Assam Diaries: Tezpur, the Mythological Town

Winter is here and so does the travel season. As the blanket of autumn mist is gradually covering this part of the world, let us take a break from all the mundane works and move to some serene places before the harsh summer months make a comeback. Presenting you a town which still beckons to the pre-historic period of India… Tezpur.

Tezpur is the district headquarter of Sonitpur and a transit town to Arunachal Pradesh and north Assam. The town is a small but bestowed with abundant natural and cultural heritage. Centre of Assamese renaissance, Tezpur was the place where the modern Assamese art, song, and movie was orchestrated by Jyotiprasad Agarwala, Bishnuprasad Rabha and Phoni Sharmah. 

Located on the north bank of the River Brahmaputra, Tezpur is well connected with roads and railways. It also has a small airport where connecting flights can be taken to Guwahati. It is also the main point to go the western Arunachal to visit the tourist places like Tawang. 

Tezpur, the Mythological Town

History of Tezpur

The town and the surrounding areas are dotted with mythological remains from prehistoric period and 8 and 9th centuries. It was found to be the seat of the asura dynasty which ruled the ancient Kamrupa where Banasur, the son of Bali, reigned. Lord Krishna’s grandson Aniruddha fell in love with his daughter Usha enraging Banasura which led to a great war where even the deities took part. Eventually, the love won them back and they all lived happily ever after! (How cliche!!)

The remnants of where Banasura kept Usha, famously known as Agnigarh, is still there in the town. Now, a famous tourist place, the district administration has done a good job to recreate the whole drama with bronze sculptures at the Agnigarh hill. 

Tezpur was also the seat of the Danava dynasty who ruled classical Assam before the Aryans came. Their archeological remnants from 8-9th century are still there near Hazarapar pukhuri and Bamuni hills. 

Da Parbatia, a village near Tezpur has stone sculptures from the 4th century and it may be believed that the place was a centre of shakto clan.

Coming to the recent history of Tezpur, the town was the last point where the Chinese army invaded during 1962’s Ind0-China war. The town was evacuated but fortunately, the invading army retreated back and the town was saved.

But the most glorious moment in the recent history of Tezpur came when the current Dalai Lama gave his first official interview to the press from the Circuit House of Tezpur after his escape from Tibetan territories. Tezpur was crawled by reporters from all over the world and it still holds a special place in His Holiness’s heart.

                                                                (The lady in the thumbnail of the video is His Holiness’s mother)

Tezpur is our favourite stop whenever we travel to upper Assam. I love to get lost in the mythological layers of the town and to stroll around the ponds which are situated in the midst of the town. I love to climb the hillock of Agnigarh and spend time watching the Brahmaputra. 

Tezpur still holds the lost aroma of old Assam where every road is clean and everyone works together to keep the town clean and peaceful. Here is a glimpse of places mentioned in this post. 

Glimpses of Tezpur, the Mythological Town

Agnigarh, symbol of eternal love!

agingarh.tezpur
The Agnigarh or the Hill of Fire

 

Entrance to the Park

Stairs to go to the top of the hill

Glimpses of the mythological tale

Glimpses of the Brahmaputra from the hilltop

 

Archeological remnants at Da Parbatiya near Tezpur

 

MahaBhoirab Mandir at Tezpur

 

 

 

 

 

Poki, Cultural Symbol of Assamese Renaissance

 

5 Things That You Don’t Know About Assam Tea

Being an Assamese blogger, I have been often questioned why I have not written about the things that are considered as the symbol of my state. In fact, I have not been writing about two things that define Assam at all. The first one is Greater One-horned Rhinos and the other one is Assam Tea. The first one, I am not eager to write about it. My husband is wildlife biologist whose focus is the rhinos and I get to discuss only this magnificent beast in my home. So naturally, I stay away from it while I work.

The other thing that defines my state is Tea. We, Assamese, are addicted to this beverage. In fact, now I am sipping a steaming cup of Assam tea while writing these lines. It is our identity. Tea was among the first questions I was asked while I studied in Delhi apart from if we still live in the jungle and do we need to have a passport to come to Delhi. The exact question was ‘Emm..aahh…do you have a sort of tea garden instead of a kitchen garden?’ Yes. Tea is that specific to us Assamese!

Tea is one of the most loved beverages in the entire world. It is mainly produced in northeast India, some patches of south India, Sri Lanka, China etc. Assam tea is widely loved and used in the world. Tea prices are very average and so at every stratum of the society, it is widely used making it common people’s beverage. Tea in Assam has its own history which is not less than a fairy tale. So, people… brace yourself for an exciting journey to know what is Assam tea. Read this piece and get ready to buy tea online India. Here we go!

5 Things That You Don’t Know About Assam Tea

The history of Assam Tea dates back to 1823

A British mercenary, on his trip to Assam in 1823, was offered a bowl of steaming liquor by a local Sing thou (an indigenous tribe from Assam) chief. As soon as Robert Bruce, the mercenary, sipped the bowl, he was energized with a raw energy. He understood that this was no ordinary local beverage but Tea, for which there was an uproar going on in England. Till that time, tea was a monopoly of China where tea was cultivated and guarded with utmost secrecy so that no one can snatch the business from them. Lots of efforts were already made to grow tea in other parts of the world but in vain. The business heart and mind in Mr. Bruce leaped with joy. He requested some leaves to the chief which were sent to his brother Charles Alexander Bruce to check.

Assam Tea is reigning over British islands since the 1930s

The samples sent by Robert were identified as tea and it was rejoiced by the East India Company as it was opening their doors to the tea trade. Robert’s brother Alexander was appointed as the Superintendent of Govt Tea forests in Assam and it was under his care, the first batch of Assam tea was exported to England in 1837. It was an instant hit among the tea-loving people of England and gradually, lots of people are getting attracted to this tiny state in their empire.

