Assam

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Assam is a region straddling in a transitional zone between South Asia and South East Asia and politically a state in India since 1947. Prior to that Assam was a part of British India since the British annexed the Kingdom of Assam and its tributary states in 1826 following the Treaty of Yandabo. Assam is a land of blue hills, green valleys and a red river. Situated in the north eastern region of India and located just below the eastern Himalayan foothills, it is surrounded by the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya, which together with Assam are known collectively as the seven sisters. Leaving Manipur and Tripura, rest of these states are carved out from Assam during 1960s and 70s and Silhet, a district of Assam was annexed with Bangladesh during partition of British India (1947). With an area of 78,438 sq km Assam currently is almost equivalent to the size of Ireland or Austria. Assam shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh and the international borders of China and Myanmar are within the range of 80 to 100 km.

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Assam is a world leader in production of tea for more than past one hundred years and currently produces around 25 percent of the world’s tea. However, traditionally it is also a producer of high quality silk, called pat and Muga, and a major supplier of oil and natural gas.

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History of urban development goes back to almost two thousand years in the region. Existence of ancient urban areas such as Pragjyotishapura (Guwahati), Hatapesvara (Tezpur), Durjaya, etc and medieval towns such as Charaideu, Garhgaon, Rongpur, Jorhat, Khaspur, Guwahati, etc are well recorded.

Guwahati with its more than two thousand years of history is the largest urban centre and a million plus city in Assam. The city has experienced multifold growth during past three decades to grow as the primate city in the region; the city’s population was approximately 0.9 million (considering Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) area) during the census of 2001.

Major urban areas are:

* Guwahati

* Dibrugarh

* Jorhat

* Silchar

* Tezpur

* Tinsukia

* Xiwoxagor

* Nagaon

* Bangaigaon

* Digboi

Golaghat, Nalbari, Mangaldoi, Barpeta, Kokrajhar, Goalpara, Dhubri (Dhubury), etc are other towns and district head quarters. On the other hand Duliajan, Digboi, Namrup, Moran, Bongaigaon, Numaligarh, Jogighopa, etc are major industrial towns. Currently, there are around 125 total urban centres in the state, with Rangia amongst them.

Assam has several attractive destinations; majority of these are National Parks, Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries, areas with archaeological interests and areas with unique cultural heritage. Moreover, as a whole, the region is covered by beautiful natural landscapes.

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National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries:

Kaziranga National Park – a World Heritage Site of UNESCO is roughly a 400sq.km. wild life park is the largest habitat for one horned rhinoceros and several other unique flora and fauna. Kaziranga is situated in the central Assam region on the bank of the Brahmaputra; roughly 200km. east of Guwahati.

Manas National Park - the wildlife park is situated on the foothills of Eastern Himalayas, where the river Manah flows with picturesque turns and clean water and sandy beaches. Although Manas is primarily a tiger reserve, it possesses numerous other valuable flora and fauna; the park is situated roughly 150km west of Guwahati.

Dibru-Saikhowa National Park- is a wonderful habitat of numerous birds; there are wild horses on the islands of the Brahmaputra close to the park.

There are several other wildlife sanctuaries across the length and breadth of Assam:

Nameri National Park, Orang National Park, Joydihing Rainforest, Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Garampani Wildlife Sanctuary, Chakrasila Wildlife Sanctuary, Burasapori Wildlife Sanctuary, Bornodi Wildlife Sanctuary, Sonai-rupai Wildlife Sanctuary, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Nambor Wildlife Sanctuary, Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary, Gibon Wildlife Sanctuary, East Karbi-Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary (Proposed), Karbi-Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary (Proposed), Podumani Bherjan Borajan Wildlife Sanctuary, Bordoibum Beelmukh Bird Sanctuary (Proposed), Panidihing Bird Sanctuary, Deepor Beel Bird Sanctuary

Archaeological:

* Guwahati archaeological region – Guwahati is an ancient city; there are several archaeological sites with temples, tanks, ramparts, etc. The Assam State Museum located close to historic Digholy Pukhury (a large tank) is worth visiting.

