Assam, the Land of Red River and Blue Hills is situated in the North-eastern region of India extending from 22o19' to 28o16' North Latitude and 89o42' to 96o30' East Longitude between the foot hills of the Eastern Himalayas and the Patkai and Naga Ranges. Assam is one among the “Seven Sister states” in India. It comprises the region along Brahmaputra river valley, Barak river valleys, Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills. Assam is connected with the rest of the Indian Union by a narrow corridor in West Bengal that runs for 56km below the foothills of Bhutan and Sikkim. Assam can be called the Gateway to the Northeast because it is the only state connected to the Siliguri Corridor via NH31.
The countryside of Assam appears lush green due to its estates of tea plantations, never-ending paddy fields and large forest cover. The landscape is also dotted with thousands of riverine islands and sand bars on the banks of Brahmaputra during its long course through the plains. The state is surrounded by mountains and hills on all sides that often loom in the distant horizon and adds to the scenery.
From wild habitats to ancient temples of mysticism, shrines and unique monastical practices, villages of well preserved indigenous cultures, colourful festivals and a large hospitable population, Assam is a perfect destination with plenty of attractions .The great nobleman Swami Vivekananda once must have rightfully said “Next only to Kashmir, Assam is the most beautiful place in India.”
The great plains of Assam has a long history and has been mentioned even in the age old Vedic scriptures such as Mahabharata and Kalika Purana where it was referred as Kamrupa in the ancient times. In Hindu mythology, this land was also believed to be ruled by the demon Narakasura who had his capital at ‘Pragjyotishpur’, the eastern city of lights and a learning centre of astronomy. Perhaps the first written records is from the 7th century Chinese traveler Huan Tsang who visited ancient Assam during the reign of King Bhaskarvarman whom he described as “the aristocratic king of eastern India’ and a devotee of Lord Shiva. The medieval era is predominantly marked with the invasion of the Tai Ahom clans from northern Myanmar in 13th century which ruled over the Brahmaputra valley have recorded their history in the Buranji chronicles. The Ahom dynasty ruled over Assam for 600 years, India’s longest unbroken dynasty. It was finally the British East India Company which arrived in 19th century and colonized the region. British historian Edward Gait defined the boundary of Assam as “The plains of Assam, parts of East Bengal and foot hills of Bhutan”. Their administration merged the plains of Brahmaputra valley with the surrounding hills and tribal areas and eventually formed the state of Assam, deriving the name from the Ahom word ‘Axom’, meaning ‘the land like no other’.
Dispur is the capital of Assam and is a suburb of Guwahati, the largest city in the region. Guwahati is a historic city of the Brahmaputra river civilization and is the most important commercial centre for the region. Other important urban areas such as Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tinsukia and Tezpur emerged due to the growth of tea industry and oil refineries in the region.
Assam has a total area of 78,550 sq km. The population of Assam represents a unique combination of various ethnic sects that inhabit the rich land from a very long time. The total number of people living in Assam is about 31,169,272 according to the 2011 census.
Climate : Assam has tropical monsoon climate. The region witnesses heavy rainfall. The summer temperature remains within 38 degree Celsius. The winter temperature does not normally fall below 6 degree Celsius.
Major Festivals : Bihu is the state festival of Assam. It comes thrice- the Bohag or Rongali Bihu (mid-April), Maagh (mid- January) and the Kaati Bihu (in the month of October).Durga Puja is also celebrated with much fanfare. Ambubachi Mela is the most popular yearly mela that is celebrated in the Kamakhya Temple. Eid is another major festival in Assam depicting religious harmony.
Raas is a religious festival observed by the Hindu community of Assamese society. This festival showcases Bhaona, or traditional dance dramas that depict tales from Hindu mythology. Raas takes place around the full moon night of mid-November, though the exact date changes every year. Many tourists visit Assam during this festival to understand and experience its rich culture. The main centres to enjoy this spectacular festival are the old monasteries in Majuli island, Nalbari and Barpeta.
First Oil Reserve : The first oil reserves of India were discovered in Assam in the late 19th Century and that’s why Assam is one of the largest and old petroleum resources. Asia’s first successful mechanically drilled oil well was drilled in Makum (Assam) way back in 1867. A fourth of India’s oil reserves are located in the Assam-Arakan basin. The Digboi Museum is dedicated to Assam’s oil. Oil India Limited, a Navratna company and the country’s second largest hydrocarbon explorer and producer, has its operational headquarters in Duliajan, Assam. Assam is the second place in the world where petroleum was discovered.
Largest Tea Producer : Assam is also famous for its Tea. Assam is the largest tea producing state in India, accounting to almost 50 percent of the total production. The British started the first tea plantation in Assam.
Wildlife Sanctuaries : Assam is also famous for wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. The state has been successful in saving many wild lives from extinction. Famous sanctuaries in Assam are Kaziranga National Park, Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary, Deepor Beel Bird Sanctuary, Nambor Wildlife Sanctuary, etc. Assam attracts wild life tourism and Kaziranga is a World Heritage Site. The Kaziranga National Park and Manas Wildlife Sanctuary of Assam are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Many of Asia’s most endangered species are found in Assam’s wildlife abodes. Assam is home to the largest population of Wild Water Buffalo in the world. The forests of Assam have the presence of the One-horned Asiatic rhino, which is not only the state animal but is also a symbol that represents this land. The dense tropical forests are also home to numerous other species such as wild buffaloes, gaur, elephants, swamp deer, hog deer, barking deer and tigers. Various species of primates such as hoolock gibbons, Assamese macaque, pig-tailed monkeys, capped langurs and golden langurs can be also seen in the wild. The large wetlands of Assam attract numerous migratory birds during the winters such as imperial pigeon, ibis Bill, Himalayan kingfisher, pelican, parakeets, fish Eagle and drongos. The rare wood duck is the State Bird of Assam.