The first sapling and labors in Assam tea plantation were Chinese

At first, the Assam Company was doubtful about the quality of the local tea species. So, they smuggled four lakh tea sapling and labor from China. Though the saplings did not survive the hot and humid weather of Assam, the Chinese laborers helped in initiating the tea plantation in Assam. There was a significant Chinese population in Assam before 1960. Though most of them were either deported or left the country during the Indochina war, there are still people of Chinese origin in Assam. If you want to know more about them, do read the novel Makam by Sahitya Academy winner author Dr. Rita Chowdhury. The book has documented the smuggled Chinese labors to Assam and their descendants’ heartbreaking deportation from Assam. The book is translated into English as The Golden Horse as well as in the Marathi language too.

The Assam tea flavor that has won hearts of millions

Assam tea has a unique strong malty taste and a bright color which gives it its uniqueness. It was researched that this unique flavor comes from the climate Assam has. The climate varies from cool and dry winter to hot, rainy summer which helps the tea plants to grow prolifically producing the best tea in the world. Assam accounts for around 55% of the global tea production every year. And it means you have a little of my state every day in your morning rituals!

Different time zone for Assam tea gardens

Yes. It is hard to believe but the tea gardens in Assam follow a different time zone than Indian Standard Time (IST). As Assam receives sunrays earlier than the rest of the country, the Britishers introduced the system to save the daylight. The general working hour of a tea garden in Assam is 8-30/9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Isn’t is unique to have a time zone devoted to themselves only?

Tea also has many qualities and every household has their own recipe to brew the perfect cup of tea. There are so many varieties of Assam tea available in the market and you are free to choose from it. Currently, my personal favorite one is the Orthodox tea where you don’t have to brew the tea in hot water. Just boil the water, add the tea leaves and cover. After two-three minutes, your ticket to a healthy life is ready to sip! You can also buy tea online to taste various types of tea available in Assam.

Snapshots of Spring in Assam

spring in assam

Assam is a place with abundant natural beauty. Walk into any part of this state and you will find nature at its best. If you are a fan of wildlife, the best time to visit the state is winter but if you love to indulge yourself in greenery everywhere, spring and summer are the perfect time.

Here, I have captured the essence of the country life of Assam. It is said that if you really want to see the beauty of our state, visit a village. We have still preserved the very best essence of our culture, our way of life in our villages.

spring in assam

In this article, I am sharing some snapshots from the place where I am married into. Though I was born and brought up in lower Assam, I am married in upper Assam and hence, my home is the assimilation of cultures and traditions of both the places. The nature in my in law’s place is evident in every aspect. Be it our kitchen garden or our alley, the spring has favored us with open arms and  graced us with our presence. Here are some of the snapshots of how spring has adored us.

Jamun flowers in our kitchen garden. Though I am not aware of the scientific name of this particular berry, it yields sweet fruits, somewhat watery in taste.

Snapshots of Spring in Assam

 

Pomegranate flower in our kitchen garden. Daalim, as it locally called in Assamese, is a common fruit. The pomegranate flowers are known to be capable of lowering blood sugar, benefiting diabetic patients. It also has punicalagin, an antioxidant known for heart benefits.

Snapshots of Spring in Assam

Konbilahi or Cherry tomatoes are grown in abundance in Assam during late winter and early spring. They are an integral part of various Assamese recipes. Our kitchen garden is full of cherry tomatoes trees.

Flowers of tengesi tenga or Creeping wood sorrel. Helpful in hangovers, eczema, soothes insect bites, cures sleeplessness a nd good source of vitamin C. 

Spring in assam

Amaryllis Lily Dutch Flower in our garden.

The clear sky with beetle nut trees at our place.

spring in assam

The beetle nuts 

spring in assam

The rare Keteki shrub in our garden. It is one of the cherished flowers in our folk songs and very difficult to grow. Fortunately, my better half was able to grow it after tedious trials and now it blooms every year. 

The Keteki flower

spring in assam

Kopouful- common orchid found in every village of Assam.

 

Bohag Bihu: A Photo Essay

Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu is one of the main festivals of Assam. It is celebrated in the month of April when the Assamese New Year starts. It is the festival when the agrarian Assamese society gets ready for the next agricultural cycle. The festival is full of fun and joy and hence, it is also called Rongali.  Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu is the time when the boys get ready with their dhol and pepa to woo their loves in Bihu dance. It is the festival of dance and songs, visiting relatives, and neighbors seeking their blessing for the whole new year.

This photo essay would introduce you with some of the rituals and snapshots of Bohag Bihu. 

Goru Bihu-The first day of Bohag Bihu

 

Goru Bihu

 

On the first day of Bohag Bihu, all the cattle in a household gets special treatment. They are given ceremonial baths after smearing black gram and turmeric paste. This is a community ritual where all the cattle of a locality is taken to a community pond or nearby river. The small boys drive the cattle to the pond or river with two herbs, digholoti and makhiyoti and sing,

Digholotir dighal jaat, makhi maro jaat”.

It is believed that when the cattle are specked by these herbs, the flies won’t bother them for year long. After the bath, the cattle are adorned with garlands made by vegetables like bottole gourd, eggplant, thekera. They are also given the vegetables to eat while singing the following song,

“Lao kha, bengena kha, bosore bosore barhi ja : ma saru, bapera saru, toi hobi bor goru.”

In the evening, they are given jug or a special herb infused smoke to make the gohali or farm hygienic.


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Manuh Bihu- the second day of Bohag Bihu

On the second day, the Assamese people take ceremonial bath with the paste of black granite and turmeric. It is believed that these pastes help to fight any kind of skin anomaly. 

