Assam is a land of myths and mystery. "The land of red river and blue hills," as it is described, has a unique landscape with sprawling tea gardens and unending stretches of paddy fields interspersed with groves of coconut, areca nuts, and banana trees. Its population is a confluence of streams of different races and tribes like the Austrics, the Aryans, Negroids, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Tibetans, and Mongoloid. They have enriched each other and have evolved to give a distinctive identity to the Assamese people.
Located at the gateway of Northeast India, Assam is separated by Bangladesh from mainstream India. The state is bounded in the north by Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan; in the east by Nagaland, Manipur, and Burma; in the south by Bangladesh, Tripura, Mizoram, and Bangladesh; and in the west by West Bengal.
Huen Tsang, the great Chinese traveler, visited this region in the 7th century. At that point of time, Pragjyotishpur was known as Kamrup, which was then a strong kingdom under King Bhaskaravarman. However, after this there was a gradual decline of this region and subsequent centuries were witness to repeated onslaughts by aboriginals that reduced the power of the kingdom and led to its fragmentation. It was a time when no single power could hold sway in Assam.
When the Ahoms entered Assam crossing the eastern hills in 1228, they chanced upon a period in its history when it was at its most susceptible. Among the local tribes, the Chutias and the Kacharis could offer only a semblance of resistance.
The entry of Ahoms in Assam started a new beginning, and many scholars opine that the state was named after this dynasty that ruled it for six centuries. With the advent of the Ahoms, the center of power shifted from Kamrup in Lower Assam to Sibsagar in Upper Assam. The importance of Lower Assam declined sharply, except for a short period in the early 16th century when the Koch dynasty extended their western limits considerably under their illustrious king Naranarayana.
The Mughal Empire was at its zenith during this time and they took it as a challenge to crush the Ahoms. They attacked the state 17 times. The last of the wars was fought near the present-day Saraighat Bridge over the river Brahmaputra in Guwahati. In this war, the Ahoms gave the Mughals a crushing defeat under the leadership of the able general Lachit Barphukan. Lachit Barphukan achieved immortality for his heroism and many anecdotes are now an integral part of the folklores of Assam.
The next centuries spelled troubles for this kingdom and save for a brief intervention during the reign of king Rudrasingha, the state went on a gradual decline in the 18th century. This was the time when the Burmese attacked this state and annexed them into their empire. However, they could not hold sway on the region for long and in 1826, the British forced them to cede Assam by the Treaty of Yandaboo.
With the rest of India, Assam also played an important role in the war of independence. It was declared a state under the Union of India after it achieved independence in 1947. At that time, except Manipur and Tripura, the whole of the Northeast region was called Assam. However, due to strong regional distinctions, all of them have to be carved out as separate states, starting with Nagaland in 1963 and ending with Arunachal Pradesh in 1972.
Fairs & Festivals
Rongali or Bohag Bihu is the main festival of Assam. It derives its name from the Sanskrit Vishuvam when day and night are rendered equal through the vernal equinox. People welcome the spring season and pray for a bountiful and rich harvest. This festival is celebrated in the month of Bohag (mid-April), the first month of the Assamese calendar. The exact date in the English calendar varies, but the festival normally starts from the 13th day of the month of April. Other Bihus are Bhugali Bihu (also Magh Bihu) and Kangali Bihu (also Kati Bihu).
Ambubasi Mela is a fair held in Guwahati, the capital of Assam, and is closely related to Tantric rituals.
Other important festivals of Assam are Bathow Puja, Kheraj Puja, Rajni Gobra, Harni Gobra, Ali-ai-ligang, and Po-rag.
Best Time to Visit
There are two distinct climates operating in Assam. While the hills enjoy sub-alpine climate, the plains of the state experience tropical climate with high humidity level in the monsoon. Winter touches this state in the end of the month of October and lasts until the end of February. The nights are cold and the mornings are foggy during this time. Summer begins by mid-May with high level of humidity and rainfall. June is the beginning of monsoon. Thunderstorms known as "Bordoichila" is a frequent occurrence during the afternoons. Spring and autumn with moderate temperatures and modest rainfall are the best seasons of Assam.
