Thursday, April 28, 2016

A trip to Assam

It took longer in a flight to reach Assam than it would to reach Singapore probably. We were travelling from Mumbai. But having gone the distance, it was worth it! I have never seen such lush-green scenery from the flight, before landing in an airport. We landed in Guwahati, and it was hard to find a place which was not green. I later realized that, it is green not just around the airport, but it is green probably anywhere else you travel in Assam! The first thing I noted was that, vehicles had an "AS" registration :)
I had a similar surprise when I first landed in Mumbai six years ago, to find "MH" everywhere. It was a huge surprise, especially given that one is used to seeing "KA" all life!

From there, we went to the railway station and then to the Umananda temple. It was really disappointing to see that the station was in such primitive conditions, the drains were not well maintained, the Brahmaputra was probably overflowing, but had garbage in it. There is huge scopes for development, and at the same time, people who visit should also be responsible enough to throw garbage in the right place. It is NOT ok to throw a banana peel out on the streets from your vehicle and it is NOT ok to be spitting on the road every 5 minutes.

The Umananda temple is the world's smallest inhabited riverine island, and it takes about 10 minutes for you to reach it through a boat. They will charge you huge money (~Rs 500) to get you there and get you back, unless you go on a shared boat. The ride is beautiful if it is not raining!

The best part about the trip was the tea estates, which you get to see everywhere. On our journey from Dibrugarh to Kaziranga (~250 km), I saw tea estates on either sides of the road for nearly 200 km. And they really look infinite. I never knew that the color 'green' could be so appealing to the mind. Every house I spotted had a green path to the entrance of the house from the gate. And every time I spotted a cow, it was a set of at least 100 cows, and I kept thinking that they are them ost fortunate of all other cows to be eating grass and not paper or plastic. The tea estates and the cows are the best part of Assam, which I would remember for a long time.

We stayed in a 'United 21' resort near Bagori range of Kaziranga. Kaziranga is spread across 4 ranges (~100 km in total). The hotel arranged for a jeep safari, and the entrance is about 2 km from this hotel. Its an "Open" jeep safari. It is ok to spot a rhino or an elephant or a wild buffalo, but am not sure how people are so daring to see a tiger from such a jeep! I am glad we did not spot one! The whole safari took about 3 hours and they charge you about Rs.2000 per jeep. The more the people per jeep, the better for you, you can save some money. And again here, you will just seen green, green, green everywhere, apart from the water!

This national park apparently hosts 75% of the world's one-horned Rhino population. Probably, there are more Rhinos here, than there are humans! The Rhino really looks so majestic. And yes, the national park is open on Sundays too, unlike other posts we had read saying that it is closed on Sundays. Then there are 3 slots for an Elephant safari: 5am, 6am and 7am, and it takes about 1 hour. They charge you Rs. 875 per person. And oh yes, the sun rises in this part of the world at around 4am :) You can hardly sleep beyond 5.30am, as the room gets so bright! We really need to have a different time zone setting here! And beyond 6pm, you can not do much, its dark, and may mostly rain (April to Nov)

If you are near Kaziranga, there is a must do thing apart seeing the Rhino. You need to see the Orchid park, which was ~16km from the 'United 21' resort. They have really promoted tourism the right way. They have the best collection of orchids in the North-east. By the way, while I was in Assam, I heard the word 'North-east' so many times.. I did not know it was a heavily used word here, and that these states are called 'North-east'. I did not know they had such a terminology.

Coming back to the orchids, they have a HUGE collection in the greenhouse, and have a huge park outside the greenhouse, where you can spot orchids. The photo along-side (the yellow flower) is called the 'dancing lady" for obvious reasons, and the one above is known to look like a lady's show! There is also a photo gallery of orchids, and a seed-house that shows the 200 varieties of rice that grows there! The best part of this Orchid garden is, there is a Bamboo dance and Bihu dance performance that goes on every one hour. The bamboo dance is really worth watching. They portray the harvesting season, and collection of seeds from the plants. I was really happy to see all of these things in one place, and the Rs.200 entry fee is really more than worth it.

Coming to the resort where we stayed, the 'United 21' resort, it had an extremely well maintained garden. And if not for this resort, we would not have any other place to eat, around that place! And the food was unbelievably good, and reasonable given that all ingredients and vegetables have to come from a place which is at least 30-40 km away. And since this resort is situated in a "remote" area, with absolutely no way of transport apart from the resort jeep, the commuting costs you a lot, so have some cash along with you! You may need to travel ~10 km to find an ATM :)

Lastly, we did see the famous Kamakhya temple. We were in fact lucky that we went at 1pm, and the main entry was closed, so we did not have to stand in the long queues. We got to see the main deity from inside another adjacent entrance. But, the sights in the temple such as the goddess holding animals in her hands, and goats being carried for "sacrifice" is something that we South Indians are not used to seeing or not comfortable with, to be honest. There is a HUGE difference in the "feel" you get in visiting a South Indian temple and one in the North. A "priest" was giving the pooja flowers, and the next thing he asked was to put money in the plate next to him. There were only 100 and 500 rupee notes on that plate. Of course, I did not give.

One last thing to mention is, we returned to Mumbai via Kolkata airport. And I must confess that I had not seen such a huge and beautiful and well maintained airport in the recent past in India (apart from the Mumbai airport T2). It was pleasing to see that it won the 'best improved airport in APAC region' in 2012 and 2013. No long queues either in the checkin/security counters. Things are improving and it is glad to see..

1 comment:

mahesh said...

you will find everything green from north bengal to remote north east india. it starts from siliguri , smell of fresh grass all the way and everywhere you should try to go by walk from siliguri to darjeeling ,you will feel like sleeping on that lush green grass. but the weather and atmosphere makes lil dull.girls/women from kalimpong and hills are really good and i din't find such behavior back here.going out in the night in this area is really dangerous,people may kill and sell vital organs.

most of durga temples have priests who are thieves.even at vijayawada durga temple,there are 6 to seven toll gates of priests where you are forced to pay money and they won't let you in like hijras. i had horrible experience. shiva temples in south india are most pleasant ones. kolkota airport is really simple and great,i went on diwali day,i felt like am the only guy in the airport.they took 30 secs for security check.