Sunday, August 27, 2006

Assam - Concluding post

I want to make the concluding post on my trip to Assam today, it is a long overdue post. I wanted to write much earlier but ran out of inspiration (to write, to blog)! What I say is true, right now I feel a burst of energy. The mind is interesting, I like the way it lacks consistency, and perhaps because it does, we are predisposed to move to newer terrains..... I am digressing now, what I wanted to say in my last post on Assam is a comment on its captivating countryside.

We understand that it is not often that people go on a holiday to Assam, neither did I, it is on a work trip that I went there for and luckily for me, discovered the treasures of Nature on a land so tarred by separatist movements. The basis of these movements has largely been economic – after Independence, a prosperous State had its economic indexes fall rapidly which gave reasons for the formation of militant groups along ethnic lines. The ULFA (United Liberation front of Assam) and the NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland) are two of the most prominent insurgent groups in Assam. The former, whose primary demand is the separate State of Assam, has been classified as a “terrorist” organization by the Government of India and presently, a military offensive is on against it. NDFB, on the other hand has been spearheading a movement for autonomy for the Bodo people by pressing for a separate state for them, called Bodoland. The Bodos are the largest ethnic group in Assam, concentrated mostly in the north-western parts of the State, which includes Kokrajhar and Bongaingaon districts. With a ceasefire declared since 2001 and with the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council, an autonomous administrative body, there is peace in the area.
This is what my local host, a Bodo lady, was very keen to communicate: that there is peace now, after nearly two-decades of fear and bloodshed. Perhaps it is difficult to believe it without visiting; but there is no way one can deny that to oneself when one is in the arms of Nature – the pure country breeze gently caressing the skin, the miles after miles of the richest hues of greens and blues, the coconut palms, the betel nut trees, the mighty Brahmaputra river, the fantastic pineapples, the smiling faces of the Bodo women clad in traditional dokhonas and the soft-spoken Bodo men. Driving on the highway between Guwahati to Kokrajhar is a soulful experience – the highway is an outright pleasure (admittedly, I hadn’t imagined that the road would be this good); the bridge over the Brahmapurta river left me spellbound: it seemed to me at that time to be the most harmonious confluence of modern technology and Nature. So taken aback was I that I forgot to stop to click some shots. I will regret that, till I can go back there again. The eateries on the highway is a haven of sorts for fish eaters, especially. I haven’t eaten more delicious fish than this in recent times.

There are no “places to see” as such and even if there is, I could not find out about them in that short period; what leaves me with a delightful aftertaste is the 6-hour drive through Bodoland. Coming to think of it I don’t think any “place to see” if it is there, can stand upto the captivating countryside of this region.

I am fond of maps, so I am pasting one here. I also have the last lot of pictures to share.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Assam – In search of Assam tea

Assam tea..... I don’t know about you but I made one great discovery about it: that Assam tea is granular tea and not tea leaves. I had orders to get "Assam tea" :) and that led me to do a market search on it in the little time that I had. It felt somewhat strange that most local people could not give me satisfactory information about where to get samples of “Assam tea" from. I found myself at the State emporiums but the packaging looked stale and made me feel doubtful about the quality of the contents inside. Anyway, I was finally in a huge wholesale market called the “Fancy bazaar” market in Guwahati where there were several wholesale tea dealers. I zeroed down on one dealer with pleasant salesmen who had a world of time to explain and clear my doubts :), I appreciate that. So it turned out in short that it is the granular tea of Assam that is mostly used to prepare tea and for those who like it to have “leaf” flavor - Darjeeling leaf tea is mixed with it in the popular proportion of 80:20 (granular:leaf). I decided that I wanted more flavor than what is “popular” and so made my purchase in the proportion of 70:30. Not that there is no “leaf” tea in Assam, only that it has no particular flavor and the liquor is very weak - I was told.

My search in the wholesale market for tea also led me to the wholesale area for vegetables. Here are some snapshots :).

