With its myriad sights, Guwahati is the perfect introduction to the North East and a destination in itself.
The capital city of Assam, Guwahati is usually used as a transit point to see the rest of the North East but the city has several sights and sounds that are worth seeing. Interestingly these sights are a mix of history, culture, spirituality and leisure which add to the charm of the destination. So on your next trip to the ‘City of Temples’, the moniker the city is known by, make sure you explore its other dimensions as well.
Arguably one of the most important iconic sights here is the famed Kamakhya Temple, said to be among the oldest of the 51 Shakti Peeths is located on Nilachal Hill and is best visited in the early hours of the morning. The temple is very crowded through the day and typically you will need to wait for several hours in long queues and hence the morning hours are ideal. In fact the weather also is great in the morning that will make your wait easy. The temple premises itself is extensive and is spread out and celebrates women especially during their menstruation as it is believed that Goddess Sati’s womb and genitals fell here when Lord Shiva went on a rampage doing his thandav when Sati died. Known for animal sacrifices it is common to find goats roaming inside the premises. Photography is strictly prohibited and it is better that you do not carry your phone when you are here. The main sanctum is located below the ground and the yoni or female genital inside the cave is revered. You could take the services of a priest to guide you through the temple who will also do a small pooja on your behalf. The streets leading up to the temple have tiny stores that sell flowers and pooja items. You can also sample local food at one of the restaurants outside.
Guwahati is where the mighty Brahmaputra River flows in all its majesty and the best way to enjoy the river is to take a cruise on it. There are options for lunch and dinner cruises here that make for enjoyable experiences as well. While there are several longer cruises that take you to other parts of Assam, like Jorhat and Silghat, the sunset cruise is a great way to see a magnificent sunset on the river. If you are doing a day cruise, make sure you carry sun screen and a hat as the days here are very warm and can become quite hot as the day progresses. The riverfront itself has been developed well and a park runs along one end which is popular with locals and tourists alike.
To get your fix of all things related to the history and culture, a visit to the Assam State Museum. The museum is spread over three levels with the ground floor housing an Arms & Ammunition Gallery, Numismatics and Metallic Sculpture Gallery, Pre & Proto History and Terracotta Gallery and Textile Gallery. The first floor has a North East India Gallery which houses the textiles of the region, Manuscript Gallery, Wood Craft Gallery, Painting Gallery, Freedom Fighter Gallery and Village Life of Assam Gallery. The second floor has an Ethnography Gallery. The well maintained exhibits are in glass cases and date back several centuries. You will need to spend at least a couple of hours at least to get a reasonably fair idea of the space so do make sure you have time when you are here.
The rich cultural heritage of Assam is best experienced at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra. The space is spread over several acres houses a museum, an open air theatre, art gallery, library, children’s park, landscape spaces as well as a few retail outlets that sell typical Assamese ware. There is also a museum dedicated to musician Bhupen Hazarika on the premises here. The entry here is ticketed and the space has been designed to serve as a platform to preserve, research, restore and promote the diversity and ethnicity of the communities of the state. The central museum exhibits masks and traditional articles used by the tribes of Assam. The artistic village on site gives guests an interesting insight into rural life through the homes and sculptures that depict the same. The theatre here hosts cultural performances and the center conducts visual arts, cinema and drama workshops as well.
This story first appeared in Spice Route’s August 2019 story here: