The 369 kms drive from Guwahati to Sibsagar via Kaziranga National Park along National Highway 37 is one of the most enjoyable road journeys in the state of Assam. This fascinating journey has a bit of everything from hairpin bends that greet you as you leave the city of Guwahati behind to the mountainous terrain of the Khasi & Jaintia hills. As your vehicle successfully encounters each mountainous bend, the plains welcome you and the ethereal sight of verdant Assamese countryside is a breath of fresh air. The road condition throughout the journey is good, baring a few stretches.
We start our North East Odyssey with the 369 Kms drive from Guwahati to the historic city of Sibsagar, which used to be the headquarters of the medieval Ahom rulers.
What to See
Guwahati is the capital city of Assam and a gateway to the North East of India. This ancient city finds mention in ancient Hindu scriptures as “The Light of the East” or “Pragjyotishpura”. Guwahati is renowned for the holy Kamakshya Temple in the Nilachal Hills, which is the ultimate seat of Tantrik Hinduism. The city, with its bustling markets and variety of new age restaurants, offers a truly cosmopolitan ambience.
Apart from visits to the State Museum and the Zoo, visitors who wish to know more about the exotic Assamese art and culture would do well to visit the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, which depicts the art, culture and tradition of the people of Assam. One can witness the fascinating lifestyle of Assam’s indigenous tribes at the Kalakshetra by way of well-preserved artefacts. Folk festivals are a regular feature of this one-of-its-kind cultural complex.
Other places worth visiting are the shimmering Dighalipukhuri Lake, the Planetarium, the Vasistha Ashram and the temple of Umananda. A sunset cruise along the River Brahmaputra can be a very rewarding experience.
Where to Stay
The ITDC run Hotel Brahmaputra Ashok, Hotel Dynasty, Belle View Hotel, Hotel Ambarish, Hotel Nandan, Stadium Guest House, Hotel Raj Mahal offer the very best of Assam’s famed hospitality.
Where to Eat
Guwahati has numerous good restaurants that offer a range of culinary delights ranging from Continental to Chinese, with the local Assamese cuisine thrown in to pamper the taste buds of the discerning visitors. Trendy restaurants like Paradise Airport, Sagar’s In Flight, The Door Chester and Utsav offer delectable menus.For fast food and snacks, Woodlands, Hits Cafetaria, Ramble, Sunflower and Friday Fast Food and Sweets are great options.
What to Buy
The vibrant city of Guwahati is renowned for its bustling marketplaces. Some of the city’s most popular shopping districts are located at Fancy Bazaar, Paltan Bazaar, Ulubari, Ganeshguri and GNB Road. The well-stocked government emporiums in Guwahati offer the very best of the region’s handicraft items ranging from the world famous Sualkochi silk saris to endi, muga chadders and shawls. Most visitors to Guwahati have a fascination for Assam silk along with the intricately embroidered tribal shawls of the “Seven Sister” states. Apart from silk items, Assam is famous for cane and bamboo products and there are numerous specialty shops in and around Guwahati that sell quality cane and bamboo products.
Mid Way Town – Nagaon
On the way to Sibsagar, the first major town that you will come across is Nagaon. This is the rice bowl of Assam and is located right in the heart of North East India. The shimmering Kalong River effectively divides the town into two halves – Haibargaon and Nagaon in much the same way as the Italian river – Poe. This town is a melting pot of Assamese culture and birth place of the renowned Vaishnav saint Sri Sankardeva, who heralded the Renaissance of Assam’s culture.
Most travellers make a short stopover at Nagaon to have lunch in the town’s many popular restaurants. This is also a good place to do a routine check of your vehicle at the many motor mechanic shops of Nagaon. On the lighter side of life, grab that exclusive “Agar” perfume that is indigenously produced here and which is even exported to the Middle East.
Assam: Call of the Wild at Kaziranga
The national park, Kaziranga, has earned international recognition by virtue of being the world’s only habitat of the rare and endangered one-horned rhino. Kaziranga is located at a distance of 233 Kms from Guwahati, the state capital. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the temptation to make an overnight halt at any of Kaziranga’s famed jungle lodges will always be there, the final choice is yours. Cases of rhinos straying onto the National Highway isn’t uncommon and there are a few vantage points along the National Highway 37 where you may stop your vehicle, grab your binoculars and sight those reclusive and shy creatures grazing happily in their own backyard.
The Bustling Town of Jorhat
The next big town that you would encounter is Jorhat, which is 303 Kms. from Guwahati and incidentally it happens to be the last capital of the Ahoms. Majuli – the world’s largest riverine island is located in close proximity to Jorhat. The drive from Kaziranga to Jorhat is replete with lush green tea gardens. Jorhat is a seat of learning with renowned institutions like Agricultural University, Regional Research Laboratory, Prince of Wales College of Polytechnic, Tocklai Tea Research Centre and organizations like Indian Air Force Base, ONGC.
Sibsagar, the last stop of your Assam odyssey is located at a distance of 369 kms from Guwahati. In the days of yore, Sibsagar was a military bastion of the mighty Ahom rulers who ruled supreme for more than 600 years. Sibsagar is one of Assam’s principal centres of tea and oil. It is here that the regional headquarters of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission is located. Modern day Sibsagar is a town, which is rapidly developing into one of the most vibrant towns of Upper Assam. This charming town which is also a district with the same name, has earned the distinction of having the highest number of oil fields in Assam.
What to See
Majestic monuments like Kareng Ghar, Talatal Ghar and Rang Ghar, all of which were built by King Rudra Singha way back in 1696-1714, stand testimony to Sibsagar’s rich past. The exclusive amphitheater at Rang Ghar, which is a two-storied oval shaped pavilion, is an unique amphitheatre in Asia. One of Sibsagar’s most enduring landmarks is the Namdang stone bridge over which a busy highway has been built. Other places worth visiting are the Gargaon palace, Joy Sagar tank and temple, Gauri Sagar tank, Charideo and Ajan Pir Dargah. There are also several Vaishnava monasteries as well as Muslim Dargas.
Where to Stay
Hotel Brahmaputra, Hotel Brindavan and Hotel Siddharth are the best hotels of Sibsagar.
What to Eat
There are many restaurants. Insist on the regional delicacies, which consist of rice and a mix of regional vegetable curries. If you want non-veg fare, a variety of fish and meat-based dishes are available. Among the most exotic Assamese dishes are the Kharoli Tenga, Tenga Anja, Khorisa and Khar. For snacks you will relish the traditional Assamese Pithas, Jolpan and a variety of Laddoos.
Notes on Assam’s Tea Gardens
Assam is the land of lush green tea gardens – on your journey to Sibsagar from the capital city of Guwahati, you will come across hundreds of tea gardens. The concept of Tea Tourism as a package for tourists who visit Assam has been launched by a few renowned tea companies. Many tea gardens have completely refurbished there Victorian style Tea Garden Bungalows to cater to the exacting needs of discerning international travellers.
The Riverside Journeys and Bungalows of India have taken under their umbrella a number of British Plantation Bungalows that are now open to tourists. The RJBI already has a few Tea Garden Bungalows belonging to the renowned McLeod Russel group and others of their ilk. Stay at a Tea Garden Bungalow can indeed be a fascinating add-on to your journey by road through the heartland of Assam.