Visit these Restaurants in Guwahati for Ethnic Assamese food: My personal favorites!

Assamese cuisine is a burst of different rich flavors which is light on your palate at the same time. For many of you gahori manxho, xhar, aloo pitika might be synonymous to ethnic Assamese cuisine. But the variety which Assamese cuisine offers is unimaginable unless you see and savour it yourself. From locally grown herbs to local produce, local variety of fish and unique cooking techniques, ethnic Assamese cuisine is too good to resist. If you want to taste the flavors of Assam then visit these restaurants in Guwahati which gives you the perfect taste of ethnic Assamese cuisine.

To know more about the popular ethnic Assamese delicacies read my blog post Top 10 most popular ethnic Assamese dish.

Parampara Paradise

This is one of the oldest and most popular restaurants in Guwahati serving authentic ethnic Assamese cuisine. Located in Silpukhuri, the restaurant has a very cozy ambience with great seating arrangements. It can accommodate large groups comfortably, and satisfy your taste buds giving you the best experience of Assamese flavors.

A typical thali in Parampara Paradise
Source: tripadvisor.in

Parampara thali is their meal speciality served in bell metal dishes. You will be served a welcome drink which depends on the seasonal availability of fruits or vegetables. Gooseberry or local lime soft drink is served as a welcome drink with this thali along with 13 other food items which includes Assamese speciality like khar, pitika, kharoli, khorisa, kuhudi, fish tenga, steamed fish, pigeon or duck curry, dal, rice, mixed vegetables, mahor guri and traditional dessert of hurum (puffed rice) with thick cream and jaggery.

The restaurant offers not only thali or meal but also a-la-carte menu. The ethnic Assamese menu ranges from duck, pork, chicken and pigeon to a variety of locally available fish and a variety of vegetarian options as well.

Parampara Paradise
Source: tripadvisor.in

The restaurant is currently following all protocols as directed by the government. While maintaining social distancing the restaurant is temporarily offering self-service and food is being served in disposable plates. Tables are being set 6 feet apart, staff is properly equipped with masks, face shields and sanitizers, the premise is sanitized everyday before opening and after closing.

The address of this restaurant is:

Parampara Paradise, Maniram Dewan Road, Krishna Nagar, Silpukhuri, Guwahati- 781003, Assam.

Mising Kitchen

Located in the heart of the city at Hengerabari, Mising Kitchen offers ethnic Assamese cuisine along with Mising cuisine. The restaurant is not very spacious but certainly is guest-friendly and homely. In fact, this is my personal favourite when it comes to taste and value for money.

Interior of Mising Kitchen
Source: magicpin.in

The few times I went there to dine I have witnessed full house of diners who come hungry and leave content. The restaurant offers ethnic Assamese as well as Mising cuisine which gives food lovers different options to choose from. They even serve thali specially for kids catering to their small appetite and choice of food.

The restaurant offers Normal thali with a choice of chicken, pork, duck, fish and even paneer. Like all Assamese thalis, the platter includes a variety of dishes from khar, pitika to curry and dessert.

Mising Kitchen
Source: justdial.com

The address of this restaurant is:

Mising Kitchen, House no. 24, 1st floor, Near Public Health Chariali, Hengrabari Road, Ganeshguri, Guwahati, Assam.

Gam’s Delicacy

Talk about beautiful interiors, spacious dining, awesome flavors, Gam’s Delicacy has it all. The first thing that caught my eyes on entering this restaurant for the first time was their unique furniture and bamboo decor. Located just below the Ganeshguri flyover in the heart of the city, this restaurant attracts a lot of customers. They also operate another unit located just opposite the ISBT and Balaji temple in Garchuk, Guwahati. One can easily arrange any kind of family functions or social meetings here given the space the restaurant offers.

Gam’s Delicacy, Garchuk unit
Source: tripadvisor.in

The restaurant offers Fish, Pork and Chicken thali with a variety of 14 items. For example, a typical pork thali will include Joha rice, yellow dal, Green veg/herbs fry, Pork curry, Pork with black dal, Pork boil, Pork patot diya (wrapped in banana or Tora leaf), Pork khorika, aloo pitika ( mashed potatoes), kheer, green salad, pickle, mint chutney and lentil chutney served in brass metal dishes and bowls.

Duck, pigeon and mutton varieties are available as part of their a-la-carte menu along with a variety of other ethnic Assamese dishes. Local varieties of fish and vegetables are available cooked with different local ingredients and herbs.

Gam’s Delicacy city unit
Source: sentinelassam.com

The addresses of the 2 units of this restaurant are:

Gam’s Delicacy, Krishna Market, GMC ward no. 44, G.S.Road, Ganeshguri, Guwahati, Assam.

Gam’s Delicacy Restaurant, Betkuchi, Opposite Maniram Dewan Trade Centre, NH 37, Garchuk, Guwahati, Assam.

Heritage Khorikaa

Heritage Khorikaa is the brainchild of Assam’s celebrity chef Atul Lahkar. He is a self-made and self-taught man, learning authentic cuisines directly from the locals over the years. He is a curious mind, always experimenting with ingredients and flavors. His restaurant is very popular because of his proud association with celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Sanjeev Kapoor among others as well as for his great culinary skills.

Chef Atul Lahkar and Chef Sanjeev Kapoor in front of Heritage Khorikaa
Source: quicklisting.in

Located at Chandmari, the restaurant serves flavoursome authentic ethnic Assamese food. The restaurant offers a Vegetarian thali or meal with around 10 to 12 items and a choice of different meat and fish to choose from. Pork, Duck, Pigeon, Chicken and different varieties of fish are available on the menu. Khorikaa meaning barbeque, among other popular dishes, is their speciality as the name suggests.

The only time I tasted their flavoursome food left me craving for more. Their highlight seems to be the a-la-carte menu rather than the thali, which leaves a lingering taste on your palate of that special dish you savoured. I hope to visit this restaurant soon for another gastronomic experience.

Interiors of Heritage Khorikaa
Source: justdial.com

The address of this restaurant is:

Heritage Khorikaa, GNB Road, Behind Goswami Service Station HP petrol pump, Chandmari, Guwahati, Assam

Maihang

Maihang, I guess, is the largest operating restaurant chain in Assam with two branches in the city, and a few are outside Guwahati. The new outlet of Maihang was recently opened in Hengerabari in the city, which gives a very traditional vibe on entering because of their unique decor and plush interiors.

