Memories From Assam: Dibrugarh, Guwahati & Pobitora
Memories From Assam: Dibrugarh, Guwahati & Pobitora
We all hate it when something that we do or do not do upsets a friend. And there are occasions when the friend is just throwing a tantrum and you cannot do much but try and ease your buddy up! In continuation to the post on Meghalaya, as promised, I will now go to the time just before entering the state and a couple of days post exiting it. I am going to narrate to you the story of a river, a tantrum and the rhino that saved me.
Yes, you read that right.
The First Leg : Dibrugarh, Assam
We landed at the Mohanbari airport of Dibrugarh early on a morning of July. It wasn’t raining. There weren’t too many people around and we had to wait for a short while before being driven to the venue. It gave me some time to absorb the atmosphere. My lungs, I’m sure, were startled the minute I took a breath of the pristine air. We’re too used to insufflate smoke, purity thus comes as a surprise. Moving on from city-life woes; we were admiring the pleasant greenery around while our minds were all focused on something completely different. We were all waiting to catch a glimpse of the indomitable river Brahmaputra.
The river originating in the glaciers of Tibet, passes through Arunachal Pradesh before reaching Assam. Notorious for its floods, the river is the main source of life and livelihood for a huge populace of North Eastern India and Bangladesh. During the rains, it is recorded to have banks as far as 8 kms apart. Not only is it one of the largest river systems in India, but it is also resplendent with mythological legends. As the name suggests, the river is considered to be the son of Brahma from Saint Shantanu’s wife Amogha. It is abundantly referred to in Vedas and Puranas.
A City On The Banks
The groom’s brother rushed to the airport to pick us up while we were all seated about our luggage, already looking refreshed by the cool morning air. Once packed in the cars, we were driven off towards Dibrugarh. Our host sat in the passenger seat and ever so smilingly told us a lot of things about the tea estates that surrounded us, the famed Brahmaputra and of course, the wedding that had taken place the night before.
Dibrugarh is a city with whiffs of modernity, remnants of British aura and sublime landscapes of the Dooars everywhere you look. The road from the airport to the city passes through expanses of tea estates. The city runs along the banks of the mighty river. The first thing we did after freshening up was head to the bank which was barely 200 mtrs from the main road. The consciousness of being a speck on the horizon cannot be expressed in words. That is what I felt as I gazed across the enormity of the river. A ferry, carrying a tempo, a few goats and even fewer men, raced past along the current of the river. I could sit there for even longer, but well, I had an event to attend. Its a shame we couldn’t spend more time amidst the Dooars. With plans of returning, we left Dibrugarh for Guwahati by the Rajdhani from where began our roadtrip.
I am hoping you have read the earlier post on Meghalaya. While both the states were a part of the same trip, it seemed criminal to allocate either of them any less wordcount. Incase you wish to read it again, click here.
The descent from the clouds
Getting back to Assam was an eventful journey. One of my co-travelers had a sudden urge to play cricket. We actually managed to buy a bat, stumps and a couple of tennis balls just so that we could play that night. Even while five of the six of us were wondering about the sanity of the idea, the impending nightfall seemed to dampen the spirits of the enthused cricket fanatic. So we did what any sane group of adults, with a very long and tiring drive ahead, accompanied by receding daylight, would do – we stopped the vehicle somewhere near the Umiam lake to play a 5 over match in an abandoned open space a little off the highway (yes that was sarcastic). I’m sure you’re a cricket fan too. Atleast, I’m sure you’re dragged into the spirit whenever there’s a match with India in it. Hence, I’m sure you’ll understand the necessity of the solution. This turned out to be one of our best memories of the trip.
The Bleeding Goddess of Assam
Assumptions are subject to risks
We reached Guwahati long after nightfall. We were to depart for Kolkata the very next day and it was thus practically our last day on vacation together. This made us all sit up quite late into the night chatting, reminiscing and planning our next trip already. The plan for the next day was to wake up early and visit the renowned Kamakhya Devi Temple. We all agreed to be up by 05:00am to make it to the temple by 06:00am to avoid that crowd that throngs to it everyday. Some of us had visited the temple before and were unsure about visiting the temple again. So it was decided all those who would be able to wake up in the wee hours would visit the temple to avoid crowds.
So of the 6 of us, 4 of us went to the temple early the next morning presuming that the other 2 did not want to join. Oh what a perilous assumption it was!
The Tragic Story Of Shiva And Sati
Kamakhya Devi is considered to be one of the 108 shaktipeeths in the country. The shaktipeeths are entwined in a tragic story that’s embedded in the Hindu religion. It is said that Goddess Sati’s father Daksha held a yagna at his palace and did not invite her husband, Lord Shiva, to it. Furthermore, he insulted Shiva in front of the entire sabha or gathering. Enraged and insulted by her father’s behaviour, Sati jumped into the yagna fire and killed herself. When Shiva came to know what had happened he was stricken with unparalleled grief and intense rage. He took the burnt body of his wife on his shoulder and began his dance of destruction, known as the Tandava. Understanding that if continued, Shiva’s Tandava can potentially destroy the universe, Lord Vishnu used his sudarshan-chakra to cut the body of the goddess into 108 parts. Each of these fell at different locations giving rise to centers of energy known as shaktipeeths. The womb and the vagina are said to have fallen at Guwahati. Curiously enough, the Brahmaputra turns red every year approximately in the month of June, an indication of the goddess’s menstrual cycle. The age old temple and its unabashed acceptance, rather glorification of a woman’s body and the menstrual cycle, is a glimmer of hope amid the clouds of archaic traditions of our country.
