I was extremely thrilled and excited when I planned my trip to the north-eastern state of Assam. My impression of the state had been moulded by books and travelogues that I had seen and read. It had always thrilled me to know about this beautiful state, and so I had happy thoughts about exotic sceneries, when I boarded the train from New Delhi.
The train journey turned out to be extremely interesting. We traveled through three states- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal before we finally reached Assam. I had never seen so many hues of green. From the dry arid lands to the utter lush landscapes, the tints of green changed every time I looked out of the window.
Sometimes the green paddy fields or rows of Mango groves caught my attention, at times the vast span of vegetable and banana plantations or yellow fields full of mustard plants beckoned - everything simply enthralled me. But once I entered Assam, for the first time in my life, I saw miles and miles of t
ea-gardens, with women collecting tea-leaves in baskets tied to their backs. It was a spectacular sight. I realized I was in love with the state.
But more surprises were in store. I had never seen such a beautiful sunrise. Being on the extreme eastern end of India, the sun here rises quite early. By 5:30 in the morning the sun was already out. The colour of the sun was resplendent - it was as if the sky was the canvas and someone was painting it in dark orange. In Delhi, amidst all the pollution one hardly gets to see the real shades of the sky and most of the time we don’t even find time to enjoy the moods of nature. With plenty of time at hand in Assam, I enjoyed these scenes thoroughly.
Once I reached Guwahati, the capital city of Assam, my excitement heightened. I was quite surprised to see that the city had numerous huge temples of Lord Ganesha. I wondered why the elephant god had chosen Guwahati as his abode. The first place I visited in Guwahati was the holy temple of
Kamakhya. The temple is situated on the top of Nilachal Parvat. It is one of the most venerated ‘Shakti Peeths’ in India. This temple was built in 1565 by Maharaj Chilarai of the Koch dynasty.
Early in the morning, I reached the temple which was shrouded in dense fog. But the effort was worthwhile for I was mesmerized with what I saw. After waiting in a long queue in the chilly weather, I was taken aback when I stepped in. It was, surprisingly, very warm inside. I was also quite impressed by architectural details.
This 500-year old temple on a hill comprises three major chambers. The western chamber is generally not open to pilgrims. The middle chamber has a small idol of Devi Kamakhya. The walls of this chamber are exquisitely carved with idols of gods like Naranarayana and other inscriptions. This chamber leads to the sanctum sanctorum which is inside a cave. But this cave doesn’t have an idol of any sort. It only has an underground spring that flows through a ‘yoni’ shaped cleft in the rock.
During the famous ‘Ambubachi’ festival, the menstruation of the Devi Durga is celebrated and this time span is considered to be very auspicious in Hindu religion. The temple is shut for three days for people only to be opened on the fourth day with great pomp and celebrations. During this period it is considered to be inauspicious to till the ground or to sow seeds.
From Kamahkya, I went uphill to a small temple of Bhubaneshwari Devi. The view of the dawn from there, with the mighty Brahmaputra flowing below, was simply breathtaking.
Next day my first halt was at the ashram of Sage Vashistha. It is situated at a distance of 12 km from the railway station. It is an interesting old shrine, with plenty of greenery and three beautiful streams. There was such serenity, and the atmosphere was so suffused with purity that I felt I could spend my entire holiday sitting by the streams. Several other temples, like the Ugratara temple- famous for its golden idol and buffalo sacrifices, are also spread across the city. I then ventured on a boat ride in the Brahmaputra to visit another spot - the ‘Umananda’ island. It is a small island in the midst of the mighty river, and has a temple of Lord Shiva.
Coming back from Umananda, I whiled away a little bit of my time sitting by the ghats of the Brahmaputra. It was utterly relaxing. Next on my list was the Navagraha temple, atop a hill in east Guwahati - the "temple of nine planets," - an ancient temple on astrology and astronomy. The temple is a red shaped dome with nine more temples representing the nine planets. Apart from these, two temples dedicated to ‘Rahu’ and ‘Ketu’ were later added.
There are three kinds of Bihus which Assamese celebrate - Rongali Bihu (celebrated during seeding time), Bhogali Bihu (celebrated during harvesting time), Kongaali Bihu (celebrated with the sowing and planting of paddies). I happened to be there during the time that Assam celebrates Bhogali Bihu. This is a very colourful festival celebrated with fun and abundance by all Assamese.
I was glad to attend the Bhogali Bihu celebrations, in which people gather around a bonfire called Meiji, and cook a lot of delicious food which is shared among all the members present there. During this time, people after having worked hard, unwind and enjoy the festivity. It was real fun and I contemplated on India’s rich traditions. The festival was representative of the harmony and unity of the people of the state. As I communicated with the Assamese folk, I found that the people were very hardworking and soft-spoken.
I also savoured the sumptuous Assamese cuisine comprising the Khar (made from the ashes of Banana tree by filtering water through it), Pithas (sweet dish), Pitika (made from mashed potatoes or bamboo shoot). I also tasted the Tamul Paan (betel leaf), which sort of rejuvenated me.
Assam is well connected by road, rail and airways, so every year a lot of people from India and abroad come to visit this region. But amidst all these colours of joy I found the real Heroes of our country, the men in olive green – the Indian army, who were dedicatedly offering their unflinching support and guarding this extremely sensitive state of India. This forced me to think that work is worship and dedication can fetch us the ultimate goal. After my trip to this beautiful state ended, I headed back to Delhi – enriched, satiated and full of praises for glorious Assam.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)