The table with Maihang, the traditional serving dish on display.
Source: maihang.in

The restaurant offers 2 thali or meal options- Maihang veg thali and Maihang non-veg thali. The rest are in their a-la-carte menu. The vegetarian meal includes 11 items like Joha rice, yellow dal, black dal, aloo pitika/bengena pitika, seasonal mixed vegetables, green vegetables fry, xhar/bor tenga, green veg boil, kharoli, baby potato fry, herbal chutney. In the non-veg thali a few of the veg items have been replaced by the non-veg varieties. For example, if you choose a fish thali you will get fish pitika, murighonto, fish tenga curry and fish fry.

The usual delicacies of duck, fish, pigeon and pork are available cooked with a variety of different ingredients and different styles. The restaurant gives utmost importance to healthy food and hygiene. They boast of their til chicken ( chicken cooked with black sesame seeds) as their signature and most popular dish.

The interior of Maihang
Source: maihang.in

The address of this restaurant is:

Maihang, Public Health tiniali, Lichubagan, Hengerabari Road, Guwahati, Assam

Me-Dam-Me-Phi: AHOM’S Ancestor worship

The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living

Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Ahom community of Assam practices their own unique customs and rituals. Me-Dam-Me-Phi is one of such ceremonies, in-fact it is the most important socio-religious ceremony of the Ahoms performed to show respect to the departed souls and remember their contribution to society. It is the proper ancestor worship conducted as a community by the Ahoms every year on 31st January. The Tai words ‘me‘ means offerings, ‘dam‘ means ancestors and ‘phi‘ means Gods; collectively meaning “offerings to the ancestors and Gods”.

Ancestor worship
Source: happenings.lpu.in

Origin:

According to the Ahom Chronicles, Lengdon, the king of Mong Phi ( the heavenly kingdom) sent two of his grandsons Khun-Lung and Khun-Lai to Mong Ri ( present day Xishuangbanna, China). They were advised by the God of Knowledge to perform Umpha, Phuralong, Me-dum-me-phi, and Rik-khwan worships at different months of a year on different occasions to pay respect to the ancestors. This was like seeking blessings from the ancestors to help maintain their political hold over the masses.

History:

Charaideo, about 30 kms from Sivasagar town, was the first capital of the Ahom kingdom and later became their religious centre. There is a huge burial ground here with many mounds or maidams of Ahom kings, queens and Ahom royalty. The Ahoms don’t burn the dead bodies but keep it in a box and bury. This burial mound is called maidam.

Charaideo Maidam.
Source: mapsofindia.com

Me-Dam-Me-Phi was celebrated here in Charaideo first by Swargadeo Siu-ka-pha to seek blessings of his forefathers after establishing the new capital there. His successors continued performing this ceremony thereafter, which was attended by the king, his ministers and other higher officials, as well as a great number of people. There are historical evidence of the Ahom kings performing this socio-religious ceremony every year. Swargadeo Siu-huim-mong to commemorate his victory over the Kacharis in 1563 performed Me-Dam-Me-Phi and Rikhwan festival in his capital. Swargadeo Pratap Singha performed this worship thrice, in 1606 AD and 1615 AD to celebrate his victory against the Mughals, third time was when he was defeated by the Mughals.

Swargadeo Gadadhar Singha, Swargadeo Chakradwaj Singha, Swargadeo Pramatta Singha, Swargadeo Rajeswar Singha also performed the ceremony and offered sacrifices during their reign. The ceremony is still performed at Charaideo maidam every year.

The Ceremony and its significance:

The Ahoms believe that a man is not reborn after his death but becomes God. After death he remains as Dam (ancestor) only for a few days and soon he becomes Phi (God). They also believe that the soul of a man which is immortal unites with the supreme soul, possesses the qualities of a spiritual being and always blesses the family. Therefore the extended family and the society as a whole worship the dead ones, particularly the parents and grandparents because they firmly believe that it is the ancestors who protect the family and give peace and prosperity to their offspring.

Me-Dam-Me-Phi observed as a community offers worship to Chaufi and Dam Chaufi who are regarded as gods of heaven. Dam Chaufi is associated with the belief of some natural powers like creation and destruction, water, lightning and storm, sun, moon, learning, diseases, earth etc. The Ahom priestly classes Deodhai, Mohan and Bailung perform the rituals by chanting verses in Tai Language.

Community ancestor worship or Me-Dam-Me-Phi
Source: festivalsoflife.blogspot.com

On the day of Me-Dam-Me-Phi seven Gods are worshipped namely Lengdon (God of heaven), Zasingfa (Goddess of learning), Khaokham (God of waters), Ai-Leng-Din (God of the earth), Chit Lam Cham (seven sons of Lengdon), Mut-Kum-Tai-Kum (God of the moon and sun), and Zansaihung (the preceptor of Gods). It is customary for three priests to be present to perform the rituals.

When the Ahom kings arranged this worship sacrifices and offerings were made of white buffalo, white cow, white pig, and white hen. These days offerings of only hen and eggs are made. For the rituals the things required are: 30 hen, 30 eggs, 2 duck eggs, Xajpani, Aroi chaul (a type of rice), mustard oil, ginger, salt, Black gram, Akhoi (a kind of puffed rice), Kesa mithoi, Ukhua kesa kol, poka kol (ripe banana), kuhiar (sugarcane), bora bhat (sticky rice), thoka tamul (betel nuts) and earthen lamps etc.

The Dam Phi tradition is also observed at the family level by the Ahom community. Na-Purushor hokaam or Mritokor hokaam as it is widely known is done by the family members every year during kati month when they offer the first meal after the harvest of the Ahu rice to them. Grihadam, the ancestor God upto the fourth generation of a family, is worshipped in this Dam-Phi or Na-khua tradition. Five gods are worshipped excluding Chit-Lam-Cham and Mut-kum-tai-kum when the worship is done by the extended family. However, the worship is sometimes restricted to only Lengdon, Zasingfa and Ai-Leng-Din when conducted by a family. During Magh bihu and Rongali bihu, as well as other important occasions Mritokor hokaam is performed.

Offerings to Dam Phi.
Source: Self

Most Ahom households establish a damkhuta on the opposite side of the kitchen to worship the dead. Whenever during any special occasion na-purushor hokaam is arranged, the ancestors are worshipped by offering xajpani and various other delicacies, including meat and fish in an elaborate ritualistic affair.

Chale nerakhe, bere nerakhe

Nerakhe tridasar deo

Ghar deo e nerakhile rakhuta e aru keo

This hymn in Assamese means “neither the roof nor the walls nor the gods in heaven can protect the family, if not protected by their ancestors. ” The love and respect which is the basis of any happy and successful family is duly offered to the family members even after death by the Ahoms. Me-Dam-Me-Phi is just a day for the entire community to come together bonded by brotherhood, and express love and gratitude to their ancestors and seek their blessings.

