoms in models that are very life like and also explains the various religious practices and the battles that were fought by the Ahoms including the Battle of Saraighat and the Battle of Itakhuli that were fought with the mighty Mughals. The museum also depicts how the Ahoms adopted Muga silk in their attires migrating from the black robes and a section depicts a courtroom of the Ahom Royals and there are statues that are adorned in attires wearing the Muga silk robes. The place also houses various ancient artefacts from the times of the Ahom Kingdom including the ancient canons used in warfare and the various monuments and temples that were built during the Ahom regime as well. After this we go to explore the majestic Siva Doul temple at Sivasagar.
The Sivadoul temple is a grand architecture and it was built with a dome of gold and the temple complex houses many other temples that are dedicated to other Gods and Goddesses with the central temple being that of Lord Shiva. It is a remarkable architecture that is carved out of stone and the Ahoms took pride in the temple construction and every year the temple hosts the Maha Shivaratri festival that is celebrated with great pomp and show and devotees from various parts of India come to the Sivadoul temple. Adjoining the Sivadoul temple is the Joysagar Lake of which we spoke about that is another engineering marvel of the Ahom time. The Joysagar Lake has a typical characteristic where the water level in the lake never goes down and this was built to cater to the water needs of the people of the Ahom capital. With this we wind up or days of exploration and we will go to visit the home of a local Ahom person here at Sivasagar where we will learn more about the practices of the Tai Ahoms culture of Assam and later we will go to savour a nice dinner at one of the top restaurants in town and thereby we will end our day of exploration on our silk tour of Assam today.
Night Halt: Hotel Piccolo at Sivasagar
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 3: Sivasagar – Majuli Island
Today we will set out to explore and visit the largest River Island in the in World of Majuli and we will need to cross the Brahmaputra on board a ferry to reach Majuli Island. Majuli is where we will get to witness a lot of silk worm rearing and harvest and also weaving as well and we will even go to Dhokuakhana and Lakhimpur districts that are known for the art of silk weaving of Assam and this will provide a deeper insight to the silk weaving process of Assam. We start the day after breakfast and we will drive from Sivasagar town and we travel towards the Jorhat bypass where we will take a right diversion to travel to Neemati Ghat and this ride would take us around 2 hours and 30 minutes and we will be on time to catch our ferry to Majuli Island. There are two types of ferry service that are present and one is the Govt. operated ferry service while another is the privately operated ferry service. The Govt. operated ferry is a better choice because this is a larger vessel and as we would be having our vehicles along with us they can be easily accommodated and transported on this government ferry and also the ride is much smooth as well.
We board our vehicles and in some time we start on our ride across the mighty Brahmaputra River to reach the Kamalabari Ghat where we will need to get down and continue to drive towards the town centre. This ride will provide you an opportunity to sight the endangered Gangetic river dolphins that are very rare to be found these days due to excessive hunting. The ferry ride takes around an hour and it is across a beautiful sky horizon. We start on our ride to the town centre from the ghat and soon we reach the place and we will check into our place of stay here in Majuli where we will freshen up and have our lunch. Majuli is inhabited by the indigenous people of Assam like the Mishings, Deori and the Sonowal Kachari and these people have some of the most delightful ethnic cuisines on offering where the meal is cooked from scratch and it includes all organic and natural offerings to the people who come here. We will savour an ethnic cuisine lunch here and later in the day we will go to explore the nearby villages where we will get our first local experience of the woman weaving on the traditional looms of Assam.
This weaving pattern will not be of the Muga silk but instead would be locally sourced cotton but still witnessing the local women weave on such traditional loom in a great experience and it to provide us a short introduction of the various weaving processes of Assam. We also witness the local shops that sell these various hand-woven goods and one this you will see is the grand Mishing Gale and that is mostly a wrap adorned by the local women in special occasions and also a muffler like cloth that is worn by the men folks and the jackets that are also hand woven.
Across these villages of Majuli Island you will see that the homes are mostly stilt houses that are built on a raised platform with bamboo and tin/thatch roofing and the pillar that form the base of the house are mostly built with stone, bricks and cement while the house is built with bamboo and this is mostly done as Majuli is an Island and being located in the midst of the might River Brahmaputra it is prone to flooding and during the monsoon season most parts of the island gets inundated and therefore people stay in such house to keep themselves safe from the monsoon floods. Another thing is because they rear many domesticated animals like pigs and birds like ducks, chicken, geese, etc. and building their house like this where the flooring is spread out with bamboo sticks they can easily throw the food from top to ground and these domestic animals can eat the food. Under the house there is a local loom kept at the base of the each and every household and the women folks of the house take time in the early morning and afternoon to weave out exquisite handlooms both of cotton and silk in these looms. When it comes to Majuli Island this is a very famous for the weaving of the Eri Silk and the cotton handlooms and tomorrow we will be visiting the silk units of Kiron foundation at Majuli where we will get time to explore the various units of Eri Silk weaving at Majuli and also get to interact with the local weavers as well.
At the Kiron foundation initiative we will understand as to how the foundation is working with these local Eri silk weavers of Majuli to change towards an ethical journey of the fashion World and in turn to change towards the livelihood of the farmers, rearers, spinners, weavers, etc. The Eri silk variety of Assam that is also known as the Ahimsa silk or the warm silk is the silk variety where the caterpillars of the silk is not killed to obtain the silk yarn and the cocoon is taken for silk extraction only when the larvae has left the cocoon and therefore it is termed as the Ahimsa silk. The Eri silk caterpillar primarily feeds on the Kesseru and Castor leaves and this is the prime food source needed to obtain high quality silk yarn out of the cocoon and therefore families of Majuli are devoting a lot of time and energy for harvesting of the castor plants to cater to the needs of the Eri silk requirements and we will take the opportunity to witness this tomorrow when we would explore the river island of Majuli. Today we take time to explore these local villages and we will witness the silk weaving in person and how the women folks sit across these looms and with brisk hand movements weave out wonders of the cotton varieties of Assam.
In the evening we will go to visit the Sri Sri Uttar Kamalabari Satra of Majuli that is a short ten minute drive from our place of stay to witness the grandeur of the Sattriya Nritya classical dance form of Assam. The Satras of Majuli are Neo Vaishnavite monasteries that were founded and promoted by the holy saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva. He was disgusted with the various practices in the name of the religion that were prevalent during the medieval period across Assam and India that he started the cult of Neo Vaishnavism and Ek Sarna that promoted that God is one and all human beings are alike irrespective of caste, colour, gender and religion and these Neo Vaishnavite monasteries became centres of art and culture and today they are renowned across Assam and the Namghar that form a part of the prayer hall of these Satras are to be found across Assam like the one we visited at the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghor. Young boys enter these Satras at a very young age and they spend their life dedicated in the name of God and they get to learn about the various forms of art and craft and also literature and these Satra institutions are known to have given rise to numerous scholars across Assam who are now professors at the top universities of the state.
There are 37 Satras present in Majuli Island at present and five among these are very prominent and these are the Auniati Satra, Samaguri Satra, Dakhinpat Satra, Sri Sri Uttar Kamalabari Satra and the Garamur Satra. While two of the above Satras we will plan on our visit tomorrow on this silk tour of Assam we will be witnessing the Sattriya Nritya performance at the Uttar Kamalabari Satra today evening. This is one among the 8 classical dance forms of India and at this Satra it is performed by only the male monks of the Satra. There are various forms of Sattriya Nritya like the Mati Akahara and the Gayan Bayan and we will be witnessing the Gayan Bayan performance that is generally practiced by the adult monks of the Satra. This dance form was again introduced by the holy Saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva and it was mostly to combine the aesthetic and religion through a form of dance and drama. The Sattriya Nritya dance is performed across the Namghars of the various Satras and the theme of this dance form is revolve around the life of Lord Krishna and stories from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata as well. We will witness this grand Sattriya Nritya performance dance form of Majuli and later we will return back to our hotel for dinner and night halt and we prepare another day for our exploration of Majuli on this silk tour of Assam.
Night Halt: Enchanting Majuli
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 4: Majuli Island
Today we will set out to explore two of the other prominent Satras of Majuli Island and also we will visit the Salmora village to witness the lost art of traditional Pottery making with hands and in the afternoon after lunch we will go to visit the village that is under the initiative of the Kiron foundation where we will learn about the various details of the Eri Silk weaving and how the farmers rear the castor plants to the final place where the weavers weave out the Eri fabric into various items of clothing as well as shawls, stoles, etc. We start our day after breakfast and we travel to the Kamalabari area of Majuli where we will go to visit the Auniati Satra that is the most prominent Satra in Assam and it has branches across various places in Assam. The Auniati Satra is one of the very old Satras built in the 1500s and it was initiated to preach the teachings of the Saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva. When Shankardeva started the Neo Vaishnavite movement and started to spend his message across the State in due course of time he got the patronization of the Ahom Kings and they went ahead with the construction of many Satras as well and this Auniati Satra was one among these Satras.
Generally these Satras are Neo Vaishnavite Monasteries and they have a prayer hall at the centre area of the Satra and this Namghar also houses a Monikut that is where the Bhagawad Gita and the idol of Gods are kept. The Namghars are also stand alone as this can be found across various places of Assam and they do not only serve as the prayer hall but also act as a community hall where the village and community elderly gather and meetings are held along with the various religious plays called as the Bhaonas that were a medium of depicting the various Hindu mythological epics to the people of the society. The Auniati Satra in Majuli Island is renowned for its celebrations of the Raas Leela festival that is held every year in the month of November and it is a celebration of the entire community of Majuli and this festival depicts the life of Lord Krishna in an art form. The members of the island take part in the various activities that are scheduled in the festival especially the Bhaonas that are held across the various Satras of Majuli Island and the one held at the Auniati Satra is a very grand one. Along with the Raas Leela festival another noteworthy festival is that of the Paalnam festival that is held at this Satra and this is a succession of prayers that are held continuously for 3 days and devotees from all across Assam come to witness this Paalnam festival.
