Tucked away in the North-east corner of India, the States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, are fondly referred to as ‘The Seven Sisters’. Off the beaten tourist track, they lie in isolation, a mystery waiting to be unravelled.
Unfortunately, civilian unrest makes some parts of this region unsafe, and so there are some travel restrictions for both domestic and foreign tourists.
Assam called the Gateway to the North-east of India, Assam, is the most accessible of these States and is the home of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros (found at the Kaziranga National Park). The State is synonymous with tea, being India’s main producer and supplying one-sixth of the world’s tea. Also rich in minerals such as petroleum, coal, limestone, dolomite and refractory clay, it has the country’s oldest productive onshore oil fields.
In Guwahati, the commercial capital of Assam, the tour starts from Kamakhya Temple, Basistha Ashram, Zoo, Gita mandir, Nabagraha Temple, Assam State Museum. The largest city in the State, indeed in the entire region, Guwahati straddles the Brahmaputra river, and adjoins the capital, Dispur. Now the commercial hub, with one of the world’s largest Tea Auction Centres, the city is said to be the legendary Pragjyotishpur, or the City of Eastern Light. It has a number of ancient temples. The Kamakhya Temple, 8 km West of the city on top of Nilachal hill, is the most important and is dedicated to Shakti, Lord Shiva’s consort. Umananda Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and the Navagrah Temple, or the Temple of the Nine Planets, are the other important ones.
Assam is also the world’s largest producer of the golden coloured muga silk produced mainly at Sualkuchi, about 30 km West of Guwahati. Here you can pick up bargains from a wide range of silk dresses, sarees, and dress material.
The Assam is rich in wildlife and has several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Kaziranga lies about 150 km East of Guwahati. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (lying North near the Bhutan border), comes under Project Tiger and is home to the rare Hispid Hare, Pigmy Hog and Golden Langur. The Nameri National Park is Northeast and extends into Arunachal Pradesh.
Bihu or Jhumur, is a lovely folk dance of the spring harvest festival. A drink called ‘lalsa’, is popular here. Meaning red tea, it is a sweetened, light tea without milk.
Artist and sculptors, masons and architects, and others practicing minor crafts such as weavers, spinners, potters, goldsmiths, artisanns of ivory, wood, bamboo, cane and hide flourished in Assam from ancient times. Every household possesses a handloom used to produce silk and (or) cotton clothes of exquisite designs. The Eri, Muga and Pat are the important silk products of Assam.
Assam observes Bhogali Bihu , Rongali Bihu, Kati Bihu, Janmashthami and Durga Puja festivals. Rangali Bihu, the main Bihu festival, is in April. This festival is essentially in celebration of a good harvest and is accompanied with lively dances, music and feasting. Guwahati also celebrates the Ambuchi Festival in July.