Brahmaputra Calling..

May 13, 2008 at 5:22 pm (Travelogue)

Guwahati – The temples of Kamakhya as well as Umananda are considered as major attractions in the city of Guwahati. While Umananda temple is in the middle of the river Brahmaputra, Kamakhya temple is to Assam what Tirupati Venkateswara temple is to Andhra Pradesh. The queue for a darshan of the main deity – Goddess Kamakhya – is really long at all times. Thanks to the father of one of our friends from IIM Indore, we were able to get VIP status and jump the queue. The temple is supposed to depict the fertility of the goddess Kamakhya and the central shrine basically consists of water supposedly originating from the goddess’ womb (garbh). Any person getting a darshan of the holy water gets her blessings and can wash away their sins at the sacred place. It is of course a special place for people seeking fertility.

The reality of the darshan at the temple is of course no different from most temples all across the country. All that the pundits are interested in is a “Bhent” or an offering made in monetary terms. Every deity is of course sacred and every charan-sparsh comes at a cost in the form of a “donation” by the devotee. The pujaris almost compete with each other to “sell” the respective deity and get more people to have a charan-sparsh. One good thing I found about the Kamakhya temple was the unique central shrine and the concept of fertility seemed quite novel to me. I find it a little ironical that people in our country associate so much power and worship goddesses like Kamakhya and yet refuse to give women their due in terms of rights. Incidentally, we ended up visiting Kamakhya temple on 8th of March, which happens to be Women’s day.

Needless to say, I left the temple more disgruntled and disappointed with the idea of worshipping in such places. We must have spent a needless few hundred bucks to get the darshan and prasad that none of us were seriously bothered about. I also felt really sorry for all the people eagerly awaiting their chance to get into the temple standing in those suffocating conditions only to whisked away in no time once they get in.

umananda temple

From Kamakhya, we went along the bank of the Brahmaputra to a place where there was ferry service to the Umananda temple. After haggling for price, we went on a 5 minute ride to the middle of the river for one of the briefest visits to any temple I have ever made. The temple itself was quite small with just a simple entrance straight to the central shrine. If anything, that small island seemed to be a hang-out for couples more than anything else. I hardly remember the temple now besides the shivling inside and a large picture of Umananda at the entrance as well as some langurs on the way to the temple. We were back ashore within half an hour and returned to Paltan Bazaar for a quick nap before leaving for the most exciting part of our trip.


The ASTC bus from Guwahati to Tezpur reminded Viggy of the buses shuttling between Pollachi and Coimbatore. I must admit the buses had a feel similar to the “Cheran” buses in Coimbatore. The bus ride was a typical one in India with more people than number of seats. We were kept entertained by old hindi songs featuring Madhuri Dixit, Chunkey Pandey and the likes from those times. I had never heard most of the songs before and found them distinctly funny. Finally the operator settled on some Bobby Deol/Preity Zinta movie (Soldier??) which was more tolerable than the rest of the crap.

The bridge on the River Brahmaputra as one is getting out of Guwahati is quite unique as it almost has two storeys – the lower one for the railway track and the upper one for road traffic. We got to know IIT Guwahati was slightly further down from the bridge to the right and we could see the buildings in the distance. The road from Guwahati to Tezpur was decent except for the occasional bump here and there. Most of the journey was through the plains of Assam with greenery everywhere. There were patches of water visible almost throughout the journey. The general feel both in terms of view as well as weather seemed similar to any village in Tamil Nadu. We finally reached Tezpur around 7.30 PM in the evening. After contemplating our plans for the next two days which included figuring out the distance and time to travel to Tawang as well as other tourist spots in Arunachal, we decided to settle for the night at Hotel Aditya, which had rooms to home the 6 of us at dirt cheap rates. It definitely was not a place where I would recommend my family to stay – nevertheless it was a place to camp for the night. After spending an hour or so at the local pub, we settled for the night with Vicca taking control of the remote control as usual. We were to find out later that this obsession with TV was because he doesn’t have cable TV at home! We had a nice long sleep which was good for us – given the excitement and fun that lay ahead.

