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Northeast: A Paradise Unexplored

Rating :
''Guwahati, Shillong or any other destination here, you'll be engulfed in an undeniable holiday mood''

I had never been to any North Eastern States. I was told about its greenery and natural beauty; its hospitable people and beautiful girls with mongoloid features. I was also told about the insurgent groups, the unrest, the sudden and prolonged bandhs, and the problem in commuting from one place to the other. The more I was told about the negative things, the more eager I became to visit those places. I believe, every journalist (present or former) invariably has a masochistic streak in him.
So as soon as I got an opportunity off I went. I spent four days in Guwahati and Shillong.

Kamakhya Temple : “The first place in Guwahati you should visit is The Kamakhya Temple” said my former student Ripunjay Sharma, “although many local people do not visit this temple often as it is a Shakti Pitha and Assam has had a strong Baishnabite tradition.” Located on the Nilachal Hill in western part of Guwahati it is the seat of mother goddess Kamakhya. It is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas.

Little is known about the early history of the temple, the first reference to the place has been traced back to the Allahabad inscriptions of Emperor Samudragupta. The present temple was built in 1665 by King Naranarayan of Cooch Behar. The main temple has seven oval spires, each topped by three golden pitchers.

Pilgrims have to queue up at the entrance porch from where they move slowly into the semi – dark sanctum sanctorum. Images of gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon are carved on the walls. The image of the Goddess along with other deities is kept on a throne. Pilgrims follow the narrow alley behind the throne to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Inside, a short flight of stairs takes you to a small subterranean pool. Pilgrims squat by the water’s edge and offer their ‘puja’ (worship). From here they can see the symbolic organ that remains covered with a red cloth.

It took us two and half hours for darshan of the deity, even with a Rs 501 ‘Special Entry Coupon’ (locally known as'VIP' ticket). Free darshan may take over 5-6 hours.

As it a tantric pitha animal sacrifice is common. Dozens of goat were seen moving around. Pigeons are also either sacrificed or let free. One can buy pigeons just outside the temple. There were many sadhus with red robe and thick garlands around their various bead stringed mala-adorned neck. Beggars were sitting in a line asking for money in exchange of punya and prosperity.

The temple is managed by Kamakhya Debutter Board. I tried to play with the letters: De.. Butter. Fit for a tongue in cheek Amul Butter advertisement.

Bramhaputra : At the first look Bramhaputra impressed like no other river did. On the early December morning- it seemed it had a masculine might and grace- almost like an aging sumo fighter. We rode a rickety lunch to go a tiny island inside the river with a temple on top of that island hill. The temple was nothing to write about. But the view of the mighty Bramhaputra from there was spectacular. You realize why it is considered as a ‘male’ and not a female as most of the rivers are referred.

Shillong : Situated at an average altitude of 4,908 feet (1,496 m) above sea level, with the highest point being Shillong Peak at 6,449 feet (1,966 m) and rolling hill all around Shillong is known as Scotland of the East. I have not gone to Scotland. Is it as crowded with as many vehicles plying on narrow roads? In fact Shillong is the 330th most populous city in India with population of 143,007 according to the 2011 census.
The journey from Guwahati to Shillong, about 100 km took me 4 and half hours and the driver was mighty pleased with that. The road is being widened. Construction activities throughout the stretch have made commuting more difficult and less enjoyable.

Shillong is an historical town. It was made the civil station of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills in 1864 by the British. In 1874, on the formation of Assam as a Chief Commissioner's Province, it was chosen as the headquarters of the new administration because of its convenient location between the Brahmaputra and Surma valleys and more so because the climate of Shillong was much cooler than tropical India. Shillong remained the capital of undivided Assam until the creation of the new state of Meghalaya on January 1972, when Shillong became the capital of Meghalaya and Assam moved its capital to Dispur in Guwahati.
Shillong has among many other attractions a three tier fall called Elephant Fall, which seems to be a popular tourist destination. I could see that the Bengali tourists outnumbered others in three: one ratio. They were the most gregarious lot. One young couple wanted me to take their photographs, which I did. Only complain: the lady called me 'uncle'. Probably now is the time to dye my grey hair.

NEHU : North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) has an amazing 1000 plus acre campus with pine jungle, a helipad, a football stadium on top of a hill, over 100 bamboo cottages serving as students' hostel and a breathtaking view of green valley. How I want to spend more days there!! But the road leading to the university from main road is a nightmare for drivers as it is narrow and winds through busy bazaars with more butcher's shops than I have ever seen anywhere. And these shops display all their ware in full public view. You need to have a strong stomach to digest the view.

Signage : Saw a wine shop on Guwahati-Shillong road. The name reads: Bak Bak
Wine Shop Written on back of a huge truck: “Najaren Labeinga, Joota Khabeinga” a variation of often seen ‘Boori nazar bala tera munh kala’ And yes, there was a drawing of a shoe also.

Source / Review By : Mrinal Chatterjee (OdishaDiary)

The author, a journalist turned media academician lives in Dhenkanal, a Central Odisha town surrounded by hills. He is a professor and heads Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Dhenkanal

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