In this write up we cover our tour with our Guest from England – Ms. Walker.
Places Covered – Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Tinsukia, Margherita, Digboi, Ledo, Lekhapani, Tipong Colliery, Jagun, etc.
Blog discusses in Details about –
- Dibru Saikhowa National Park
- Singpho Eco Lodge at Margherita
- India’s only Coal Museum at Margherita
- Historic Stilwell Road of World War II fame
- Digboi World War II Cemetery
- Digboi Centenary Oil Museum
- Mounglang Khamti Buddhist Monastery – Bhante Baba’s Monastery
- World’s Oldest Operational Steam Locomotives at Tipong Colliery – DAVID & 796
- The 20th General Hospital at Margherita of the American Army
- Asia’s Oldest Plywood Factory at Margherita of the AR&T company
- The Tea Gardens of Margherita, Namdang, Powai and Ledo
- The Namdang Bibi Majhar
- The Butterfly Park at Tikak Colliery
- The Open Cast Coal Mining of Tirap Colliery
- The Historic Lekhapani Railway Station
Ms. Walker had come over from England and she was touring North East India visiting the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh for a period of 30 days. She had intended to visit Guwahati, Majuli Island, Ziro Valley, Pasighat, Roing, Hornbill Festival in nagaland and many other places in North East India. I was helping her tour the places in Upper Assam mostly at Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Margherita, Digboi, Ledo, Namdang and Tipong. I was scheduled to meet her at the Dibru Saikhowa National Park on 27th November, 2017 in the late afternoon. Ms. Walker had arrived early as per schedule and I was out on another tour with a couple of guests to Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Setu aka the Dhola Sadiya Bridge – the Longest Bridge in India. I managed to complete the tour on time and after dropping my guests at Makum I headed to meet Ms. Walker at Banashree Eco Resort at Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Ms. Walker was revisiting her itinerary to other parts of North East India and I greeted her and welcomed her with a traditional Assamese towel called as the ‘Gamusa’ by putting the towel around her neck. She was amazed with the craftsmanship of the handloom work done on the Gamusa and thanked me for the gift. We sat down at the dining area of the Banashree Eco Resort and ordered our lunch. While lunch was being prepared we revisited Ms. Walker’s Itinerary and I guided here about the places where she had further plans of visiting and I spoke more about Majuli Island to her. In some time the lunch was served. The meal consisted of rice, dal, fried potatoes, chicken curry, salad, papad and pickles. The cook at Banashree Eco Camp at Dibru Saikhowa National Park is indeed very talented and cooks lip smacking delicious food. The food is cooked on traditional woodfire and this imparts a typical smoky flavour to the food which makes it all the more delicious.
Since Ms. Walker was scheduled to arrive in the late afternoon we didn’t have anything planned for the day but now we had the afternoon for sightseeing. She was interested in birds and it being winter time we decided to visit the Maguri Beel area near the Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Bicky, our young guide planned our visit there by arranging for a boat that would take us around the Maguri Beel for about an hour and Bicky would come along with us to guide us with the various bird species here at the Maguri Beel. The total time to reach Maguri Beel from the Banashree Eco Resort is around 20 minutes and we reached a small cycle repair shop whose owner rents out boats to visitors at the Maguri Beel. The boatman was pouring out water that had seeped into the parked country boat and it took him 15 minutes to get the boat ready. We got onto the boat and started exploring the Maguri Beel area. Bicky was knowledgeable about the bird species in that area and he showed us varied bird species here. We started off by sighting the Ruddy Shelduck which are a common sight here at Dibru Saikhowa National Park during the migratory season of winters. We continued to sight purple swamphens, lesser adjutants, cormorants, black drongos, kingfishers, eagles and various other bird species at the Maguri Beel. Since Ms. Walker did not have a sharp eyesight we had to take time to show her each species and with the help of binoculars she was able to identify the bird species at the Maguri Beel. What amazes visitors here at the Maguri Beel is the various fishing techniques used by the local villagers to catch fish. Fishing in an important occupation of the people here and Maguri Beel has vast reserves of fishees. Instead of using traditional nets to fish, the villagers use various kind of fish traps made of bamboo that leads fishes inside the trap with the flowing water and the fishes get trapped. Local people put out these traps in the morning and later in the evening come to collect their catch of fishes. We stayed for about an hour at the Maguri Beel and then decided to call it a day and returned back to the Banashree Eco Resort. I explained the next days plan to Ms. Walker and later I bid her goodbye instructing the resort staff about her dinner requirements and I headed back home to Margherita.