Nameri – Eco Camp (for pictures of the camp, click here)

As we lazily woke up on the morning of 9th March, we hardly had a fixed plan of doing anything worthwhile that day. We just knew we had to make our way to the eco-camp. We used a cycle-rickshaw to move our luggage to the ASTC bus stop nearby. From Tezpur, we got a ride for Rs. 10/- per head upto Balipara where the road forks in two directions – one leading towards Tawang through Bhalukpong, Bomdila and Dirang, and the other to Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh. We got a bus towards “Hathi-gate” from Balipara, where the person in charge of the eco-camp was supposed to pick us up. The bus ride towards Elephant gate was through many small villages as well as a military area. The final stretch seemed like a proper forest. After stumbling our way out of the bus, we had a nice gypsy ride to the camp.

The ABACA (Assam Bhorelli Angling and Conservation Association) has set up a nice camp for nature lovers with facilities for angling, trekking, rafting in the Nameri tiger reserve. The eco camp provides the tourists with accommodation in a tent with excellent facilities and service, the likes of which many hotels can learn from. The concept of the camp with natural surroundings and all the furniture made out of simple wooden logs captured out imagination. We could not help but appreciate the thought and effort that would have gone into the preparation of each item at the camp and the results show for themselves.

After an excellent lunch made of home-like food with three different varieties of vegetarian side-dishes and one made of fish, we set out to explore the Nameri forest. We were asked not to cross the river as the wild animals roam around freely on the other side. We walked up to the river bank and were enthralled by the peace and calm in the surroundings as well as the beautiful view in front of us. The landscape was picture-perfect just like a postcard with a river, a boat, trees in the background, one hut in the far corner and finally the hills completing the picture. The only thing missing was the sun which was setting in the opposite direction. It’s an image I am still carrying with me as it just underlined the simple beauty of nature.

Eco camp

What followed was a scene none of us could have ever imagined. As we settled down at the bank of the river enjoying the view, a major in the army came along with some friends and went boating in the river. Viggy, true to his nature, took a picture of them in the boat as it left the shore. The major saw that and started shouting and threatening that he will snatch the camera. Viggy got a first hand experience of why not to take a picture of military people! When he finally came back ashore, we were waiting for him to kick up a scene again. Contrary to expectations, once Viggy deleted the photo, he started chit-chatting with the others and I walked off exploring the forest once I knew that there was no ‘trouble’. This particular chat with my friends proved to be quite important in hindsight as all of them were suddenly much more enthusiastic about a trip to Arunachal after speaking to him. According to the major, Arunachal Pradesh is the most beautiful place on earth. While all of us thought that may be a bit of a stretch, we were still curious to explore the possibility of making a trip there having come so close to the border. The major in fact suggested that we skip Kaziranga and visit Tawang. When I spoke to the others later, they told me that the IIM tag definitely helped in the major suddenly relaxing and having a peaceful chat with them.

While this chat was on, I went exploring along the river bank and climbed up a small slope leading into a clear area in the forest with active deforestation. It was really sad to see all the trees cut and fresh ash from recent fires. I just followed a clear trail leading to some tree-houses, which I later found out are where the locals stay at night to hide from the wild elephants. They use primitive techniques like hooting and throwing small crackers to scare away the mammoths. I also watched three hornbills as they made their way back to their nests at the end of the day. When the others joined me, we went on a long and tiring walk along the bank up to the nearest rapid. We finally returned to the camp just as it got dark for a refreshing cup of tea and relaxed for a couple of hours before dinner. The dinner matched the lunch in the quality of food served with mixed vegetables and parathas and good dessert to round it off.

