Sivasagar – Complete City Guide to the Historical Place of Assam

Sivasagar, earlier called Rangpur was the capital of the Ahom dynasty and hence this town bears testimony to the magnificence and grandeur of the Ahom rule. The remnants and for most parts even monuments built by the Ahom kings still stand tall in this small heritage town in Upper Assam. Sivasagar meaning ‘ocean of Shiva’ got its name after Sivasagar tank, or the Borpukhuri excavated by Swargadeo Shiva Singha.

Borpukhuri with Shivdol at the background Source: en.wikipedia.org

Sivasagar, located at a distance of 362.6 kms from Guwahati, the State capital is an important centre for tea, oil and tourism industries. The ONGC runs its operations in Geleky, Rudrasagar and Lakwa in Sivasagar district with their offices in Sivasagar and Nazira town. Sivasagar therefore is a major industrial town in Assam inspite of its size.

There’s a lot to see and experience in Sivasagar. From temples to monuments to local village tour, you can experience everything in just a matter of 2-3 days. Travel agencies offer itinerary suitable to your choices, but you can curate one too with a little help to explore on your own.

Places to visit:

1. RANGHAR: Ranghar during the Ahom rule served as a pavilion for watching outdoor sports and other activities. The King with his Queen and other higher officials sat in all grandeur to enjoy buffalo fights, or other sports and recreational events.

Ranghar bakori Bihu celebration
Source: outlookindia.com

Ranghar comes to life during the Rongali Bihu celebration marking the Assamese new year when keeping with the tradition sports and cultural programmes are organised at the premises.

2. TAI-AHOM MUSEUM: The Tai-Ahom Museum located on the west bank of Sivasagar Tank houses the various antique collections of the Ahom dynasty. Books, Ornaments, Garments, Weaponry and other decorative items are displayed here. The museum also promotes research on Tai language and literature.

3. TALATAL GHAR: Talatal ghar has two underground tunnels which was used during wars as secret passages by Ahom soldiers. There were three floors under the ground level and three above. This initially was built as an army base. The underground three floors, however, has been sealed off for security reasons and only parts remain of the upper floors too. But Talatal Ghar is a great example of Ahom architecture.

Talatal Ghar
Source: Swarnav Borgohain

4. SIVASAGAR PUKHURI: Also known as Borpukhuri, Sivasagar tank was dug by the Ahoms in the 18th century. It is 64 feet deep built in an area of 130 acres and is a major landmark of the town.

5. KARENG GHAR: Kareng ghar or the Garhgaon Palace was the royal palace of the Ahom kings. Situated in Garhgaon, a distance of around 15 kms from Sivasagar town, this palace is a four storeyed building constructed in gradually receding tiers. The top floor had a dome like roof with a chamber, and there’s believed to be a secret underground tunnel from Garhgaon palace to Talatal ghar which has now been sealed off.

6. SHIVDOL: Shivdol is a popular Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located on the banks of Borpukhuri or Sivasagar tank. There are footfalls around the year but Shivdol comes to life during Mahashivratri when pilgrims from far and wide visit to offer prayers.

Shivdol
Source: tourmyindia.com

7. JOY DOL: Joydol is also known as the Kesavanarayan temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Built by the Ahom king Swargadeo Rudra Singha, the temple is located on the northern bank of Joysagar tank in Joysagar, a distance of 5 kms from Sivasagar town. This tank was excavated in the memory of his mother Joymoti and hence the name Joydol.

8. AJAN PIR DARGAH: Built in the memory of the Muslim reformer Ajan Fakir, this Dargah is located in Saraguri Chapori region, about 22 kms from Sivasagar town. He was a preacher, a saint from Baghdad who came to settle here and played a vital role in unifying the people of the Brahmaputra valley. He reformed, reinforced and stabilized Islam in Assam. Zikr and Zari are two forms of devotional songs popularized by him. Urus is a special day celebrated here in this dargah.

9. CHARAIDEO MAIDAM: Che-rai-doi, a Tai word which means ‘shining city on the hills’, was the first capital of the Ahom kingdom. Charaideo which is 30 kms from Sivasagar town is now known for its collection of maidams or burial mounds of the Ahom royalty. The Ahoms don’t burn the dead bodies but keep it in a box and bury. This burial mound is called maidam

Dichang mukh and Dikhow mukh are two riverine off the river Brahmaputra which can be opted for local village tours.

