10 Things You Must Try When You Travel To Assam
An Incredible Journey
I traveled to North East India the first time in the year 1997, when I was in my 9th Grade. That was the first time I was ever stepping out of my house without any help of my parents. It was an exciting feeling. This period was also the peak of insurgency in the State. When I told my parents I want to travel to North East India, the answer was a plain NO. But, eventually, I convinced them.
Since then, I have traveled to Assam several times, and I have seen the State very closely as it went through the change, trying to struggle between embracing the modernity and retaining the traditional values.
No matter what changes the modern India might have brought in, Assam still has a uniqueness which keeps the people of the State firmly connected to their roots. And that clearly reflects in their lifestyle. This is what makes me coming back here.
Last year, I spent more than 6 months in various parts of the State. Sharing with you, the 10 things you must try when you visit Assam.
1. Be A Part Of The Bihu Festival
The most important festival of the state is the Bihu Festival, which is celebrated thrice in a year. The Bhogali Bihu or Maagh Bihu in January, Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu in April and Kongali Bihu or Kaati in October.
The most important of the three is the Rongali or Bohag Bihu, also known as Baisakhi in the rest of the country. Come April and the entire state immerses itself in the flamboyance of happiness, joy and merriment.
The women wear the traditional Assamese Silk Sarees, essentially with a red bordered pattern and red tatoos on the hands, that adds to their charm and beauty. The men wear a silk woven turban also called the Gamochas again woven in red and white colours.
A live Bihu performance is a delightful experience. The men usually sporting the huge drums and singing the harvest songs produce foot-tapping tunes and the women dance to these tunes gently swaying their arms in the air.
Be a Native
2. Try Wearing the Traditional Assamese Costume
The best way to learn about a place is to be a part of the tradition itself. Be a native, and you will come to know more than you have ever thought of. The traditional Assamese Costume is essentially a hand-loom woven silk or cotton wear.
The men wear a long shirt called the Kurtas with a wrap around lowers called the Dhuti. Women wear the authentic Assamese Silk Sarees with usually a red border, a color which signifies happiness, wealth and prosperity.
3. Spend Time Learning The Assamese Language
One of the biggest surprises that I encountered in this visit to Assam was their Ancient Script called the Tai Ahom. I had never heard of this before, until I dropped into a friends place for dinner, when I noticed volumes of books written in traditional Tai Language.
Being interested in book reading and languages myself, I picked up one of these books and flipped through several pages only to realize that the script looked similar to the Thai Language.
The modern Assamese Language is essentially a derivative of the Bengali Language, with minor differences in the script, but major difference in speaking. Being a Bengali myself, I had little difficulty to pick up the etymology, but, eventually, with a careful listening, it came easy.
Connecting with the people in their native language is an instant ice-breaker. It immediately helps people to connect with you, know and gather information about a place, culture, life-style habits and many subtle aspects which a person can only know after staying at a place for a long time.
So, this time when you visit Assam, do try out speaking Assamese. You will not regret the conversation, I promise.
4. Try The Assamese Delicacies
The Assamese cuisine consists mainly of rice and its substitutes and fish in their staple diet. The fish is cooked in a unique way, however. Marinated in mustard oil and poppy seeds, to create a tangy taste, the fish is then wrapped in Banana leaves. This wrap is then put inside a hollow bamboo channel and cooked in warm water.
The gradual cooking eventually causes the taste of the banana leaves and bamboo soaked in the wraps and creates an awesome dish. Try it with some mustard sauce and I promise you will eat up your fingers.
In Bihu Festival, the majority of the dishes are cooked in rice, for example the Til Pitha, Ghila Pitha, a sweet wrap made of rice powder, coconut and jaggery filling. .
5. Savour Your Taste Buds With Tamool Betel Nuts
If you are in Assam, and you do not come across betel nuts served, it is a rare phenomenon to happen. It is customary to offer betel nuts if you visit any house in the Assamese Villages. Usually served with raw betel leaves, the betel nut groves are a part of a typical Assamese garden. With a slender and flexible bark, the betel nuts can be seen grown in bunches, hanging from the trees and also is an essential ingredient for the local business and economy. Also called as Tamool, the Assamese hospitality is incomplete without serving their guests with the nuts before a tea or a meal serving.
See How They Manufacture Tea In Assam
Try One For A Souvenir
6. Visit A Tea Garden And Try Tea From A Factory Outlet
Visiting a tea garden and learning how tea is made is a fun experience. The tea workers carefully pluck the tender tea leaves and then the leaves are allowed to dry in the sun. The CTC (Cutting, Threshing and Curling) leaf tea is a three step process in which the tea leaves are treated to extract the aroma and taste that helps you to get a refreshing start every morning.
A factory outlet essentially sells the varieties of tea from a small outlet attached with the tea factory. The visitor not only can take a tour of how the tea is made, but also carry a souvenir home by picking up the freshly manufactured tea bags with the most refreshing aroma directly from the place where it is made.
Watch the Silk Saree Weaving on a Handloom
7. Weave An Assam Silk Sari On The Handloom
The hand-loom industry in Assam is one of the oldest, and the state has recently done a lot to revive the otherwise dying culture of handwoven silk. As you take your course through the remote villages of Assam, you will notice that hand-loom is still an essential part of the house inventory, and the people especially the women still prefer to weave their own clothing in-house.
A typical Assamese silk sari sells anywhere between Rs.2500/- to as high as Rs. 10000/- on the higher side and involves a patient and skilled hands working to create a magical weave. Cotton saris are also woven and the rural Assam uses the cotton clothing for a daily use. The silk clothes are used for special occasions and festivals, when the folklore take to the streets to celebrate and enjoy the festive moments.
9. Try Fishing On A Ferry Trip
The Brahmaputra is the longest river in India. Stretching from the Northern Himalayas, it passes through several parts of North East India and flows in three countries- China, Bangladesh and India. Needless to say, it brings along with its flow, some of the largest fresh water fishes and forms a major resource of food for North East India.
The Assamese people weave the fish nets either in artistic bamboo fiber or use the traditional nets suspended on two bamboo rods tied across each other. The fishermen use the boats and ferries not only to connect from one village to another, but also for fishing.
If you have never tried fishing before, I insist you try here once you visit Assam. Not only will you enjoy cruising over the mighty waters of Brahmaputra river, but also you will also enjoy twirling the fishing nets in the Brahmaputra River.
10. Watch The Intricate Bamboo Work In A Local Furniture House
Just as tea is a unique identity of Assam, so is bamboo. Bamboo craftsmanship is practiced across the entire state of Assam and is one of the many sources of economy for the state. Bamboo furniture can elevate the beauty of your drawing room several times more than any other.
Drop in to any local furniture store to find out how these skilled craftsmen put all the efforts together to create masterpieces. The finesse, with which these artisans work is exemplary and their skills could take years of practice and patience to acquire.
The earlier bamboo furniture was designed more on a cane base and pure flexible bamboo was used for making seats, sofa sets and other furniture. Recently, modern methods and technology have helped to create finer pieces with wooden framework as the base.This allows more rigidity, longer life and unique style.