Popular Hindu Temples to visit in Guwahati

The ongoing pandemic and the lockdown has brought life to a standstill. Here in Assam too there has been several phases of lockdown and unlock from time to time keeping in view the active cases of COVID-19 positive cases. All religious institutions were requested to close down. But unlock phases did allow them to open at times with minimum entry so as to avoid any community transfer. Devotees are looking forward with earnest to pay a visit to the temples of their faith and offer prayers. Post 15th August the lockdown will undergo several relaxation and we can’t wait enough.

Guwahati city in Assam is known as the city of temples. The city witnesses the footfalls of many devotees and pilgrims all the year round. There are many temples, both big and small, in and around the city. In this post I would like to mention a few most popular temples among the locals as well as tourists.

1. Maa Kamakhya Temple

Maa Kamakhya temple

Situated atop the Neelachal hills in the city of Guwahati is the most visited Hindu temple, the Kamakhya temple. Devotees, mainly from the Shakti cult, from around the country visit this temple to offer prayers to Maa Kamakhya. The Ambubachi mela and Durga puja are celebrated every year here in the temple premises which witness the most number of devotees and pilgrims.

This year, however, the Ambubachi mela didn’t see any kind of gathering except for the ceremonial rituals performed by the priests.

Maligaon Railway Station is the nearest station, from where you can take a cab, or bus, or trekker to the temple.

2. Umananda Temple

The gate to Umananda temple
Source: trawell.in

Umananda temple is located in an island off the river Brahmaputra. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was built by the Ahom king Gadadhar Singha in 1694. This island known as the Peacock island is the smallest inhabited riverine island in the world. Shiva Chaturdashi is the most colourful festival held here on an annual basis.

Ferry and steamer services to this island are available from Sukleshwar ghat or Fancy Bazar ghat for hire. One can also board the Inland Water Transport ferry services from Uzan Bazar ghat which costs you around Rs. 20 per person.

3. Ugratora Temple

Ugratora devalaya
Source: TripAdvisor.in

Ugratora devalaya or temple is located at the heart of the city of Guwahati, and on the western side of Jor pukhuri . Dedicated to the first partner of Lord Shiva, Sati Devi the temple is an important Shakti temple built by the Ahom king Shiva Singha in the year 1725.

There is no idol in this temple but a ditch of water which is considered to be the great form of Goddess Ugratora. Devotees offer prayers and sacrifices to show their devotion and thereby seek the blessings of the Goddess. The best time to visit this temple would be around Durga puja when in fact, the entire city lightens up with festivities.

4. Nabagraha Temple

Nabagraha temple
Source: tripinvites.com

Located atop the Chitrasal hill the Nabagraha temple was built by the Ahom king Rajeshwar Singha in the late 18th century. Nine Shivalingams representing the nine celestial bodies are enshrined in this temple and each of them is covered with a coloured garment symbolic of that particular celestial bodies namely Surya, Chandra, Mangala, Budha, Brihaspati, Sukra, Shani, Rahu and Ketu. In the centre is a Shivalingam symbolizing the Sun.

The temple is known to be the only temple performing grihapujan. The temple is also a research centre of both Astronomy and Astrology.

5. Basistha Temple

Basistha temple
Source: travelspeak.in

Basistha temple, a Shiva Temple is located on the outskirts of Garbhanga Reserve Forest , about 10-12 kms from Guwahati city. This was originally an ashram, home to the famous sage Vashistha. This site has evidence of a stone temple which was later remade with bricks by the Ahom king Rajeshwar Singha in the mid 18th century.

The temple in the ashram stands on the bank of the mountain streams originating from the hills of Meghalaya which becomes the river Basistha and Bharalu flowing through the city.

6. Balaji Temple

Balaji temple
Source: trawell.in

Purva Tirupati Balaji temple is located at Ahom gaon just next to the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT). So needless to say it has really easy access from all the north-eastern States. Moreover Guwahati Railway station is just 9 kms away from the temple.

This temple built in 1998 was dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara. The white coloured temple is built in the similar architectural style of the South Indian temples, and is considered to be a replica of the original Tirupati Balaji temple. The temple has a Rajagopuram (70 feet in height), a Maha Mandapam, an Ardha Mandapam and the Sanctorum.

7. Doul Gobinda Temple

Doul Govinda temple
Source: incredibleindia.org

Located on the foothills of Chandrabati hills in North Guwahati, this temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna. Every year around Holi this temple witnesses the largest footfalls of tourists. Lord Krishna’s birthday Janmashtami is also celebrated here.

The fastest way to reach is by boarding a ferry from Fancy Bazar ghat to Rajaduar from where it’s a five minutes walk. Trekkers are also available to the temple via the Saraighat bridge. The best time to visit is from November to April when one can enjoy a river cruise and walk on the white sands of river Brahmaputra.

Cab Services in Guwahati

Local Cab services as well as Uber and Ola are available in the city which can give you a tour of most of these temples on a single day provided you wish to cover them all in a day. Different packages are available for booking a cab, details of which are available on their respective apps. Post lockdown several safety measures have been adopted by the cab companies, restricting capacity to 50% to maintain social distancing among other measures. Personal and car hygiene are maintained by the drivers promising you a safe and comfortable ride.

The alternate means of transport to these temples once you have reached Guwahati is to either board the city bus services, or ride an auto or trekker if available on that particular route.

8 Indigenous medicinal plants of assam for good Health and Immunity

Assam situated on the northeast of India is a state rich in flora and fauna. There are a different varieties of vegetables and herbs found in abundance here mainly because of the climatic conditions. These proves effective in the treatment of different diseases and ailments according to research. In fact natives here consume these not only for their medicinal properties but also as seasonal vegetables. Here’s a list of 8 most popular indigenous medicinal plants good for health and immunity.

1. Manimuni or Indian pennywort : This plant is native to the wetlands in Asia and is found in abundance in Assam. Its scientific name is Centella Asiatica and grows in gardens or damp uncultivated area.

Manimuni, as we call it in Assamese, has many health benefits but the one which we widely believe is that it helps cure dysentery when consumed raw after pound crushing, especially the juice.

Pennywort or manimuni
Pennywort or manimuni

Apart from this manimuni has other health benefits too. It helps improve memory and is best taken early morning by extracting the juice. Mix it with a little honey or salt according to your taste. It is a blood purifier and helps relief menstrual pain, it heals wounds, is effective in hair growth, promotes flow of urine and is helpful in Gonorrhea too. It is generally consumed raw like chutney or after extracting the juice.