The festival of Holi and Doul Jatra along with the birth of Lord Krishna (Janmashthami) is celebrated with great pomp and vigour at the Satra. We will explore the Auniati Satra at Majuli when we visit the Namghar and the Monikut and we offer our prayers have and later we explore the Hutis of the monks to finally end our visit at the Satra museum that is a prime attraction of the place and this museum houses several relics from the times of the Ahom Kingdom including the sword of the brave Ahom General Lachit Borphukan and chairs made of ivory, chess boards made of ivory and robes of the Ahom Kings and various relics from the times of the Neo Vaishnavite movement and the past Satradhikars of the Auniati Satra. With this we wrap our visit at this place and we head to our next destination viz. the Samaguri Satra that is renowned for the heritage art of traditional mask making. This Satra is about 30 minutes’ drive from the place and we will cross the lovely countryside of Majuli and we get to observe the true village life of the place and how the local people live in the stilt houses built with bamboo. Along the way we will also witness the various traditional looms that are kept at these village homes and local women weaving on these looms as well.
We soon approach the Samaguri Satra in Majuli and here we will be we3lcomed by the various traditional handmade masks and this Satra is under the able guidance of Dr. Hemchandra Goswami who is credited with keeping this art form of mask making alive. Srimanta Shankardeva was the person behind the introduction of this mask making art of Majuli as he believed that in order for the devotees and followers to understand more about the various drama and religious epics that were demonstrated to them in the form of Bhaonas it was necessary that the artists who enacted these Bhaonas were more lifelike so that the devotees could easily relate themselves to what was being demonstrated to them. So to make the artists more lifelike he introduced the concept of the masks where the masks depicted various mythological characters from the Indian Epics and the followers could easily relate as to which character was being depicted in the Bhaona. This was an instant hit and the devotees loved the performance of the Bhaonas that were shown to them with these masks adorned by the artists. However with time this art started to fade away until Dr. Hemchandra Goswami decided to revive this art form here at the Samaguri Satra and over the years he took this mask making art to the new level and across the World stage as well.
Today this mask making art of Majuli is renowned across the World and visitors from across the World come here to witness this art in person. In the preparation of these traditional masks of Majuli, at first a frame of the character of the mask is created by the use of bamboo sticks and later a thin cloth is wrapped around the structure and a special mud that is dug out from the banks of the Brahmaputra River mixed with cow dung is applied evenly across the surface of this frame. This is allowed to dry in the sun and once dried, various organic colours that are derived from the barks and roots of trees as well as leaves are used to paint this mask and it is kept out to dry in the sun again and this prepares the final mask. These masks are lifelike and they also have a movable jaw that moves in tandem with the facial movements of the artists depicting the Bhaonas. Today he has introduced the concept of miniature masks as well and these masks are brought by the visitors to the Satra and this helps the Satra to continue this practice of mask making financially as well. We will go to the main display hall area of the Samaguri Satra and here we will get to witness much more of these masks put on display and we will admire the grand art and at the display hall we will have the opportunity of meeting the person face to face who is accredited with keeping of this art form alive and taking it to the global stage – Dr. Hemchandra Goswami.
Dr. Goswami will tell us about the various facets of these masks and how these are used in the Bhaonas and other religious plays by the artists who adorn these masks of Majuli. With this we wind up our visit at the Samaguri Satra and continue on our visit to the Salmora village to witness another dying art form of the traditional pottery making with hands. This art of pottery making of the Salmora village in Majuli is unique because it doesn’t involve the use of a pottery wheel that is the main component usually of the pottery aiming and this is generally an occupation of the man folks but in Majuli this pottery making doesn’t involve the use of a wheel and instead everything is done by hands and this art is practiced by the women folks of this village. We will take the opportunity to witness this dying art as this has now lost its market with the introduction of the steel and plastic utensils but the patrons who use these mud built utensils and pots prefer to use this only.
The pots that are made with this mud are generally used to store water and also to store curd and cream and therefore there is still a market for these clay pots made with hands and we will take this opportunity to witness the making of these pots with hands in front of our eyes before we go to the village to witness the Eri silk weaving of Assam. The lady demonstrates this pottery making art in front of us where she mixes a special clay from the banks of the Brahmaputra River and mixes it with cow dung and later she uses here hands to give shape to the clay pot and with this she will put it out in the sun for drying and later she applies organic colours on the pot and after another round of drying in the sun, the pot is put in the fire to provide it more adequate strength and this completes the pot making with hands. We will thank the villagers for letting us see this dying art form and later we will continue on our drive back to the hotel for lunch and on the way we stop at a showroom of a self-help group of Majuli where the various garments that are weaves by the local village women of the group are put on display here and also are available for purchase as well.
This showroom not only displays the local women attires and handlooms including the various silks of Assam like Muga, Eri and Paat but also other local handlooms of the Mishing people and also the traditional cotton Gamusa of Assam. Also to be seen are the various handicrafts of bamboo that are made by the local men folks of Majuli and various traditional eatable items like rice, bamboo shoot, pickles, etc. and all the goods are a produce of Majuli itself and this adds to the ethnic touch of the place. You can make your purchase of the souvenirs of the place and later continue on your drive to the hotel for lunch and later in the day we travel to the village that is known for its Eri silk cultivation here at Majuli and this village is promoted by the Kiron foundation that take Eri silk rearing, spinning and weaving to the next level and what was known as a silk that was used only to weave out shawls to help people keep warm in the winter season, today this Eri Silk is used by designers from all across the World to weave various stylish garments like stoles, scarfs, jackets, etc. We will reach the village and all across we will see the growth of castor plants and the Eri Silk worms feeding on its leaves.
The Eri silk variety of Assam comes from the caterpillar of the Samia ricini that is found in Assam and also across the neighbouring states including the countries of China and Japan. However, the cultivation of this silk worm to obtain silk is known as a cottage industry famous in Assam and Meghalaya. The name Eri is derived from the Assamese word Era meaning Castor and this is dominantly because the silkworm feeds voraciously on the leaves of the castor plants. The entire popularity of this silk is because of its qualities of being warm and the fabric that was woven with this Eri silk of Assam in the earlier times were mostly shawls and this simple and thin Eri silk shawl was so warm that people of Assam would beat a harsh winter season by just wrapping them up with this Eri silk shawl. But mostly another different quality of this silk variety of Assam is that is making the Eri silk variety more in demand and this is because the silk worm is not killed inside the cocoon to obtain the silk and instead only when the larvae leaves the cocoon it is collected to obtain the silk yarn and this is why it is termed as the Ahimsa silk where the worm is not killed and this is what makes this original silk variety of Assam much in demand across the western World.
The genuine Eri silk of Assam has found a global market and now designers from across the globe are now using this silk variety of Assam to spin many wonderful garments and textiles as well like the Eri silk cushion covers, Eri Silk jackets, Eri silk stoles, Eri Silk shirt, Eri silk kurtas, Eri silk dress, Eri silk scarfs, Eri silk pillow covers, etc. Another very interesting characteristic of the Eri silk is the ability of this silk of Assam to keep cool in the summers and warm in the winter season. Once you explore these remote tribal villages of Assam you can see a lot of local families engaged in the making of Eri silk fabric and to them it is not about making profits but they do this as a hobby and fro their own use. Gradually this is being noticed by several emerging entrepreneurs who know the potential of this silk variety of Assam in the global markets and they are now organizing this family occupation into small scale industries and this is allowing an entire village to reap benefits from an industry they didn’t know existed and now they are making a decent income from the silk weaving industry of Assam.
When it comes to the rearing and weaving process of the Eri silk variety of Assam that we will witness in this village at Majuli, the Eri silk worm growing process is a long one and this takes around 45 days and the growth of the Eri silk worm to the stage when Eri silk can be extracted from the worm takes around 30 days and across these days the silk worm feeds continuously on the castor leaves from the plants that are grown by the villagers across the village. Once the silk worm stops feeding after a period of 30 days, the Eri silk worm starts to spin the cocoons around them and this process again takes around 15 days. Once it is done spinning the cocoon the Eri silk moth leaves the cocoon and flies off and so we will notice that the silk worms are not killed to obtain the silk and this is what makes Eri silk a very desired commodity among the animal lovers and vegans and any religion that is against the killing of any life. Once the moth has left the cocoon, the empty cocoons are washed and boiled and they are ready for spinning on the traditional looms. The spinning of the Eri silk fabric of Assam is done completely by hands and there are several techniques as to how the silk yarn is spun.
The Eri silk yarn of Assam has a changing thickness and once spun the silk is dyed and the noteworthy thing to be seen is that there is no use of artificial colours or dyes to colour the silk yarn and all natural ingredients are used to dye this Eri silk fabric. Various things like the peel of onions, turmeric, hilikha, teak tree leaves, tea leaves, etc. are used to obtain natural dyes and this is used to dye the Eri silk yarn and the process followed to dye the Eri silk yarn of Assam still follows a traditional pattern wherein at first the fire is made ready and then the bath of the natural dye is prepared and later the Eri Silk is dyed and the strands are washed and it is ready to be spun across the unit. There are various types of looms that are to be seen that are used to weave the dyed Eri silk fabric into a final produce and the most common is the fly shuttle loom that is a bigger loom when compared to the ones found in the homes and this loom is mostly setup in small units that has a wooden frame and a plank where the silk weavers of Assam sit. What favours the growth of the Eri silk and the Muga silk of Assam is the climate that is humid and this favours the growth of the plants on which the silk worms feed.
The Eri silk fibre you will notice is a staple fibre and unlike the other silk varieties that have a continuous filament and also the texture of the fabric is coarse, fine and dense and also at the same time very strong, elastic and durable as well. As mentioned earlier, due to its thermal characteristic, the Eri silk fabric is warm in winter season and cool in summer season and also the Eri silk is darker and heavier that the other silk and blends will with cotton and wool as well. This thermal property of Eri silk makes it ideal to weave the fabric for shawls, jackets, blankets and bed spreads. Nowadays, Eri silk of Assam is also used widely in the weaving of various home furnishings like curtains, bed covers, cushion covers, wall hangings, quilts, etc. Across the global markets, Eri silk is promoted as an eco-friendly and natural fabric and the demand for this silk variety of Assam is growing rapidly and this is turn provides jobs and income to the underprivileged tribal people of the state who have been practicing Eri silk cultivation and weaving since times immemorial.
