A wedding, a tea estate visit, and sunrise views by the banks of the Brahmaputra in Jorhat.
Meghana Ganeshan, Guest Author 04/04/2023
Earlier this year when my husband told me that we were invited to a wedding in Jorhat, my first reaction was to Google the city’s geographic location. I must admit I hadn’t heard much about this small city in Assam. ‘It’s just 100 km. from Kaziranga National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site,’ my husband added, knowing that I had already begun my research about the new adventure ahead of us.
The Northeast has always fascinated me, with its rich culture, delectable food, and lovely weather. Although I’d visited Gangtok in Sikkim with my parents a few years ago, this was going to be my first-ever visit to Assam.
When it comes to exploring the Northeast, Jorhat is an unlikely first choice for your itinerary. This little gem is usually overshadowed by major tourist attractions in the sister states of Assam. For our trip to the Northeast, we planned a weeklong itinerary: two days at Jorhat for the wedding, one day at Kaziranga, followed by three days to explore Meghalaya. The states of Assam and Meghalaya are usually covered in a single trip.
If you wish to devote more time to exploring either of these places, you can always plan a longer stay.
It took us an entire day to travel from Bangalore to Guwahati, which was rather exhausting. As the aircraft descended on the Guwahati tarmac, we witnessed a unique sight – the moon was out at 2 pm and the sun was shining brightly on the other side! And the bird’s-eye view of the ground blanketed with dense forests was nothing short of a visual treat. I felt a rush of adrenalin as I eagerly waited to embark on our adventure at this exotic location.
We flew from Bangalore to Guwahati, which took us around 2.5 hours, and then rented a car to Jorhat. It was a seven-hour drive to Jorhat from Guwahati, with a pitstop on the way. When we landed in Guwahati, the weather was unexpectedly warm during the daytime – it was around 22 °C. But as we neared nightfall, the temperature dropped to 14 °C. The extreme weather was a bit of a bummer because the heat during the daytime was rather nasty and we had only packed winter wear.
We began our journey, navigating through the city traffic, waiting to hit the national highway to soak in some scenic countryside views. However, we witnessed something that came as a surprise. Around 4 pm, the sky began to darken, and at first, we thought it was going to pour cats and dogs. But soon we realised that it was in fact time for sunset! The sky changed colour from dull grey to streaks of warm orange and purple. It was one of the strangest yet most fascinating experiences.
During our drive, we noticed that parts of the highway were under construction and lane discipline was barely being followed. Despite being a national highway, the road did not have any streetlights. From this point forward, we were careful to drive slowly and watch out for incoming vehicles from the opposite direction. The disarray in vehicular movement and diversions on the highway were also due to the first-ever flyover being built in Jorhat.
The project to construct the 8-km.-long Jorhat-Majuli bridge over the Brahmaputra river began in 2021, to increase the connectivity between Majuli Island and Jorhat, provide better healthcare services to the island’s residents, and improve the overall development of the district.
We were told that we would pass Kaziranga National Park on the way to Jorhat. Needless to say, we were thrilled to experience the drive through the forest! Note that as you enter Kaziranga while driving towards Jorhat, the speed limit is restricted to 40 km./hour, because the entire stretch is an animal corridor.
There are signboards all along the way that serve as reminders to drive slowly. There are also digital speedometers and rumble strips placed at strategic points along the way as a safeguard. Any vehicle crossing the speed limit has to pay a fine of ₹5,000.
When we finally reached Jorhat, I was excited to explore every bit of the city – and it exceeded my expectations. When I visit a new place, I like to spend time observing the locals as they go about their day-to-day life. Jorhat is a peaceful city and its people are a delight to interact with.
As I listened to people talking in rapid Assamese, I couldn’t help but notice the strong likeness to the typical Bengali accent – but with a drawl. I noticed the same drawl when they spoke Hindi, peppered with the quintessential bey, baba, and vandhu (which means buddy or friend).
Add some of these words to your sentences when you speak to the locals, and they’ll treat you as one of their own! It’s always a good idea to know the basics of the local language to build trust and understand the local culture better.
Since we stayed among locals in the city, it allowed us the opportunity to savour a truly immersive cultural experience. The groom, a close friend from my husband’s MBA days, was a gracious host and ensured our stay was comfortable. We stayed at The Sumola House, a homestay with four spacious rooms and living rooms, all of which are equipped with modern amenities. The property has a sprawling lawn, where we set up bonfires at night and played with frisbees in the morning.
The heritage property was built by an Assamese filmmaker and its walls are adorned by a clapperboard, daggers, and rifles that were used during movie shoots ages ago. The homestay serves delicious meals – we had aloo puri for breakfast every day with cornflakes, milk, boiled eggs, and black tea, freshly prepared by the resident cook. The fluffy puris were nothing like I’ve ever tasted before – they were oil-free!
If you visit Jorhat in a large group, consider staying at this property for wide open spaces, luxurious rooms, and hearty meals.
The next day, we attended the wedding, which was held at Jorhat Gymkhana. It is the oldest golf course in Asia and occupies the pride of place in the city. Popularly known as the ‘Tea Capital of the World’, Jorhat Gymkhana Club hosts the annual Assam Tea Festival. The wedding was an intimate yet beautiful affair and the food – both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare – was spectacular.
Jorhat is especially famous for duck meat curry and we had the opportunity to taste this flavourful preparation at the wedding. For dessert, we had mishti doi (sweet curd). We attended the reception the next evening and what a dazzling night it was! I had a great time mingling with the locals and listening to their childhood stories of what it was like to grow up in Jorhat. The people were warm and welcoming, making us feel at home.
While in Jorhat, one of the groom’s friends took us to his tea estate, which was miles upon miles of immaculately kept tea gardens blanketing the rolling hills. In the middle of the estate stood his vintage yet contemporary-looking house, with wooden walls and glass panels.
We also visited his senghor – a tree house made of bamboo – where we sat talking and exchanging stories about our extremely different lifestyles. We tried a Bhutanese peach wine called ZumZin, which is a favourite in Assam, and it was one of the best wines I have ever tasted in my life! This sparkling wine has a fruity note and is champagne gold in colour – and the best part is that it merely costs ₹450 per bottle. If this isn’t a steal, I don’t know what is!
Of all the places we visited in Jorhat, the highlight of the trip was watching the sunrise over the Brahmaputra river. We stayed up all night to ensure we wouldn’t miss the sight, and the experience was worth every second of sleep deprivation! The drive to the sunrise point – which is also a camping site – took us past golden corn fields, with a cold breeze blowing through our hair.
When we arrived, the serene blue sky and the shimmering waters of the Brahmaputra instantly drove away any lethargy from the lack of sleep. It felt like we could stand there forever, gazing at the majestic river, soaking in the picturesque views. The Brahmaputra, which translates to ‘the Son of Brahma’, is the only famous ‘male’ river in India, an exception among all the ‘female’ rivers in the country. The experience of standing there, bowing to the great and fierce son of Brahma, was extraordinary.
Had it not been for the wedding invitation, I would probably have missed out on exploring this beautiful city tucked away in the Northeast. From trying to locate Jorhat on the map of India to the city making it to my list of favourites, I enjoyed every bit of this experience and can’t wait to go back again.
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