Considered the gateway to the North-East region of India, Guwahati or ‘Gowhatty’ is the largest city in the region. An important administrative, trading center and a river port, Guwahati is an ancient town and an important place of veneration of Goddess Shakti. Kamakhya temple situated atop the Nilachal hill is an important site for tantric Hinduism.
Guwahati city is situated between the southern bank of Brahmaputra River and the foothills of the Shillong plateau. Dispur, situated within Guwahati, is the capital of Assam.
Guwahati, known as Pragjyotishpur (Light of the East) in olden days, was the erstwhile capital of kingdom of Kamrup which existed between 350 and 1140 CE. During past few decades it has experienced violent separatism from organizations like ULFA, but now situation is under control of the government of Assam.
Besides the most revered and popular Kamakhya Temple; the city has several ancient Hindu temples like the Umananda Temple, Navagraha Temple and Basistha Temple. The abundance of temples has earned Guwahati the sobriquet of “City of Temples.”
Guwahati and its surrounding areas are rich in wildlife. Kaziranga National Park, known for its famous resident the one-horned Indian rhinoceros, is 214 km away.
As capital of Assam, the second commercial tea production region besides southern China, Guwahati is also an important tea trading centre. Assam also has the distinction of being the only region in the world besides southern China, with native tea plants. Known for its body, briskness, malty flavor, and strong, bright color, Assam teas are often sold as “breakfast” teas. The Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC) is among the busiest tea trading facilities in the world.
Guwahati is among the 100 fastest growing cities of the world and the fifth fastest growing among Indian cities. It is a major commercial and educational centre of eastern India. The premier Indian Institute of Technology campus is also located in Guwahati.
Any mention of Guwahati is incomplete without reference to its prodigal son Bhupen Hazarika. Lyricist, film-maker, singer, musician and poet from Assam, Hazarika’s songs became popular in Assam, West Bengal and even Bangladesh. Hazarika is acknowledged for introducing folk music of Assam and Northeast India in Hindi films. The memorial to Hazarika at the Guwahati University campus is popular with tourists and locals.
Brahmaputra Cruises: A visit to Guwahati is complete only after a cruise on the Brahmaputra river. Luxurious vessels, some with AC upper decks, ply regularly to Dibrugarh. The cruise to Dibrugarh passes through Kaziranga and Tezpur.
If river cruise seems too long, try crossing the river on ferry. Ferries cross the river regularly for transporting locals. Ferries leave Fancy Bazaar jetty every half an hour. Round trip takes around 45 minutes.
Brahmaputra River is also the venue for annual boat race held at Sualkuchi. The annual boat race dates back to over 100 years and is is organized to commemorate death anniversary of Srimanta Sankardev, who revived Vaishnavism in Assam. The competition is held in three categories.
The name Guwahati, it is believed, was derived from two Assamese words – ‘guwa’ (areca nut) and ‘haat’ (market). The city was earlier spelled as Gowhatty and Gauhati, which was later changed to the current one.
According to Hindu mythology, when Lord Vishnu cut through the corpse of Sati, the genitals fell at the site where the Kamakhya temple is located. The Shakti Peethas are located at places where Sati’s charred remains fell.
There is an interesting legend with how the ancient kingdom of Kamrup got its name. Enraged after Sati immolated herself, Lord Shiva started performing the tandav. To break Shiva’s penance and to make him fall in love again, gods sent Kamadeva, the God of Love. However, Shiva burnt Kamadeva to ashes. Kamadeva eventually regained his life and original form (Rupa) in Assam and hence, the place came to be known as Kamrup.
Known as Pragjyotishpuram and Durjoya in olden times, Guwahati was the capital of Varman and Pala dynasties. Kamarupa was the first historical kingdom in Assam that existed between 350 and 1140 CE. It covered the entire Brahmaputra river valley, North Bengal and parts of current day Bangladesh.
Want to know about the culture and heritage of Assam and its people, Guwahati is the best place. A visit to Guwahati isn’t complete without a visit to Shankardeva Kalakshetra. The cultural museum, art gallery, Artists’ Village and Heritage Park provide a peek into the culture and traditions of Assam.
Head to Assam State Museum to learn more about Assam’s history. It houses rare specimens of Ahom Dynasty.
Shilpagram, the only Crafts Village of North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC), offers insights into the handicrafts of North-East region of India.
Assam’s festivals are as colourful as the state and its people. Bohag Bihu is among the most important festivals of the state. It is the Assamese New Year and falls in mid-April. Durga Puja and Ambubashi Mela at Kamakhya Temple are also celebrated with much fervour and attract thousands of pilgrims.
Assam is famous for its silk cottage industry. Guwahati is the best place to buy textiles made of Muga – the golden silk of Assam. Handicraft and handloom items, bell metal, canework, woollen shawls and graceful Naga and Manipuri jackets are the best things to buy in Guwahati. Pan Bazar and Fancy Bazar are two of the main commercial markets. The world famous Assam Tea can also be purchased.