After the bath, the blessing is sought from the elders with offering them bihuwan. Bihuwan is a gamosa which is made especially for the Bihu. Jolpan, consisting laru, pitha, sandoh, curd etc are served.

Bihuwan-Bohag Bihu

 

 

The Ultimate Shopping Guide for This Bohag Bihu

Bohag Bihu is here and it is time to rejoice, visit relatives and merry making. For you who do not what it is, let me explain. Bohag Bihu is one of the major festivals of us, Assamese. There are three Bihus-  Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu, Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu and Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu. Bihu is out and out a festival of an agrarian society that we Assamese are. Bohag Bihu is celebrated before the start of the cultivation circle. It is celebrated during the spring, in Mid-April when the whole society rejoices a new world with all its spring glory. It also marks the start of Assamese New Year with the month of Bohag. According to renowned musical maestro Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, “Bohagat jatiye snan kore.” It means that the whole Assamese nation rejuvenates itself for the coming year and faces the hardship of growing food. The Bohag Bihu is marked with lots of merry-making like Bihu dance and songs. After the Bohag month, people gears up to sow and cultivate the paddy fields. The almost ripe harvest is worshiped by lighting earthen lamps during Kati Bihu. The harvest is celebrated during Magh Bihu and this is how the circle is closed.

The Ultimate Shopping Guide for This Bohag Bihu

Bohag Bihu is the time to meet our near and dear ones. Ask any of Assamese you know and they will sigh over Bohag Bihu and long to go home during the festivity. It is the time to seek blessings and spread love. It is the time to pamper and get pampered. During our childhood, it was the time when we eagerly waited for our relatives to come home and exchange gifts. It is not customary to exchange gifts but honestly speaking, who doesn’t love to be gifted? If you have any Assamese who is your near and dear one, Bohag Bihu is the best time to pamper them and visit them. That’s why I have come with this ultimate guide on what to buy and gift your Assamese friends on this festival of fun and blessings.

The Ultimate Shopping Guide for This Bohag Bihu

In this shopping guide for Bohag Bihu, I will discuss the things that hold special places in the Assamese society. There are lots of Assamese people who stay away from their home and even after longing, cannot manage to go home during the festival every year. Pamper them with the pure Assamese gifts with this shopping guide for Bohag Bihu.

All the gift ideas listed in this shopping guide for Bohag Bihu are available online. Hence it doesn’t matter in what part of the world you or your Assamese friends stay. Just click and gift!

Gamosa

Gamosa is a traditional hand woven piece of cloth which holds a special place in Assamese society. It is generally gifted to someone who is respectable and as a token of love. This rectangular piece of cloth comes with red borders in all sides and intricate designs in both the ends. The gamosas which are gifted during the Bohag Bihu are called Bihuwan. It is customary to gift gamosas during Bohag bihu and hence can be a good thing to gift this Bohag Bihu. You can buy gamosa here.

Bell metal products

Bell metal products are produced locally in Assam and extensively used in any Assamese household. Bell metal sorai is used to offer prosads to the lord and tamul-pan (bettle leaf-nuts) to the guests.

It was not until recent, bell metal products were not available online. But thanks to Brahmaputra Fables, now you can order bell metal products from any corner of the world. Here is the link where you can buy bell metal products online.

Green Tea

                                                                                                 Image credit: Here

 

Let’s admit. We Assamese are addictive to tea. We love to drink at any given time and in any form. But if you encourage good health, gift some green tea to your Assamese friends. Here is a Facebook page where you can buy green tea online.

Assamese Traditional Wear

 

Assam is home to three indigenous silk types- eri, muga and pat silk. The mekhela sador made with this silk are good option to gift on this Bohag Bihu. You can even buy some muga sari for yourself too. Here is the link where you can buy Assamese traditional wear.

Assamese Traditional Jewellery

Assamese traditional pieces of jewelry are simple, easy-to-wear yet elegant pieces of jewelry which can be gifted on this Bohag Bihu. Buy some elegant piece of jewelry from the brand, Parajapoti Axomiya Gohona online. This brand is run by a mompreneur and you can contact her here for some beautiful collection of jewelry.

7 Things that You Don’t Know About Barpeta Satra

Sometimes back one of my friends asked, “Tumalokar Barpeta Satrar katha kiyo nilikha?” i.e. Why did not you write about your Barpeta Satra? I was silent for some time. Then I told him, “I do not know how to write about it.” Of course, he did not believe me as I am quite defensive about anything but Barpeta Satra or as we fondly call it, Barpeta Kirtanghar.

So what is a kirtanghar? More important, what is Barpeta kirtanghar/ Barpeta Satra? Anyone, who is born in brought up in Assam, has heard about it. It is one of the Satra or a kind of monastery that practices Vaishnav religion and culture. A Satra can be termed as the epitome of Assamese culture and traditions. They were established by Saint Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankardeva and Mahapurusha Madhabdeva, the great preachers and social reformers of Assam in the 15th century. Satras were initially established to preach the Vaishnav religion but gradually they were transformed to be social and cultural organization. The Satra at Barpeta (By the way, it is where I was born and brought up) was established by SriSri Madhabdeva. Barpeta Sattra, which we Barpetiyas (resident of Barpeta) fondly call Barpeta kirtanghar, is one of the important ones among the Sattras.

