Assam is the gateway to the northeastern part of India. After having got past the area called as the ‘Chicken Neck’ or Siliguri corridor in West Bengal, one enters Assam through New Bongaigaon by train. Assam is bordered in the North and East by the Kingdom of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. Along the south lies Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Meghalaya lies to her South-West, Bengal and Bangladesh to her West. The state has a major portion of its area under forest cover and therefore boasts of 18 Wild life Sanctuaries and 5 National Parks namely - Kaziranga, Manas, Dibru, Saikhowa, Nameri & Orang within its precincts. Out of these National Parks, both Kaziranga & Manas enjoy the status of World Heritage site. Whereas, Khaziranga is home to the world renowned ‘One horned Indian Rhinoceros’ and is spread over an area of 430 sq. kms. It is situated at a distance of 217 kms from Guwahati and 96 kms from Jorhat by road. On the other hand, Manas is the only Tiger Project in Assam. Covering an area of 519.77 Sq. Kms, it has a core area of 360 Kms. Manas is one of the nine tiger reserve sanctuaries in India and is situated 176 kms from Guwahati by road.
Assam - view of Karimganj lane
Assam can be reached by train as well as by Air. It has good road links as well and is internally well linked through roads. The capital of Assam is Dispur which is very near to its biggest township Guwahati. Guwahati is linked through all modes of transport i.e. Road, Railways & Air to the rest of the country. The major attractions of Guwahati are – the renowned Hindu Peeth (One of the 51 places to worship of Mother Goddess Sati whose body was cut into pieces by arrows fired by Lord Vishnu to stop Lord Shiva, who had started the ‘tandava’ or dance of earth’s destruction consequent upon self immolation committed by Sati) Kamakhya temple (where the Yoni of the Goddess is supposed to have fallen). The famous ‘Ambubachi’festival is celebrated for three days when the Goddess is stated to become impure and the water flowing through the temple is stated to become blood red. During this period the temple precincts remains closed to the public at large. Ambubachi mela is held at the Kamakhya temple, after being closed for the afore-mentioned three days. On the fourth day only the devotees are allowed to enter inside the temple for worship. Thousands of devotees throng from all over the country and abroad to visit this event. The other major attraction at Guwahati is the mighty ‘Bramhaputra river’ itself, which is at its widest and the new bridge built across it spans almost 3.5 Kms. There are short excursions on small & big river boats that can be undertaken from here.
Assam - Land of rivers
However, the most memorable journey undertaken by me is through the North Cachar hills to Silchar. I have undertaken this journey by train and more recently by Air. The real picturesque sites and the nature at its best can be viewed while traveling through the North Cachar Hills. Also called the 'Switzerland of the East', the North Cachar Hills is a melody of undulating hills and valleys, gently flowing streams and waterfalls, where the very breeze that wafts across the paddy fields and the bamboo forests is a nature’s paradise. The quaint train which you board at Lumding after having traveled from Guwahati, unfolds in a cinematic view picture-postcard like scenery, crafted by gifted by Gods as bounty of beauty of nature. The towns and villages that come into view through the rolling mist and the clouds that float around blend so beautifully with the emerald-green landscape that the visitor begins to wonder how this paradise survived so long against the march of progress. There come a series of breathtaking quaint bridges and long stretches of tunnels, but most are forbidden for photography. Equally enticing is the flora and fauna of the land. One of the nature’s wonders is the famed Jatinga village, where drawn by some mysterious geo-magnetic & climatic conditions of earth and sky, disoriented birds come in thousands in the cloudy months of September and October to a flaming tryst with the burning torches lit by the locals. The place has a wholesome climate round the year and boasts of some of the beautiful hill stations of the North east namely – Halflong, Maibong, Umrangso (lake view) & Panimoor (Waterfalls). Although because of increased activity of local militant groups, the tourism sector in this region has taken a hard hit. For more information one can log on to http://nchills.gov.in/
Assam - Tea Gardens galore
Having passed the North Cachar Hills one again emanate on to the plains of the Barak Valley at Badarpur. After de-boarding from the narrow gauge train, another broad gauge train is boarded for onward journey to Silchar via Karimganj. From Karimganj the trains bifurcate either towards Dharmanagar, Kumarghat etc. on to Tripura or else one can proceed to Silchar. Silchar is situated on the left bank of the Barak river and commands a charming view down the river, which is dotted with the sails of native craft and grooves of the areca palm, while, a little of the north, the purple hued hills of North Cachar rise sharply from the plain. It is surrounded by the Baraail Hills on the north, Mizo Hills on the south, Manipur on the East and Bangladesh on the West. The valley is called the Barak Valley and consists of three districts namely Cachar, Karimganj & Hailakhandi. The river Barak is the lifeline of Silchar. It flows out of the town and is remained as Surma and Kushiara rivers near Bhanga Bazar and then moves into Bangladesh. There are quite a few tea gardens in its vicinity and smaller ones can be seen while traveling from the airport at Kumbhirgram to Silchar.