How to reach:

Dibrugarh Airport
Source: justdial.com
  • 1. Dibrugarh Mohanbari airport: Dibrugarh Mohanbari Airport is one of the nearest airports, a distance of 83.8 kms. From there you can directly hire a cab to Sivasagar. You can also opt boarding a bus from the main town of Dibrugarh which can be quite a hassle for first timers.
  • 2. Jorhat Airport: A distance of 62.1 kms from Sivasagar town, you can hire a cab directly from Jorhat airport. However there are not many flight and airline options to Jorhat.
  • 3. Sivasagar Railway station: Dibrugarh bound Rajdhani Express from New Delhi has a stop at Sivasagar Railway station. Jan Shatabdi Express from Guwahati to Dibrugarh also makes a halt here. These two trains are quite comfortable to travel in.
  • 4. Dibrugarh Railway station: Train connectivity from other major railway stations of the country are available to Dibrugarh only.

Where to stay:

Hotel Piccolo
Source: justdial.com
  • 1. Hotel Brahmaputra: Located in B.G. Road, Sivasagar Hotel Brahmaputra offers comfortable lodging in a town where there are not many lodging options. The hotel offers complimentary breakfast and parking facilities too.
  • 2. Hotel Shiva Palace: Located in the heart of the town, Hotel Shiva Palace is a budget friendly decent place to stay. Their in-house restaurant Sky Chef is very popular among the locals. There’s a gym right behind the hotel which is a good option for fitness enthusiasts.
  • 3. Hotel Piccolo: Another budget hotel located in Boarding Road, Sivasagar is Hotel Piccolo. They have a bar and an in-house restaurant which offers multi-cuisine food.

Where to eat:

Apart from the restaurants mentioned above there are a few food joints which are quite popular among the locals.

Ethnic Assamese thali
Source: Kaberi Gogoi Deka
  1. Zoonskaya: This is a resort located besides NH 37 just before entering the town. This is the first of its kind in Sivasagar and has been able to attract a lot of people recently because of its attractive interiors. The poolside set up is what attracts most of them.
  2. Rasraj Bakery: This is a popular hangout for panipuri lovers over many years. And don’t forget to taste their crunchy kata biscuit, a popular local variety of biscuit.
  3. MFC : This is the local version of the popular restaurant chain KFC which offers fried chicken and other dishes.
  4. Neelkantha Dhaba: The most popular roadside dhaba in Upper Assam, Neelkantha serves the best of Duck and pork meat. Located on the outskirts, a few kilometres from Sivasagar town this dhaba remains packed throughout, but the wait is definitely worthwhile. Enjoy a wholesome ethnic Assamese thali here during your stay in Sivasagar.

Maha Shivratri and Shivdol of Heritage Sivasagar

Shivdol
Source: templepurohit.com

Shivdol is a group of structures on the banks of the Sivasagar tank, also known as Borpukhuri, in Sivasagar, Assam. It comprises of three different temples namely Shivdol meaning temple of Lord Shiva, Vishnudol meaning temple of Lord Vishnu and Devidol meaning temple of Goddess Durga. Lord Shiva along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma form the holy trinity (trimurti) of Hinduism. Lord Shiva is responsible for the destruction of the Universe, with the goal of recreating it.

Located in the heart of the city of Sivasagar the Shivdol is a popular destination for pilgrims. Tourists and pilgrims come from around the country to offer prayers to Lord Shiva. The temple stands tall at 104 feet high and is said to be the tallest Shiva temple in North East India. Situated at the topmost part of the temple is a golden dome called Kolosi which is seven feet tall.

Mahashivratri meaning the great night of Shiva is the most important festival celebrated here on the new moon day in the month of Magha according to the Hindu calendar. The origin of this festival is not very clear and there are different versions. Some believe it to be the marriage consummation of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati. According to another belief Shivratri is celebrated as the day when Lord Shiva saved the world from the pot of poison that emerged from the ocean during Samudra Manthan. Devotees visit the temples and offer milk, fruits, flowers, fresh leaves and sweets to the shrine. Ardent devotees also remain awake throughout the night and engage in chanting prayers, or meditating. Some also keep fast to please Lord Shiva and receive his blessings.