7 Things that You Don’t Know About Barpeta Satra

If you ask any Barpetiya, do you love your Kirtanghar? You can get a stare that can turn your blood into ice. Tell them any unpleasant thing about it and you were doomed. You may not be physically harmed but mentally, I can not take any risk. Yes, to that extent, we love our kirtanghar. That’s the reason when I was asked to write about it, I was speechless. How can you pen down a feeling which is in your blood? Our kirtanghar is the core of our existence. The whole life cycle of a Barpetiya revolves around the kirtanghar. Be it a newborn baby, on your marriage day, after your death, you are connected to it. It is as necessary for us as to take a breath. Wherever we go, we carry it in our heart. Ask any Barpetiya who lives outside Barpeta, what festival he misses most. The answer will be Doul Utsav (Holi) in Kirtanghar. How can I write all these feelings in a single article? Barpeta kirtanghar is the very essence of my existence. When I finally decided that I am going to write about it, I did not want to write the obvious things about our kirtanghar. My love and devotion for Barpeta kirtanghar are beyond description just like any other Barpetiya. So, here are seven facts that you do not know about this famous Sattra.

7 Things that You Don’t Know About Barpeta Satra

Do you know that Barpeta Satra has an earthen lamp which is lit for last 500 years? Yes, you read it correct. Since the establishment of the kirtanghar, an earthen lamp was lit and till this very moment, it has enlightened our hearts. Extra care is taken to keep the lamp lit and it is amazing that we have not failed it for a single moment. After the establishment of the kirtanghar, it was almost destroyed by forest fire but the wife of the first Sattradhikar personally took care of the earthen lamp and did not fail in that duty. Even during the infamous Maan invasion of Assam, the earthen lamp was enlightened.

Do you know Barpeta Satra is connected to the great epic Mahabharata? That is too with the legend of Rukmini Haran by Srikrishna? Yes. There is a spot in the northeast corner of the main prayer hall of the Sattra where oil like substance springs from the earth constantly. The legend says that it is the spot where the messenger of Rukmini got unconscious after a tiring journey from Dwarka with Srikrishna. To bring him back to consciousness, Srikrishna struck the earth with his arrow and a spring of water emerged with which, he nursed the poor Bednidhi deu (messenger of Rukmini). The very spot still springs a substance which is oily in texture.

Do you know the main prayer hall of Barpeta Satra has two pillars made of Tulsi plant?. Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is a plant which grows in the Indian subcontinent and widely known for its aroma and medicinal properties. Generally, it grows up to only 12-14 inch. But the main pillars of the prayer hall are at least 17-18 feet and the circumference is more than 4 feet. It is said that both the pillars were found in a river during the flood. It is really a miracle as nowhere in the earth grows a tulsi plant as huge as those pillars.

Do you know whole Barpeta Satra has wooden as well as solid sculptures in its walls? The main prayer hall even has such wooden sculptures which are more than 100 years old. All the sculptures depict scene from the Bhagavata.

Do you know, Barpeta Satra has a Rangial phool which is also almost 500 years old? The flower was planted by Mahapurusha SriSri Madhabadeba himself. The plant still blooms in plenty and its leaves and flowers are used as nirmali or blessings in the kirtanghar.

Do you know, the devotees or the visitors are asked only to bring just a small amount of salt or mustard oil to the kirtanghar? It is believed by our forefathers that economic equality should prevail among the devotees and they should not be judged by their economic status in visiting the kirtanghar.

Do you know, Barpeta Satra is the first democratic institution of Greater Assam? Yes, since its establishment, the head of the Sattra or Sattradhikar is elected by an election.

These are the facts about Barpeta Satra which often remains under the veil. Barpeta kirtanghar will always be dear to our hearts. It is the reason for which even after leaving Barpeta, even after marrying a non-Barpetiya, I remain Barpetiya at the core just like any other girl from my hometown. It is the center of my devotion, my pride as a soul who was born in that holy land called Barpeta.

Barpeta Satra

How to go to Barpeta Satra?

Barpeta Satra is situated at Barpeta, a town on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra. Barpeta is situated approximately 90 KM from Guwahati and can be reached via road and railway. The nearest railway station is Barpeta Road from where you can take any public transport to reach Barpeta.

When to visit Barpeta Satra?

Any time of the year is a good time to Barpeta Satra as the holy rituals are performed daily here. However, if you want to get the maximum exposure to the culture and euphoria of the people to Barpeta Satra, then you must visit it during the Doul Utsav or Holi (March every year) as it popularly known outside Assam. The other time to get another glimpse of Satriya culture is during the death anniversaries of Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankaradeva and SriSri Madhabadeva (September, every year). You can also have a good time during Bohag/Rongali Bihu (April 15th every year).

Barpeta Satra

Where to stay during Barpeta Satra visit

Barpeta Satra has a guesthouse where you can stay with prior permission.  Other commercial places for fooding and lodging are-

  • Prashanti Tourist Lodge, Barpeta. Phone no- 094350 25288
  • Hotel Diya-Disha, Barpeta. Phone no-094354 01111

Koila Baba ki Joy!!!!!