2. Dupor bon tenga or Goethe plant : Bryophyllum Pinnatum is the scientific name of the Goethe plant which is a succulent. Its Assamese name is dupor bon tenga. This plant has great medicinal values for which it is also called the miracle leaf or leaf of life.

Dupor tenga is believed to be greatly effective in treating kidney stones. Consumption of 4-5 raw leaves with a glass of water first thing in the morning for about 2 months proves effective.

Dupor bon or Goethe plant
Dupor bon or Goethe plant
Source: bangaloreagrico.in

Bryophyllum Pinnatum is used in ethno medicine for treatment of earache, burns, abscesses, ulcers, insect bites, diarrhea and Lithiasis. The paste of this plant if applied on head kills lice and is also effective in healing piles when applied on affected areas. The miracle leaf also prevents gastric ulcers, increases urination and lowers cholesterol.

3. Doron bon or Leucas : The scientific name of this plant is Leucas aspera and is commonly used as an insecticide. In Assamese we call it Doron bon. This plant is also used as an edible vegetable and herbal remedy as well. In many parts of India people plant this weed in front of their homes to repel snakes and other venomous animals. It is, in fact, most commonly used in the treatment of snakebites.

Duron bon or Leucas plant
Duron bon or Leucas plant
Source: thehindu.com

The flowers of this plant are administered in the form of a syrup as a domestic remedy for cough and cold, and for the treatment of intestinal worm infections in children. It is a valuable homeopathic drug and used in the treatment of chronic malaria and asthma. The juice extracted from the leaves cures skin problems since it is antibacterial. It also strengthens the liver and the lungs. Sinusitis, pharyngitis, decay of tooth, loss of appetite, headache, body ache, influenza are some other medical conditions which may be cured by the use of this plant.

4. Jilmil saak or White goosefoot : The scientific name of this plant is Chenopodium album and is consumed as a leafy vegetable. Jilmil saak, as we call it in Assamese, has high level of oxalic acid for which it should be eaten in moderation. Its seeds are high in Protein, Vitamin A, Calcium, Phosphorus and Potassium.

Jilmil or White goosefoot plant
Jilmil or White goosefoot plant
Source: world-crops.com

This plant helps increase haemoglobin levels in the body, and helps cure constipation, arthritis, rheumatism, enlargement of the spleen and bile related diseases.

5. Tengesi tenga or Indian sorrel : Also known as creeping wood sorrel it’s scientific name is Oxalis corniculata. Tengesi tenga is rich in Vitamin C and the leaves has a tangy taste.

Tengesi or Indian sorrel plant
Tengesi or Indian sorrel plant
Source: theayurveda.org

The paste of the leaves cures eczema and soothes painful insect bites. It also improves memory and strengthens the nervous system. It is helpful for the cure of lower back pain, urinary tract infections, high blood pressure, diabetes, dysentery, fever, headache and loss of appetite.

6. Brahmi saak or Water hyssop : The scientific name of this plant is Bacopa Monnieri and is native to the wetlands of eastern and southern India. The plant is bitter in taste but with great medicinal properties. This plant is used in Ayurvedic traditional medicine to improve memory and treat various ailments. Preliminary clinical research found that Bacopa Monnieri may improve cognition. If taken for a long term it helps in improving concentration level and attention span.

Brahmi plant
Brahmi plant
Source: indiamart.com

The high anti-oxidant content in the plant helps reduce depression and anxiety. Because of this property it also lowers the risk of diabetes. It can also stabilize asthma and improve liver health. Bacopa Monnieri is currently being studied for its possible neuroprotective properties.

7. Musondori saak or Himalayan spinach : Hottuynnia cordata is the scientific name of this plant which is a perennial ground creeper. In Assam it is consumed as a leafy vegetable also or used as a herb for the cure of certain ailments.

Musondori or Chameleon plant
Musondori or Chameleon plant
Source: southernliving.com

This plant is very useful in the treatment of stomach related problems and particularly very effective for curing dysentery. In countries like Japan and Korea the dried leaves of this plant is used to make tea because of its detoxifying properties. It increases blood in the body, prevents heart diseases and strengthens muscles.

8. Mati Kanduri or Dwarf copperleaf : This is an aquatic plant and its scientific name is Alternanthera sessilis. As a herbal medicine the plant has diuretic, cooling, tonic and laxative properties. Its stem and leaves are normally consumed as vegetables here in Assam.

Mati kanduri or dwarf copperleaf plant
Mati kanduri or dwarf copperleaf plant
Source: gramho.com

The juice of the leaves increases milk production and hence is good for lactating mothers, it increases milk production in cows also. It helps in skin related diseases like leprosy and minor itching. It is very beneficial for treating loose bowels, helpful in curing night blindness and fever.

These plants mentioned above are native not only to Assam but certain other places too. The manner in which they are consumed however differs from places to places. In Assam these are consumed as vegetables on quite a regular basis. Some go as accompaniments with fish as curry, or consumed raw as chutneys and salad dressings, some as juice after extraction. For common ailments like dysentery, stomach pain, cuts and bruises, cough and cold these plants tend to be very effective too and form an integral part of Ayurvedic traditional medicine.

Tea Gardens: The perfect post-lockdown getaway in Assam

The Covid-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdown has left all travel lovers so dull and empty from within. At this point what everyone is craving for is to break free and set out on a trip…solo, group or family does not matter. What matters is to able to breathe the fresh air and dispel the gloom.

The to-do bucket list post-lockdown must be ready already even though International borders are still sealed. Even State borders are yet to open for travel purposes. In Assam too the scenario is same at the present. But once lockdown is lifted and life comes to normal, a vacation amidst the greenery of the tea gardens is what sounds like a perfect getaway.

Tea gardens in Upper Assam are idyllic for a rejuvenating getaway once the lockdown is lifted. Getting up to the lush green plantation all around you, sipping a cup of your favourite Assam tea brewed to your taste or even trekking along the nature trails around the estate would be so satisfying. This is a vacation that sounds so perfect at a crucial time like this when even getting out of your homes is a distant dream. You may even get to witness tea garden workers plucking fresh tea leaves along these trails.

There’s a popular song by our very own music maestro late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika which vividly creates this picture in my mind every time I hear it.

Eti kunhi duti paat

Rattanpur bagichat

Lohpohia haatere

Kune nu singile

O kune nu singile

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika
A female worker plucking tea leaves

For daytime activities you can choose to visit a local ethnic village to experience their culinary flavours. For example, Margherita in Tinsukia district is home to the Singhpho ethnic tribe of Assam believed to be the first tea drinkers of Assam. They have a very rich and interesting history which dates back to 1823 when their chief Bessa Gam invited Major Bruce of the East India Company to taste a medicinal drink prepared from a wildly growing plant. This was how the British was introduced to tea and thereafter began the huge plantations of tea.