The next day I got up in the morning and got ready to go to Dibru Saikhowa National Park to meet Ms. Walker. I left home at 7.30AM to reach Banashree Eco Resort at 9AM. Ms, Walker was ready and I joined her for breakfast. We were done by 9.30AM and then headed to the Royal Princess Houseboat at Guijan where the Manager Mr. Rajiv had arranged for a small boat for us that would take us across the Dibru River to the Kekjori tree area inside the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and then later take us on a tour to the Dolphin point to sight the species of River Dolphins here. We would be accompanied by a forest guard and two of Rajiv’s staff. It took us about 20 minutes to cross the Dibru River and from here we had to walk for almost 45 minutes to reach the area of the Kekjori tree after crossing the Saal Beel area. We stopped at the Saal Beel area which is basically a dried out lake bed during winters and many bird species are spotted here. A little while later we reached the Kekjori tree area. This is a very old tree that has a huge root span cover and one can see vast area covered by the branches of this tree. We were amazed by the beauty of this tree and spend some time around the area of the Kekjori tree here at Dibru Saikhowa National Park. We travelled back to the river bank where our boat was parked and started to come back to the Dolphin point area in the midst of river Dibru.
It didn’t take us much time to reach the point and we stalled our boat to catch a glimpse of the highly endangered creatures. Earlier river dolphins were abundantly available across the rivers of Assam. The river Brahmaputra had a very healthy population of these magnificent creatures. However rampant hunting of these animals by humans has severely dwindled their population and their numbers are now strictly restricted to the protected areas of Assam. After sometime we saw our first river dolphin jumping out from the water. Their movements are very quick and to capture them on camera is a real tough job. After sometime a few more dolphins jumped out of the river waters and we ended up sighting around 5 river dolphins. We decided to go back as we had to leave for Margherita after our lunch. We headed on to the Royal Princess Houseboat at Guijan ghat where we were served lunch of rice, palak paneer, chicken curry, dal and mixed sabji. The meal was very rich and flavorful. After finishing our lunch we thanked Rajiv for all the arrangements and we moved to Margherita.
At Margherita Ms. Walker was scheduled to halt at the Singpho Eco Lodge. We arrived at the Singpho Eco Lodge at around 4PM in the afternoon where we were greeted by the owner, his wife and their son Agam Singpho. We checked into the Singpho Eco Lodge and had a short discussion with the owner and his wife. We were offered a cup of the special Singpho heritage tea – the Phalap. The Phalap tea is very flavorful and it is had not with sugar but with a piece of jaggery. After checking out the rooms and settling or luggage, Agam offered us to show around the local villages of Ketetong area near the Lodge. We went to Ketetong village where Agam took us to his friends home where there was a religious function going on. We went on to the see the river side to see the beautiful green fields. We also went to another local home where we saw a traditional loom of the Singpho people of Margherita. After the ceremony got over we went to seek the blessings of the monk who had performed the rituals. We came back to the Singpho Eco Lodge and Agam took us to his aunt’s place where I played football with the two kids while Ms. Walker spoke to the ladies of the house over another cup of Phalap. It was getting dark and we retired back to the Singpho Eco Lodge. Ms, Walker was the only guest halting for the night here so Agam took her order for dinner as she had planned to retire to bed early after a hot shower. I took leave and headed back home.
The next morning I got up and went to the Singpho Eco Lodge to meet Ms. Walker. Today we had planned to visit Digboi area near Margherita. I reached the Singpho Eco Lodge and Ms. Walker was already ready and she was waiting for me at the Buddhist Monastery near the Lodge. She got up quite early and Agam had accompanied her to the nearby monastery to meet the head monk here who was a very knowledgeable person. He had a double MA in philosophy and had worked with a global company in Delhi earlier. He decided to renounce the world and became a monk and is now the head monk of this monastery. They had a long discussion with him at the monastery. After I reached, we headed to the Singpho Eco Lodge to have our breakfast and then proceed to Digboi. The breakfast was a simple offering – bread toast with butter, boiled eggs, bananas and the Singpho phalap. We finished our breakfast quickly and then headed to the Legendary Oil town of Assam at Digboi.