The village is spread out across a big area and there are agricultural fields all across and one section of the agricultural land is used for the growth of the castor plants that are used to feed the Eri silk worm variety of Assam. We will ask a local villager to explain to us about the various facets of the Eri silk rearing and weaving to us and this will be a good learning session for us as to how the Assam Eri silk is reared and later its cocoon filled with the silk fibre is harvested. We continue on our exploration of the place and we will demonstrate the entire process of the silk fibre obtaining, the feeding of the Eri silk worms on the castor leaves, the preparation of the silk yarn, the preparation of the dyeing process of the silk yarn and later the weaving of the final product on the loom at the industrial unit by the local women folks and the final products are displayed at the unit as well and in case you are interested you can make a purchase of this very fine Eri silk fabric of Assam. We will end our visit at the adopted Eri silk weaving village of the Kiron foundation and later we travel back to our Hotel in Majuli and in the evening we will be going to a local Mishing home to savour some very fine ethnic Mishing tribe cuisine.
We will reach the village before sunset and we will at first visit the local home of a colleague and here we will arrange for a nice weaving session where we will learn about the weaving of the various Mishing handlooms that are mostly weaved out of cotton and these are in the form of Mishing Gale (a long skirt like wrap used by the local Mishing women during special occasions) and also the traditional Assamese Gamusa (that is a cotton towel that is weaved from cotton and is a token of respect to any guest where the Gamusa is adorned around the neck of a person). The Mishing women will show us the local loom that is present at the home and we can observe that this loom for weaving is much smaller than the ones we saw at the unit and this is designed for local weaving and not on a mass scale but to cater to the needs of a family. The Gamusa weaving on the loom will be displayed to us and we will also get to witness the various finalized products that are weaved and you will be amazed with the detailed craftsmanship involved in the weaving of one Mishing Gale and the vibrant colours that are present on one Gale and once the garment is spread out it looks absolutely stunning.
The craftsmanship involved with hands entirely is what provides a magnificent finish to these hand-woven products and hence they are slightly expensive then the machine made clothes and is very long lasting as well. With this we will end our day of witnessing the various works of weaving of the silk varieties of Assam and also the Mishing handlooms and we will go to visit the Mishing kitchen that is another way of learning about their local culture by learning how they prepare their food, their way of dining and eating as well. The Mishing cuisine is so much different than the way of dining in the cities because here everything is sourced from the nearby gardens, jungles and the meat is reared locally and also the fish is caught from the local river and ponds. The Mishing cuisine includes everything organic and all but salt is grown and sourced locally. The food is cooked over fire and often various roast items form a part of the recipe mixed with freshly chopped onions, green chillies, coriander and lime. The food includes a lots of herbs and vegetables that are prepared along with a meat or fish recipe and they often roast the pork meat along with various fish recipes and one special fish is the Goroi fish that is found in the local ponds and lakes and we will witness the food preparation at the local kitchen in front of our eyes. Their local kitchen is also on the Chang and at the centre of the kitchen a fire is lit where the family usually gathers in the evening sipping rice beer after a day of hard work and later they cook their meals and savour it before retiring for the evening.
The family will welcome us to their kitchen and we will observe how the place is built on a stilt platform and there is spacing between the bamboo strips on the floor and you can wash your hands on the bamboo floor itself. The various ingredients will be used to prepare today’s recipe and will be displayed to us and one recipe that stands out is the Mati Dal that is a black pulse that is grown locally and it is prepared with a mix of garlic, green chillies and ginger and mixed with bay leaf and coriander and it is an absolute delight. The food is cooked over wood fire that imparts a smoky flavour to the food as well and various other offerings will be also there including a country chicken recipe that is cooked with pumpkin and a lot of fresh herbs. A chutney preparation of the roasted Goroi fish along with the pork Khorika (that is sliced pork meat that is at first dried and later put up on a bamboo skewer and later roasted and chopped into small pieces and mixed with onions, green chillies and coriander and served). The various offerings on the Mishing platter is a meal you cannot miss on your visit to Majuli.
The meal will be served to us in a nice bell metal plate and saucer and this practice of serving a meal a bell metal plate have been a practice since the times of the Ahoms and a culture that has been kept alive in the villages of Assam. This bell metal is an ancient craft of this people of Sarthebari in Assam and this is a special allow that is created by the mix of brass and aluminium. The utensils of bell metal have a unique gold like finish and shine and it is believed that when you eat from a bell metal plate imparts special characteristic to your meal and this protects you from various stomach ailments. You can witness a proof of this property of bell metal when you eat black salt along with a meal and the black salt causes a reactive with the bell metal and the place on a plate when you eat your meal mixed with salt turns dark red. This stain that remains on the bell metal plate is easily cleaned and the metal regains it shine when you apply the juice of a slice of lemon and allow it to rest on the plate for a while and the plate of bell metal regains its shine once you clean it.
The earlier Ahoms kings used to dine on these bell metal plates of Assam and this allowed them to have a long life and this practice of dining on bell metal plates and saucers has been kept alive across the villages of Assam while in the towns and cities the people have lost the towel with the culture and now instead they prefer to dine on utensils made of plastic and bone china that just appear to be pretty and do not have any natural medicinal benefits and therefore the people in cities complain of various stomach related ailments never heard of in the villages. In certain tribal customs of Assam, the meal is also served on banana leaves and this too is a very good way of eating because the banana leaf’s is also well known for various natural medicinal properties that is imparts to the food and this allows people to stay healthy. The meal presentation would look absolutely stunning and inviting and we will see the various ingredients on the plate laid out properly and at the centre the rice would be served and there is another noteworthy thing about the rice of the Mishing people because this rice is of a brown texture that is to be not food at other places in Assam and this is a special rice that is grown locally by the people of Majuli.
We will observe that right across the rice there would be boiled herbs curry, a chutney that is prepared with ground mustard seeds called as Kharoli, a dried fish chutney mixed with certain herbs called as Namsing, the black dal, chicken cooked with pumpkin, pork Khorika, Goroi Maas Pitika and some other accompaniments as well and the best thing about the food that is served is that there is no artificial flavouring added to the meal and everything part from the salt must have been sourced organically and locally and this makes the food very delicious. The fresh herbs and the flavour of ginger, garlic, green chillies, ground whole pepper and coriander leaves bring out a blast of flavourful aroma in your mouth and you will not wait to add more of the rice to your platter with the various offerings. The rice itself when eaten just with the black dal is a very flavourful experience and we will savour our meal. One other thing to be mentioned is that of the way of sitting in a local Mishing kitchen. The sitting pattern is low and people gather around the fire on a cold winter evening and the food platter is served on allow lying wooden stool called as the Pira and guests need to sit on the floor and this way of eating as it said helps to aid in quick digestion of the food as per ancient customs and practices.
The Mishing people of Assam who Assam follow a different religion wherein they are not known to worship any idols of Gods and Goddess as per the thick customs and instead they follow a custom called as the Dony Polo which they worship the forms of nature like the sun, river, moon, mountain and they feel that these are the creations that actually bless a person by providing for them. We will observe many of such different characteristics of the Mishing people of Assam when we interact with them and with this we will end our fruitful day of exploration across Majuli and call it a day and return back to our hotel to prepare for our visit to Dhakuakhana to witness another day of the silk weaving process of Assam.
Night Halt: Enchanting Majuli
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 5: Majuli – Dhakuakhana – Majuli
Today we will be visiting the Dhakuakhana area that is around 2 hours’ drive from Majuli and this place is renowned as an area of having various cottage industries of silk and the two types of silks of Assam mostly the Muga silk and the Paat silk are obtained and are woven in this region. We will start our day after breakfast and we continue on our drive from Majuli to Dhakuakhana via Dhemaji. One interesting thing to be noted is this side of Majuli Island is that there is a bridge on top of the Brahmaputra River on the other side and so there is no need of a ferry crossing. We enjoy our drive across the beautiful countryside of Assam crossing Majuli, Jengrai to further reach Dhemaji and later we approach Dhakuakhana in the Lakhimpur district of Assam. This is along the Northern banks of the Brahmaputra River and this is considered to be one among the oldest places of Assam. Dhakuakhana in Lakhimpur district comprises of a population of some of the major ethnic communities of Assam of the likes of the Chutias, Mishings, Ahoms, Deori, Koch and also some of the other tribes as well and therefore the place is renowned for its agricultural and allied activities along with silk weaving.
At Dhakuakhana we will go to visit the homes of a local family who have been engaged in the silk weaving industry since very long and they have their small unit at the land they own and here we will learn about the various art of the Muga and Paat silk weaving of Assam. As mentioned earlier, the Muga silk variety is to be found only across Assam because the tree on whose leaves the silk worms (Antherea Assamensis) feed grows only in Assam because of the climate of the state. Muga silk of Assam is one of the rarest silks in the World and the source of the Muga silk dates back to the times of the Dinosaur age. The Muga silk of Assam is golden in colour and it literally translates to yellow in the local Assamese language. The silk worm is very sensitive to pollutants in the atmosphere and doesn’t survive in a polluted city atmosphere and therefore you will see the Muga silk is grown only in the countryside areas of Assam where the atmosphere is pure like here in Dhakuakhana and the adjoining areas of the Lakhimpur district in Northern Assam. The Muga silk variety of Assam is an organically derived silk and is said to possess the strongest fibre and is one of the most expensive silk varieties available.
