Home to the mighty Brahmaputra, Assam is the gateway to northeast India (NE) with its main city Guwahati flaunting its one major railway station and an international airport. But unlike what many think, Guwahati is not the only place to visit in the mystic land of Assam. The biggest city and a commercial hub, Guwahati does have several tourist destinations but the entire length of Assam is filled with countless places to visit which will definitely compel you to prolong your stay in this part of the world.
Being the centre of trade in NE, Assam (particularly some towns) is an assembly point for people from all its neighbouring states. So apart from getting a glimpse of the microcosm of NE, a traveler can indulge in some wildlife adventures in Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park; pay a visit to world’s largest river island Majuli and go for a heritage walk among the monuments of Sivasagar. Assam’s cleanest town Tezpur is known for its association with some of the episodes from The Mahabharata. If you are looking for some spiritual solace, don’t miss out on Hajo, an epitome of communal harmony, the Kamakhya shrine and the Vaishnavite monasteries of Barpeta.
JATINGA Assam is often associated with mysteries and mythical tales and the hill village of Jatinga is just another page in the book of Assam’s unsolved puzzles. A sleepy hamlet in the North Cachar Hills (a district in Assam), Jatinga is located at a distance of 9 kms from Haflong, the district headquarters. Take a bus ride to Haflong from Guwahati and from there on you can take local conveyance to reach this mystic village. The most bizarre phenomenon that Jatinga witnesses, is the annual mass bird suicide which is yet to find any conclusive scientific explanation. From September to November every year, hundreds of birds commit mass suicide just after sunset – they move down from the sky, plunging to their deaths by crashing into buildings and trees. One possible reason behind this is the theory that the birds get disoriented by the late monsoon season amid wind and dense fog.
HAFLONG District headquarters of North Cachar Hills (a district in Assam), Haflong is one of the best hill stations in Assam. This beautiful town is located 310 km southeast of Guwahati and there is a regular flow of buses to Haflong. The best time to visit Haflong is from October to April and this is the time when the azure blue hills and the green rivers of this town are in their full glory. Thanks to the magnificent valleys, adventure sports options like gliding, paragliding and trekking can be availed by the adrenaline junkie. For the tranquility seeker, we suggest Haflong Lake, one of the largest natural water bodies of Assam. Spend a day sitting by its banks and indulging in occasional boat rides which will take away your travel fatigue.
DIGBOI Located in the eastern most district of Tinsukia, Digboi is a historic place in Assam. This town is synonymous with crude oil and is called the Oil City. And there is a reason behind this title – this is the place where crude oil was discovered in late 19th century and in 1901, the town got its own oil refinery, which happens to be the oldest of its sort in Asia. The refinery is still in operation and a heritage chaser gets the chance to witness a living legend in action here.
But you will be utterly wrong if you think that oil is all that Digboi is in store. Around 45 km northwest of the town, there is the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary, famous for its rich coterie of flora and fauna. The 18 -hole Digboi Golf Course is another place to visit that offers leisurely walks during the non – tournament season. Digboi War Cemetery will take you back to the dark days of World War II when the Japanese army stormed into Assam. In a nutshell, this town is a queer blend of nature, natural resources, wildlife and British era mementoes making it an unconventional tourist destination.
ASSAM TEA GARDENS Who hasn’t heard about the world renowned Assam tea? And what could be better than spending some time in one of the many tea estates in the state? The history of Assam tea goes back to the mid 19th century and the colonial charm is still prevalent in some of the oldest estates. The climate and land quality of Assam is not only conducive for tea plantation but also offer a dream run for travelers who are into eco – vacations. Not to mention tea lovers who are ready to go the extra mile to see their favourite beverage in its birth place! Tea gardens are found in almost all the districts of Assam but the ones in Jorhat and Dibrugarh districts stand apart from the rest. Both these places are easily accessible from Guwahati and we suggest you pay a visit to Gatoonga Tea Estate (Jorhat), Thengal Manor (Jorhat), Burra Sahib Bungalow (Jorhat) and Mancotta Tea Estate (Dibrugarh). These gardens are situated off the city borders so we suggest you hire a cab and return to your hotel only late evenings. But in case you are willing to spend a night in the silence of the tea hedges, we recommend pre – booking in the commercial bungalows in and around the estates.
