Stretching along the south bank of the mighty Brahmaputra River, Guwahati was once Pragjyotishpura, capital of the ancient state of Kamarupa or Assam, named after the local Ahom kings. The largest city of Assam, Guwahati is a major riverine port and the gateway to northeast India. The bustling capital takes its name from gua (areca nut) and haat (marketplace. Its ancient temples, the Brahmaputra river and Assamese cuisine make it more than a strategic stopover. Guwahati airport is well-connected to the major cities of India so travelling to the city is quite easy.
The first stop for most visitors is the Kamakhya Temple Guwahati situated atop Nilachal Hill . Seat of an ancient fertility cult, the temple is a revered Shakti pitha where a cleft in a rock is worshipped by the devout. Umananda, the tiniest river island of the Brahmpatura, is located downstream of the world’s biggest river island Majuli. A Shiva temple complex lies on the forested river island, which is accessible by a 15-minute ferry from Kachari Ghat.
There are many places to visit in Guwahati. The capital city of Assamis dotted with shrines—there’s a Jain Temple off MS Road, Sattagarh Mandir in Uzan Bazaar while Christ Church is the oldest church in town. First constructed in 1844 and destroyed by two powerful earthquakes in 1854 and 1897, the present church was built in 1903 and renovated in the late ’70s. The Navagraha temple, a unique astrological temple shrine is located on Chitrachal Hill. To keep a track of the tourist destinations, you can refer to the Guwahati map.
Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra, a tribute to Assam’s medieval poet-playwright, is the perfect primer into Assamese culture. Ethnic buildings in the sprawling campus exhibit murals, masks, silk saris, jaapi (traditional conical hat) and the red and white cloth gamosa. In Assam, guests are usually welcomed with a gamosa and tamul (betel nut), often served in a xorai, an ornamental bell-metal offering tray, considered Assam’s cultural symbol. The Bhupen Hazarika Museum showcases 4,000 objects owned by the maestro while an open-air theatre serves as performance space for traditional dances like bihu.
The Assam State Museum, located in a majestic colonial-era building, has excellent sculptures and anthropological galleries showcasing tribal homes and ethnic cultures. Go on a heritage walk of Old Guwahati–from the Courthouse shaped like a beehive dome to Dighulipukhuri Park, once the fortified jetty of the Ahom kings. Guwahati Planetarium nearby screens shows on outer space projected on a dome-like screen. A short walk northwest leads to the riverbank, a good place to watch the sunrise or sunset!
Guwahati city is a good base to cover nearby sights like the silk-weaving centre of Sualkuchi and Hajo, a pilgrim centre for Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, where the Brahmaputra is at its narrowest (just 1km). Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, 40km northeast of the city, is reachable by a boat ride across the river for elephant rides into the forest, teeming with nearly a hundred one-horned rhinos. Kaziranga National Park, Assam’s premier wildlife park, lies 250km east, which is about 5-6 hrs by road. This is also one of the major attractions among Guwahati tourist places.
There are several places to savour local Assamese cuisine—the ubiquitous thali serves rice, dal, greens, fries, pitika (mashed potato), a dollop of mustard paste and onions, lemon and green chilli. Being a border region that neighbours Bengal and Bangladesh, Bengali cuisine is also popular, besides a range of Indian cuisine. Here are some of the best restaurants in Guwahati to treat your taste buds:
Guwahati is not known for its nightlife, but a clutch of new hotspots are giving travellers something to look forward to. Most of the lounge bars are located inside upmarket hotels. Octave is an eclectic bar at Vivanta by Taj - Guwahati. The Radisson Blu Hotel Guwahati on NH-37, Gotanagar has a stylish bar called Reign that serves handcrafted cocktails and international beers. There’s The Zone Liquid Lounge at Mayflower Hotel, Lords Bar at Hotel Nandan, The Lounge—a contemporary pub at Hotel Dynasty and Silver Streak, an upscale discotheque in Hotel Brahmaputra Ashok. Cafe Hendrix (or just Hendrix) is another popular hangout with live bands and good music. Topaz Lounge and Café, Lachit Nagar and Terra Mayaa at Anil Plaza 2 on GS Road are good spots to hang out. Mocha, located on the ground floor of Anil Plaza 2, is a British-style café with sea green décor, hammock chairs and good snacks and beverages.
There’s a lot to shop in Assam’s capital city—mekhela chadar, silk saris, local weaves to bamboo and cane handicrafts. The Guwahati-Shillong Road, or GS Road for short, runs through Guwahati and is lined with upscale shops and showrooms. Guwahati’s traditional markets are popular with shoppers looking for good bargains. Ganeshguri Market, named after the Ganesh temple nearby, is close to the state capital Dispur and considered as the main commercial precinct (the two cities are only 8km apart). It’s a good place to buy Assam’s famed silk products like mekhela chadar. Guwahati’s academic hub Pan Bazaar sells everything from clothes, jewellery, furniture, souvenirs, home décor items to accessories. Fancy Bazaar in Old Guwahati is great for traditional Assamese items like jaapi, gamosa, tribal art, handicrafts and ethnic clothes. While here, drop by at Assam Silk’s Tatkala Outlet on JC Das Road, Lakhtokia. River People at Mishra Building on AK Azad Road opposite Lahkar Guest House in Rehabari sells locally made cane and bamboo artefacts.
Though steeped in tradition, there’s a quirky side to Guwahati too. Experience the beauty of the Brahmaputra; locals take great pains to explain that it is a ‘nad, not a nadi’ being a rare male river! See the sun rise across the Brahmaputra from Fancy Bazaar, enjoy boat rides or catch the serene sunset after a day’s explorations. Take a heritage walk through Old Guwahati and catch a bihu performance. Share the local love for betel leaf as you try a paan. Try to time your visit in the monsoons to catch the Ambubachi Mela, a week-long fertility festival at Kamakhya Temple attended by mystics and tantriks. During the rainy season, when the Brahmaputra is in spate, the rivulet flowing over the stone shrine turns red with mud, which symbolizes the menstruation of goddess Kamakhya. The sanctum is out of bounds for three days and reopens only after the goddess is purified with a ritual bath. Devotees collect holy spring water and shreds of the angabastra (stained red cloth) as prasad.
|Borjhar, Guwahati, Assam 781015||GAU|