Assam Diaries: Origin of the Brahmaputra

The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam. It has been shaping the geographical as well as the geological profile of the state, as well the backbone of Assamese Civilisation. Although the Assamese people claimed it to be their own and worship it, the river solely does not belong to this northeastern state of India. It is, in fact, a truly international river. With a drainage area of 580000 square km, the river crosses 2880 km from its source Chema Yung Dung to its mouth in the Bay of Bengal. The Brahmaputra, known as Tsangpo in Tibet, flows 1625 km over the Tibetan plateau, then enters a narrow deep gorge at Pe (3500m from MSL) and then continues its journey southwards across the east-west ranges of Himalayas before entering the Assam Plain. The two rivers Dibang and Lohit join the river in Arunachal Pradesh, India and hereafter it is known as the Brahmaputra. The river traverses 918 km in India and rests 337 km in Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal through a joint channel with the Ganga.
The course of Brahmaputra is always attracting scholars from different disciplines and explorers from various parts of the world. Especially the upper course of the river was a subject of great interest to the British explorers in the early 19th century. The source of this river and its link to the sacred river of Tibet i.e. Tsangpo was such an enigma that kept the British Survey of India busy for more than a century. The first adventurer who declared Tsangpo and Brahmaputra to be the same river was Major Rennel in the 1760s. However, much debate was on to solve the riddle of Tsangpo and its later course. Several explorers claimed Irrawaddy as the later course of Tsangpo. The local beliefs also contradicted the theories, which the British explorers tried to hypothesize. The Survey of India became determined to solve the mystery with its dedicated officials. Nevertheless, numerous obstacles before them yearned to solve the riddle. There were two directions before them to solve the mystery – to reach the Tsangpo close to its source and trace it eastward or travel upstream along the Dihang, Dibang or Lohit to check if any of them were contiguous to Tsangpo. However, Tibet was a Forbidden Land to the white-skinned foreigners in the 19th century. Moreover, the alternative way to explore the upper course of the previously mentioned rivers was equally dangerous to the tribal people of northeast India. The land was actually terra incognita to Europeans until that point of time and the people were very hostile to any outsiders.
Despite these difficulties, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra mystery remained a fascination with the British adventurers. Besides them, there are two things, which pushed the British administration in India takes interest in exploring the upper course of the Brahmaputra. First, the Tsangpo flowed at a great height in Tibet and if the same river flows in Assam plain which has a few meters altitude, then there was a possibility of the presence of the highest waterfall in the world in its course. The other objective was to open a trade route to western China through Tibet. However, the prospect of discovering the highest waterfall on earth led the adventurers to the expedition by both the routes. However, the hill tribes of northeast India proved to be the greatest obstacles in exploring the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra from the east. The British were also not successful from the north due to irascibility of the Tibetans toward Europeans. Decades passed, but the riddle of the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra became a difficult nut to crack. Ultimately, the British mastermind like Colonel Montgomerie and General Walker thought of changing the strategy and devised a new scheme. The new plan included the use of young Indians as spy-cartographers who can carry the survey in lieu of the British officials as these Indians had the benefit of being native. Colonel Montgomerie started to train selected young Indians in the rudiments of the Geological survey at the Institute of Survey of India at Dehradun. This is the point where the thrilling adventure of Indian cartographers to unravel the mystery began.

 

With mongoloid features, these Indians were either fluent in speaking Tibetan or trained to do so to mingle with the Tibetans. They were trained to conduct basic survey works using improvised instruments and techniques and to record them as concisely as possible. They were instructed to take strides of equal length and use beads of their rosary to keep count. The Indians were also taught to recite their findings as reciting prayers like Buddhist monks. They were not only given disguises but were also equipped with modified instruments, which could be camouflaged. The prayer wheel was equipped with a prismatic compass hidden inside it and rolls of paper were also kept to take notes. Instead of regular 108 beads, the rosaries given to them had only 100 to carry the counting accurately. They also carried thermometers to measure the boiling point of water and complete the altitudes by that means. They also get medical training. Thus, the group of Indians was sent one by one to unlock the mystery of Tsangpo-Brahmaputra. These brave men added high expectations to the exploration of the Brahmaputra. Though they were not scholars, they were designated as “Pundits” (Scholars). The Pundits were chosen very carefully for their intelligence and resourcefulness. Disguised as Indian pilgrimages, they largely contributed to the adventure which also brought a geographical and political account of Tibet.

Assam Diaries: Origin of the Brahmaputra
The first two pundits to be chosen were Nain Singh and Mani Singh. They were fluent in the Tibetan Language as well as conversant with the routed through their previous visits to Tibet. Under the supervision of Colonel T.G.Montegomerie, British education officer of Kumaon, Major Edmund Smith trained them. In 1865, Nain Singh made his first journey to Tibet and reached Tsangpo after crossing the Nolan Pass (5000m). Following the course of the Tsangpo westward, Nain Singh aka A.N. was able to reach close to its source. He returned to India with invaluable records of a 2400 km trek. He was the first person to determine the exact location of the Forbidden City, Lhasa. On his second voyages in 1867, he explored western Tibet. The last and greatest journey of Nain Singh was in 1873 when he took an eastward course along the Tsangpo and returned to India through Assam. In his third expedition to Tibet, he covered 1095 miles (1763 km) from Leh to Lhasa. He then turned south and mapped an unknown part of Tsangpo. He followed the river course downstream for thirty miles unexplored. The information brought by him was valuable as the point where he left the river was Chetang and it was beyond the last point at which the river was mapped until date. From this town, Nain Singh was able to approximate its course for further 100 miles by taking a bearing of distant peaks. He continued his journey eastward and finally reached Udaygiri after surpassing many hurdles. Thus, one piece of the puzzle was finally found when Nain Singh mapped the unexplored part of upper Tsangpo.

Another Pundit Kishen Singh who tracked down three important rivers of Asia- Mekong, Salween, and Irrawaddy boosted Nain Singh’s information. However, the confusion was still on that whether Irrawaddy or Brahmaputra was the lower course of Tsangpo. Here comes the account of Kinthup who has the greatest contribution in exploring the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra course.
In 1880, Kinthup followed the path of Nain Singh to solve the riddle of Brahmaputra. Kinthup was a Sikkimese explorer who spent four years in Tibet (1879-1882). He was selected by General Walker to travel along Tsangpo as far east as possible and cut and float logs down the river. The plan was that once Kinthup had float the specially marked logs in Tsangpo, he will inform the British Officials of Survey of India and they would be keeping watch on the lower reaches of Dihang to catch them. This process would lead to conclusive evidence of Dihang being the lower part of Tsangpo. Thus Kinthup who was illiterate began his journey as a servant of a Tibetan lama. They first reached Lhasa and then followed the river up to Gyala Dzong which was the furthest point to be reached by previous pundits. He reached the Rainbow Fall and later carried his journey to Onlow. Onlow was nearly 100 miles lower than any point reached by previous cartographers and was nearly 35 miles from the nearest plains in Assam. But unfortunately, his companion sold him to a Tibetan official as a slave and Kinthup had to live a life of misery there. But he managed to escape and took shelter in a monastery at Pemako.

