After having visited Sikkim in 2021, I have been craving for more of Northeast India. You know, how greed works. 😀
Not for exploring mountains, waterfalls or altitude, but for finding an escape from the daily life, for reminding myself that life can be simpler & meaningful, and for meeting people who haven’t yet been corrupted by greed. Ironic, I know.
In February 2022, I clubbed a weekend with a bloody Monday (when I worked from 8 am to 10:30 pm, yeah, no kidding!) & a two day leave. And voila! I visited Assam, met some new people, made some friends & went back a happy soul. We had little time, but our spirits were high. Every minute I spent in Assam was either dedicated to exploring the state or answering an email/ ping/ text from work. No wastage!
If you are planning a trip to Assam sometime soon, here is a list of 12 experiences that you might want to include in your itinerary for a close-up experience with the state of one-horned rhinoceros, tea plantations & magic.
1. Have a cup of Assam tea
The first thing I did upon landing in Assam was to order a cup of Assam tea for myself. Strong & darker in colour, Assam tea can put you out of your laziness loops & jumpstart you like a car engine. I personally like my tea mild, with lots of ginger & cardamom. In some places, they will customise it for you. On the third-fourth attempt, they also learn to add less tea leaves so that you can taste a milder, sweeter version of the best drink on this planet.
2. Go for one-horned rhinoceros watching in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary
One thing that Assam should be extremely proud of, is the fact that they are home to one-horned rhinoceros. While one-horned rhino can be found in Nepal, Pakistan & Bangladesh today, Assam (India) is home to world’s largest population of one-horned rhino.
The easiest way to spot one is to go for a safari in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, one & a half hours away from Guhawati. In fact, in the afternoon, as the rhinos come out in bunches, you may spot them in the park, from the adjoining road. When I first saw a mother rhino with a baby rhino, I swear I thought there’s not a beautiful sight available that can top that one. There may be, but in that moment, I didn’t believe there was.
3. Spend a few hours in Tea Gardens
If you come to Assam, there’s no returning without visiting the tea gardens. Go for a walk, and smell the caffeine. Click a few photographs & make memories for life.
4. Go for a jungle safari in Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga offers morning & evening safaris; you could pick any. Safaris are okayish in length. You can’t take eatables inside. What’s surprising is that there is no guide in these safaris. So, you are practically on your own. In some safaris, you might find an uninterested driver who would do nothing to help you with better sightings. This is why, plan for atleast two-three safaris when you visit Kaziranga.
5. Befriend some locals
When we were traveling to Manas from Kaziranga, the owner of the home stay opposite to ours took us in his cab. On the way, he shared many stories of travellers that visit Assam, illegal poaching of rhinos, development work done in Assam, annual floods, life in Kaziranga & his likes/ dislikes.
When I travel, I try and have atleast one decent conversation with a local. No amount of Youtube videos can do, what one conversation does for me. It always ends up teaching me humility & lessons in happiness. May be earning loads of money, running after titles & brands and leading a lavish lifestyle is not necessary. May be making connections, telling/ hearing stories, appreciating art, sharing food, going on walks in the lap of nature, finding love & discovering your self is what life is all about.
6. Watch the Sunset by Brahmaputra
One of the most beautiful things in life is to find a spot by a river, and hear it flow. If you sit by a river long enough, birds get comfortable and come & sit nearby you. The best experiences can seldom be topped, and same is the case with sitting by a river unless you watch a sunset too. In most places in Assam, you may find a sunset point neat the Brahmaputra river. And when you do, leave everything that you are doing & focus on the sunset, the flowing river, the pebbles and the many shapes of water.
7. Watch the Sunrise from the back of an elephant at Kaziranga
Early morning elephant safaris are a thing in Kaziranga. Usually I refrain from elephant safaris but it’s different in Kaziranga. Elephants were well-fed, healthy & happy. They were decked up with paints, jewels and fancy clothes. Each elephant of course has a name but some of them even had a personality- naughty, mischievous or serious. Watching the sunrise from the back of an elephant or chasing a rhinoceros along with your elephant, is quite a rush. Sometimes many elephants zero in on a cute-looking rhinoceros. As the elephants grow closer, the rhino gets uncomfortable and walks deeper into the forest. The elephants chase the rhino for a while only to get distracted by a big, juicy branch full of leaves. You don’t just meet the rhinos but wild rooster, wild boars & deer in the forest.
8. Visit the museum of Mayaong empire & hear tales of ‘witchcraft’
40 kms. away from Guhawati is a place called Mayaong, famous for its occult & magic practices. Back in 14th century, people from Mayaong removed an entire army of horsemen via magic. People from Mayaong can cure illness just by some mantras, can turn humans into animals, control humans & turn leaves into fish. And that’s just the beginning; there’s more.
In 21st century, I am not sure if we need more magic or humanity. But they have preserved some of the manuscripts detailing out the magic tricks/ occult practices. All of this is displayed in the Mayaong museum. If you dare, you may pay a visit to the museum on your way to Pobitora wildlife sanctuary.
By the way, even the cab drivers don’t go that way.
9. Do some bird watching in Kaziranga
Kingfisher, Duck, Heron, Pelicans & Cranes – you may find most birds in Kaziranga. When you come for a safari, do bring your pair of binoculars & enjoy spotting the fish eagle, partridges, hornbill, bustards, forktails, starling & shrike.
Since you don’t get a guide inside the park, either get a friend who knows a lot about birding , or ensure that you exercise patience because bird watching is not everyone’s cup of tea.
10. Explore the forests of Manas National Park
Just like Kaziranga national park, Manas national park is also a UNESCO site. Manas is one of the most beautiful jungles that I have ever seen. You have to be careful when you roam in Manas, there are many elephants inside the jungle. Some tusker families can cross paths with you. In those moments, exercise caution & photograph the animals from a distance. Too much proximity with the elephants might rile up the tusker and he can come after you especially when they have a child along with.
11. Relish the Aloo-puri breakfast
In Assam, they made a special kind of aloo poori, not like the ones we taste in Benaras or Mathura. The pooris are softer, and the aloo subzi is a medley of lentils, some veggies & potatoes. It’s not spicy, but it’s not bland either. After having come back from a morning safari, this is the best breakfast.
12. Spend at least a day in a homestay
I am new to home-stays. After the first homestay in Sikkim, I realised how warm and welcoming one may feel, upon staying with locals. We stayed in a homestay kind of setup in Kaziranga. The kitchen staff kept listening to my instructions until they got the ‘tea’ right. They give you so much personal attention in homestays that it makes your trips special. On top of that, they will guide you on where to go, what to buy, how much to pay, what to eat & what to miss.
Day 1: Arrive at Lokpriya Gopinath airport & local sightseeing: Pobitra Wildlife, Sunset by Brahmaputra, Museum of Mayaong empire, oldest rocks & temples
Day 2: Bus/ Cab to Kaziranga. Reach by 12. Book an afternoon safari in Kaziranga. Come back & relax
Day 3: Early morning elephant safari in Kaziranga, Tree Plantations Visit & local sightseeing
Day 4: Drive to Manas National Park, have breakfast on the way. Start really early (by 4 am) to reach Manas by 12 pm. Have lunch & go on an afternoon/ evening safari. Watch the Sunset & come back late
Day 5: Go for a morning safari in Manas National Park, take your time & enjoy the treks & trails. Come back, have lunch & leave for airport. Catch an evening flight to be able to reach home by dinner.