You can also take a dive into the flavourful cuisine of the Singhpho tribe which have influence of Thai, Chinese and Myanmarese cuisine also. There are a very few restaurants in Margherita which serves purely ethnic Singhpho food like Singhpho Villa and Singhpho Eco Lodge. Singhpho Eco Lodge located in Inthem village of Margherita can also accommodate guests and showcase the process of making their unique organic tea called Phalap.

Singpho Eco tourist lodge in Inthem, Margherita
Singpho Eco tourist lodge in Inthem, Margherita
Source: http://www.tripoto.com

Tea tourism is still a very new concept in Assam and there are only a handful of estates which offer you the best stay.

Jorhat in Upper Assam has some of the best Heritage Bungalows of the British legacy. The Burra Sahib’s Bungalow at the Kaziranga Golf resort is one such heritage bungalow and staying at this resort will give you the feel of the colonial era. The bungalow now serves as a clubhouse but there are cottages built in the colonial style for tourists. The golf course there is one of the finest in the country developed on a 150 acre site. Kaziranga National park is around 2 and half hours drive from the resort and one can easily access jungle safari to the park.

Kaziranga Golf Resort or Burra Sahib's Bungalow
Kaziranga Golf Resort or Burra Sahib’s Bungalow
Source: http://www.yatra.com

Camping can also be a good option keeping in view the standard norms that one has to follow like social distancing post lockdown. In fact adventurers who love to experience the thrill and raw pleasure might opt for camping. It’s also much cheaper provided you plan everything well ahead.

There are numerous eco lodges of all categories near Kaziranga National park to choose from. However, there are small tea estates which might not have lodging facilities but with a little contact you might be able to plan a stay there by carrying your own tents.

Tea plant with two leaves and a bud
Tea plant with two leaves and a bud

And what sounds like an icing on the cake is to take a tour of one such local tea factory and see how your favourite tea is processed. So while you are at it plan a tour of a local tea factory and access will be easy if you befriend the owner or manager of the estate. You can also carry home a few samples of your favourite Assam tea as souvenir.

Assam, at present, has about 830 large tea gardens with 529 tea factories and almost 66000 small tea growers producing around 1.5 million pounds of tea every year. Assam produces about 54% of India’s tea industry followed by Darjeeling and Kerala. Tea Tourism in Assam has a lot more potential if proper guidance and plans are adopted by the State Govt. The unemployment issues can be dealt with and rural economy can be boosted at the same time.

A few tea estate resorts providing quality accommodation are mentioned below:

  • Kaziranga Golf Resort, Golaghat
  • Thengal Manor Heritage Tea Bungalow, Jorhat
  • The Wild Mahseer Heritage Bungalow, Tezpur
  • The Wathai Heritage Tea Bungalow, Tinsukia
  • Mancotta Chang Bungalow, Dibrugarh
  • Singhpho Eco tourist Lodge, Margherita
  • Chameli Memsaab Bungalow, Jorhat
Ahom dress worn by a child

Traditional Attires of Assam and The Ahom Dress

Traditional dress of Assam: The Mekhela Chador

Assam silk is the indigenous silk of Assam comprising of Muga, Paat and Eri silk. The traditional dress of Assam, the Mekhela Chador is mostly woven out of these three silk and is naturally the pride of the Assamese people. The mekhela chador is a three piece attire consisting of the blouse, the lower skirt called mekhela and the chador which is draped around the waist and bosom. In addition the reeha is also worn occasionally by the women folk, mainly by married women. The men wear a suria or dhoti which is an unstitched cloth worn around the waist and goes down to the knee and below, and a sula or shirt. A gamucha is the most integral part of the Assamese attire.

Assamese traditional dress of men
Source: Swarnav Borgohain

The Ahom dynasty and Class division:

Assam is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state and as such the dresses differ with each community or group. The Ahoms are an ethnic community of Assam who ruled Assam from 1228 to 1826 maintaining their sovereignty for nearly 600 years. The Ahom dynasty was established by Sukapha, a Shan prince of Mong Mao who came to Assam after crossing the Patkai mountains. During their reign they successfully resisted the Mughal expansion of North-east India but subsequently fell to the repeated Burmese invasions of Assam. In 1826 the control of the kingdom passed into the East India Company after the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo.

The Ahom kingdom was ruled by a king called Swargadeo ( Chao-Pha) who had to be a direct descendant of Sukapha, the first king. Sukapha had two great Gohains to aid him in administration – Burhagohain and Borgohain and much later in the 16th century Borpatragohain was added in administration. Then there were the royal officers and the council of ministers. Simply speaking the Ahoms also consisted of the royalty and the common subject. Based on this class division the attire of the Ahoms also differed a lot.

Traditional dress of Ahom men
Source: https://www.facebook.com/TaiAhomCultureAndHeritage/

The Ahom dress:

In the early years of the Ahom rule they were seen to wear black clothes which was only later shifted to white clothes. Particular dresses and jewellery was assigned to every class of the people which was distinctive of their social status. The dresses worn by the royalty and higher officials were not worn by the common subject. The fabric used to weave the clothes of the royals  and the higher officials were of Assam silk– either Muga, Paat or Eri silk. Mejankari and  Sopapotia kapur are also certain types of clothes which were worn by them.

In my previous post on Choklong marriage, the unique marriage system of the Ahoms have been discussed in detail. In that post the wedding dress of the Ahom bride and groom have also been discussed. There’s not much difference of the wedding dress from that of the normal dress of the Ahoms.

Traditional dress of Ahom women
Source: picbear.org

The dress of an Ahom women is basically a three piece attire consisting of the suti sula , the mekhela and the reeha. The suti sula is the blouse, the mekhela is like the skirt and the reeha is draped around the waist and the shoulder. Another distinctive part of their attire was the turban or paguri worn on the head, and the cheleng chador worn like a scarf. This was mainly worn by kings, princes, princesses as well as higher officials.

The men wore the sapkon which is like a short shirt and is tied at the waist with Basual tongali, a kind of belt type strap. The suria is the lower garment wrapped around the waist and extended to the knee or below it. The length of the suria defined the social class of the people to a great extent. The cheleng chador is worn as a scarf and the paguri is worn on the head. The Hengdang is the pride and identity of an Ahom male which is a sword carried by them. These clothes were again distinctive of the royals and the higher officials. The Ahom king Swargadeo Rudra Singha was the first to introduce the shirt in Assam. The Ahom kings started wearing the sapkon in the Mughal style made by kingkhap, mejankari and gomseng silk yarn.

