Guwahati

To the modern traveller, it may be better known as the place that launched a thousand journeys to other northeastern tourist destinations, but Guwahati in an of itself is quite the tourist attraction itself. Formerly known as the tongue-twisting Pragjyotishpur or the City of Eastern Lights, it later adopted the slightly more prosaic, though infinitely easier to pronounce Guwahati (meaning market).

Enviably located between the eastern flank of the Himalayas, Guwahati is the political capital, commercial centre and gateway to the northeast.

Sights to See

The Kamakhya Temple has inspired many legends, from being created out of a severed body part of a goddess to being the product of a challenge given b y a goddess to her demon pursuer. Atop the Nilachal Hill, 10km from the railway station, this temple is known to be one of the most revered ‘Shakti’ shrines (a temple of the Goddess Shakti where the spiritual vibrations are the strongest) and a famous pilgrim centre from the 10th century. It was destroyed in the early 16th century and then rebuilt in the 17th century by King Nara Narayana of Cooch Bihar. Images of the builder and related inscriptions are seen in the temple.

There are images of several gods and goddesses and dancing figures inscribed on the temple structure. The temple is a natural cave with a spring. Down a flight of steps is located a dark chamber, where, draped with a silk sari and covered with flowers, is the “matra yoni” (yoni literally means “god’s gift”; here it is the manifestation of the energy of the Goddess). There are several festivals held here during the course of the year. Above Kamakhya is another small temple, Bhubaneshwari, which offers a panoramic view of the city.

Shiva Temple of Umananda located on an island in the middle of the Brahmaputra, can be reached by motor boats and public ferries from Umananda Ghat.

On top of a hill in east Guwahati, the Navagraha Temple – or the “temple of nine planets” – is an ancient seat of astrology and astronomy. Housed in a red beehive-shaped dome, the central lingam (representation of Lord Shiva) is encircled by nine other lingams representing the planets (grahas).

At a distance of 12 km from the railway station, the Vashistha Ashram (the abode of the Sage Vashistha from Hindu mythology) is an interesting old shrine surrounded by verdant greenery and three beautiful streams – Lalita, Kanta and Sandhya.

Guwahati Zoo is the largest natural zoo of the country. Officially known as the Assam State Zoo, it is located within the Hengrabadi Forest Reserve. The zoo is home to the Asiatic lion, the royal Bengal tiger, the one-horned Indian rhinoceros, the Himalayan black bear, the stump-tailed macaque, the hoolock gibbon, a variety of avifauna and indigenous reptiles.

North Guwahati
North Guwahati is almost like a separate town. One can visit it via the Saraighat Bridge or by the ferries that ply on the Brahmaputra River. This part of the city is rich in history and has many ideal picnic spots, surrounded as it is by evergreen trees and a fast-flowing brook. Another beautiful spot is Manikoreneswar Devalay situated on a hill on the back of the Brahmaputra. This part of the city abounds with historical temples like Dirgheswari Deavalay (temple or shrine), Mani-karneswar Devalay, Aswaklanta Devalay, Rudreswar Devalay, Auniati Satra, among others.. Aswaklanta, another historical place, stands on the bank of the river Brahmaputra.

You can make a day of it here; pack a delicious lunch and head here for a lesson in history followed by a meal amidst nature.

Getting There

By air
Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport of Guwahati is well connected with New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. The government-run carrier Air India operates direct flight between Guwahati and Bangkok on Mondays and Thursdays.

By rail
The busy and always crowded Paltan Bazar railway station is the nearest railhead for many trains from every part of India. There are direct train services from New Delhi and Kolkata with connectivity to Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

By road
All India tourist permit vehicles are available for local transportations and inter-city travel as well. Guwahati is connected by regular bus services with Shillong, Silchar, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur, Siliguri, Sibsagar, Dimapur, Kohima, Imphal, Aizawal, Itanagar, Barpetta Road and Cooch Bihar.

Getting Around

By bus
Bus is the cheapest way of travelling around the city. An air-conditioned bus service has recently begun between the airport and the city.

By auto
If you think the three-wheeled ride here is a cheap way to travel, think again. There is no meter system used by the autos, and the auto driver will simply refuse to drive you if you insist on the meter. The best you can do is negotiate in advance (check with a local on what it should cost you). Small distance charges are high.

River crossing
Ferries are a common way of public transport for the locals here – they leave the jetty at Fancy Bazaar every half an hour and the round trip will take around 45 minutes. It is a simple way to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Brahmaputra River.