Digboi is the place where oil was first discovered in India in the 1800’s and the first oil refinery in Asia was setup here. I did my schooling in Digboi upto 10th standard and this place has always been close to my heart. The colonial British bungalows always reminded me of the heritage of the British Raj in India. At Digboi, we went at first to sight the Digboi World War II cemetery. Built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Mission, Digboi war cemetery contains burials of over 150 soldiers of the British army who laid down their lives during the Burma Campaign of World War II. This war cemetery has been maintained well and the lawn here is always well trimmed with flowers around each burial. We paid our respects to the soldiers and Ms. Walker narrated how her father served in the World War II. After sometime we left the war cemetery and took a visit of the Digboi town and finally arrived at the Centenary Oil Museum at Digboi. Thus museum was built to mark the centenary (100 years) celebration of the Digboi Oil Refinery and details the history of oil industry in India. This museum also houses the Oldest Operational oil well in the World – an abandoned oil well that was dug in 1889 and oil still seeps out of this well till today. At the entrance of the Oil Museum there is an Air Raid Shelter used by the Allied Forces during the Burma Campaign of World War II in 1942. We purchased our tickets and went to explore the Oil musuem of Digboi.
Once you enter the premises of the museum, on the right side is a building that is the actual museum while a little ahead on the outside there are various models of machines that depict the history of oil industry in India. There is a vintage petrol pump which was installed during the heritage British era. On the right there is the oldest operational oil well in the World. There is also a vintage car parked here. After exploring this we went inside the Museum. I had to deposit my mobile phone in a secure locker before entering the museum. Once you enter the musuem you can see the Digboi oil story narrated in the form of a model of a British officer ordering the Indian men to dig for oil in the forest reserves of Assam. Then there are various artefacts from the British era kept here. The best one is a traditional lawn mower kept on display. At one side there is a huge model of the Digboi Oil Refinery. On another side are various by products of crude oil like paraffin, bitumen, wax, etc. Vintage telephones, gas masks, drills, etc are also kept on display at the Centenary Oil Museum of Digboi. We finished our tour of the Digboi refinery and then headed back to Margherita. On the way we halted at another Monastery and Hindu Temple at Golai. After this we proceeded to Margherita. At Margherita we decided to have our lunch at the Singpho Villa Restaurant near Baragolai that serves authentic Singpho tribal cuisine food and is a favorite among locals who come to this place regularly to taste ethnic and traditional food.
We ordered for tupula bhat (boiled sticky rice wrapped in a special leaf), boiled pork with bamboo shoot, a pork stick and boiled fish. The meal was simply delicious and we savored it. Later we continued to visit the Coal Museum at margherita. The coal museum at Margherita is the only coal museum in India and has on display various artefacts and coal mining techniques from the legendary Makum Coalfields of Assam and was built by my father Mr. A K Bora ex CGM NECF CIL. We explored the museum for an hour and then went to see the remains of the 20th General Hospital at Margherita. Built by the American Army during the Burma Campaign of World War II, this was a Grade A hospital of the American Army that treated many high officials of the British and American Army along with the soldiers. India’s first Governor General Lord Mountbatten also received treatment here during the war. Although this place has now fallen into ruins some remains can be still seen here like a huge fireplace area that was inside the premises of the Hospital. Next Ms. Walker and I went to my home where I introduced her to my parents. My mother served us tea and we discussed about Ms. Walker’s life in England and how she felt visiting the places where the British had major operations in India earlier. After some time we left our home to visit the remains of the Asia’s Oldest Plywood factory at Margherita.