Sericulture : The in-demand Assam silk is the collective name for three kinds of wild silk produced in the state. They are golden Muga, white Pat and warm Eri silk. Assam enjoys global monopoly in terms of Muga silk (also known as golden silk) production. The state accounts for around 95 per cent of global Muga production. Moreover, Assam is the country’s major Eri silk producer (accounts for 65 per cent of the country’s Eri silk production).
Language : The official language of the state is Assamese which is used by almost all sections of people in Assam. However, there are some other languages too, which have found a prominent place in the land of Assam like that of Bengali, Bodo, Karbi English and Hindi.
Culture : Assam has a diverse culture of several ethnic groups and indigenous communities of various origins. The ethnic groups of Assam can be grouped into hill tribes and plain tribes, each with their distinct languages and culture. The cultural diversity of this state is rich in classical religions as well as tribal heritage. The difference in local culture, language and cuisine can be experienced across the state, while it can also be noted that the modern Assamese culture is largely an integration of various kingdoms that have ruled the land powerfully over the ages.
The Koch group of Bodo Kacharis in the west, Sonowal Kacharis in the east and Dimasa Kacharis of Dima Hasao hills in Cachar are considered as the oldest inhabitants of the region and are of Tibeto-Burman origin. The Bodos are today the largest tribal community of Assam and they dwell primarily near the foothills of Bhutan in western Assam.
Numerous tribal communities such as the Rabhas, Tiwa, Hajong, Mishing, Deori, Matak and Moran also coexist in the Brahmaputra valley. The Mishing community of Majuli island originally dwelled in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh alongside fierce tribes, but later migrated to the plains to live peaceful lives. The Tai Ahoms from Myanmar which invaded and ruled Assam during the medieval period and had their capital in Sibsagar, had their own language and script but had to adopt local culture in order to rule over the natives. The other Tai groups such as Tai Aiton, Tai Phake, Tai Turung, Tai Khamyang and Tai Khampti who came later in search of the Ahoms also adopted the local Assamese culture and language. The Ahom Kingdom has had the most influence in shaping Assamese culture.
Cachar area of southern Assam is the home to large number of ethnic communities. The Karbis are the predominant tribe in this region and live in the hills of Karbi Anglong. Bishnupriya Manipuris of Manipur also settled in this area during Burmese invasion and Anglo-Burmese wars. The Cachar hills also has many clans of Kuki community of Mizoram who lived a nomadic lifestyle in search of jhum cultivation. A large section of Bengali speaking community dwell in the Barak valley which is located close to Bangladesh. The Santhal and Munda tribe from Central India who were brought by the British to work in the tea estates also became part of the Assamese society.
Due to the presence of various ethnic communities, Assam is also renowned for its diverse arts and crafts, particularly textiles. The Assamese people are well known for their excellence in weaving, Muga silk is spun in many villages where ladies weave Mekhela Sador, a traditional dress with intricate floral designs. Gamosa is another famous woven motif which also symbolizes Assamese culture and has a wide usage. Bell metal crafts are popular in areas of western Assam where craftsmen prepare the Xorai utensil, a popular souvenir. The decorative Jaapi, a large farmers hat, is present in the homes of most people. The monastic order of Majuli island have preserved their old traditions of mask making and papyrus painting since 15th century. The Mishings and Deoris are also skilled weavers, almost every household has traditional handlooms in the countryside. Every tribe has their own unique patterns and colors on their textile. Cane and bamboo handicrafts of Assam are also popular like those of its neighboring states.
An 19th century British historian’s account on the Kingdom of Assam writes “The Assamese had been a warlike and enterprising people, and their princes worthy of the government.”
The landscape of the state mainly comprises of the vast Brahmaputra plains, Cachar hills and the Barak valley in south. The Cachar hills and its Barail range separate the Brahmaputra plains from Barak Valley. The wide Brahmaputra river forms a major part of the landscape of Assam, flowing across the length of the entire state from Sadiya in the east to Goalpara in the west. The River Brahmaputra becomes as wide as 10 km while flowing through Assam. The world’s largest and the smallest riverine island, Majuli and Umamananda respectively on the Brahmaputra, is located in Assam. The 9.15-km long Bhupen Hazarika Bridge over the Brahmaputra river in Assam, which was inaugurated on 26 May 2017, is India’s longest bridge and will reduce the travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh from six hours to just one hour .
Many rivers flowing from the surrounding mountains of the neighboring states also form tributaries of the Brahmaputra. The meandering Barak river flows only in the southern part of the state before it flows into Bangladesh. An interesting quote from 19th century writes “The number and magnitude of rivers in Assam probably exceed those of any other country in the world of equal extent. They are in general of a sufficient depth at all seasons to admit of a commercial intercourse in shallow boats, and, during the rains, boats of the largest size find sufficient depth of water. The number of rivers, of which the existence has been ascertained, amounts to 61, including the Brahmaputra and its great branches… Many of these contributory streams are remarkable for their winding course.”