We will observe the place and we will see the various plantations of the Sam and Samolu trees that is where the silk worms feed on the leaves of the plants and they in turn produce this fine variety of silk of Assam. There are small handloom weaving units present as well and the person at the house will explain to us as to how the various processes involved in the rearing and weaving of the Muga silk of Assam. Muga silk is known for its long life and it is also said that a garment woven out of Muga silk outlives the weaver who has weaved it speaking highly about the strong fibre of the silk. The Muga silk has a golden lustre and it is said that the lustre of this silk increases with every wash and also any type of embroidery can be done on the Muga silk and although it is not necessary at all but the Muga silk is compatible with most of the natural dyes as well. It is believed that the Muga silk weaving had a very old history and the cultivation of this silk variety of Assam was done across Assam since quite long and the silk gained prominence once it was patronized by the Ahom Kings of Assam. During the time of the Ahoms, the Muga silk was associated with royalty and the looms that were used to weave the Muga silk fibre of Assam were kept under the supervision of the Royal family and it were called as the Rajaghoria looms.
Apart from the weaving of the Muga silk fibre of Assam we will also witness the rearing and weaving of the Pat silk variety of Assam as well here at Dhakuakhana. The Pat silk variety of Assam is usually white or off white in colour and one thing noteworthy about this silk cloth is that it can dry without sun and the Pat silk of Assam is known for its durability and glossy texture and this silk of Assam is used to weave products like Mekhela Chadors and various other textiles as well. The Pat silk variety of Assam is known for its various bright colours and the sarees woven and the designs are all inspired from tribe to tribe like animals, flowers, ornaments are designed on this silk variety. The Patk silk is obtained from the silk worm that feed primarily on the mulberry tree leaves and therefore this silk variety of Assam is also referred to as the Mulberry silk. The Pat silk is mostly used in the silk industry of Assam to weave the grand Mekhela Chadors and also dhotis and saree wrappers as well.
To define the most important produce of the pat silk that is the Mekhela Chador we will notice that this costume consist of two pieces. The bottom part of the costume is like a skirt that is mostly a wide cylindrical shape and it has to be dropped around the lower half of a women’s body while the chador is folded and put across the shoulder and this is now the Mekhela Chador is allowed by the Assamese women. The Mekhela Chador is made up of both the silk varieties of Assam viz. the Muga silk as well as the Pat silk variety and the ones that are woven with the Muga silk are the costliest ones. Although the exact detail of how the Mekhela Chadors originated is not present is has been known that the Assamese women have been wearing these Mekhela Chadors since times immemorial and this is now the very popular bridal wear of the Assamese marriage. Apart from the two pieces in a Mekhela Chadors there is another third piece as well called as the ‘Reeha’ and this is to be adorned on special occasion like puja, weddings and festival of specific importance. The state of Assam is truly described to be as the Shangri-La of North East India because this is a state of vast scenic beauty, very rare flora, fauna and avifauna, lofty blue hills, the lush green tea gardens, vast reserves of natural resource, dense forests, fertile villages, mighty rivers and off course the various silks of Assam.
The Muga and Eri silkworms are to be found only in Assam because as mentioned earlier that tree and leaves on which the silk worms feed grow only in the climate of Assam and this is what favours the cultivation of these silks in Assam. Though we have seen the silk weaving across various parts of Assam and today we are exploring the Northern banks of Assam at Dhakuakhana in the Lakhimpur district we will observe that that the main centre of silk weaving is Assam still remains at Sualkuchi that is again on the Northern banks of the Brahmaputra River and 30km from the fastest growing city of North East India viz. Guwahati. It is believed that due to the silk weaving practices of Sualkuchi, this place is a medieval town and perhaps the first urban settlement of Assam that clearly states now silk weaving as an industry had gained prominence across Assam. The tree on which the Muga silk worms feed is called as ‘Sualu’ and ‘Kuchi’ means cluster and we see that this town derives its name from the tree on which the Muga silk worms feed.
The silk weaving industry of Assam is considered to be a handloom industry and as mentioned earlier, weaving is a traditional art that every Assamese women especially across the rural areas of Assam take pride in and a girl of the house has to spend some time learning to weave on the silks of Assam. The Assamese households in the rural areas take pride to have a loom at their house and the Assamese women weave out various cloths of exquisite designs of both the silk variants and also cotton that is again sourced locally and spun in their homes. The Muga silk Mekhela Chadors are known to be very durable and it possesses a gold colour and the shine of the Muga silk Mekhela Chador of Assam increases with each wash and these Mekhela Chadors are known to outlive the weavers and the owners and these are transferred from one generation to another. The Eri silk or the Ahimsa silk variety of Assam is also used to weave Mekhela Chadors and since this has a characteristic of being of being soft and warm and therefore it is suited for the cold climatic conditions while the pat silk or mulberry silk is also used to weave Mekhela Chadors and this silk is having a brilliant white colour and looks absolutely shining with the various weaving done on it.
While the attires especially the Mekhela Chadors that are woven by the Eri silk is mostly suited for the winter climate, the ones that are woven with Muga silk or the Pat silk are the fancier ones and can be worn across the year on special occasions. The Muga silk is worn typically on special occasions like marriage ceremonies and during the harvest festival of Rongali Bihu. During the Rongali Bihu festival that welcomes the spring and is also the Assamese New Year, the Bihu dance is performed by the various dancers both boys and girls and the girls adorn themselves with the Muga silk Mekhela Chadors and they celebrate and dance to the tunes of the Bihu songs. To sum up, the Muga silk variety of Assam is a produce of the silk worm (Antheraea Assamensis) that is endemic to Assam and the larvae of this silk worm feeds on the Som and Sualu leaves. The silk worms produce a golden yellow silk thread that is having a very fine texture and rare at the same time having good lustre and durability. This is what makes the Muga silk the costliest silk varieties in the world and it are in demand across various countries in the World. The Pat silk variety of Assam is also referred to as the Nuni Pat because the silk worm feeds on the mulberry tree leaf.
The silk worm releases a thread that is a brilliant white to off-white colour and the bright texture of the Pat silk is used to weave Mekhela Chadors while Eri Silk is also referred to as the Ahimsa silk and the silk worm is also referred to as the Ahimsa silk and the silk worm of this silk variety feeds on the castor plants. The Eri silk is also referred to as the Endi or Errandi silk and also as the Ahimsa silk because in this silk variety the silk worm is not killed to obtain the silk and the cocoon is made ready to be harvested only when the larvae has left the cocoon that makes it to be in great demand across the western world where people have now started to adopt the vegan lifestyle. Various designs are also woven on these silk Mekhela Chador varieties of Assam and these are called as motifs that are derived from the nature and one typical motif that is woven on the Muga silk Mekhela Chador of Assam in the Jappi (traditional Assamese hat). These motif designs have remained similar across the years and are all hand woven on these silk Mekhela Chador varieties of Assam. To cultivate the Muga silk the farmers requires at least an acre of land to cultivate around 400 gms of Muga silk at one time and 1000 cocoons can generate only about 125 gms of silk but to weave one single Mekhela Chador you need at least 1000 gms of silk and this speaks as to the costs involves in the weaving of this Muga silk variety of Assam.
Also the time taken to weave a single Muga silk saree is roughly around 2 months and this is from the time of the rearing of the silk worm to the weaving of the final product. A single Muga silk Mekhela chador to weave along with the traditional motifs on it takes around 10 days and with so much of costs and time involved one can only imagine the costs of the final product and the cost of the Muga Mekhela Chadors start at price ranges from INR 20,000 and can go up to INR 1 lakh thus speaking of the qualities of this hand woven product and fabric of Assam. We observe all this silk weaving process at the unit at Dhakuakhana and later we will go to visit the market area at Dhakuakhana where there are various emporiums that sell the final woven silk varieties and these are all guaranteed to be original and sourced from the local people and we make our purchase based on your interest. We will have a nice traditional Assamese lunch at a local restaurant and continue on our drive back to Majuli to reach by later afternoon. We will have an early day tomorrow when we travel to Kaziranga National Park from Majuli via Jorhat and therefore we will call it a day and allow you to relax at your hotel in the evening.
Night Halt: Enchanting Majuli
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 6: Majuli – Kaziranga National Park
Today is our day of bidding farewell to the mysteries of the largest River Island of Majuli where we learn about the various forms of silk weaving of Assam and also that of the Mishing people of Majuli as well. We had explored the Neo Vaishnavite monasteries of Majuli where we witnessed one among the 8 classical dance forms of India – the Sattriya Nritya, the lost art of traditional mask making, various artefacts of the Auniati Satra museum and also the heritage art of the pottery making with hands at the Salmora village. We witnessed the way of living of the Mishing people of Majuli Island and finally we savoured some ethnic Mishing cuisine of Majuli and today we will bid farewell to all of this when we begin on our drive to the most prominent tourist destination of Assam – the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park. We will begin our day early and we will keep in mind to catch the 7.30AM ferry at the Kamalabari Ghat that will take us to the Neemati Ghat and from here we will start on our drive to Kaziranga National Park. We have an early breakfast and we bid farewell to Majuli to reach the Kamalabari Ghat where we board our ferry and we will reach the Neemati Ghat at around 9.30AM and we begin on our driver towards the Jorhat Bypass area and we will continue to the outskirts of Jorhat town where we will make a stop at the Sukapha Samanway Kshetra – that is a tribute to the founder of the Ahom Kingdom Swargadeo Sukapha.
This is a memorial site for the great king and one thing noteworthy to be visited at this place is the huge statue of the great King and the museum area here that has on display various relics from the times of the Ahom Kingdom and also it illustrates the various indigenous tribes of North East India and it is a noteworthy place to visit. We will spend about an hours’ time at the Sukapha Samanway Kshetra and we go to admire the tall statue of the great King and later we will explore the museum that illustrates the various customs and practices of the Ahoms and we will explore the museum but without our phones or cameras as we are not allowed to carry these into the museum and we have to submit it at the reception for safe keeping. The Ahom courtyard displayed at this museum is a grand thing to view and the nobles and courtiers are displayed using models and all the models are clothed with the grand Muga silk costumes and the various practices of the Ahoms displayed in the form of models as well. The section of artefacts is to the left hand side of the museum and here we see ancient cannons and artillery that were used in warfare by the Ahom soldiers.
