Assam is a state in Northeastern India where a cluster of 7 states jut off from the diamond of India, bordered by Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. The language sounds different, facial features are different, and the culture is different (women fare far better here than in many parts of India). The dress looks very similar, however, and, while there are local delicacies, the food is also quite similar. We chose Assam in an effort to see something special while escaping the summer heat closing in on much of the country. We also wanted to take a shorter trip for spring break since we were planning to move soon after. From the time we touched down mid-morning on Sunday to the time we left on Thursday afternoon, we were nothing but happy. Assam was amazing.
We spent our first three nights at the Diphlu River Lodge on the border of Kaziranga National Park. This meant a 4 hour drive from the airport, along twisting roads lined by farms and rice paddies with mountains in the distance. We were excited, and the vistas were beautiful, so the ride flew by.
Diphlu River Lodge was a dream come true – our cabin was one of 12 luxurious cabins on stilts surrounding a central rice paddy with a gazebo in the middle where we could recline with good books or a deck of cards (we did both). The property overlooks the Diphlu River which feeds into the mighty Brahmaputra River. The building where we ate all our meals is called The Machan. This is also where we also played cards in the evening while drinking wine and looking desperately for wild animals on the opposite shore (we only saw non-wild cows). The food was definitely mellowed for the delicate international palate, so we found it a bit bland but perfectly fine. The best part was that they arranged all of our activities (safaris and boat trip) each day and handed us a schedule over dinner each evening that began with the time for our wake-up call. No decision fatigue for us. Overall, we would recommend Diphlu River Lodge whole-heartedly.
Kaziranga National Park is the home to two-thirds of the world’s 3,500 one-horned rhinoceroses. While we were there, a census found that that population has increased by 12 in the past three years despite floods last monsoon season that didn’t do right by the rhinos. The population is up to 2400 from a few hundred in the mid-1970s. The park is also home to several other endangered species, including the Bengal tiger, Asiatic water buffalo, swamp deer, and Asian elephants, among many others. We had an amazing time exploring the park and all of the different facets.
Our tour of Kaziranga took place in three phases. On Monday, our choice was limited
because of the rhino census taking place in the park. The only part of the park that was open was in the far eastern section, a part of the park most known for a wide range of bird life. We never knew so many types of storks and herons and egrets existed. We saw wild parakeets, hornbills, and four types of kingfishers. We saw owls and eagles and vultures. Our guide Anuj, who stuck with us for all three trips into the park, seemed particularly excited and knowledgeable about the birds. He was able to spot all kinds of varieties of species while other jeeps kept speeding by. It was breathtaking.
On that first trip, we were so excited to see elephants and rhinoceroses in the distance, little imagining what was in our near future. Then came our second trip. On Tuesday morning, we went to the Central section of the park, where we saw elephants up close, along with hog deer, swamp deer, buffalo, and, yes, rhinoceroses. One crossed the road between us and the jeep in front of us, turned and eyed us trying to decide if he should charge, and moseyed off. Wow.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, we visited the Western section of the park, where we couldn’t believe the numbers of animals we saw. Our cameras were not quite up to the task, so most of our pictures look like big landscapes with small, uninteresting smudges. You’ll have to just take our word for it when we say that it was magnificent.
It was clearly spring in Assam because there were baby everything! Baby elephants, baby buffalo, baby deer, and baby rhinoceroses. When we weren’t in the park, we saw baby cows, goats, and pigs lining (and sometimes filling) the road. Melissa was in heaven.
On Monday afternoon, we took a break from Kaziranga and went on a boat trip down the Brahmaputra river. The Brahmaputra is huge, running through China, Tibet, India, and Bangladesh. In fact, it’s the tenth largest river in the world, and there are some parts of Assam where it’s actually 20 km across! It was so beautiful, but so easy to imagine the destruction it causes when the monsoon hits each year.
On Wednesday morning, we decided to skip the village tour and the orchid garden so we could take a morning to sleep in after three early mornings in a row and just enjoy the beautiful grounds of our hotel. It was a bit sad to leave at 11, but we were looking forward to exploring Guwahati, the capital city of Assam and we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us to get there.
In Guwahati, we stayed at the Baruah Bhavan Guest House, a truly lovely spot. The guest
house is fully furnished with charming antiques, and staffed by kind and helpful people. And the location can’t be beat – we were just a couple blocks from a walk along the banks of the Brahmaputra. Guwahati feels entirely different from Bangalore. The buildings are old and ornamented, and somehow reminded us of New York. We walked a lot and took in as much as we could, although we were challenged by the air quality. Melissa had a sore throat and we both had gritty teeth after a few hours of walking around. We were saddened to then read that the charming city of Guwahati has one of the highest black carbon pollution levels in the world. We couldn’t resist the urge to get back out and walk around some more the next day, but we were happy to spend some of our time indoors at the Assam State Museum. A highlight of our walk was a visit to the Kamakhya Temple high on a hill. We didn’t want to the spend the 2-7 (!) hours it was likely to take to get inside so we contented ourselves with a walk around it, which gave us an interesting glimpse into the narrow, curving walkways of the neighborhood.
By the time we were heading to the airport, we were ready to return to the relatively clean air of Bangalore, but still blissfully happy with our Assam trip. It was a wonderful spring break!