The first day being extremely unproductive (as far as WORK is concerned) we decided to slog it off on the second. The day began at an unearthly hour in the morning. Even the taxi guy was on time… damn! Anyway, a reluctant shower later, we were ready for the day.
We were to cross the Brahmaputra and go over to the northern bank and head towards Hajo, a medieval temple town built by the Ahom dynasty. On the way was one of Guwahati’s biggest attractions, the Kamakhya Temple.
It is believed that after Sati’s death, Shiva, driven crazy with grief embarked on the tandava nritya or the dance of destruction. To save the world from destruction, Vishnu cut Sati’s body into 51 pieces that scattered over the Indian Subcontinent. Every place where a par of Sati fell, was charged with primordial energy and came to be known as Shaktipeeths. Kamakhya was where Sati’s yoni fell.
Located halfway up a hill, the Kamakhya Temple is one of the most important Shakta shrines in India. On the summit of the hill is the Bhubaneshwari Temple, believed to be another Shaktipeeth.
Strangely, it is forbidden in our family to visit the temple. I am not aware of the details but in the past a couple of people have died on the way to the temple. So before i left for Guwahati, my mother made it a point to remind me of the stricture at lease twice everyday.
After the brief stop at Kamakhya, we resumed the onward journey to Hajo, 40 kms from Guwahati. The largest temple here is the Hayagriba Madhav, built in the 18th century by the Ahoms.
As you can see from the photographs, it was excessively foggy. While i thought it made for some ‘interesting’ (ahem ahem) pictures, they are no good for the travel guide i am working on. Lets see!
After Hajo, we proceeded to the tiny village of Sualkuchi, hub of Assam’s traditional weaving industry. The two main products here are the Mekhla-Chador and the Gamosa, woven on muga silk and cotton respectively. Mekhla-Chador is a two piece garment worn by Assamese ladies while Gamosa can be best described as a towel, which over the years has acquired a ceremonial and ritualistic place in Assamese culture.
It is used to cover the altar at the prayer hall. An object of reverence like a scripture is never placed on the bare ground, but on a gamosa. It is used by farmers as a waistcloth (tongali) or a loincloth (suriya). A Bihu dancer wraps it around the head with a fluffy knot for ornamental effect.
It is hung around the neck at the Namghor and was thrown over the shoulder like a stole in the past to signify a high social status. Even today, guests are welcomed with the offering of a gamosa and tamul (betel nut) and elders are offered gamosas (referred to as bihuwaan in this case) during Bihu.
Post Sualkuchi, we rushed back to Guwahati to cover the town. In the eastern part of the country, where Guwahati is located, darkness descends early, so effectively, you can shoot till 4:30 max. Here are a few shots of Guwahati town:
The last act of the day was to take a trip to the Umananda Temple. Located on an island in the middle of the Brahmaputra, it can be reached by taking a boat from the Kachari Ghat. As the waters had receded substantially during the winters, i had to walk on sand followed by a nervous balancing act on a bamboo bridge to reach the jetty. The sun had just begun to set over the horizon and the Brahmaputra looked mightier than ever.
Later that night, we went to dine at one of the most reputed restaurants in Guwahati, Paradise. The owner, Mr Anal Bezbaruah, a good friend of my boss, was present to guide us through what seemed like an endless parade of delectable Assamese dishes. Most of them were very close to Bengali food and had a home cooked taste to it. The highlight of the dinner was the Hilsa tenga (a curry with a lemony tang), the khar (a mixed vegetable of sorts) and the curried duck and pigeon meat.
See, let me be honest here I worked really hard that day and i was famished. But if every tiring day ends in a feast like this, you got yourself a workaholic here!
Tomorrow, we bid adieu to Guwahati as we travel to Kaziranga, via Madan Kamdev Temple and Tezpur.
to be continued…