The very knowledgeable section at this museum is the one that is located on the first floor of the museum and this section is dedicated to the various indigenous tribes and communities who inhabit places across Assam and North East India. The region of North East India is home to around 200 indigenous tribes who have settled in the region since times immemorial. These tribes have practiced an ancient culture and tradition and they have ensured to pass down these across the generation. Like the Mishing tribes we saw in Majuli Island in Assam and the Tai Ahoms there are several other indigenous tribes of Assam like the Karbi, Boro, Singpho, Tai Phake, Sonowal Kachari, Moran, Tai Khamti, Tai Khamyang, tea garden tribes, etc. Meghalaya’s ethnic communities include the Khasi, Garo and Jaintias. The indigenous tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are Nishi, Adi, Galo, Apatani, Wancho, Nocte, Tangsa, Tagin, etc. The dominant tribes of Nagaland are Angami, Ao, Sumi Naga, Pochury, Konyak, etc. while that of Manipur are the Meitei people while that of Mizoram are the Kuki people and finally Sikkim has the population of the Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali people. This museum at the Swargadeo Sukapha Samanway Kshetra displays the various aspects of the indigenous tribes of Assam and there are beautifully crafted models that illustrate the culture, traditions way of living, attires and jewellery of these tribes.
You will see how the tribes are different in their attires and their way of living and how their constructed houses vary from region to region like the Mishing people have homes built on stilts while the people living on the mountains do not need to worry about flooding but instead wild animals and they too build their houses on stilts but in a separate design. We will observe these details here at the first floor of this museum and later we will bid farewell to the place and begin on our drive to Kaziranga National Park. We will make a stop at the Numaligarh Dhaba for our lunch and this is a very popular roadside dhaba of Assam with hundreds of visitors stopping by here to enjoy their meal and this dhaba serves a very nice traditional Assamese meal thali accompanied by a choice of meat or fish. One good thing about the place is that they have their own pond behind the area of the place and they raise their own fish in this pond so you can be rest assured that the food you eat here is the fresh and best quality available. We will order ourselves a thali here at the Numaligarh Dhaba and a fish curry recipe that will be cooked in a sour broth mostly with tomato and lemon and we will savour our meal here before we start on our drive to Kaziranga National Park again.
We will reach the Bokakhat area near Kaziranga National Park and this is where the Eastern range of Kaziranga National Park starts at Agoratoli and this is also the office of the Director of Kaziranga National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will be coming for our jeep safari ride tomorrow morning at the eastern range of Kaziranga National Park and so we will cross the place today to travel to the Central range of Kaziranga National Park at Kohora. The Kohora area of Kaziranga National Park is the most popular spot neat the park as this is where most of the luxury resorts and lodges are present and so visitors who come to Kaziranga National Park from all across the World come mostly to the Kohora range to find their accommodation. The safari range at the Kohora area is located at the close proximity from most of the stay option and both elephant safari and jeep safari rides are conducted at this safari range of Kaziranga National Park. We will be booked for our stay at the Dhanashree Resort at Kaziranga National Park and before we go to check into our place of stay we will go to visit the Kaziranga Orchid Park – the largest orchid park in India. North East India is home to a varied biodiversity and one thing that speaks highly about this biodiversity is the presence of the orchids in the region and North East India is home to around 1200 species out of the total 1800 species of orchids to be found in the country.
The Kaziranga Orchid park aims to showcase and display these various species of orchids to its guests who come to the renowned World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park in Assam. The entrance to the Kaziranga Orchid Park is filled with various flowering orchid species including the state flower of Assam the foxtail orchid and we take a right to enter the green house of the Kaziranga Orchid Park where we will explore the various orchid species that are found across Assam and North East India. We will be accompanied by a local guide who will guide us about the various blooming orchid species and it will be a great experience to learn about these orchid species. Next up we will explore the section of handlooms and handicrafts and this is a section that would interest us quite a lot since this tour is focussed on the various silk and handloom products of Assam and here we will get to see two or three ladies sitting on a loom and weaving out various traditional handlooms of Assam. These weaving looms at the place are slightly different that than the ones we saw at Majuli and Dhakuakhana and we will explore the way they weave out the motifs on the handloom products. The final woven products are up for sale as well and in case it interests you, you can make a purchase at the souvenir section.
We will admire the various crafts that are built with bamboo and cane and the artisans of Assam have been known to weave out various works all by their hands and basic tools. The bamboo handicrafts range from various items like musical instruments, fish traps, furniture’s, kitchen items, decors, etc. and all this is put up on display here at the Kaziranga Orchid Park and after we admire and explore this section we will go to visit the orchid photo gallery that illustrates the various flowering orchids in the form of pictures. Next up we go to visit the rice museum here and you will be surprised as to how many varieties of rice are grown across the region of Assam and North East India as rice is the staple diet of the place and a meal is incomplete without rice. One interesting rice variety is that of the Bora Saul that is basically this is a sticky rice variety and is generally consumed in the morning breakfast with either milk and sugar or even with sweet curd or cream or it can be eaten generally with a stir fried vegetable and dal as well. This sticky rice property was used by the Ahoms to bind their construction in the various monuments like the Kareng Ghar, Talatal Ghar and Rang Ghar that we had visited at Sivasagar on this silk tour of Assam. This Bora Saul rice variety has a distinct flavour to it that differentiates it from the other rice varieties.
Another rice variety that is found only in Assam is that of the Kumal Saul and this rice has a characteristic that it doesn’t need any cooking and just when you soak this rice in water it is ready to be eaten. The word Kumal means soft in Assamese and no wonder it is soft because it doesn’t need any boiling in water to make it soft like the other rice varieties. The Kumal Saul is generally preferred by the farmers who go out to work in the fields and since they cannot carry huge amounts of cooked rice along with them so they carry the Kumal Saul with them and when hungry they will soak the rice in water and prepare a sabji to eat with this rice. Next up we will visit the souvenir section here and various local produce that are sourced from the local villages that are to be found across the fringe areas of Kaziranga National Park are put up here for purchase and this is a way of supporting the local people with an augmented income and the things you buy here you can be rest assured that they are of the best quality. Next up we will go and take our seats at the stage area here and this is where the traditional dance forms of Assam are performed and displayed to guests at regular intervals. These are short dance performances and we can get to witness the Bihu dance and the bamboo dance forms of Assam here.
In the evening time, this place hosts an hour long dance performance of the various indigenous tribes of Assam and in case you are interested we can come back here in the evening to witness these dance forms in person but it will be at an additional cost. With this we wrap up our exploration of this silk tour of Assam for the day and we will go to check into our place of stay at the Dhanashree resort near the Kohora area of Kaziranga National Park. This is a very beautiful and old property of Kaziranga National Park and this place has individual cottages, villas and rooms for the comfortable stay of guests here at Kaziranga National Park. The Dhanashree resort is located just about 500m from the main highway and once you reach the place you will be surprised with the vast natural and scenic beauty around the place that overlooks the tall mountains of Karbi Anglong and a beautiful tea garden of Kaziranga National Park is also found behind the area of the resort. The independent cottages are located at the front area of the resort while the villas at the behind. The place serves complimentary breakfast to its guests and there is a huge parking area, a pool with a small boat and a mini tea garden within the premises of the resort as well. We will check into our rooms here and it will be a relaxed evening for us today.
Night Halt: Dhanashree Resort at Kaziranga National Park
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 7: Kaziranga National Park Safari
Today is our day of jungle safari at Kaziranga National Park and we will be going on two nos. of jeep safari ride inside the forests of Kaziranga National Park at the Eastern (Agoratoli) and Western (Bagori) ranges of the park. While in the morning session we will go to visit the Eastern range of Kaziranga National Park at Agoratoli and after our lunch we will go to visit the Western range at Bagori. We start our day with an early breakfast to be served to us at the dining area of the Dhanashree resort and we will go to board our safari vehicles that will await us at the parking area and these are the 4×4 Maruti Suzuki gypsy vehicles that are opened and modified to accommodate 6 guess and provide protection to the guests on their safari rides during their exploration of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park. The other mode of jungle safari inside the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park is that of the elephant back safari ride that is scheduled in the early morning slots at 5AM – 6AM and 6.30AM – 7.30AM. We will be going for our elephant safari rides into the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park either at the Central or the Western range of the park tomorrow morning before we wind up our visit at Kaziranga National Park and embark on our drive to Guwahati city.
The elephant safari ride for foreign nationals at Kaziranga National Park are conducted at the central range of the park while for Indian Nationals it is conducted at the Western range of park while the jeep safari rides are conducted across all the four zones of Kaziranga National Park at Agoratoli (Eastern), Kohora (Central), Bagori (Western) and Burapahar. We will board our jeeps and we begin on our ride to the forest entrance of the Agoratoli range that will take us around 45 minutes. We take a left diversion from the National Highway and here we will we welcomed by the beautiful countryside of Assam and a lot of land is under agriculture under these parts and farming is a major occupation of the local people. We will see the gardens growing fresh vegetables that are organic and the farmers working on the agricultural fields and the machines engaged in rice paddy threshing. The young children will be preparing to go to school and they will be waving their hands at us and we realize how the people are happy even though they are not rich. We will approach the forest office of the Eastern range of Kaziranga National Park and here we will need to make our entry and pay our entrance fees and camera fees before we start on our ride to the forest interiors and we complete the formalities and we will be joined by a guide and a forest guard and we begin on our safari in the forests of the Agoratoli range of Kaziranga National Park.