* Hajo archaeological region – the ancient city of Apunarbhaba; there are remains of several ancient temples and other structures.

* Madan Kamdev – a 10th century ancient city close to Guwahati; A large site of architectural, sculptural remains with numerous objects. Excavations are still going on.

* Sibsagar archaeological region – the nerve centre and the capital of the Kingdom of Assam under the Ahom Dynasty – earlier known as the city of Rongpur; the region has several palaces, temples, large tanks, ramparts, etc.

* Charaideo – the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Assam with hundreds of burial mounds called Moidams for kings and nobles.

* Surya Pahar Goalpara archaeological region

* Tezpur archaeological region

* Kapili Valley archaeological region

* Dhansiri/Dhonxiri Valley archaeological region

* Maibong

Heritage, Cultural and Others:

* Majuli

* Sualkuchi

* Sarthebari

* Digboi oil town

* Ledo and Stilwell Road

* Haflong and Jatinga

* Umrangshu hotwater spring

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A paradise for nature lovers

Assam and surrounding regions have to be a paradise for the nature lovers and researchers. The region’s uniqe natural settings, hydro-geomorphic environment and biodiversity have no parallel in Asia. Within a eighty to hundred kilometres of journey by land, one can travel from a flat flood plain with tropical rainforests and wet paddy fields to mountainous regions of Alpine-Himalayan climatic conditions at very high altitude. Geomorphic studies conclude that the Brahmaputra, the life-line of Assam is a paleo-river; older than the Himalayas. The river with steep gorges and rapids in Arunachal Pradesh entering Assam, becomes a braided river (at times 16 km wide) and with tributaries, creates a flood plain (Brahmaputra Valley: 80-100 km wide, 1000 km long). The hills of Karbi Anglong, North Cachar and those in and close to Guwahati (also Khasi-Garo Hills) now eroded and dissected are originally parts of the South Indian Plateau system. In the south, the Barak originating in the Barail Range (Assam-Nagaland border), flows through the Cachar district with a 40-50km wide valley and confluences with the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh.

Assam is one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world and consists of tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, riverine grasslands, bamboo orchards and numerous wetland ecosystems; Many are now protected as national parks and reserved forests. The Kaziranga, home of the rare Rhinoceros, and Manas are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Assam. The region is the last refuge for numerous other endangered species such as Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), White-winged Wood Duck or Deohanh (Cairina scutulata), Bengal Florican, Black-breasted Parrotbill, Pygmy Hog, Greater Adjutant and so on. Some other endangered species with significant population in Assam are Tiger, Elephant, Hoolock Gibbon, Jerdon’s Babbler and so on. Assam is also known for orchids.

Climate and disasters

With the “Tropical Monsoon Rainforest Climate”, Assam is temperate (Summer max. at 35-38 and winter min. at 6-8 degrees Celsius) and experiences heavy rainfall and high humidity. However, temperature is much lesser in the hilly areas in the Central Assam. The climate is characterised by heavy monsoon downpours reducing summer temperature and foggy nights and mornings in winter . Thunderstorms known as Bordoicila are frequent during the afternoons. Spring (Mar-Apr) and Autumn (Sept-Oct) are usually pleasant with moderate rainfall and temperature.

The region is prone to natural disasters with annual floods (in specific areas) and frequent mild earthquakes. Floods usually occur during monsoon (mid June till late August) and many a times can create trouble by destroying roads and railway linkages at places. Strong earthquakes are rare; three of these were recorded in 1869, 1897 (8.1 on the Richter scale); and in 1950 (8.6).

Talk

Assamese is the principal language and the lingua-franca in the region. Assamese and Bodo are the local official languages in Assam and Bengali is also used as the same in Barak Valley. There are several other local languages such as Mishing, Karbi, Dimasa, Garo, Hmar, Bru, Taiphake, Taikhamti, etc used by the specific ethno-cultural groups in different pockets. However, most educated people speak English and Hindi with local tunes. Bengali is also spoken in many parts of Assam especially Guwahati and Silchar where Bengali community resides in large numbers. Moreover, there are also large numbers of other Indian language and dialect speakers such as Punjabi, Marwari, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, etc particularly in the urban centres.