The Kamakhya Devi Temple
The temple garbhagriha/sanctum sanatorium does not house a statue, it contains the sculpted image of a yoni or vagina considered to belong to the goddess which is the object of worship. It is one of the oldest shaktipeeths in the 52 located in India, however, the current form of the temple was rebuilt in the 17th century post it being destroyed over the many centuries of its existence by various dynasties. Having heard of its importance from my mother time over and over again, I was in awe of the atmosphere. Even at 6 AM in the morning, the temple premises were starting to fill up.
Tantrums And Solutions
We left after darshan, just in time to avoid the crowds. We were welcomed back at the hotel by the friend I spoke about and trust me I could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears. He was fuming at not having been woken up early. We couldn’t get him to accept the pact we had earlier so we took the storm head on. Baapre!!! That was some tantrum. Breakfasts were missed, words exchanges in rage, promises of friendship put to test…the drama was overwhelming. So now what do we do to get his spirits up again? The last glimmer of hope was to see the best thing Assam has to offer. Get him to see a rhino in the wilderness…it’s the best thing I could think of. The problem was, Kaziranga was flooded and hence closed.
The Search Ends At Pobitora
None of us were expecting to get a glimpse of any wildlife at all and circumstances were grave on our end. Moods were to be managed and we had a lot of time to kill. So we took a chance, and headed towards Pobitora. Home to the endangered one horned rhinoceros, the wildlife sanctuary is located in the floodplains of the Brahmaputra about 40 kms from Guwahati. We had called to enquire about availability, the news wasn’t too encouraging. Rhinos weren’t in sight (as expected) but we could still drive down and have a look. What if we got lucky? So I took the gamble and led everyone there. It was a risk because it might as well have ended in all of us returning without even getting to the location, and trust me when I say this…there was water everywhere.
Water Water Everywhere
About 5 kms from the entrance to the sanctuary, we were blocked. A 50 meter tract of the road was engulfed in furiously flowing water. What was supposed to be under this water were fields. None of that was visible now. It looked like we were driving through a lake. Fortunately for us, none of us was willing to give up on a chance to see the Rhino. Crossing over to the other side in our car was impossible. The current of the water was way too strong. There was a boat ferrying people, some animals and two wheeler vehicles to the other side. So we locked our luggage in the car and told a small vendor that we will be back in a while. We took the ferry to the other side and moved ahead in a gypsy.
All Thanks To The Rhino
By around this time I was pretty nervous. What with the travelers undergoing drastic mood swings and the rain gods not too merciful, there had to be something to redeem our enthusiasm before we ended the trip.I must’ve prayed really hard, because our first sighting of the rhino happened immediately as we entered. It wasn’t much, just the rear end of the giant animal, but it was still something!!! While all of us excitedly whispered to each other, the relief that I felt at having redeemed the mood of the group was unparalleled. The rear side of a Rhino saved me from probably years of regretful taunts. “Naak katne se bach gai!” (I didn’t have to lose face!). I let out a sigh of relief and got a little more comfortable in my seat while we watched the Rhino walk away into the wild.
That wasn’t the end of it. We spotted two more on the fringes of the sanctuary itself. Too bad, the place was closed due to monsoons. Our moods uplifted and tantrums vanished automatically. The drive back to the airport and the flight back to our hometowns weren’t being looked forward to, but a journey has to end for another to begin. We came back a happy group with beautiful memories and promises of going back for more. I’ll make sure the next time I remember the Rhino that saved me and ask it to bless me for better anger-management skills and a trip just as successful as this one.
Planning a trip? Let us help you!
Best time to visit: Anytime but the monsoons are great to visit Assam. The Brahmaputra river floods the state and while cities can still be accessed, the wildlife sanctuaries remain closed. Do check the websites of Kaziranga and Pobitora in case you plan on a visit before booking tickets.
Network and Internet Connectivity: Connectivity is available in major cities only. The further you move away into the jungles, the connectivity gets scanty.
Language: Everyone understands Hindi and English. Language is not an issue at all.
Commute: There are multiple airports in Assam. You could choose one depending on the itinerary of your trip. Also, public transport in Assam is pretty developed. The roads are good, so you could rent a car or travel by buses. Even the train network in the state is convenient for travelling across cities.
Shopping: Guwahati is a lovely place to shop. Being the capital of the state, it has multiple options for you to choose from for its various silks, bamboo and wood furniture, jewelry and artifacts. As for tea, it is advisable that you buy it from places closer to the estates for better quality and price.
Food: All kinds of food can be found in Assam. For those who like to experiment and are non vegetarians, you could try exotic dishes consisting bamboo shoots, pigeon meat, duck meat and silkworm (speaking of exotic delicacies).
Miscellaneous: If you get an opportunity to, stay for at least a couple of days in a tea estate/tea garden. Its an out of the world experience altogether.
Memories to words – Ishita Ganguly
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