Neev in Ahom dress/ attire

The paguri and cheleng chador were not meant for the common subjects of the Ahom kingdom. Theirs was a more simple dress which was restricted to a kopahi kapur or cotton. The basic difference was in the material or fabric used to weave the clothes of the Ahom royals and the subjects. In fact it was during the Ahom rule that the Assam silk of Sualkuchi was given royal patronage. Mejankari, spun with silvery white thread was the pride of the Ahom monarchs, a symbol of their status.

The traditional Ahom dress has over the years changed into the mekhela chador and sula suria. It is only occasionally that the Ahoms prefer wearing their traditional dress like in their Choklong marriage and other ceremonies of the community. The Ahom dress is, in fact, very royal, elaborate and unique as the Ahoms themselves.

A fisherman in River Brahmaputra

Mighty Brahmaputra River: The Metaphor of Life

Brahmaputra river has been a witness to the glorious history and culture of Assam for centuries. Assam is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic state. Different communities, tribes and ethnic groups have migrated and settled in Assam since the ancient times but have now become a part of the larger community called Assamese.

Rivers are a great natural force with an indomitable spirit and a great life source. The continuous flow of rivers, remaining undaunted in spite of many obstacles on its path to reach its goal, has been a great inspiration to mankind. Life, like the river, has to move on with the same indomitable spirit the river has.

River as a metaphor of life has found beautiful expression in a popular song Mahabahu Brahmaputra by our very own Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.

Mahabahu Brahmaputra

Mahamilonor tirtha

Koto yug dhori ahise prokashi

Somonnoyor artha…

~ Dr. Bhupen Hazarika
River Brahmaputra view from Dhola Sadiya bridge
River Brahmaputra view from Dhola Sadiya bridge
Source: Swarnav Borgohain

Assam is the land of Srimanta Sankardev where he preached his doctrine of Ek saran naam dharma ( Neo- Vaishnavism) along with Sri Madhavdev. It is the land where Guru Teg Bahadur and Ajan Fakir spread their teachings of universal brotherhood and built the bridge of solidarity. Because of the confluence of different religions and amalgamation of many ethnic communities Assam has a very rich and varied heritage. The river embraces this rich cultural heritage of the State and flows incessantly as if to continue to enrich its people till eternity.

The Brahmaputra is a trans- boundary river which flows through China, India and Bangladesh. It originates in Tibet as Yarlung Tsangpo, flows through Arunachal Pradesh as Siang or Dihang, and is called Luit in Assam. The Brahmaputra is the ninth largest river in the world in terms of discharge with an average of 700,000 cu ft/s . The river has a total length of about 3080.25 kms and an average depth of 38 m. The river has all the male attributes: fierce, powerful, unpredictable and overflowing with energy and hence the title Mahabahu coined by Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.

Mahabahu Brahmaputra is also the benefactor, the life source of the agricultural community of Assam. Crops depend a lot on water and irrigation, and Brahmaputra along with its tributaries never fails to provide nourishment at such times. Not only agriculture but related livelihood like fishing, wildlife etc. are also dependent on thr river. Periodic flooding is a natural phenomenon which is ecologically important because it helps maintain the lowland grassland and associated wildlife. It also deposits fresh alluvium replenishing the fertile soil of the Brahmaputra River Valley.

A fisherman in River Brahmaputra
A fisherman in River Brahmaputra
Source: scroll.in

During the monsoon season, from June to October, floods are a very common occurrence here in Assam. The river Brahmaputra takes on a frightening look as thousands lose their homes, crops are destroyed, animals are stranded.

Luitor bolia baan

Toi koloi nu dhapoli meliso ?

Hir hir xobde kaal rup dhori nu

Kaak nu bare bare khediso ?

Luitor buku henu baam hoi gol

Gobhirota henu kisu nuhua hol

Baan toi heyehe oliya boliya hoi

Duyu pare uposi poriso.

~ Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

The poet addresses the river as Luit and asks the reason behind the madness. What’s the reason for its fury and whom does it plan to destroy ? The poet is understanding of the fact that the river body has gone shallow which results in increased water level. The comparison here appears to be to a young lad whose heart is heavy because of the emptiness within. This emptiness leads him to wander aimlessly indifferent to the feelings and emotions of others. But life has to go on just like the river which flows overcoming all obstacles to meet the ocean one day.

A boat carrying passengers across the river Brahmaputra
A boat carrying passengers across the river Brahmaputra
Source: nenow.in

Deforestation over the years have led to increased siltation level, flash flood and soil erosion in critical downstream habitat. The effects of flooding therefore are devastating every year which still remains unsolved. The very benefactor river which gave in abundance also has to power to take back everything in heaps and bounds. This is the power of the river Brahmaputra!

The Brahmaputra has also been a source of inspiration for many during the freedom movement in Assam. Just as the river withstands the fury of time the Assamese youth vowed to overcome the enemy with courage and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the land too.

Luitor parore

Ami deka lora

Moriboloi bhoi nai.

~ Jyotiprasad Agarwalla
Sunset on river Brahmaputra
Sunset on river Brahmaputra
Source: travelspeak.in

Luitore paani jaabi o boi

Luitore paani jaabi o boi

Xandhiya luitor paani hunuwali

Sohore nogore jaabi o boi

Joyore kiriti deshe bideshe

Sagore nogore phuribi koi

~ Jyotiprasad Agarwalla

The Brahmaputra has many tales to tell- tales of co-existence, tales of migration, tales of fearless patriotic youth, tales of happy people with simple livelihood, tales of destruction in the face of flood and tales of reconstruction. The people of this land feel one with its mighty river irrespective of its unpredictable nature. The poet Jyotiprasad Agarwalla wishes that as the Brahmaputra flows across borders, it narrates the great stories of this land called Assam for centuries to remember. The mighty Brahmaputra is, in fact, the perfect embodiment of the pilgrimage called life.

Rongali Bihu: The Assamese New Year

Rongali Bihu: The Advent, the previous post, I have mentioned that Bihu is the thread that holds the people of Assam together, irrespective of community, ethnicity, language or religion. Rongali Bihu is the Assamese New Year but people of Assam come together as a state to celebrate this colourful festival.

Togor phool blooms in Bohaag
Source: lowes.com

Rongali is symbolic of youth. Nature bears new leaves during this season, the dullness of winter gives way to new life and Rongali is the celebration of this fresh breath of life. The youth therefore finds a gust of new life and this is the topic of many Bihu geet or songs. The mesmerising sound of the Dhol, pepa and baahi leaves everyone spellbound as young girls dances gracefully to the beats completely oblivious of the surroundings.