The Eastern range in a less frequented range of Kaziranga National Park when compared to the Central and Western ranges because as mentioned earlier most of the hotels and resorts are concentrated around the central and western ranges and therefore the visitors who come to Kaziranga National Park prefer to go for safari at these ranges because most of them come to sight the flagship species of Kaziranga National Park – the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros and this animal can be easily spotted at these two ranges along with the other mammals like wild buffaloes, hog deers, wild elephants, etc. but the Agoratoli range is known for its birdlife and the Bengal tigers of Kaziranga National Park as well. Though tigers are also sighted at the central range based on a visitor’s luck but more instances of tiger sighting are reported at the Eastern range of the park along with the other flagship animal species of Kaziranga National Park. We won’t be surprised when just upon entering we will be greeted by the great Indian Hornbill bird species of Kaziranga National Park and the bright hue of these birds will be a perfect way to begin our jungle safari experience here at Kaziranga National Park. We will continue further into the forest reserves and we might sight the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros from up close and also the wild water buffalo and elephant herd and many other animals like the Hog deers, Swamp deers, wild boars, Asiatic elephants, etc. We will soon approach a watch tower area that overlooks a huge swamp area and here we will stop and get down from our safari vehicles to view the vast forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park and here at the swamp we will spot many rare bird species both migratory and resident and also the various animals that are rare spending their time in the water. We will admire the grand beauty of the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park and later we go to visit further into the forest to sight more of the fauna and birds of Kaziranga National Park. The safari will take us to the banks of a river where we will get down to take a break and we begin on our return journey out of the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park and the ride will last for about 2 hours. We will bid farewell to the flora, fauna and avifauna at the eastern range of Kaziranga National Park and we will travel back to the Dhanashree resort where we will take time to freshen up and have our lunch and post lunch the jeeps will be back again to our resort and we will board our vehicles to travel to the western range of Kaziranga National Park at Bagori that is known to be the range that is famous for its Indian One Horned Rhinoceros sightings of Kaziranga National Park.
We will cross the beautiful farmlands of Kaziranga National Park on our drive to the Bagori range from Kohora and we will approach a temple shrine that is called as the Buri Aai Than that is a very revered temple shrine across this region known for granting blessings to people embarking on their journey across this highway on long drives. You will see various vehicles including transport busses and trucks stop here to offer their quick prayers before they begin on their drive to Guwahati in Upper Assam again. He will soon approach the Bagori forest range and we will go to the forest office to make our entry formalities and we will begin on our jeep safari experience at the western range of the famed UNESCO World Heritage site of Kaziranga National Park. Upon the entrance we will be lucky to spot a rhino from up close as this is mostly the territory of this adult rhino and it is often seen there and it will show off its grand armour and along with it the rhino would cross the road and the grand armour of this mighty beat looks absolutely stunning. We will allow the rhino to take its time and cross the road and reach on the other side and later we continue on our drive towards the Sildubi Beel area that is a very big lake cum swamp area at Kaziranga National Park at its Western range and here we will observe various bird species and the peculiar fish called as the Sital fish in Assamese and the fish species would keep jumping out of the waters and just when we would be taking a turn to board our jeep vehicles again we might get lucky to sight the one horned rhino from up close because this is the territory of another adult rhino and it is always spotted here.
There is a public toilet across this area and the area is protected with a fence built out of bamboo so that the rhino doesn’t come out of the place along with a border fence and this is an excellent moment for us to capture great images of this rhino and this is a very exciting experience as well. We will admire the beast and later we will go further to explore the forest area of the western range of the park to see more of animals and bird species of Kaziranga National Park. The ride will take us deeper inside the jungle and the western range of Kaziranga National Park is known for its sighting of the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros and in case we are lucky we might be able to spot two adult male rhinos fighting for territory here as well. Also we will get to sight the herd of the Asiatic Wild water buffalo and various deer species and the primate species of Kaziranga National Park as well. During one of our visits inside the western range we were lucky to spot make tuskers and elephant herd and in case we are lucky we might get to sight them today as well.
With this our hour and half long safari ride inside the forest reserves of Western range of Kaziranga National Park will come to an end and we will come out of the forest reserves and one thing noteworthy to be mentioned in the plastic water bottles that you might carry along with you inside the park. To maintain the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park plastic free and litter free you will need to ensure to carry back the exact number of plastic bottles that you might carry along with you inside the forest because a strict monitoring is kept in place for this and the forest guards will make a check when you are out and in case the numbers do not tally to the numbers of bottles you take inside the park then the guards will ensure that you will need to go inside the park and bring back the empty water bottle and this would mean you would need to hire the services of the jeep again and in turn the cost goes up. So please be advised to always carry thermos flask with you for your bit to the environment and keep the use of plastic as less as possible. We come out of the forest of Kaziranga National Park and we will continue on our drive back to the Kohora area of Kaziranga National Park and we will make a stop at the Kohora market to shop for souvenirs. Apart from the silk varieties of Assam, the state is also renowned across the World for its best tea varieties and Kaziranga National Park is also home to numerous tea gardens of Assam and the Amalgamated tea plantations of the Tata tea have their factory outlet here and visitors who come here can buy the best quality CTC and leaf tea and also there are several small outlets that sell various handicraft items like the various fauna of Kaziranga National Park like rhino, elephants, tigers, hornbill, etc. are carved out of dead wood or even tea garden bushes and these will be kept on display here as well. In case you are interested you can make a purchase of these items here at the market area of the Kohora area of Kaziranga National Park and later we will drive back to our resort. Tomorrow we will be on our last leg of journey on this silk tour of Assam where we will be travelling to Guwahati and later we continue on our silk tour where we will be visiting Bijoynagar and Sualkuchi to learn more about the silk weaving art of Assam. We will have a relaxed evening today and we will enjoy our time at the Dhanashree resort where there might be a cultural folk dance performance in the evening across a bonfire and this is generally an event that occurs regularly during the peak tourist season here at Kaziranga National Park. We savour a nice dinner here at the Dhanashree resort and later we will call it a day.
Night Halt: Dhanashree resort of Kaziranga National Park
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 8: Kaziranga National Park – Guwahati
Today we start on our drive to Guwahati from Kaziranga National Park and we will have a relaxed start because we will not have too much planned on our exploration today. We have our breakfast at leisure overlooking the beautiful tea gardens across the Dhanashree Resort and later we begin on our drive to Guwahati after breakfast and the vehicles will have our luggage’s boarded and we begin to cross Kohora area after bidding farewell to the Dhanashree Resort and we will soon approach the Bagori range not before we make a stop at the Buri Aai than and seek the blessings of the Goddess for a safe drive. We will have two stops on the way where we will visit Nagaon area to visit the Paradise Lake and also the Mrityunjya temple at Nagaon that is the largest Shivalinga in the World and is a very popular tourist attraction as well. We will cross Bagori and travel towards the Burapahar area and we will take the opportunity to stop at a viewpoint area to have the last sighting of the pride of Assam and Kaziranga National Park – the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros and finally we reach Jakhlabandha. We continue on our drive further to cross Koliabor, Amoni, Samaguri and Puronigodam to finally reach Nagaon town and here we will go to explore the beautiful paradise lake and the Maha Mrityunjya temple here at Nagaon.
The Maha Mrityunjya temple is having the World’s tallest Shivalinga at a height of 126 feet and this was earlier a sacred meditation site of the sages and therefore it was chosen as a site for the construction of this temple. The grand construction of this temple will leave you awestruck and another interesting fact is the though this is the tallest man made Shivalinga in the World, the World’s tallest naturally formed Shivalinga is also present in North East India and it is located at Kardeo at Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. The widest Shivalinga is also present in Assam and it is located at the Sukreshwar temple in Guwahati. We wind up our visit and later we will go to the Nagaon Bypass area to have our lunch at the Anuraag Dhaba at Nagaon. This is another of the very popular dhaba across this area of Assam and you will see it yourself when we observe the line of cars waiting outside the place. We will have a cabin booked for us here at the Anuraag Dhaba and we will savour a grand Assamese thali with various accompaniments with rice and after lunch we continue on our drive to Guwahati. The drive from Nagaon to Guwahati is across a four way lane and the drive is a very scenic one with grand landscape views of the Land of Red Rivers and Blue Hills – the state of Assam.
We will approach Sonapur and later the Jorabat area and this is a sign that we are about to approach Guwahati and we will soon reach Guwahati at Khanapara and we go to check into our hotel at the Ganeshguri area. We will be booked at the D Courtyard hotel in Guwahati and this hotel has the proximity to few good malls and the shopping area of Ganeshguri and today evening we will provide you the option of exploring the city of Guwahati all by yourself and we will take you to the entrance of the Central Mall at Guwahati where you will enter from one area of the city and you will exit at the other area of Guwahati at GS road area that is a very popular commercial area of Guwahati and this is a 3 star hotel with great amenities. You can take your time to visit two of the grand silk emporiums at Guwahati and you can make your purchase of the grand silk attires of Assam here as well or you can wait to make your purchase directly from the Manchester of the East at Sualkuchi when we visit the place tomorrow. Dinner will be arranged at the Hotel and it will be a Chinese cuisine dinner today as you must have already tried a lot of the traditional Assamese cuisine and we will try to keep the two final dinners at Guwahati with certain other cuisines apart from the Assamese thali.
Night Halt: Hotel D courtyard at Guwahati
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 9: Guwahati – Bijoynagar- Sualkuchi – Guwahati
We start our day after breakfast today and we will drive from Guwahati city towards the NH-37 and we will cross the Lokhra and Garchuk area to drive towards Jalukbari and Guwahati airport. We continue on our drive towards the Azara area and soon we will approach the town of Bijoynagar. At Bijoynagar we will take a left diversion to travel to the house of Mr Narmohan Das who is renowned to have kept the tradition of Eri Silk weaving of Assam alive and we will soon reach his house and we will learn about the various facets of the Eri silk weaving of Assam at this village. Mr Narmohan Das is known to have taken the Eri silk weaving of Assam to a global stage and he has represented Assam across various countries as well and people from various countries come to this small town of Bijoynagar to learn about Eri Silk weaving here at Narmohan Das’s house. He will explain to us about how he visits the local village and collects the finished products from the local people and then takes it and delivers it to global countries. Mr. Narmohan Das also is credited with gifting a Muga silk weaved carpet to the Buckingham palace in London as well. He will explain to us about the various facets of the Eri silk dyeing and how he has come up with unique ideas of learning various natural dyes as well.