The ubiquitous carrot. Yet I was delighted to see it. This is the carrot I actually grew up with, in the sense I find the red variety of carrot here in the north more often than this orange one. The orange one has an association with Walt Disney and Brer rabbit in my mind..... some fond childhood memories.

Meet the betel nut alias supari. This is not the hardened supari, it is soft and moist and looks like miniature coconuts, the external covering opens like one too. Many Assamese people like to chew this soft variety of betel nut packed inside betel leaves (paan) after every meal or otherwise.
This is a ghoti lau. Ghoti = pot. Lou is nothing but gourd or lauki in Hindi :)

This “vegetable” is called kachra. I had never seen a kachra before. The vendor informed me that it is to be cooked with aloos. I couldn’t contend with just a picture, so I decided to carry a couple and I did. Well, back home when it was split open to be cooked with aloos, a new experience greeted me: the kachra looked exactly like a melon from inside with seeds and all and even tasted like one! I do not doubt the vendor but I couldn’t adjust my taste – but I love the color of the vegetable or fruit whatever it may be.
The rickshaws in all the places that I went to in Assam had an additional feature and I found that quite interesting. As you can see, it is about the cover over the head of the rickshaw puller. It was raining when I was there and when it was not, the daytime sun was very strong.

And finally this!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Assam - Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati

I was told to not leave Guwahati without making a trip to the Kamakhya temple. I am generally not to be found within temple grounds but if recommended by significant others or accompanied by them, I do find myself visiting temples, sometimes. Moreover every net search throws up Kamakhya temple in Guwahati as a place to be visited, so I was curious. The temple is built on the Nilachal hills in the western end of the city. It is a pleasant ride uphill, and looking down from the elevation, the city looks lovely!

The Kamakhya Temple

The temple carries an interesting legend behind its inception. It is basically a Parvati temple built in honor of female energy. I found this interesting article explaining the legend.

It did seem to be a very popular temple. There was a long line of devotees queued up to offer their prayers. I especially liked the pigeons who had made the crevices on the pillars of the temple their home. They were casually roosting and occasionally hopping down whenever somebody offered them grains.

As I was looking around, I accidentally entered a portion in the temple that I should have avoided. A single glance made me realize what it was. The area was splashed with blood with a disturbing number of flies. I literally fled. I have never been able to understand how people can secure anything for themselves by sacrificing another life. I am very sure that the Creator does not approve.

Ending on a positive note, I loved these flowers. I saw joba phool (shoeflower, hibiscus) and these small white flowers in abundance after a very long time. Somehow in the northern belt we don’t see them as much; it is marigolds in the temples this side.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Assam - Ferry Ride on the Brahmaputra in Guwahati

Hi :-) I am just back from a trip to the state of Assam. Although it was a work trip, I did manage to steal in sometime to take pictures and to look around. Here are some pictures and snippets that I would love to share over a few posts. This was my first visit to the state and I was taken in by the beauty of the countryside – there were such beautiful hues of green all around! I also had time to explore a bit of its capital – Guwahati. Here are some pictures of the Brahmaputra river and a ferry ride on it.
The Brahmaputra river flows along the city of Guwahati, in fact, it flows along the entire stretch of Assam state. The river is incredibly vast!

The horizon is dotted with mountains and the sky that day looked absolutely gorgeous.

There are several ghats from where one can take a ferry for a ride in the river. Kachari ghat, Fancy bazzar ghat, Sukreshwar ghat to name a few… I boarded the ferry from Sukreshwar ghat. Adjacent to the ghat is the Sukreshwar park where one can relax while waiting for the ferry.

My ferry was called “Jolporee” (translated “water fairy”). Jolporee took its passengers on an hour ride on the river. The cafeteria on its deck served hot food in the cool refreshing evening. A live band played nice music, they started with “yeh shyam mastani…”

I waited for the sun to set. The sunset promised to be spectacular. I hoped that the clouds would part but that evening the sun never emerged. It set behind the clouds.