WHERE TO STAY
Guwahati offers a wide variety of options for staying. From budget and small hotels to star hotels, the city has it all. It would be wise to book room in advance especially if planning to visit the city during peak season.
Several budget hotels are situated in Paltan Bazaar and G S Road areas.
Most mid-range hotels have multi-cuisine restaurant and costs between Rs 1,400-Rs 2,200.
Star hotels could cost between Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,500.
WHERE TO EAT
North-East India’s food differs from the typical Indian food. North-East food is flavoured with herbs indigenous to the region. Assamese food is deliciously mild and finely pH-balanced using a unique banana-alkaline extract called khar. Rice is the staple food.
From budget options to fine dining restaurants, Guwahati has it all. Several dhabas situated on the highways offer the best food at affordable prices.
A visit to Guwahati can’t be complete without trying Assamese food. Guwahati, being the most important city of North-East, offers several restaurants specializing in cuisines of the north-eastern states.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The city enjoys moderate temperature throughout the year. October to April is considered the best time to visit the city.
WHAT TO SEE
Kamakhya Temple: Situated atop Nilachal Hill, it is the most sacred among tantric shrines and among the 52 Shakti Peethas in the world. Kamakhya Temple was built in 10th century by Koch king. It is a common practice here to offer animal sacrifice to appease the Goddess. Above Kamakhya is another small temple, Bhubaneshwari.
Umananda Shiva Temple: Situated in the middle of River Brahmaputra, the temple can be reached by public ferries from Umananda Ghat.
Navagraha temple: Dedicated to the nine planets, it is a prominent centre for astrology and astronomy. Housed in a red beehive-shaped ground, the central lingam is encircled by nine representing the nine planets – Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu.
Vashistha Ashram: An old shrine with plenty of green cover, it is said to have been the abode of sage Vashistha. Three beautiful streams – Lalita, Kanta and Sandhya – add to the beauty of the spot.
Shankardeva Kalakshetra: Located in Panjabari area, the centre for Assamese arts and culture is named after Vaishnavite reformer Shankardeva. It has a cultural museum, art gallery and a children’s park. Central Museum, which houses articles used by tribals of Assam, Artists’ Village, Sahitya Bhavan and Heritage Park are worth a visit. Cable Car inside the park is very popular.
Assam State Museum: Stuated near Dighali Pukhuri, it houses rare specimens of Ahom Dynasty. Antiques, statues, manuscripts, written on Shashi-paat and other valuable articles are preserved and displayed here.
Shilpagram: Situated adjacent to Kalakshetra, it is one and only Crafts Village of the North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC). It promotes arts and cultures of North-East and holds regular cultural events.
Guwahati Tea Auction Centre: Located on G S Road next to Dispur Capital Complex, GTAC is one of the busiest tea trading facilities in the world. Established in 1970, it witnesses the largest volume of CTC tea auction in the world.
Anthropological Museum, Forest Museum, Cottage Industries Museum, Guwahati Planetarium andGuwahati Zoo are also worth a visit.
NEAR TO GUWAHATI
Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary: Situated about 50 km from Guwahati in Morigaon district of Assam, Pobitora is renowned for its successful one-horned rhinoceros breeding programme. Asiatic Buffalo, wild cats, leopards and wild bear can also be found in the 38.8 sq km expanse of the sanctuary. It is also home to over 200 species of migratory birds.
Beltola Bazaar: A traditional weekly fruit and vegetable market. It is an important trading point between people from Khasi Hills (Meghalaya) and local people.
Guwahati War Cemetery: Maintained by Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it is the only cemetery in India which has graves of Japanese soldiers.
Hajo: Popular with Hindu, Muslim and Buddhists, the Hayagriba Madhava Temple with its giant ancient turtle is famous. According to legend, Lord Buddha attained Nirvana and the temple is said to house his relics. Muslim saint Pir Giasuddin Aulia built a mosque here which later came to be known as Pao-Mecca.
Sualkuchi: Situated on the north bank of Brahmaputra, Sualkuchi is a weaver’s village famous for its silk weaving. It was called the Manchester of the East by the British. The village was declared a Handloom Heritage Village. It may soon become a rural tourism centre under a UNDP project. It is 32 km from Guwahati.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary: Manas is a UNESCO World Heritage site and famed for its successful programme to breed the one-horned rhinos.
Cherrapunjee: About 160 km from Guwahati, Cherrapunjee is famous all over the world as it receives the highest density of rains on the planet.
Jorhat: The tea capital of the world, Jorhat hosts Assam Tea festival every November.
Kaziranga National Park: Located 215 km from Guwahati, Kaziranga on the banks of Brahmaputra is renowned for its one-horned rhino population. Spread over 430 sq km, it is a World Heritage Site.
The average minimum and maximum temperature of Guwahati is as given below. The best time to visit Guwahati is also specified.