As we were planning to settle down for a round of drinks, we decided to venture back to the river bank in the dark just for the heck of it. The kilometer and a half trek from the camp to the river was pitch-dark and the path was a winding one with tall grass on both sides. Pradeep, the guy handling the office affairs at the camp, warned us against it saying that there was a chance of elephants walking around. He added that he himself would not trek up to the river but there were a couple of students who had done it once. We could do it at our own risk of course. After some speculation, I, Manas and Putta decided to go for it. Viggy came with us till the camp gate, walked a few paces and then turned back seeing the dark way lying ahead. We kept walking till the point where we could see our shadows and our pace slowed automatically once the camp lights almost disappeared in the background. We inched forward from there experiencing a fear as well as thrill arising from the fear. We kept walking till the point where the trail forward itself became almost invisible. With the thought of snakes also lurking in the forest, we decided that it was not worth going further. Without even saying a word to each other, all three of us turned back at the same time and walked back with much quicker steps. With a sense of accomplishment, we made our way back to the tents to be greeted by Iyer, who suddenly seemed very keen to go all the way to the river. So we headed back the same way again with only Viggy opting out this time around. After covering about 100 metres from the camp gate in the dark trail, Vicca got scared of the dark and urged all of us f***ers to turn back. After an exchange of not-so-pleasant words between Vicca and Iyer, Vicca rushed back in double quick time to the camp. Having come this far before, the other three of us were more confident this time around and walked quite easily into the dark. Drawing strength from each other’s company, we reached the turn about half a km from the camp gate from where we could not see the camp lights even in the distance. As we started moving further forward, we suddenly heard some crackers being burst in the wild. I thought they came from the left side where we had seen the tree-houses that evening. As I recollected the story of the local people shooing away the elephants, we all decided to head back as we were not even carrying a stick with us to defend ourselves. The small adventure in the wild was over. The “signature” drink that followed this was really satisfying as we recounted our dare and kept laughing at Vicca all the while.

Even though we had a fairly long session that night, the morning of 10th March started early and we were all ready for the trek into the forest by 6 AM. After Viggy did the job of obtaining the permit, we were joined by the forest office guard and started on the boat across the river. We reached the other side with mixed expectations about the trail. We were warned that birds are better spotted in the forest than animals. I did not really expect to see any animals but thought that the peace and serenity of the jungle should make it worth the experience. With the sound of birds chirping, the jungle presented a very good taste of what it’d be like to live in the wild. Personally I found it a little irritating when some of the others wanted to keep talking about this and that. I even thought that we may be spoiling whatever chance we’d have of spotting any animal if we kept talking to each other. As it so happened, we did manage to see a wild elephant at a distance of about 200 metres from us. We realized how tall the grass in the forest actually is when comparing it to the height of the wild elephant. The elephant was thankfully on a clear stretch in the forest otherwise even it might have been hidden by the grass. We got to see quite a few birds like the hornbill, kingfisher, brahminy duck and many others whose names none of us seemed to know. We were definitely missing a pair of binoculars especially when we reached an observation post. We of course got many pictures inside the forest of trees and the general landscape. We managed to spot a few pug-marks left by a leopard. The guard claimed that the marks would have been made the previous night when the leopard came to drink water at the river. We could also see a few marks left by bisons. We were all left with the feeling that a place like this actually deserves quite a few days of patient stay to truly appreciate the flora and fauna.

Forest Trek

As we headed back to the camp, we were all mentally preparing for the next leg of the camp, which was the rafting. The rafting itself was quite a nice experience with a nice and smooth flow along the current till we hit the first of many rapids. While none of the rapids were the kinds which would turn a raft upside down, it was exciting enough for beginners like us. We were all wet by the time we waded through the last of the rapids completing the journey along the river to the 13th mile from the base camp. We actually cut short the entire rafting experience as we decided to utilize some of that time to prepare for the most exciting and totally unplanned bit of our entire trip – the journey to Bomdila!


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