17 April 2010

mystic assam: an affair to remember

two things i had never imagined would be true even in the craziest of my fancy.
  • one, that someday my dad would arrange for a trip and 
  • the second, that an outing with family would be so wild, berserk and on-the-go
with my dad at kaziranga
it was december at its chilling best and the year of 2010 was just around the corner and we started off on a trail that lasted several days across two of india's most amazing states.

the route i took
it has been months to those days of adrenaline-rush but i still remember nicely every-bit-of-it (not an exaggeration my dears). the train journey in a three-tier air conditioned compartment jam-packed with enthusiastic tourists was a good way to predict the days ahead. i had started off from kolkata on 23rd december and reached guwahati the next day and from the night of 24th started a week long tour that would transform my world in a big way. it made me take travelling in a serious way like never before.

the train to guwahati
the journey to morigaon was amazing. i saw brown hills, green grasses, mighty rivers and beautiful people, it reminded me of the sceneries we used to draw as assignments in kindergarten. assam was lovely and fresh. i stayed at dad's room and met his students and tell you, these guys are so humble and down-to-earth, you don't get their types in the big cities anymore. i hadn't come to assam to rest but to explore the state and the same night much before day break we took off on a non-stop journey (in a car packed with mom, dad, i and three of dad's friends). i had little idea that this journey would be the biggest of my life thus far.

kaziranga wilderness
first it was the beauty and the wilderness of kaziranga and my god what a journey that was (gives me goosebumps till today, the mere thought of it). it captivated and enchanted me. the road leading to the park (NH 37) was lined with deep and thick forests and my fancied imaginations made up for the moment. all that i had read was about to be true. we reached bagori and entered the park, it was biting cold and not even 7, i was ready with my camera. we arranged for a jeep which charged 800 bucks for an hour and coupled with the entrance fee, guard fee and some other fee which i don't remember the whole amount summed up to probably 1300 bucks (not bad for an hour in the wilderness). i was energetic at the beginning but felt bugged down at the end of the jeep safari. it was more of a loot than sheer thrill but kaziranga was nevertheless good, it could have been better had we not been in hurry. i have no one to blame and on the contrary i salute the people who protect the animals out there. we took a small but wonderful bus from bagori and the road that continued for the next two hours leading to jorhat (NH 37) had beautiful tea gardens on both the sides and lush green forests that were part of the kaziranga national park. we had seen three rhinos, besides a hog, a barking deer and a stork, so all was well.

elephant safari at kaziranga
a camera friendly rhino
a trip to assam is probably incomplete without seeing this mighty and royal beauty, the one-horned indian rhino, it was the third one i had seen that day and from the closet, it appeared to be a camera friendly rhino unlike the two others, what a beauty

next was the holy vaishnav island of majuli via jorhat (a bustling city in the middle of assam) and the city has an airport too for the comfort seekers. the ensuing trail to the shore of the mighty brahmaputra (kamlabari ghat) on a rickety bus full of people was fun amidst much chaos, sweat, gossips and sun. the open fields and then the first sight of the river and her numerous sand islands was mind-blowing much like seeing a gregarious group of children clustered to the bosom of her mother. it was sheer thrill.

on our way to majuli
a boat journey, a long one, where one could see just the shore of not-so-distant islands took us to the main island i had been so longing to see in my life. it's allegedly one of the largest in the whole wide world (perhaps the third in my list). the island isn't exactly the most photogenic place on earth or a place tourists would flock to in mighty numbers (though i had seen a firangi too). on the contrary i would suggest only die-hard fans of raw nature to come here. it was difficult on the island with my mother around. there were no good hotels, no good food, but good people and good culture aplenty, and it’s absolutely safe to venture around even during night. we visited a local fair and bought certain artifacts. i could see the beauty of the island only the next day when the rays of the sun broke the darkness and the bamboos filtered the sunshine on this land so pure.

mom at a local fair, majuli
the next day, a local auto-wallah doubled up as our guide (he was an amazing man) and showed us the largest xatra (vaishanv maths) around, the auniati xatra, and i can't tell you the feeling of an early morning tea with your mom and dad and then heading for uncertainty. the kuttcha road lined with bamboos on both sides and sleepy villages passing by with kids readying for school and i far from kolkata and my office was sheer enjoyment. the xatra was beautiful. the monk huts (we interacted with a few monks too), the ponds, the water lilies and the main temple. it was amazing. i even met an ascetic who changed my world in ways more than one.

auniati xatra, majuli
auniati xatra, majuli
we headed back to the ghat. the wait for the ferry back to jorhat on the mainland was both long and boring but then how often do you get to get bored back in a city and i loved that bit too. my parents were enjoying too and that was good for me. i liked their sporting and no-crib nature despite being used to comforts. plus am always with my parents giving them all the necessary details and bore them to depression (ha!)

the autowallah
the next in line was the historic city of sibsagar. the city famous for its ahom kingdom buildings, temples, lakes and beauty and surely it didn't disappoint. i loved the cleanliness and it apparently looked like a slow paced city but it was beautiful for sure. my auto-wallah (it’s better to hire an auto for sightseeing) doubled up as guide for free (they effortless do it and are oh-so-good at it). he showed me an iron bridge that was one of the earliest in india (research pending on it). the shiva dol, the vishnu dol, the rong ghor, the talatal palace and some other smaller buildings and they were a revelation of sorts. i had visited gaur in malda (west bengal) a few months ago and both the historical visits (shibsagar and gaur) had left me spellbound.

shiva dol, shibsagar
i was feeling good, relaxed, amazed, thrilled, enchanted and had got enough food for my mind and topics good enough to come back and research. i had thought of going further to dibrugarh and tinsukia and maybe digboi but we had little time.

rong ghor, shibsagar
the journey from sibsagar turned back towards towards meghalaya (another heaven on earth, it's sheer beauty man!!!) via guwahati (the largest city in north east india and marvelously stunning too) but that would be covered separately. this one is entirely for assam (the state that housed my dad for more than an year) and the state where i met and befriended some of the most unspoilt, lovable and caring people on earth who harbor a deep love for peace, culture, hospitality and mannerisms.

vishnu dol, shibsagar
carving on the temple wall
beside talatal ghar, shibsagar
brick columns, talatal ghar, shibsagar
on the whole assam is a wonderful place to be, full of greenery, beautiful and small hills, lush green forests and tea gardens. it’s rich in culture, history and good-food. people are friendly (like everywhere else in india). the state is inspiring and tough. hotels are of all types in the major cities ranging from anywhere around 250 bucks to 1000 bucks (and even more) per day on a two-person sharing basis. its good to carry a map and discover the place of your own.

beautiful road
friends i made
the lovely people i met in assam (L-R) name-dont-know, debabrot, kunal, heerok and chewang flanked by the physics sir (in thick mustaches)

the national highway 37 runs through the middle of the state connecting most of the major towns on the left bank of brahmaputra while national highway 52 runs on the right bank.

beautiful assam
god bless assam and god bless india

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