This place falls on the way to the Singpho Eco Lodge and so we decided to give it a try. This place is generally closed for public and one has to seek permission to enter the premises of the abandoned plywood factory. I knew the authorized personnel as he happened to be a distant relative of mine. After exchanging greetings and discussing our family we went to see the remains of the plywood factory. This place has fallen into ruins as production of plywood was stopped here in the late 1990s. But the machinery present here are still in running condition and are operated once in a month to keep them running. All machinery here were brought in from Italy, France and other European countries. By the time we explored the plywood factory it was getting dark and so we called it a day and headed back to the Singpho Eco Lodge. Agam was there to greet us and we went in to have a cup of Phalap. Agam offered us some traditional rice beer of the Singpho people an it tasted quite good. He also offered us traditional pork pickle made by his mother and it was delicious too. I took leave for the day and went back home.
Today morning we were scheduled to visit the Namdang Bibi Majhar first. I picked up Ms. Walker and started our day of exploring. We first went to the Namdang Bibi Majhar, a holy place for Muslims here. It is said that there were two young girls who used to predict the future from a very early age and indeed whatever they said came true.Slowly their fame started spreading across the nearby areas and people started visiting them from far and near to get their near future predicted. Unfortunately both the girls passed away at a very tender age an in order to pay homage to them they were buried here. A memorial has been built recently here and people from all faith come here to pay tribute at the Namdang Bibi Majhar. We too offered our tributes and Ms. Walker paid the Mullah for a ‘Chadar’ to be adorned on the burials of these two girls Next up we admired the beautiful tea gardens of Namdang area and proceeded to the next destination – the Butterfly and Orchid park at Tikak Colliery. This park too was built by my father Mr. A K Bora during his tenure as the CGM of NECF CIL. This Butterfly park has various species of orchids from across North East India and it becomes very beautiful during the time of the flowering season in the months of June and July. We could see various butterflies coming near the area of the park and there is also a room that illustrates the various species of butterflies in the nearby surrounding areas. The various colorful butterflies were very soothing to the eyes. After sometime we continued on our journey.
Our next stop was at the Mounglang Khamti Buddhist Monastery and the International Meditation Center here. This Monastery is of Bhante Baba’s fame, a local Buddhist monk who blesses everyone and provides a stone that protects his believers from any physical harm. The stone is brown in color and is to be adorned on the right hand ring finger. Although Bhante Baba passed away recently at a ripe age of 104 after battling with disease since a few years he was alive when we went there and we were fortunate to seek his blessings during our visit. Disciples come here from various far areas to seek blessings of Bhante Baba. We arrived at the Moungland Khamti Buddhist Monastery and we were greeted by an army of over 20 pomeranian dogs. Very cute, these dogs do not cause any harm to visitors apart from barking so there was no need to worry. We explored the area around Mounglang Monastery first. There is a stupa and a Buddha statue in the premises of along with a few cottages where visitors who come for meditation stay here. Then we went inside to seek the blessing of Bhante baba. One of Bhante baba’s disciples was there blessing the people who had come here as Bhante Baba was ill. When the monk spoke to Ms. Walker he asked if we would be interested to meet Bhante Baba. It was an utter delight to us and we readily agreed. We were taken to a house behind the Monastery where Bhanta Baba was lying on a bed. He smiled at us and asked Ms. Walker to come close to him. He blessed her by putting his hand on her forehead and pouring some holy fragrant water on her. We spoke to him for a little time and then came out to leave. The other monk came to us an he waned Ms. Walker to speak to another monk who was a professor at the University of Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh and was fluent in many foreign languages. As Ms. Walker was French originally she spoke to him in French and they had a pleasant conversation. I stood there understanding nothing. After sometime we thanked the monk, seeked his blessings and moved on to Lekhapani – the land of the historic Stilwell Road before making a stop at the Historic Ledo Airstrip which was used as the landing grounds of the aircrafts of the Allied Forces during the World War II.
We arrived at Lekhapani and I took Ms. Walker to the Stilwell Road Zero Point Park that illustrated the construction of the Stilwell Road and the git, saga and determination of the soldiers of the American Army who undertook this mammoth task in the most hostile environment conditions. We carefully saw the pictures narrating the story of the Stilwell Road and then saw the big board that illustrates the map of the Stilwell ROad – from Ledo (India) to Kunming (China). After paying our tributes to the brave soldiers we headed to the Lekhapani Railway Station. The Lekhapani Railway Station is the easternmost railway station in India and it was a major coal loading terminal of the meter gauge network of northeast frontier railway. The Lekhapani railway station also played a major role during the movement of Allied armed forces during the Japanese blockade in World War II. This also marks the beginning of the famous Stilwell Road constructed upto Kunming China by allied army between 1942 & 1945. The Lekhapani Railway Station was closed to commercial traffic on 26th August 1993 and the last train passed over the station on 17th February 1997. After clicking our pictures here at the Lekhapani railway Station we proceeded to our next destination.