We will be explained as to how the use of natural products like roots, barks and leaves of trees are used to obtain the dyes that are used to dye these Eri silk products and various examples are the turmeric root that gives a bright yellow dye, the peel of the onion that provides a reddish brown dye, the tea leaves that gives a greenish brown dye, beetroot for the dark pink coloured dye, etc. Mr Das has one room of his house filled with various garments weaved out of the Eri silk and dyed with the natural colours and though most of these products are woven as per requirement he manages to obtain some more samples of these wears out of the Eri silk variety of Assam and we will be displayed these products in the form of scarfs, stoles, jackets, shawls, etc. and in case you are interested you can make a purchase of the grand Eri silk handlooms from Bijoynagar itself. With this we wrap up our visit at Bijoynagar and we will start on our drive back towards Jalukbari in Guwahati and later towards Amingaon area where at first we will make a stop for our lunch at the Borluit dhaba that is a very nice ethnic Assamese restaurant that serves traditional food and various other accompaniments as well.
We will order ourselves a veg thali and a choice of meat or fish and after lunch we will continue on our drive to Sualkuchi. On the way we will cross the Saraighat War memorial and this was built to commemorate the brave soldiers and the brave General of the Ahom army Vir Lachit Borphukan and this was actually the site where the fierce battle of Saraighat was fought between the mighty Mughal army and the much smaller Ahom army. The Battle of Saraighat happened when Emperor Aurangzeb had sent Maan Singh to capture over Assam and defeat the Ahoms and with many unsuccessful attempts that time the Mughals had come over with a large contingent of Army and elephants but they had weak tactics in the naval area and this is when the Ahom General Lachit Borphukan who was commanding a much smaller army used brilliant war tactics of the navy and the Brahmaputra river to defeat the Mughals and they had to retreat. You will see the terrain because on one side the tall mountains and on the other side is the mighty Brahmaputra River and this terrain allowed the Ahom army to gain time to regroup after an attack and they defeated the Mughals with clever war tactics. We continue on our drive towards Sualkuchi and soon we will approach Sualkuchi town and upon entering we will be welcomed by various emporiums that sell silk handloom to visitors who come to Sualkuchi – the Manchester of the East.
These silk emporiums are all adjoining the main road and you will feel in awe once you get to see all these beautiful silk attires of Assam mostly the Muga, Paat and Tussar silk all with their bright hues being displayed here at Sualkuchi. We will be going to visit a silk weaving unit here at Sualkuchi and we will take our vehicles to the unit and here we will be surprised to see so many weaving looms at one place. The various weavers who are on these looms are mostly women and there are a few men as well who are involves in this silk weaving industry of Sualkuchi in Assam. As the name is derived from the tree on which the Muga silkworm feeds viz. the ‘Sualu’ tree and thus Sualkuchi is renowned across the World for the weaving of the Muga silk variety of Assam. Sualkuchi is a rich land of silk weaving heritage and as mentioned earlier the earliest details of weaving being started in this village is from the 11th century itself. Sualkuchi town is located around 35km from the city of Guwahati and it is located on the northern banks of the Brahmaputra River and the place is situated in a vast natural environment that facilitates the growth of the Sualu tree on which the Muga silk worm feeds.
At North East India and even at Sualkuchi you will find that the weaving is mostly a craft that is adopted by the women folks unlike in other parts of the country where it is a male intensive industry. The various tribal women of North East India have their own distinct pattern of weaving and this is displayed across the various designs and motifs that they weave out on the handlooms. When we will explore around Sualkuchi town we will get to see the various small emporiums here that display the traditional silk attires of Assam and also the streets across Sualkuchi town are lined up with several small silk weaving unit and we will get to witness the artists weaving on these traditional looms of Assam as well here at Sualkuchi. It might be noteworthy to mention that at Sualkuchi the various small silk weaving units are a mix of family run as well as commercial establishments and in the family run silk weaving establishments the owners work together with the workers and artists and the artists are mostly migrants who come to Sualkuchi years ago and they have been working across the generations since then. These artists of Sualkuchi often share their living space with a loom and they can be seen weaving and cooking at the same place.
We will reach the silk weaving unit here at Sualkuchi and this place is owned by a person named as Mr. Gautam and he also owns a large silk emporium just at the entrance of the Sualkuchi town and he is known to be a prominent businessman of Sualkuchi. We will notice at the unit that the silk weaving is done on traditional frame looms that are fitted with a jacquard mechanism and these loom like any other traditional loom of Assam are built with wood and bamboo and there are mostly two shafts in these traditional looms at Sualkuchi with an additional tool that is operated by the foot of the weaver that mostly controls the jacquard of these looms. Though the practices of silk weaving here at Sualkuchi have followed the ancient traditions and practices, it has gone slight changes to adapt to the demand of the modern markets. Through the yarns that are used to weave the genuine silk mekhela chadors are mostly obtained by the natural process of rearing of silk worms and then obtaining the fibre to weave out the Mekhela chador, over the years to cater to the demand of low cost handlooms in the market, today certain units also make use of synthetically obtained yarn to cater to the demands of cheaper handlooms in the urban markets and this however is clearly mentioned to buyers.
We will explore this silk weaving unit and admire the deep artistry involved in the weaving of these silk attires of Assam and Sualkuchi and this will be a perfect way to end this silk tour of Assam where we end our journey exploring the Manchester of the East at Sualkuchi. After witnessing the silk weaving unit we will go to the silk emporium where we will be shown the various hand woven silk attires of Sualkuchi mostly the Muga and Paat silk varieties and you will be deeply intrigued by the vibrant colours and shine that are present across these handlooms. You can make your purchase here at the silk emporium and they accept card and cash payments and with this we will wind up our visit at Sualkuchi and we begin on our drive back to Guwahati crossing the beautiful countryside of Assam from Sualkuchi and we enter the bustling city of Guwahati. Your evening will be at leisure when we drop you off at the D-Courtyard hotel and we will be departing to the Guwahati airport tomorrow before making a visit at the holy temple shrine of the Maa Kamakhya temple that is located atop the Nilachal hills in Guwahati and we pay our respects at the temple shrine before dropping you at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi airport at Guwahati.
Night Halt: Hotel D-Courtyard at Guwahati
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 9: Kamakhya temple and Guwahati airport
We start our day after an early breakfast and the vehicles will pick you up at the Hotel and you will start on your drive to travel towards the Maligaon area in Guwahati and we will take a right diversion to travel atop the Nilachal Hills in Guwahati where the holy temple shrine of the Maa Kamakhya temple is located. One among the 51 Shakti Peethas, Maa Kamakhya temple is considered to be the holiest temple shrine in North East India and it is believed that Goddess Sati’s womb fell atop the Nilachal hills and hence this temple shrine is dedicated to the spirit of womanhood and the ability of a woman to give birth to a child. Visited by thousands of devotees every day, this temple shrine is believed to have been built by the Hindu God of love (Lord Kamdeva) with assistance from Lord Vishwakarma. The temple site had fallen in ruins only to be rediscovered by the Koch Kings who rebuilt the temple and finally the Ahom Kings who were so influenced by the practices of Shakti and Tantra here at the Kamakhya temple that they converted to Hinduism and patronized the Kamakhya temple and today this is one of the most visited temple shrines in Eastern India. This temple has a remarkable architecture and the stone carvings on the temple walls along with the stone idols are a good example of the Ahom architecture that can be seen here.
Every year during the month of Asad (June) the Kamakhya temple celebrates the Ambubachi Mela festival and this is called as the Eastern Mahakumbh with lakhs of devotees and holy Sadhus coming to the Kamakhya temple shrine to offer their prayers and seek the blessings of the Goddess. It is believed that during this time the Goddess menstruates and the waters of the Brahmaputra River turns red and during the first three days of this festival the temple doors are kept closed and only on the fourth day the temple doors are opened to the devotees and they throng the temple shrine to seek the blessings of the Goddess. We will approach the temple parking and we will be welcomed by the temple priest who will take us on our Darshan of the Kamakhya temple. We will cleanse our hands and feet and we will be taken inside the temple shrine where we will enter the main dome of the temple and one thing you will observe that there are no idols of the Goddess here and instead there is a stone shaped in the form of a Yoni (vulva) and an underground water steam continuously feeding this stone and you Darshan completes once you touch this water and sprinkle it over your head. With this we wind up our silk tour of Assam and we will drop you at the Guwahati airport post this for your flight to your onward destination. Tour Ends. Bid Adieu!
A visit to Sualkuchi with our guests from USA
In the month of November 2019, when the World had not yet heard of the COVID19 pandemic and the borders were open and people were travelling freely across the various countries we had the opportunity to host our guests from USA on a silk tour of Assam and Meghalaya and we had taken this opportunity to visit the Kamakhya temple and Sualkuchi. This visit was planned on the second day of our visit and I will limit narrating this experience only at Sualkuchi and the Kamakhya temple because we explored numerous places of interest and also our experience of visiting the Umtngam village in Meghalaya we learnt about the Eri silk weaving of the Khasi people of Meghalaya. Our guests were picked up from the Guwahati airport and they were welcomed at Vivanta by Taj hotel in Guwahati where they spent their first evening. The next day we started our day in the morning and as there was a Pushkar Mela going on during that time where my guests had come to visit Assam especially from South India we had to ensure to reach the Kamakhya temple early and complete our Darshan before we head out to explore the Manchester of East at Sualkuchi. Our guests arrived at the Kamakhya temple shrine at around 8AM in the morning and we were welcomed at the temple shrine by a temple priest who would assist us with the temple Darshan.