Sadhus on the occasion of Mahashivratri at Shivdol
Source : Swarnav Borgohain

A special prasad made on the occasion of Mahashivratri is the bhang laddo or bhang lassi which is an edible preparation of cannabis. This is basically a cannabis infused sweet or drink and is the highlight of the festival. Bhang is said to be Lord Shiva’s favourite food. After having spent one night sleeping under this plant’s leaves, he ate it in the morning and feels refreshed. It is widely believed that since then Bhang became his favourite food.

Shivratri in Sivasagar is said to have been celebrated since the construction of the Shivdol by Queen Ambika, second wife of Swargadeo Siva Singha in 1731. Every year during Mahashivratri a huge mela or fair is organised over a few days and pilgrims and tourists alike visit from far and wide to offer their prayers as well as take part in the celebrations. This coming year Mahashivratri falls on February 21st, 2020 and as usual festivities and fairs are expected to be arranged for the occasion. The brightly illuminated temple standing on the banks of the Borpukhuri ( Sivasagar tank) is the most pleasant sight to see at night, with people bustling around the fair surrounding the temple walls on all sides.

Night view of Shivdol with the Sivasagar lake
Source: flickr.com

Sivasagar is a place of rich cultural heritage and great historic importance in Assam as it was the capital of the Ahom kingdom who ruled Assam for glorious six hundred years. It was earlier known as Rangpur and got its current name after its then ruler Swargadeo Shiva Singha. Sivasagar is home to some the most amazing historical monuments in Assam built during the Ahom rule. These include Ranghar, Talatal ghar, Kareng ghar which in a way boasts of the glorious Ahom reign.

In my earlier post on Talatal ghar, I have mentioned in details how to get to Sivasagar and other related information. There is a lot to visit and explore in this historic place called Sivasagar when it comes to history, architecture and culture which would definitely leave you enriched.

Toy Train from Kalka to Shimla passing through a dark tunnel

Why do you Travel?

Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

– Ibn Battuta

Travelling enriches us with knowledge that comes from experience. It broadens our mind as we come in contact with different cultures. Our perspective changes and we become better as human beings. And in the words of Ibn Battuta, we become storytellers in the process. We have so much to share, we almost relive those moments every time we share our travel stories, which is the best part of travelling. You become richer with memories that will last a lifetime.

With a little money and proper planning it is possible to travel to places, provided you have the interest to do so. Travelling alone is fun, but the company of like-minded people always makes travelling all the more thrilling.

It doesn’t matter where you’re going, it’s who you have beside you

– Unknown

For me and my sisters, travelling was always about taking a break after the gruelling school exams. We would wait for our parents to make plans either during the summer or winter vacations.

Luckily for us, my father was an employee of Indian Railways which came with the perk of free travel passes. My father’s position allowed him four first class train passes a year to travel anywhere within the country.

Toy train from Kalka to Shimla going through a dark tunnel
Toy Train from Kalka to Shimla
Source – nativeplanet.com

People travel for different reasons like for relaxation, or work. Basically the idea is to visit new places and get a taste of their culture, food and the likes and enriching thereby. With the rise of social media, Instagram and YouTube influencers, travelling nowadays is more about work and image building, and promoting stuff rather than vacationing.

How social media changed the meaning of Travelling

Travelling before social media was a totally different concept to what it is today. Computers were totally new, and we were taught ‘LOGO’ in school…. I mean Yes… I bet many of you don’t even know what that is. Well, a turtle (a triangle cursor basically) appeared on the computer screen and typing instructions we could make the turtle to draw figures. So, LOGO was actually a computer educational programming language. Rest is history! It was around in 12th standard or so that I learnt to send an e-mail, and much later opened an account in the social networking platform called Orkut.

What I am trying to say is that the memories that we created while travelling was not for pictures. We literally lived those moments which remains fresh till this date. Everything about travelling was raw, unaffected by the thoughts or actions of sharing first, travel later on social networking sites. I agree that we all love to share what we have seen or experienced, but the difference was in the medium of sharing. Earlier we shared our experiences by relating through words and now we relate through pictures.

Dudhsagar view from afar with a train crossing by
Dudhsagar – On the way to Goa
Source – indiatoday.in

My personal experiences with travelling in India via Indian Railways

I have had the opportunity of visiting many tourist destinations of India with my parents and sisters. There was something exciting about those train journeys, 2-3 days without washing up, cramped in our seats playing cards or antakshri, making new friends, and staring out of the window towards the endless green and the dimly lit unknown towns. Though we could avail first class compartments, but sometimes we chose to travel 2nd class sleeper merely for the insane thrill and excitement.