Usually, all official signs and documents are written in both Assamese and in English, using British spelling. The Government of India establishments Indian Railways, ONGC, etc will have sign-boards in all three languages – Assamese, English and Hindi. Commercial and street signs are usually written in Assamese and English and in Bengali in Barak Valley. As English has a wider base, foreigners need not to worry about not knowing Assamese or any other local language; however, it is an additional advantage for a tourist to know few sentences of a local language.

Get in

By Air

There are good air-connectivity to Assam from the major cities in India. Guwahati’s Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport is the businest in Assam and other major airports are in Dibrugarh, and Silchar. Air India and Indian Airlines along with several other private airlines operate daily services from all the major cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. Moreover, there are other airports in Tezpur, Jorhat, etc with less frequent flights connecting cities such as Kolkata and other cities of North East Region. Arriving by plane, however, gives a wonderful welcome aerial view of the green valley surrounded by blue hills in Assam.

For the international travellers from East Asia or South East Asia, the most easiest route to travel to Assam is via Kolkata. There are several direct flights from Kolkata to Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Silchar and Jorhat. Journey time in a direct flight from Kolkata to Guwahati is of less than 45 minutes, while to Dibrugarh (the eastern most civil airport in Assam) is of around 90 minutes. Similarly for travellers from Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and African countries either via Delhi and Mumbai or even Kolkata route is preferable. However, Delhi and Kolkata have higher frequency of flights to Guwahati. A Delhi-Guwahati direct flight takes 2:30 hrs of journey time. There are currently no direct flight from Guwahati to any international destination after cancellation of the Air India’s Guwahati-Bangkok flight few years back.

By Rail

Assam is also well connected through Rail Services to Indian cities. Three major routes of North East Frontier Railways (NF Railways) covers entire Assam and provides linkages to principal zones and cities in north, east and south India. Guwahati railway station is the largest in Assam and is served by direct trains from most of the major cities in India. The Rajdhani Express (fully airconditioned) from New Delhi (takes 27 hours) and Saraighat Express from Howrah in Kolkata (takes 17 hours) are the fastest ones. There are many direct trains from Delhi (including the Rajdhani Express) and Kolkata for Dibrugarh in Upper Assam. Usually, Dibrugarh is an additional nights journey (12hrs) from Guwahati.

By Road

There are highways from Indian states in the west and buses run between Siliguri (to Siliguri buses are available from Kolkata, Darjeeling and Gangtok) and Guwahati; However, travelling by bus may not be comfortable in this patch and travel time is usually longer than that of trains. Road connectivity to surrounding Seven Sister States is good, however may take different durations depending on the location of the state.

Tamu in western Myanmar is connected to a reasonably good highway to Assam via Manipur; Tamu in Myanmar border is closer to Mandalay. The historic Stilwell Road between Assam-Myanmar-China from Ledo in Upper Assam to Myitkina in Myanmar and further to Kunming in China is right now not fully operationalised.

There are also roads connecting Bhutan.

EAT

Major cities like Guwahati, Tezpur, Jorhat and Dibrugarh offer a wide variety of restaurants and eat outs. Restaurants are normally very cheap and a good meal will cost about $0.50 to $1 per person. There are also ambient restaurants which serve all varieties of Indian and Assamese dishes for about less than $5 – $8 per person.

It is also worth while to taste ethnic Assamese cuisine which comprises of Rice with regional curries, including choices of fish, lambs, chickens and ducks. Assamese meals are usually accompanied by various side dishes like mash potatoes (Alu Pitika) or pickles of small fried fishes.

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District(s)         27

Established       15 August 1947

Capital             Dispur

Largest city       Guwahati

Governor          Syed Sibtey Razi

Chief Minister   Tarun Gogoi

Legislature        Unicameral (126)

Population        26,655,528 (14th)

Language(s)      Assamese, Bengali

Time zone         IST (UTC+5:30)

Area                 78,550 km2 (30,328 sq mi)

ISO 3166-2     IN-AS

Website            assam.gov.in