Without the fear of COVID hovering across, the devotees had thronged the Kamakhya temple shrine on the day and we made our way across the flight of stairs towards the Kamakhya temple shrine and we opened our footwear at the temple entrance on top and we were guided by the temple present towards the temple pond where we were to cleanse our hands and feet and seek the blessings of Lord Ganesha (this is considered to be auspicious before starting any good) and so we seeked the blessings and started on our exploration of the Kamakhya temple shrine. The group leader has explained to the group members about the Kamakhya temple and why this is a revered temple shrine and how the devotees come here to seek the blessings of the Goddess. In the olden days the Kamakhya temple was associated with the practices of Shakti and Tantra and the various black magic sorcerers revered the Goddess and they used to prefer various rituals and sacrifices to appease the Goddess and they used to prefer various rituals and sacrifices to appease the Goddess and they used to perform various rituals and sacrifices to appease the Goddess and to sharpen their skills of black magic as well. The Ahom Kings who came to know about the practices of Shakti and tantra visited the temple and were deeply influenced by these practices and they decided to convert to Hinduism and take the legacy of the Kamakhya temple forward. The present day construction of the Kamakhya temple shrine follows the traditional Ahom type construction and the temple walls are all adorned with beautiful stone carvings and various idols of Gods and Goddesses that are examples of one of the very fine architectures. At first we had planned on visiting the inner sanctum of the Kamakhya temple on the VIP tickets and the temple priests had made arrangements for our passes but due to the huge rush of devotees at the temple shrine we decided not to go inside the inner sanctum in the interest of time and we would view the Garbhagriha of the Kamakhya temple from outside itself.
The priest guided us across the place and we seeked the blessings of the Goddess and the priest offered a small prayer for our group here and we came out of the temple shrine. We allowed the group to explore the grand construction of the Kamakhya temple for about half an hour and post this we bid farewell to the Kamakhya temple shrine and we started on our drive to Amingaon area in North Guwahati where we stopped for lunch at the Borluit Dhaba that is an ethnic Assamese restaurant that served the delicious Assamese thali and we had placed our order of veg thali for the entire group and the food arrived shortly and it was served on the bell metal plates and bowls and the presentation of the meal was grand. We enjoyed our lunch and post lunch we started on our drive to Sualkuchi. We crossed the beautiful countryside of Assam and we took a left diversion from the main highway to travel to Sualkuchi and we soon approached Sualkuchi town and upon entrance we were greeted by the various silk emporiums at Sualkuchi and the various attires of silk ranging from the Muga and Paat silk Mekhela Chadors were put up on display here at Sualkuchi. The views of the silk emporiums with the various display cabinets were absolutely stunning!
We went to visit a local silk emporium here and this is a very beautiful place to witness the various mekhela chadors that are woven from Muga silk and Paat silk. Sualkuchi as mentioned has been the pioneer in the Muga silk weaving of Assam since the 11th century and the silk fabrics woven here are transported all over Assam and also the World and this has earned the place a good repute when it comes to the silk varieties of Assam. Our guests looked around the emporium and the salesperson at the place showed them a wide variety of various handlooms and also purses, bags, etc. that were woven with the Muga silk variety of Assam. After the guests made their purchase of the various silk varieties we went ahead to visit a silk weaving unit and here we would learn about how the various silk varieties are obtained and we looked around this unit and the owner of the place demonstrated to us as to how the weavers process the silk worms and how the silk yarn is obtained to weave out the various Muga and Pat silk Mekhela Chadors here at Sualkuchi. This was a rewarding experience for the group to witness the silk weaving in person at the largest silk weaving village in the World here at Sualkuchi.
Our guests looked around the silk unit and they admired the various processes involved in the weaving of the silk Mekhela Chadors and they also made their purchases here and later they continued on their drive back to Guwahati from Sualkuchi. The evening was free for them and they spent their time at the luxurious 5 star hotel of Taj Vivanta in Guwahati. The next day we were scheduled to depart to Shillong from Guwahati and our guests would be staying at the grand Ri Kynjai – Serenity by the lake. We started on our drive to the Barapani area near Shillong the next morning we reached by afternoon to the place and today the guests needed a day of leisure and so we did not have much to do and we allowed the guests to explore the beautiful natural landscapes and the resort itself and they went on their own to explore the beautiful waters of the Umiam lake and the view from Ri Kynjai is also breathtaking as well. Lunch and Dinner were served to our guests at the Ri Kynjai itself and the next day we were scheduled to travel to Mawlynnong village – the cleanest village in Asia. We crossed Shillong before 7.30AM as later the rush increases on the streets of the city so it gets difficult to navigate easily along the road.
We reached Mawlynnong at around 11AM and here we set out to explore the Riwai Living Root Bridge area. Our guests were interested to witness this grand bioengineering marvel of the living root bridge that are found in Meghalaya and as the other Root bridge are not easily accessible and take long treks to reach the site therefore we had chosen to visit the Riwai Living bridge at Mawlynnong village that doesn’t require much of trekking and is only a short 10 min walk from the car parking area. I explained to our guests as to how the Khasi people of Meghalaya grow these living root bridges and we set out to explore the grand Riwai Living Root Bridge. These root bridges are grown and not built as these areas of Meghalaya receive heavy rainfall and the feasible solution to cross the various streams was via these root bridges and today these have become a sensation among tourists who come from all across the World to sight this bioengineering marvel. The guests were arranged to sight this root bridge and this is a single decker living root bridge and is the widest among all the root bridges present across Meghalaya. We admired the grandeur of the root bridge and later we went to have our lunch at a local restaurant here at Mawlynnong village and post this we explored the cleanest village of Asia and we started on our drive back to Shillong city.
We were to make a stop at the city to visit a designer silk boutique and here we were joined by a local lady of Shillong who took our guests to the place and we saw the fusion in the silk designs at Daniel’s showroom and our guests admired the place and with this we ended our exploration for the day and we went back to the Ri Kynjai for night halt. The following day we would be travelling to the Umtngam village that is known as the Eri silk weaving village and this is promoting the Eri silk weaving of Meghalaya. The roads are not quite good yet we reached the village soon and here we were welcomed by the local women who run a self-help group that obtains the Eri silk from the Eri silk worm that feed on the castor leaves and they weave out various handloom materials from this silk variety of Meghalaya. They took us to their silk weaving unit and here they put up on display the various stages of silk weaving and also the silk worms on castor leaves that yield this silk variety and also the various natural dyes that are used to dye the Eri silk fabric.
The Eri silk is also called as the Ahimsa silk as the silk worms are not killed to obtain the silk fibre from the cocoon and only when the larvae exists the cocoon that it is used to extract the silk fibre from the cocoon. This is what makes Eri silk to be in great demand across the countries where people have now adopted veganism and also across the Buddhist faith where they are against the killing of animals to obtain fibre from the body. This process was displayed to us and how later the silk fibre is obtained and made ready to be used for weaving and our guests loved the way this presentation was done before them. The next process is to dye the Eri silk fabric with colours obtained from various organic dyes and this process was displayed to us later at the house of one of the ladies who was a part of this self-help group. One thing very interesting to see here is that no male person was involved in the entire process of silk weaving and only the local women took up this take of raising the silk worm, obtaining the silk fibre, dyeing and finishing the weaving of the Eri silk fibre into various handlooms. Our visitor group was enthralled by the entire display of these Eri silk weaving methods and they made a lot of purchase of the various garments of the Eri silk to take back home.
Our lunch was arranged at the village home itself and it was a simple yet an elaborate meal with various offerings from salad, egg fry, chicken roast, fish fry, rice, dal, pickles, potato fry, etc. and everyone loved their meal and post lunch we started on our drive back to Ri Kynjai – Serenity by the lake. We had the evening free to ourselves and the next day we started on our last leg of the silk tour of Assam and Meghalaya and we would be going to our final destination – the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park in Assam. The next morning we started on our drive to Kaziranga National Park and we crossed Barapani, Nongpoh to enter Assam again at Khanapara and our drive continued to Sonapur and further towards Nagaon via Raha. At Raha we made a stop at an outlet that sells the various bamboo and cane handicrafts of Assam and these stalls are setup alongside the highway and visitors passing by the highway make a stop at these stalls to have the fresh tender coconut water and at the same time make a purchase of the various bamboo handicrafts of Assam. As this tour was focused on the handlooms and handicrafts of Assam so we took our guests to view these exquisite bamboo handicrafts of Assam. Bamboo is a very versatile grass and it is used across the villages of Assam to build homes, fences, bridges over small streams, furniture’s, interior decors, fishing tools, musical instruments and the bamboo shoot is even consumed in a wide variety of dishes.
At this stall we saw how the local artisans have used bamboo to create various items like baskets, stools, trays, etc. and our guests loved the way these products were weaved and displayed at the stall and they made their purchase and we started on our drive to Kaziranga National Park after our lunch at the Anuraag Dhaba at Nagaon. We reached Kaziranga National Park at around 2.30PM and we went to check into our place of stay here at the luxurious 4 star retreat of the Borgos Resort and our guests quickly checked in and later we went to explore the Kaziranga Orchid Park – the largest orchid park in India. We explored the greenhouse at the place where a local guide joined us and explained to us about the various orchid species here and our guests loved the place. Later we visited the section of handicrafts and handlooms and we saw more of the bamboo handicrafts and the local women weaving attires of silk and cotton on the local loom. Later we explored the orchid photo gallery and the rice museum here and we bid farewell to return back to the Borgos resort. Dinner was arranged at the resort itself and in the evening we enjoyed a dance performance by the local dance troops who performed the Bihu dance and the Jhumur dance forms of the tea garden tribes of Assam.
The next day we were on our jungle safari rides and we went to visit the Eastern zone of Kaziranga National Park at first and we got lucky to sight various animal species in this range including the one horned rhino, elephant herd, Asiatic wild water buffalo, hog deers, etc. and the various migratory bird species of Kaziranga National Park. We came back to our resort to have lunch and post lunch we went to visit the western range of Kaziranga National Park at Bagori and here we were sure to get good sightings of the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros – the pride of Kaziranga National Park. We got close sightings of this majestic beast and we also got to see the two adult male rhinos fighting for territory. We were also caught up with the family of the Indian Elephant and the male tusker also made a charge for our jeeps as it felt threatened but we managed to wisely avert any harm upon us. With this our safari experience ended here at Kaziranga National Park and we returned back to our resort before making a stop at a tea outlet to purchase fine quality Assam tea for our guests to carry back home. The next day we started on our drive back to the Guwahati airport and we dropped our guests at the airport for their flight to their onward destination and thus ending this fruitful silk tour of Assam!
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