It is not the destination where you end up but the mishaps and memories you create along the way

– Unknown

The swarming in of unreserved passengers during daytime, the monotonous loud voices of the hawkers, the sweaty smell in those small compartments is what sleeper class is all about. But the best part for me was the bustling in of the food vendors with a variety of food options like Jhal muri, puri sabji, bread omelette, tea, coffee, cucumber etc. These vendors were prohibited in the first class compartments resulting in the journey being extremely boring.

Throughout the day we would munch something or the other, get down on big stations to do a little stretching, or look through the stuff brought by the vendors on the train. I remember ordering egg thalis for dinner on the train which came with 2 eggs per thali.

The famous mango wafers of Malda Junction, the brightly lit Farakka Barrage, the breathtaking view of the Dudh Sagar waterfalls while travelling to Goa, the 103 tunnels to Shimla, the fear stricken train journey over the Pamban Bridge in Rameshwaram are memories which gives me the thrills even today.

Pamban Bridge in Rameshwaram, Tamilnadu

The true nature of travelling

Our journeys were not about comfort travel, luxurious hotels, multi- cuisine food or high end brand shopping. We mostly travelled 2nd class, stayed at budget hotels, toured in tour buses, ate normal desi food and did minimal shopping. The happiness was in being able to see new places. Those few days of vacation felt like a lifetime of good memories.

This thrill, happiness and memory is what I want to give to my child. The raw pleasure of visiting new and unknown places. Growing up I want him to fondly remember these trips, the precious moments he had spent with his parents visiting famous tourist destinations from a very young age.

It’s a big world out there, it would be a shame not to experience it

J.D. Andrews
Pallabita Bora and her son, Nevaan in front of Shiva Dol Sivasagar Assam
Myself and Nevaan in front of Shiva Dol, Sivasagar

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, the musical exponent of Assam had composed another famous song,

Asom amar rupohi

Gunaru nai xesh

Bharotore purba dixhor surjya utha dexh

– Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

Assam has so much to boast about and we have yet to explore Assam in all its beauty. So to begin with I decided to visit all the tourist attractions as well as destinations in Assam, and what could be better than exploring it together with my child. We kickstarted our travel in mid April this year, during Rongali Bihu when we were visiting our parents for the first time after Nevaan was born. He was, to be exact, 104 days young on that particular date. And the first place he visited was the SHIVA DOL situated in historic Sivasagar. It was like seeking the blessings of the divine in this new and exciting journey of ours.

Rang Ghar front view

Ranghar – The Tai-Ahom Heritage Monument

Sahityarathi Laxminath Bezbaruah had composed this beautiful song back in the days when Assam was not economically sound. But the poet firmly believed that we, the Assamese, can never be poor.

Ami Asomiya, nohou dukhiya

Kihor dukhiya hom?

Hokolu asil, hokolu ase

Nubuju nolou gham.

Sankare dile bishudh dharam,

Lachite baahut bol

Sati Joymotir satitwa tezere

Asomi aai probol.

Bajok doba, bajok sankha

Bajok mridang khul.

Asom akou unnatir pothot

‘Jai Aai Asom’ bul.

Yes, Assam has a very rich cultural heritage which is much precious to every Assamese. The language, literature, religion, custom, tradition, values which have been passed down from our ancestors is what makes us rich. Economically we are gradually growing too, but socially and culturally we never were and never will be poor.

Historic Sivasagar bears testimony to this rich cultural heritage of Assam in general, and Tai- Ahom cultural legacy in particular. And standing tall is the Ranghar, one of the earliest pavilions of outdoor stadia in the Indian sub-continent.

Ranghar

Ranghar was first constructed during the reign of Swargadeo Rudrasingha with bamboo and wood. It was later re- built with brick by Swargadeo Pramatta Singha in AD 1744 – 1750.

Ahom kings and nobles watched various activities like buffalo fights and other sports mainly during the Rongali Bihu festival from this amphitheatre. They would sit all high and mighty enjoying the fun down at rupohi pathar. Ranghar, in my opinion, therefore became more like a symbol of power and majesty of the Tai Ahom royalty.

Keeping with this tradition Ranghar comes to life once a year during Rongali bihu. Day long cultural programmes are held and people come from far and wide to experience this colourful event.