How to Reach
BY AIR -The functional airports are at Guwahati, Jorhat, Silchar, Dibrugarh, and Tezpur. There are regular air services for New Delhi and Calcutta from Guwahati. Dibrugarh, Jorhat, and Tezpur are also connected to Calcutta by regular flights.
BY RAIL -Guwahati is the largest railway station in Assam. It is connected by rail to Delhi, Calcutta, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai, and other parts of the country. There is also a good railway network that connects every part of the state.
BY ROAD -A good road network connects all the important places of the state with the state capital. Guwahati is 2160 km from Delhi, 3104 km from Mumbai, 2688 km from Chennai, and 595 km from Darjeeling.
Not much is known about the early history of Assam. However, the region was mentioned by the Chinese explorer Chang Kien of having trade links with China in 100 B.C. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and Ptolemy's Geography also acknowledge the existence of this state before Christ.
The Australoids or the pre-Dravidians were the earliest inhabitants of this state. But, it were the Mongoloids who entered the land through the eastern mountainous passes and overrun the land long before the time of the compilation of the Hindu religious literature known as the Vedas. In the Vedic literature, the state has been mentioned as the land of Kirats with Pragjyotishpur as the capital. In the epic Mahabharata, it is mentioned that the Kirats fought against the Pandavas.
Guwahati derives its name from two words, guwa (meaning betel nut) and hati (meaning little market). It is customary for anyone on his first visit to this city to visit the Kamakhya temple, dedicated to the Mother Goddess. The importance of the temple is second only to the mighty Brahmaputra, the river with an undeniable presence in the town. In the center of the city, with the magnificent backdrop of the Brahmaputra and atop Sukleshwar Hill stands the Janardan temple. West of Chitrachal Hill is the unique temple of Navagraha dedicated to the nine planets. Once a renowned seat of astronomy and astrology, it is possibly the reason for Guwahati's earlier name of Pragjyotishpur. The Assam State Zoo is not very far from the heart of the city. The undulating topography and the three-side open enclosures make the zoo almost like a natural habitat for the animals. Guwahati has several museums, repositories of this state's ancient culture and tradition. The Assam State Museum is the largest amongst them and has sections on epigraphy, sculpture, natural history, crafts, ethnography, and arms.
The mighty Ahoms reigned supreme for 600 years at Sibsagar, at a distance of 369 km from Guwahati, where the ruins of their temples and palaces still exist. Resurrected by the Archeological Survey of India, these ruins provide an interesting insight into the past glory and splendor of Assam.
Kaziranga National Park, situated at a distance of 217 km from Guwahati, is one of the most picturesque wildlife parks in India. The natural habitat of the one-horned rhino, Kaziranga lies on the southern banks of the Brahmaputra River, northeast of the capital city. Originally established as a game reserve in 1908, which included specific portions of Assam's Sibsagar district, Kaziranga was declared a sanctuary in 1940 to counter excessive poaching. The park's original inhabitants-the rhino and the elephant being the most noticeable-now thrive in a serene environment to the sheer delight of nature lovers. Viewing wildlife at Kaziranga Park because of its vast open spaces, the presence of the mighty Brahmaputra, and adjoining Mikir hills makes a trip to Kaziranga a complete 'jungle' adventure.
Manas National Park (176 km from Guwahati), situated amidst the gentle slopes of the Himalayas, is the only tiger reserve of its kind in the entire region. The park covers a large part of Barpeta district in Assam and extend to the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. Apart from the growing population of tigers, Manas is also home to the rare golden langur, the hispid hare, the pigmy hog, the one-horned rhinoceros, and at least twenty other species of animals and birds that are listed as highly endangered. Manas derives its name from the Goddess Manasa. The forest stretches beyond Indian territory to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, with the crystal waters of the Manas River demarcating the international border.
Pabitora, a small wildlife sanctuary, 60 km from Guwahati is also worth a visit. Rhino and various species of deer abound here.
Hajo, 32 km west of Guwahati, is a sacred place for Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. The town also boasts the Hayagriva Madhav Temple, accessible via a long stone stairway. At the foot of the stairway is a large pond inhabited by one of Hajo's oldest residents: a giant turtle. Hajo is also renowned for its bell-metal work.