Eibeli bihuti romoke jomoke

Nahor phul phulibor botor

Nahor phulor gundhe pai

Nasonir tot e nai

Gosokot bhangi jai jotor

Bihu geet or songs

Bihu geet are the songs sung during Bihu which follow a certain tone, melody and lyrics. They are a very important part of the Assamese culture and the dominant themes being nature, love, friendship and youth. Most bihu songs are a playful expression of love by either a young boy or a girl. Bohaag adds colour to the lives of young boys and girls and love confessions and courtships are an integral part of Rongali Bihu.

Bihua playing the pepa
Source: thehindu.com

In one such song the lover tries to woo his beloved by gifting her the kopou phool. The beloved, on the other hand, secretly goes to meet her lover giving some other excuse to her mother.

Pahar bogai bogai senimai kopou phool ani dim

O senimai khupate

Khupate guji dim buli

Maarok phaki di senimai bihu loi ahili

O senimai sereki

Sereki anugoi buli

Love is a sweet emotion and has been metaphorically compared to ‘sira doi’ the traditional Assamese jolpaan. Love is like the river which flows incessantly :

Piriti piriti piriti

Piriti mitha sira doi

Piriti piriti piriti

Piriti buwa buwoti noi

Piriti piriti piriti

Ure jibon thakibo boi

These are some very popular Bihu songs on love. The river imagery has been beautifully portrayed to emphasise that love is never-ending but forever growing.

Husori / Jeng Bihu

Husori or courtyard bihu is a form of dance performance done during Bihu by visiting every household. Young boys get together led by an elderly and sing bihu songs followed by bihu dance. When young girls perform in a troupe in the same manner it is called jeng bihu. A husori or a jeng bihu troupe visiting your house during Bihu is considered auspicious. They usher in good luck and prosperity by singing:

Jaya Rama bula

Jaya Hari bula

Grihosthor kusholarthe

Bula jai Hari bula

Bihu husori troupe
Source: topyaps.com

When a husori troupe visits you are suppose to welcome them with a gamucha leading the way to your courtyard. At the end of the husori performance a xoraai is offered to them which usually contains tamul-paan, a gamucha and a certain amount of money. Sometimes jolpaan and pithas are also offered along with tea.

Manuh Bihu

Manuh Bihu is the first day of Bohaag, the Assamese New Year. People have a ceremonial bath with maah-halodhi ( black gram and turmeric paste) and put on new clothes. Prayers are offered by lighting the chaki ( earthen lamps) in the household prayer place. The young ones of the family then seek blessings from the elders and offer the traditional gamuchas woven specially for this occasion. All family members sit together to enjoy the elaborate traditional breakfast of doi-jolpaan and pitha amidst chit-chat and laughter.

Bihu jolpaan and pitha
Source: indraniskitchenflavours.com

It is also a tradition to visit family, relatives and friends on the occasion of bihu. The reason being to spend quality time together over a family meal.

Bihu celebration on stage

In the earlier days, during the Ahom rule Bihu was celebrated with much gaiety and performances were organised for the royals. Swargadeo, the king and the other royals clad in their traditional attire sat majestically to enjoy these performances which took place in the Ranghar premises of Sivasagar.

Swargadeo ulale batsorar mukholoi

Duliya e patile dola

Kanot jilikile nora jangfai

Gaat e gumsengor sula

Ranghar bakori Bihu celebration
Source : outlookindia.com

Even today a day long celebration is organised in the premises of historic Ranghar on the occasion of Rongali Bihu keeping in view the grandeur of the tradition.

Other than Ranghar bakori bihu, Bihu stages are organised every year in every nook and corner of the State where the community come together to take part in the celebration. Husori, jeng- bihu, bihu dance, bihu song, and a variety of other cultural competitions are organised. On the first day of Bohaag , mukoli bihu is organised in Latasil field of Guwahati every year. Both Ranghar bakori bihu and Latasil field bihu are very popular and people from around the State witness it with great enthusiasm.

Mukoli Bihu is like an open stage for performances without any makeshift stage. In the earlier days, unlike the makeshift stage now, bihu either meant mukoli or gos tolor bihu.

Rongali Bihu is the main festival of Assam which falls in the Assamese month of Bohaag, hence also called Bohaag Bihu. Bihu ushers in the spring season as we hear the melodious voice of the Cuckoo, the fragrance of nahar, togor and kopou phool. Rongali thus is the celebration of new life.

Rongali Bihu: The Advent

Bohaag mathu eti ritu nohoi

Nohoi Bohaag eti maah

Axomiya jaatir e ayukh rekha

Gonojiyonor e xakh

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

Bohaag Bihu, the Assamese New Year is the most important festival of Assam. It would be unfair to call it merely a festival because Bihu, in reality, is the thread which binds the people here irrespective of any community, religion or language. Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was a poet of the people and his songs reflect the Assamese life in its core. In this song he clearly expresses the emotions that we as Assamese hold in our heart for Bihu. Bohaag is not a season or a month for us, it is our lifeline, the inspiration for our social life.

Kopou phool ( Foxtail Orchid)
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Bohaag is the melodious singing of the Cuckoo ushering in a season of greenery. Bohaag is the raw smell of the tilled land as we get ready for another season of cultivation. Bohaag is the mesmerising sound of the pepa and Dhol which echoes in every nook and corner. Bohaag is the fragrance of the kopou and togor that adorns the hair of a young Bihu dancer. Bohaag is the aroma that fills every kitchen preparing the tasty pithas. Bohaag is the sound of the loom getting busy weaving gamucha (bihuan) .

In Assam the preparations for Bohaag Bihu starts many days ahead of the actual festival. Women gets busy weaving gamucha and mekhela sador in their looms. Gifting gamuchas to the elderly during Bihu has been a tradition here and when it’s woven rather than bought the value increases.

Gamucha in the handloom
Source: thenortheastwindow.com

Gamucha is also used to cover the altar at the prayer hall and the scriptures too. Usually every Bohaag Bihu this is replaced by a new one when family members offer prayers in their prayer halls. Gamucha is the pride of the Assamese people.

Another very important activity is preparation of the pithas or rice cakes and jolpaan. Nowadays everything is readily available in the market but many prepare these at home. Women in the villages use to get together and prepare the chira, hurum, akhoi, hando jolpaan first by grinding in the dheki and then roasting in the fire. Variety of pithas are prepared a few days ahead which includes til pitha, ghila pitha, anguli pitha, tekeli pitha etc. Every kitchen turns into a mini factory before and during the Bihu.

