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