POBITORA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY This wildlife paradise along the Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park form the holy trinity of one-horned rhinoceros preservation in Assam. Located in Morigaon district of the state, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary is just 50 kms away from Guwahati. Home to an immense land mass of muddy marshland, which is conducive for rhino habitat, Pobitora attracts thousands of visitors annually. The constant effort of the park authority is visible from the fact that this place has the highest density of Indian rhinos in one location! Apart from rhinos, a safari in this forest will give you the opportunity to see Asiatic buffaloes, leopards, wild bears, civet cats and wild boars in their natural habitats. Birdwatchers will have a field day here with numerous species of resident and migratory birds, earning Pobitora the title of Bharatpur of the East! You can return to your hotel in Guwahati after a day of jungle safari as this place is well connected by the road network.
But if the traveler in you is not satiated, you can pre – book rooms in the resorts outside the entrance of the sanctuary.
BARPETA A sleepy town located around 90 kms northwest of Guwahati, Barpeta has a name of its own in Assam. Headquarters to the district by the same name, Barpeta has a distinct identity, thanks to its own dialect that is a tad different from the standard written and spoken Assamese. A queer fact of this place is that this town does not have a railway station. The nearest railway station is 22 kms away although this quiet town is well connected by bus and auto service. A major spiritual hub of Assam, Barpeta is famous for its Vaishnavite Thaans and Neo Vaishnavite Satras that are spread across adjoining areas like Sundoridiya and Patbaukhi.
The major Satra is however located at the centre of the town, locally called the Kirtanghar. A peaceful place for prayer and meditation, Barpeta Satra is the epitome of tranquility and inner peace. If you happen to be here during the time of Holi, you will see this Satra in its full glory. Take time to explore the bell and brass metal industry of Barpeta or visit the firecracker workshops that are known for its unmatched quality. The town is graced by three rivers? Chaulkhowa, Mora Nodi and Nakhanda?so the natural beauty of Barpeta is easy to imagine. Buses are in plenty from Guwahati and the stay option has also grown better in Barpeta in recent past. Hotels are easy to locate and any local will lead you to one of them; and don’t worry, they are simple folks!
TEZPUR Situated in Sonitpur district of Assam, Tezpur is an important travel destination for the traveler who likes to uncover unknown heritage sites during a quiet vacation. Located at the bank of the Brahmaputra, Tezpur is a pre – historic city that finds reference even in The Mahabharata. Popular in Assam as the City of Eternal Romance, Tezpur is the background for the mythological love story between princess Usha (King Baana’s Daughter) and prince Anirudha (grandson of Lord Krishna). Myriad archaeological sites, a deep mythological link and mesmerizing natural beauty make Tezpur a must – visit for every traveler! And yes, other major tourist destinations like Nameri National Park and Itanagar are easily accessible from Tezpur.
Located at the heart of town, Agnigarh hill is one place you should not miss out on. A circular stairway leads to the peak of the hill overlooking the ever flowing Brahmaputra and offers a good trek for the adventure seeker. Take a trip to the historic Cole Park located amidst innumerous hillocks, challenging terrains and lakes; pay a visit to the ancient Mahabhairab Temple; take a stroll along Hazara Pukhuri and spend some time in Bamuni hill – Tezpur will never let you get bored! You can reach Tezpur from Guwahati by taking a 4 – 5 hour bus ride (180 km). Apart from Guwahati, Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) runs an efficient bus service to Tezpur from all the major towns of Assam. Saloni airport is located at a distance of 10 kms from Tezpur and it is connected to the airports at Jorhat, Guwahati and Kolkata.