But unfortunately, his companion sold him to a Tibetan official as a slave and Kinthup had to live a life of misery there. But he managed to escape and took shelter in a monastery at Pemako-chung. There he managed to prepare the logs according to the orders of Captain Harman to throw 50 logs per day. During that period, Kinthup was able to earn his master’s trust who gave him permission to go to Lhasa. From Lhasa, Kinthup sent a message to Survey of India about the logs. However, the messenger failed to deliver the message. In spite of having the risk of remaining slave for life, this brave explorer returned to Pemako where he managed to float the logs. The lady luck didn’t favor Kinthup and his superior Captain Harman, who kept watch for whole day and night for two years. But Harman fell ill and left India. There was no one who was aware of the message sent by Kinthup as the messenger failed to deliver the message, those who were to watch the river for the logs had not been alerted and the logs floated down undetected. Kinthup earned his freedom from his master and tried to re-enter India through Assam. However, he was prevented from entering Assam by the hill tribes. He was forced to take a circuitous route to enter India. Due to his illiteracy, he was not able to keep records. Therefore, the British officials were no so willing to believe his account. Though he was not rewarded for his extreme loyalty and courage, Kinthup went down the history as the most courageous person to establish the link the Tsangpo and Brahmaputra. Two years after Kinthup’s return to India, the Survey debriefed him. Despite being illiterate, or more likely because of it, he had an extremely retentive memory with an almost total recall of the topographical details of his adventure of the Tsangpo. Decades later, in 1913, his account was checked and found to be remarkably accurate. The later explorers who succeeded to establish the fact that Tsangpo and Brahmaputra are the same river were based on the account of Kinthup. After numerous expeditions, finally, Kingdon Ward and Earl Cawdor discovered and established the fact.
Before the adventures of the pundit cartographers, the only source of information regarding Tibet was traveler’s tale and ancient Chinese maps. That information was not near perfect and full of inaccuracies locating places in wrong locations. The pundits were instrumental in bringing the first piece of authentic information about the unknown land. Besides being resourceful and extremely courageous, the men were very loyal who carried out the tasks entrusted to them with utmost care. Nain Singh (A.N.) charted a crude map of Tsangpo from Chema Yung-dung glacier up to the south of Lhasa. He also carried out a survey of Lhasa and adjoining areas. Kishen Singh (A.K.) crossed the Yangtse, Mekong, and Salween and established the course of Irrawaddy and proved them none of them was a continuation of Tsangpo. Kinthup (K.P.) finish his job with the ultimate sacrifice.Their reports along with their British counterparts enabled the Survey of India to sketch an accurate map of the area. Moreover, the process resulted in determining the Dihang as the continuation of Tsangpo. The accounts of the pundits about their journeys make exciting reading. Some of them failed to return due to numerous obstacles. Nevertheless, the courage and sacrifice made by these brave people laid the rock hard foundations of mapping of the Central Asia, China, Mongolia, and Tibet. For almost one century, the information collected by the pundit cartographers was the only authentic source to explore the lower reaches of Tsangpo. The bravery of these pundits like Kinthup, their loyalty and devotion to duty, contributed largely in unraveling the enigma. In this age of technology like remote sensing, GIS and GPS, the expeditions of these people may appear strange with minimum technology and hardships. But there is no doubt that the riddle of Tsangpo-Brahmaputra was solved due to the pundit cartographers courage and sacrifice making it one of the most exciting adventures in the history of human explorations.
N.B. This is one of my articles published in premium English Daily of Assam, the Assam Tribune in February 2013. If you want to have glimpses of the river Brahmaputra, check my another article on it. 

Assam Diaries: Glimpses of The Brahmaputra

Assam, a northeastern state of India, is incomplete without the river Brahmaputra. It is the lifeline that has shaped the human civilization in this part of the world since time immemorial. 

The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam. It has been shaping the geographical as well as the geological profile of the state, as well the backbone of Assamese Civilisation. Although the Assamese people claimed it to be their own and worship it, the river solely does not belong to this northeastern state of India. It is, in fact, a truly international river. With a drainage area of 580000 square km, the river crosses 2880 km from its source Chema Yung Dung to its mouth in the Bay of Bengal. The river, known as Tsangpo in Tibet, flows 1625 km over the Tibetan plateau, then enters a narrow deep gorge at Pe (3500m from MSL) and then continues its journey southwards across the east-west ranges of Himalayas before entering the Assam Plain. The two rivers Dibang and Lohit join the river in Arunachal Pradesh, India and hereafter it is known as the Brahmaputra. The river traverses 918 km in India and rests 337 km in Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal through a joint channel with the Ganga.

It holds a special place in Hindu mythology where it is regarded as the son of Brahma, the creator of the universe and Lady Amogha. It is also said that Parshuram, the incarnation of Vishnu, the nurture of the universe, committed matricide and the sin was so terrible that the ax he used was stuck to his hand. He visited many holy places but the ax came off once he washed his hands in the Brahmaputra. Relieved, he cut one side of the mountains that were guarding the river to help the locale.

The whole riverside is a cradle of different tribes and various cultures. The Ahoms settled on its banks and reigned for 600 years. Various tribes like Mising, Bodo, Karbi, Chutiya, Moran, Motok, Dimasa, Garo, Rabha, Hajong, Tais and several tribes have built their homes centering the Brahmaputra valley. The banks of the river are picturesque and full of natural and cultural heritage. 

