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

 

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 not 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 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 unravelling 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. 

A Trip to Manas National Park!

Manas National Park has always been our family’s first love. After all, I met my better half there 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, 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 travelled and visited other places, our hearts longed for Manas. Deba and I discussed 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 the 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