India: the lesser known north-eastern region of Assam

comments

India: the lesser known north-eastern region of Assam

From checking out the Taj Mahal to cruising the backwaters of Kerala, there are already scores of well-known places in India vying for the tourist dollar. And while most people know that India is a diverse destination, not everyone realises just how varied it really is. The region of Assam is known for the tea it exports, however it’s an example of an Indian destination that’s still finding its way onto the radar of travellers. Here are a few things to try when visiting.

SPOT A RARE RHINO

The one horned Indian rhinoceros is the largest of the three Asian rhinos and is an impressive creature to behold. Sadly, though, it’s been subject to much poaching in the past because of the mythical aphrodisiac properties of its horn, and is now an endangered species. Kaziranga National Park in Assam is inhabited by the world's largest population of one-horned rhinos and the site was declared a wildlife sanctuary back in 1940.

This World Heritage listed national park is on the bank of the Brahmaputra River. It covers about 430 square kilometres and its tall thickets of elephant grass make it the most ideal habitat for the one-horned Indian rhino.

Kaziranga National Park also has the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and has been declared a Tiger Reserve.

Visitors can enjoy their wildlife spotting via a traditional safari or on an elephant safari. The only time to visit Kaziranga National Park is from mid November to April as it is closed for the other months of the year.

TIME FOR TEA

One of the world’s most popular blends, Assam is a full-bodied, malty tea. India is the largest producer of this product globally, with about 400 million kilograms of tea per year coming from here — more than half of all tea production. The state’s tea plantations are a major tourist attraction and are mainly located in upper Assam and the southern Barak Valley region.

The tea bushes grow to about one metre in height with an even surface and the workers pluck the tea leaves from the top.

Tea is a major part of life in the region and visitors can even stay in tea bungalows, constructed by the British when they established their tea plantations in the mid 19th century. All the tea gardens have at least one of these bungalows.

CATCH THE CULTURE

The north-east of India is home to a large number of tribal groups, each with its own distinct customs. The people of Assam love their festivals and one of the most popular is Bihu. This ancient national festival is celebrated three times a year in different months for different reasons (in the middle of April, the middle of January and the middle of October). The locals wear colourful outfits and perform folk songs and dances.

Another cultural highlight is the Assam cuisine, which differs from its neighbouring areas. A unique feature is the minimal use of oil and spice but extensive use of herbs, fruits and vegetables. The staple food of Assam is rice, accompanied by a variety of curries.

FAST FACT

There are plenty of other must-see places in Assam, such as Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Shillong Peak in Meghalaya, the monasteries of snow-capped Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh as well as a cruise along the Brahmaputra River.

GETTING THERE

Guwahati is the largest city in Assam, and its Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport is connected by air to most of India's major cities. Local carriers that service the hub include Jet Airways, SpiceJet, Go Air Business, Kingfisher Red, JetLite and IndiGo.