Next up we headed to Tipong Colliery. Tipong Colliery is home to the Sumi Naga people who came from Bagaland and settled in this remote part of Assam. They were the fierce head hunting tribes of Nagaland but now they have stopped this practice and lead a normal life like the other people of Tipong. The village they reside in at Tipong is called the Lalpahar Sumi village. My friend Prasad joined us at the Lalpahar village and he being a local of Tipong knew the places around this village. We went on to meet Daniel a local naga guy of the Sumi tribe who took us to his home to show us their way of living. At Daniel’s home we met his parents and his sister and they showed us around their local village. We saw their kitchen which was an interesting sight to behold. They cook on traditional firewood and hang meat slices so that they get dried and it imparts a special smoky flavor to the meat. The meat is then used to prepare a spicy chutney which they have for lunch and dinner. They offered us some and it was indeed very spicy as they had mashed it up with the Naga King Chilli or the Bhut Jolokia – the hottest pepper in the world. Ms. Walker and I could feel our throat burning with the spice. We were offered rice beer that would soothe the spiciness and it indeed helped. They welcomed us for lunch but we couldn’t accept their offer as we were short of time and had other places to visit too. We thanked them for their warm hospitality and bid them goodbye to visit the Tipong Colliery.
At Tipong colliery we headed to check out the Oldest operational steam locomotives in the World – DAVID. DAVID was brought from England in the 1800’s to operate across the coalfields of Makum. DAVID served for many years at Tipong Colliery colliery transporting coal from colliery area to the haul site for transportation. Now as Coal production at Tipong had stopped hence DAVID too has stopped operating. But it is still in running condition and visitors from across the world come to see David in operation. It was a wonderful sight to see such old machinery still in action. After admiring the Steam Loco we proceeded to visit the underground coal mines of Tipong. We went to check the Pragati Khani which is an abandoned underground coal mine. We got to see how coal miners travelled deep underground these coal mines to extract coal from underground. We had got an insight into the underground coal mining at the Coal museum at Margherita but this was more of a real experience. We finished exploring Tipong Colliery and bid goodbye to the place.
After our visit to Tipong Colliery was over we headed on to visit Jagun. Jagun is a around 20 minute drive from Tipong and is a small town area. that serves as a major business area for eastern Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. From Jagun various traders carry on business to supply goods to Arunachal Pradesh at Nampong, Vijaynagar, Miao, Kharsang, etc. We went to eat authentic tribal lunch at a restaurant in Jagun. It is a basic place but they cook delicious food here. We ordered fish cooked on steam with herbs, local chicken boiled and pork with bamboo shoot along with rice. It was a delicious meal and very cheap too. We paid around 500 bucks for the entire meal for 3 people. After our lunch was over we dropped Prasad at Tipong area and went back to Ledo. At Ledo our last halt was at the Ledo Club. The Ledo Club serves as a club for officials of NECF. It was earlier the office of Lord Mountbatten – the first Governor General of India. We explored the premises of the Ledo club where we checked out the Bar area and the billiards room. After spending our time there it was around 4.30 PM and we headed back to the Singpho Eco Lodge. Agam was there and as it was Ms. Walker’s last night here he arranged for a nice dinner for her. We discussed the feedback on our tour with Ms. Walker and later I took leave.
The next day morning Ms. Walker paid her last visit to the Monastery here and I came to pick her up. We bid goodbye to Agam and his mother and went off on our journey to Dibrugarh Airport. I dropped Ms. Walker at the airport and she was about to travel to Guwahati where she would be received by another tour operator who would be showing her around the other parts of North East. Ms. Walker regretted of not meeting me first or else she said she would; have preferred to see North East India with me itself. I thanked her for her visit and wished her goodbye and she wished me luck for my future endeavours.