Glimpses of the Brahmaputra

Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Brahmaputra

Natural Heritage of the Brahmaputra

  • The Brahmaputra is home to the world’s largest and the smallest river islands.
  • It is 2880 km long and it is the fourth longest river in the world.
  • It has its origin in Chemayungdung mountain ranges,  southeast of Mansarovar lake in the MountKailash range in Southern Tibet and ends in Bangladesh at the Bay of Bengal.
  • The Brahmaputra has world’s deepest gorge in the Namcha Barwa range, also known as Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon.
  • The Brahmaputra has a drainage area is 580000 km².
  • It has more than thousands of tributaries and sub-tributaries in both the banks.
  • The river has numerous wetlands along its course which is home to precious wildlife.

Cultural Heritage of the Brahmaputra

  • The banks of the Brahmaputra is home to numerous indigenous tribes.
  • There are thousands of towns, cities, villages and hamlets along its course.
  • The largest river island in the river, Majuli is home to Assam’s Sattriya culture.
  • The smallest river island of the river, Umananda or the Peacock island is home to Shaktism with a Shiva temple.
  • Kamakhya, the center of tantrism of India is situated on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra.
  • Saraighat, the battlefield where the Ahoms defeated the mighty Mughals, is situated on the southern bank of the river.
  • Biswanath ghat or Guptakashi is situated on the northern bank of the river.
  • The fertile alluvium soil of the river has made the Brahmaputra valley of the major tea producing regions in the world.

 

Here are some of the glimpses of the pristine beauty of the river Brahmaputra

The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam.

The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam.

The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam. The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam. The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam.

 

The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest river systems of the world, is the lifeline of Assam. Sunset at the Brahmaputra

If you want to know more about the history of the Brahmaputra, click here.

A Trip to Manas National Park!

Manas National Park has always been our family’s first love. After all, I met my better half here and we spent three long years after our marriage near the park. Though we bade adieu to Barpeta Road, the nearest transit town to Manas but we never said farewell to Manas. Instead, we carried it with us. In our heart. Eventually, Neel, my son came and the return to the park was postponed for several times. Though we traveled and visited other places, our hearts longed to visit Manas. We chatted with each other, hubby and I and sighed to show the places at Manas to our son, who is equally enthusiastic for road trips and vacations. 

 

Manas National Park

 

Finally, the first week of March gave us the much-needed trip to Manas. All three of us were excited about it and the whole journey was filled with laughter and squeals about the destination. We took jungle safari, spotted lots of wildlife, mingled with fringe villagers, and spent our time with the river generously. Neel played with the river while my better half introduced him to it and the jungle. After all, we never left Manas, we carry it in every day of our life. 

As the day we spent in Manas was a rainy one, peacocks were everywhere, waiting for the mates. We spotted swamp deer, sambar, wild elephants, wild buffalos, and rhinos. But the stars of the day were the birds. Hundreds of birds too graced us with their presences. If you want to visit this amazing place, here is the needed information.

Where is Manas National Park?

Manas National Park, situated in the Himalayan foothills near the Indian-Bhutan border, is a World Heritage Site. As they say in Manas, if you want to explore the wild, come here! Crowned with as many as five conservation statuses, Manas is home to  61 species of mammals, 354 species of birds, 42 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibian, 79 species of fish and more than 187 species of butterfly and 100 species of invertebrates. It has more than 600 species from plant kingdom making it one of the suitable habitat of wildlife wonders.

The park boasts of having the largest number of Scheduled-I species than any other Protected Areas (PAs) in India. It is home to 21 species of mammals which are highly endangered. Among these 21 species, 3 are restricted to only Manas and its immediate locality. They are Golden Languor, Pygmy Hog, and Hispid hare, which are exclusively endemic to the Manas National Park. All three animals are also included in the critically endangered list of the IUCN Red Data Book. World’s 80% of endangered Bengal Florican resides at Manas. It is also home to Wild Buffalos and Asiatic Elephants, Assam Roof Turtle etc.

The park is divided into three main ranges and several bits for monitoring and protection. The main ranges are… Bahbari (central range), Panbaari (western range) and Bhuyapara (eastern range).

 

How to Reach Manas National Park?

Manas is best reached by roadways and railways. It is situated 176 KM far from Assam’s capital city, Guwahati. Well connected by roads and railways, the nearest transit town and railway station is Barpeta Road. Barpeta Road also has the Field Director’s office, Manas National Park. The central range of Manas National Park, Bahbari is situated 22 KM away from Barpeta Road. The nearest airport is Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Borjhar, Guwahati.

What is the Best Time to Visit Manas National Park?

The best time to visit Manas National Park is from October to April.

Manas National Park

Accommodation and Safari cost at Manas National Park

There are several private as well as Govt resorts at Bahbari and Bhuyapara ranges where you can stay and take a safari to Manas National Park. The packages start from 3,500 Indian Rupees. 

If you want to know tidbit of life at Manas National Park, here is a blog that documents everything about this destination by my better half.

What to see at Manas National Park

Manas is home to 61 species of mammals, 354 species of birds, 42 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibian, 79 species of fish and more than 187 species of butterfly and 100 species of invertebrates. It has more than 600 species from plant kingdom making it one of the suitable habitat of wildlife wonders.
The park boasts to have the largest number of Scheduled-I species than any other Protected Areas (PAs) in India. It is home to 21 species of mammals which are highly endangered. Among these 21 species, 3 are restricted to only Manas and its immediate locality. They are Golden Languor, Pygmy Hog and Hispid hare, which are exclusively endemic to the Manas National Park. All three animals are also included in the critically endangered list of the IUCN Red Data Book. World’s 80% of endangered Bengal Florican resides at Manas. It is also home to Wild Buffalos and Asiatic Elephants, Assam Roof Turtle etc.
You can do-
1. Jungle Safari
2. River Rafting
3. Village tracking
4. Enjoy Traditional Dance
5. Relish Traditional Food
6. Enjoy Assam Tea and many more…..
 