A very popular bihu song by Krishnamoni Nath aptly relates this activity. In this song he teases his beloved to treat him to jolpaan when he comes to her home for husori.

Dheki de dheki de o mure lahori

Dhekire sabote kopai tul suburi

Handoh pithaguri, aru tho sira bhaji

Husori gabo ahim jotonai dibi

Krishnamoni Nath
Bihu pitha and jolpaan
Source: indraniskitchenflavours.com

The entire month of Bohaag is celebrated as Bihu but there are certain traditions which are followed during the two days – goru Bihu and manuh Bihu. Manuh Bihu is the first day of the Assamese New Year and Goru Bihu is the last day of the previous year.

Goru Bihu

On Goru Bihu, the cows are worshipped because Assam being an agrarian State cows in particular and cattles in general are of utmost importance. The cows are gathered early morning and led to a pond or river where they are given a ceremonial bath with turmeric and black gram paste, and vegetables are offered to eat. They are whipped with Makhiloti and Dighloti leaves to keep insects and mosquitoes away. In the evening they are tied with new harnesses, dighloti leaves are burnt along with rice bran to ward off evil in the form of sickness and salted pithas are fed. While bathing the cows the farmers sing a song thereby invoking the divine blessings to bestow good health to their cows.

Dighloti dighol paat

Maakhi maru jaat jaat

Lau kha bengena kha

Bosore bosore barhi ja

Mar xoru baper horu

Toi hobi Bor goru

The goru Bihu special traditions
Source: Runjun Konwar Gogoi

Koni juj is another popular tradition where family members engage in a friendly match of eggs. One person holds an egg in his palm and another hits it with his, the person whose egg breaks first loses. This is in totality a fun tradition. The broken eggs are later cooked with either amlori tup (weaver ants) or scrambled to be eaten along with poita bhaat ( leftover rice). After a hearty exotic meal most people visit the Naamghar and engage in naam praxanga thereby offering prayers in thanksgiving as well as to welcome the new year.

In the evening 101 variety of vegetables are cooked which is believed to keep away illness. 101 haak as we call it, not necessarily includes 101 variety but as many as can be collected. This includes some with very good medicinal values for which the prevalent belief among people. This mixed vegetables delicacy tastes so good inspite of being a weird mixture of sour, bitter, sweet and a lot of other flavours.

The festivities of Bohaag Bihu continue throughout the month although the main traditions are performed during the first two days. There are a lot of related rituals, activities and traditions which will leave you mesmerised. In this post I have included the preparations leading to Bihu and goru Bihu tradition. A lot more other details and manuh Bihu traditions will be included in the next post.

Deepor Beel – A Haven for Migratory Birds in Winter

Asom amar rupohi

Gunoru nai hekh

Bharotore purba dixhor

Surjya utha dekh

………….

Assam, situated in the east of India, is an agrarian state and is naturally rich with flora and fauna. The perception of this state in the minds of many is that of a ‘jungle’ where animals run wild. But for us the natural beauty of this state, the warm lap of Mother Nature is ever so blissful. We do have wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, wetlands, rainforests which are world heritage sites. We take pride in our One-horned Rhino, Hoolock Gibbon, Pigmi Hog, Wild Buffalo, Foxtail Orchid and the variety of other flora and fauna found in abundance here. We get to breathe fresh air every morning, get up to the chirping of the birds, go fishing all we want and walk barefoot which to many might be a distant dream.

………..

Gutei jibon bisarileu

Olekh dibokh rati

Asom dekhor dore napau

Iman rokhal mati

Siro binondiya tumar

Seuj poribekh

Bharotore purba dixhor

Surjya uthar dekh

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

Deepor beel, a haven for migratory birds, is one such wetland in the heart of the capital city Guwahati in which we take pride. It is a permanent freshwater lake located on the south-west of Guwahati, Assam on the southern bank of river Brahmaputra. It is about 5 kms from Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati and so is an easy access to tourists. Deepor beel was made a bird’s sanctuary in 1989, and a protected wetland in 2002. The main source of water of this lake are the Basistha and Kalamoni rivers and local monsoon run-off between May and September. In winter part of the beel dries out and the locals convert the exposed part into paddy fields.

Grey Pelican
Source : Surjya Kumar Chetia

During the 33rd National Games of India which was hosted by Assam, Deepor beel was the venue for watersports like rowing, canoeing and kayaking. Amidst much debate, protests by environmentalists and wildlife activists the venue was finalised and necessary measures were adopted to maintain the natural habitat of the fauna while getting it ready for the event. It was during this event that Deepor beel came to the limelight and caught the attention of a larger audience.

Deepor beel is a birdwatcher’s paradise as ornithologists have recorded about 219 species of birds in this area. These include egrets, pond herons, storks, cormorants and pelicans. Several species of red-vented bulbul, sparrows, drongos, hoopoes, woodpeckers are also seen off-shore. In winter Deepor beel turns into a haven for migratory birds as over 70 species of birds come in for breeding, in search of food or warmer climate. Siberian crane, barn swallow, Asian open-billed storks, pied wagtails, yellow wagtails and several varieties of ducks and other birds are recorded to have been seen here. Ruddy Shelduck, common Shelduck, red crested pochard, common pochard, grey leg goose, bareheaded goose, green sandpiper, spotbilled duck, pintailed duck, shoveller, Indian tern etc. have also taken shelter from time to time in Brahmaputra and its islets including Deepor beel.

Ruddy Shelduck
Source: Surjya Kumar Chetia

The migratory birds arrive in India in two batches – winter migrants from October to April, and summer migrants from March to August. They can be seen in both protected and non- protected rural and urban areas. According to sources, the bird species which visit Assam during summer include Asian koel, black crowned night heron, Eurasian golden Oriole, comb duck, blue- cheeked bee eater, cuckoos, scops owl etc.

The migratory birds play a very special role in sustaining the eco-system. When birds swim in the water, the surface film on the water is broken which helps in penetration of sunlight deep into the water. As a result the bottom fauna grows well which are the main food for fishes. The beel is a source of livelihood for the people of the many villages in its precincts. Freshwater fish is the main source of income for these communities but they know their limits too. The beel plays an important role is sustaining the eco-system of the area and so they preserve it well by not over-fishing. The cases of land cutting, waste disposal and the likes have also been put to check by the locals.

Deepor beel gives one the perfect solace from the bustling city life. The one advantage for anyone who wants to visit this place is that you don’t have to plan separately for it. You simply need to pack your camera and a pair of binoculars, and spare a few hours from your set schedule and you are good to go. If you are an ardent birdwatcher then you would love the calm of this place.