One of the Seven Sister states of Northeast India, Assam is located to the south of the Eastern Himalayas. With an area, spanning around 78440 sq km, the state comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys along with Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao Hills. Dispur, a locality in Assam’s largest city Guwahati, is the state capital.
Famous for its natural beauty and diverse fauna along with tea gardens and noted temples, the state observes a horde of travellers every year. Although the monsoon season is known to add to the beauty of the state, the period from October to March is considered ideal for a trip here.
Apart from endangered species like the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger and the golden langur, more than 180 species of mammals and birds live within Assam’s territory. The five national parks along with seven wildlife sanctuaries are apt destinations to explore the rich flora and fauna of the region. Among these, Kaziranga and Manas National Parks hold the status of a World Heritage Site.
The state has around 800 major and 60,000 small tea estates that span a total area of about 300000 hectares. Local workers are highly skilled in plucking and collecting tea leaves that make some of the most prized products in the world.
Trekking, hiking and camping are popular in various national parks across the state. Mountaineering and rock climbing can be done at sites like Simhasana Hill, Elephant Rocks and Bhubaneshwari. Assam also has ample destinations for other adventure activities like parasailing, river rafting and mountain biking.
Assam has a number of temples like Navagraha, Umananda, Mahamaya and Ashwakranta, but the most revered one is Kamakhya Temple, which is set atop the Nilachal Hills. Offering an insight into the rich culture of the state, Satras, the Vaishnavite monasteries located on Majuli Island are important centres of traditional performing arts.
Less use of spices and strong flavours are characteristics of Assamese cuisine. Fermentation and drying are general methods of food preservation. Some of the most famous Assamese specialities include Khar, Masor Tenga, Pura and Pitika. Assam is famous for its traditional handloom and handicrafts like hand-made toys, handloom products, bamboo or cane furniture, silk items, tribal artefacts, and decorative stuff, made of bell metal and brass.
The state was supposedly named after the Ahom dynasty, known to have ruled its most parts for a long time. Archaeological evidence shows that humans settled in the region during the Stone Age.
As per Kalika Purana, an ancient work of literature, Assam was ruled by Mahiranga Danav, who was expelled by Naraka of Mithila, who established the Naraka Dynasty. After the slaying of Naraka by Lord Krishna, his son Bhagadatta, took over the throne. Bhagadatta helped the Kauravas in the battle of Kurukshetra.
The region, where the present-day Assam lies, was initially ruled by Australoids and Mongoloids. Mongoloids, commonly known as Kiratas, are believed to have established their rule over entire Assam with their capital in Pragjyotishpura. According to some historical records, their capital was known as Kamarupa.
The 4th century inscriptions of Samudragupta reveal that Kamarupa (Western Assam) and Davaka (Central Assam) were then parts of the Gupta Empire. From AD 350 to 1100, the region was consecutively ruled by three dynasties, namely Varmanas, Mlechchhas and Kamarupa-Palas. All the three claimed to be descendants of Narakasura, a demon mentioned in the Puranas.
Kamarupas and Ahoms were the two most significant dynasties that ruled Assam in 13th century AD. Assam witnessed developments under Ahoms’ rule. Tribal groups like Koch, Kacharis and Chutias captured some of Assam region between 13th and 19th centuries. In the Medieval era, the Mughals made several attempts to invade the region, but these were mostly in vain with no major success. After the fall of the Ahom dynasty, the Burmese kingdom occupied Assam and maintained its unopposed reign until AD 1800.
The period of Colonial Assam began in 1824 with the establishment of the British rule over lower Assam. Further, the British occupied parts of the upper Assam in 1826. The First Anglo-Burmese War started in 1824 and ended in 1826 with the signing of the famous Treaty of Yandabo, following which, entire Assam came under British rule.
During their governance, the British introduced a new land system and abolished unhealthy social and economic practices like slavery and the pike system. The transformation of the entire region into a province of British India took place in 1874. In 1905, Assam became part of the unified province of Eastern Bengal, and Assam after the partition of Bengal, which was again re-established in 1912.
After the Indian independence in 1947, Assam became an independent state of India and the district of Sylhet became part of East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). During the post-independence years, several districts were carved out of Assam, leading to the formation of two separate states, Nagaland and Meghalaya.
Sharing its international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh, the state is bounded by the rest of the Seven Sister States, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya. In geographical terms, all the North-Eastern states are connected to the rest of India via a 22-km strip in West Bengal, known as Siliguri Corridor.
The three physiographic divisions that constitute the state of Assam are the Shillong Plateau, Mizo Hills and Brahmaputra plain. The Brahmaputra River, responsible for sustaining a large chunk of the state’s population, enters it from Arunachal Pradesh and thereafter, becomes a braided river with several tributaries. This river and its tributaries further form a flood plain in the Brahmaputra Valley.
The hills of North Cachar, Karbi Anglong and those, lying in close proximity to Guwahati, were once parts of the South Indian Plateau system. Running along the Assam-Nagaland border, the Barak River originates in the Barail Range and meanders through the 40-50-km wide valley in Cachar district. The Barak later enters Bangladesh, where it is called Surma River.
Rivers like Brahmaputra and Barak and their 120 tributaries are responsible for the high fertility of the land in Assam that has more than 3500 wetlands, 800 tea estates, and 25 major wildlife preserves. As a matter of fact, about 35 per cent of the total area of the state is covered by forests.
The climate of the state is classified as tropical monsoon type under the Koppen nomenclature. The state experiences a high level of humidity and heavy rainfall. The maximum summer temperature ranges from 35–38° C, whereas in winters the minimum temperature range is 6–8° Celsius. Spring lasts from March to April, and autumn exists from September to October. During these two seasons, the temperature is pleasant and the rainfall moderate.
Incessant rainfall occurs during the monsoon months between June and October, bringing the much-needed relief from the scorching summer temperatures. The Southwest monsoon rains are chiefly responsible for the fertility of the soil and sustaining agriculture in the state of Assam. The average annual rainfall experienced in the state is around 211.76 cm.
Each year, floods hit the state, especially in the plains region. Due to heavy rainfall, rivers start overflowing; thereby, submerging regions that are in proximity.
How to reach
A vast network of railways, roadways and airways link the state with the rest of India. Serving the state of Assam, Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport is located in the city of Guwahati. This airport is well connected to major cities in India, such as Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai, Ahmadabad, Goa and Chennai.
North Eastern Railways, a railway zone of India, connects Guwahati to numerous significant cities and towns across the country. As it is the gateway to northeast India, Assam has a good network of national and state highways, connecting different cities and towns within it and neighbouring states.
As the state observes a huge number of travellers every year, numerous modes of transport are available to travel within it. Bus and taxi services and water transport are the major means of commute.
Public transport services support intercity transport as well as transport within a city. Assam State Road Transport Corporation operates buses, both standard and luxury that ply between various towns and cities in the state. Major cities of Assam, such as Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Jorhat, Nagaon and Tezpur are also well connected to each other and the neighbouring states by a good network of railways.
A few parts of Assam are only accessible through inland waterways. Water transport service is thus supported by the Central Inland Waterways Corporation and Directorate of Inland Waterways. Convenient options like auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, taxis, mini buses are available to travel within city limits as well as to reach suburbs and nearby towns.