Ranghar is a popular tourist attraction of Assam. I too have visited Ranghar several times ever since my childhood. But my most memorable visit was the school field trip to Sivasagar when we were in 7th standard. Our school used to organise trips for students every year for all the classes. The lower classes were not taken to trips but allowed to picnic in school campus. But, if I remember correctly, from 5th standard onwards students were taken on day long short trips.

beautiful ranghar and its surroundings
Beautiful Ranghar and its surroundings

Source – commons.wikimedia.org

I loved these trips but at the same time was always nervous because I suffered from motion sickness. I knew very well that such bus trips would make me sick and I could barely enjoy. But I always ended up signing for these trips for the mere joy of going together with friends. Planning started several days ahead of the actual trip on the lunch menu, games to play and other stuff. Playlists of songs were finalised to be played on the Walkman. Breakfast was provided by school but we had to carry our own lunch boxes. This planning was the real exciting part of the entire trip.

In school ours was a crazy group of seven friends and we called ourselves Rainbow group. Back in those days to own a camera was a luxury and only a few of us could afford it. I don’t quite remember who among us carried a camera but we did manage to take a few pictures. And I am very sure most of my school buddies still cherish those beautiful moments and pictures as well.

Me and my child Nevaan in front of Rang Ghar
Me and Nevaan in front of Rang Ghar

This year, in the month of April, I revisited this historic monument to create memories with my 3 months young baby. As we were travelling for the first time with our baby from Guwahati to Ledo, a distance of 522.9 kms, we decided to take a break at Sivasagar for a night. It was an exhausting journey with a baby and two fur babies. After taking a good rest for the night we went to visit Ranghar, Talatal ghar and Shivdol early next morning. The charm and glory of this town and the historic Ranghar will never fade.

Sivasagar should be a must visit destination in your bucket list. It has much to offer when it comes to historic monuments, and most villages in Sivasagar will give you the real thrill of raw Assamese village life. And trust me Spring is the best time to visit Assam when nature is at its best.

Talatal Ghar – The epitome of Tai Ahom architecture

The most interesting memory I have of Talatal Ghar is one that gives me an eerie feeling. Actually Talatal Ghar was used as the location of a very hit Assamese movie “Anthony mur naam” and the song concerned is “Ei rati jui jwole”. In the scene set at midnight there’s this woman, clad in a white saree who lures a group of armed policemen with her mysterious movements around the palace. This woman, disguised as a spirit, has someone to protect and hence lures the policemen away with her singing. There’s something uncanny about the song and its melody which gives you the chills. Somehow this scene is deeply rooted in my memory and my brain automatically associates Talatal Ghar with eerieness. Though in reality this is far from the case.

Talatal Ghar in Sivasagar district of Assam, also known as the Rangpur Palace was built as a military base. It has three storeys that are under ground( currently closed for tourists) and four above the ground, and thus the name “Talatal”. The underground storeys had two tunnels which linked the Dikhow River and the Garhgaon Palace and  served as easy access and secret routes during wars. Present day Talatal Ghar has only the ruins but the architecture has a lot to say about the Ahoms.DSC_1061

HOW TO GET THERE:

Well guys, we do have airports here, the nearest being Jorhat Rowriah Airport. It’s a domestic one though with only Jet Airways and JetKonnect flights. However, you can take a rental cab from there to Sivasagar which would take you around 90 mins. If you are the adventurous type then hire a bike, though I am not very sure if any bike services are available there. However, I am here to help always and would update you on that.

If you have arrived at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati you can do the same but it would take you longer from Guwahati to Sivasagar, about 6-7 hours. There are also train services available to Sivasagar from Guwahati and Shatabdi Express( GHY to DBR) is a good option which currently runs on alternate days. From Guwahati the options are more. We have quite a few cab services which you can self drive also. Bike rentals are also available from Guwahati. So I would personally suggest you to land at Guwahati and then go on about the other plans.DSC_1094

ACCOMODATION:

Obviously you have to hold for a night or two at Sivasagar and there are quite a few hotels here. Hotel Shiva Palace is a good one with both restaurant and lodging. But it would be awesome if you could homestay at a native’s place which would expose you to our people and our food. Would update you on homestay soon.

Talatal Ghar is a must visit for those who love archaeology and architecture. And like I already said it would serve as a very good location for movies, music videos, photography and the likes. It is unnecessary to give you further details because you have to come and explore it yourselves.

Pic courtesy: Swarnav Borgohain@ https://www.instagram.com/i_mkaku/