Contact number

Head Quarter Beat at Barpeta Road for Tourism Contact
Mr. Kripa Nath Forester-I
Phone number-+91 73998 62555 

The Path of Colours: Rongali, Showcase of A Destination Named Assam

 Assam, a state in India’s northeast part is an unexplored paradise. The state is home to 80% of endangered Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros, Bengal Florican, Golden langur and much more such beautiful creatures. It is the only place where pygmy hog survives in the world. The tea that refreshes you every morning may have come from my state Assam as it produces 1/6th of the total tea cultivation in the world. We have the largest inhabited river island, Majuli and we are the proud group of people who has never bowed down to Mughal invasion. If we have the golden silk, Eri, Pat and Muga, we also have our Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park. We have the only dynasty in India that has ruled the region for 600 years without any break. We have the Brahmaputra, the 4th longest river in the world and we have Jatinga too. We have our Bhupen Hazarika and Kamakhya temple, the adobe of tantric Hinduism. We speak the modern Indian language which has the first Ramayana, translated into any modern Indian language. We are proud people with our own culture, festivals, and culinary tradition. We have more than 50 tribes that have agglomerated to make us the Bor Axom, The Greater Assamese Society. Each tribe has their own language, culture, deities, food habits and tradition but the thread that binds us is our language and the love we share with us.

But in spite of so much potentiality, Assam is one of the least explored destinations in India. Most of the tourists which come here go either to Kaziranga/Manas National Park or visit Kamakhya temple. But Assam is more than just two national parks and a temple. It is a place where you can go for angling tourism, culinary tourism, rural tourism, tea tourism, community tourism, river tourism and the list goes on. Unfortunately, three decades of political unrest has turned the grapes sour for our infrastructure and investment. But as the new millennium has turned 17 years old, things have changed for us. Entrepreneurs are coming forward and they are boosting our infrastructure too. Take ShyamKanu Mahanta, the prominent entrepreneur and the work he is doing for our state. He has single handily started the movement to popularize our culture in front of the world so that people can know what is going on in this part of the world. After the successful introduction of Shankardeva Movement and North East Festival in national circuit, he came with the idea to promote Assam as a tourist destination. His dream came true in the shape of Rongali: Destination| Culture| Harmony.

Rongali is the biggest event in the history of Assam that is organized to promote our culture and Assam as a destination. It is a one-stop event where you can witness Assam at its best. It showcases culture, traditions, and food of various ethnic groups of Assam. The festival is the bridge that connects you with some unexplored parts of Assam as a tourist destination.

This year, the third edition of Rongali was grander than its previous editions with more participants and more crowds. With provisions for aero sports, traditional boat race of Assam and a food challenge to promote traditional Assamese food, Rongali was at its best. Let’s have a look at the official trailer of Rongali, 2017

The major attractions of Rongali Festival, 2017, Assam

  • Showcase of the culture of various ethnic tribes of Assam
  • Live performance of various ethnic dance forms
  • Live Ankia Bhaona, the unique drama form of Assam.
  • Aero sports at the Brahmaputra river front.
  • Traditional sports of Assam
  • Display of mukha, the traditional masks from Majuli.
  • Traditional boat race at Digholipukhuri.
  • Traditional Assamese food challenge.
  • Musical events featuring the top DJs, rock bands and singers of India

Here are some of the snapshots of Rongali, 2017. They say a picture speaks a thousand words. So, let go through this one-of-its-kind experience called the Rongali, 2017 with some awesome snaps.

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Traditional Assamese Food Challenge at Rongali Festival, 2017, Assam

This year’s Rongali gave me so much to behold. As my regular readers know that I am on a mission to trace my culinary routes and preserve Assamese recipes. And when a place offers you to give glimpse of traditional Assamese food, you cannot miss the opportunity for life! Priyobandhu, a Guwahati-based social welfare society, has come up with the idea to throw a traditional Assamese food challenge where food enthusiasts showcased their culinary skills. The food challenge has three segments which showcased three different aspects of Assamese cuisine. Those segments were Traditional Assamese Sweet Dishes, Traditional Assamese Vegetarian Dishes, and Traditional Assamese NonVegetarian Dishes. The food challenge saw some of the most exquisite Assamese dishes which are often neglected.

According to Archie Borthakur, the chief functionary of Priyobandhu said, “The food challenge is an attempt to bring out the traditional foods of Assam. Recently, we have seen so much fusion of Assamese food which is slowly destroying our culinary traditions. Assamese food is always easy to cook and very healthy. This challenge is an attempt to popularize traditional Assamese recipes among masses and encourage the tourist to try our food.” The challenge was successful in terms of encouraging culinary connoisseurs to bring their best dishes and showcase them in front of an equally enthusiastic crowd. Some of the dishes that made to the food challenge are less known food like naangol dhoa pitha, jeng pitha, mogu dailor bor di thekera tenga, rongalau aru poka teteli di boralir jhol, bhedailotar aanja magur mas di, sandoh r logot hah koni bhoja, posola diya murgi mangsho, various tribal dishes and much more. The food challenge was a treat to foodies who had the fun to try various dishes that signifies Assamese Cuisine.

The food challenge also gave away to discussions among the food critics and enthusiasts about Assamese cuisine and how we can popularize it in front of the world. I love listening people talking about their food and it gave me immense pleasure as a food curator/blogger to learn new dishes from the foodies. Let’s have a look at those culinary wonders!