“The poetry of the earth is never dead.” – John Keats
The poetry of India’s North East is not only alive, but truly enchanting. Get your heart racing in Kaziranga while chasing majestic rhinos and elephants, and end the day with a candlelit dinner by the mighty Brahmaputra river. Or find your inner peace in the vastness of Majuli, a rapidly disappearing river island.
All these, without having to give up the comforts of a city. Guwahati, the largest urban centre in North East India, is your gateway to this surreal escapade and more. Located in the state of Assam, one of the seven states that are collectively known as the North East, Guwahati is an ancient city turned bustling metropolis. So, from treks by lush green mountains to delectable Assamese delicacies, get ready for an adventure of a lifetime as we uncover all that the city has to offer.
Soaking up nature in Guwahati
While Guwahati is rich in heritage and culture, its nature trails are a hidden gem unknown to most visitors. The Garbhanga Reserve Forest, about an hour’s drive from the Guwahati airport, boasts a 17km trekking trail, unheard of in most Indian cities, and lets you thread between the natural and man-made simultaneously! You can journey through a bamboo forest amidst a hill while butterflies flutter around you, and get a peek into Assamese rural life at the Karbi village.
While nature abounds in Guwahati, so does food. For a true blue taste of the city, head over to the famous Paltan Bazaar for lip-smacking light treats such as momos. These dumplings are native to India and heavily inspired by Tibetan cuisine. Served with a spicy chilli sauce, this light snack will fire you up in no time!
But that’s just starters; for a full fare, make your way to a restaurant like Paradise — one of the oldest restaurants in the city passed down from one generation to another. A five-minute drive from Paltan Bazaar, you can get your fill of the traditional Assamese Thali, a full platter of dishes including curry, chicken, vegetables and more, served with rice. Offering a satisfying balance of all six flavours — sweet, salty, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy, gobble the dishes up with your hands to maximise the local experience!
Kaziranga: Rendezvous with majestic rhinos
To revv up your Assamese adventure, make your way to Kaziranga, a wonderland replete with exotic flora and fauna. The Kaziranga National Park, a designated World Heritage Site, is home to one-horned rhinos and currently hosts two-thirds of the world’s population of these majestic creatures. As of early 2018, more than 2400 rhinos have been recorded at the park, almost 400 of which were cubs!
How to get to Kaziranga from Guwahati
Located about 200km away from Guwahati, you can get to Kaziranga by renting your own wheels, hiring a private cab, or hopping onto a bus. The five-hour journey can cost anywhere between 8 to 20 USD, depending on which option you choose.
Where to stay in Kaziranga
There are several government-approved lodges close to the park. While they are built in Assamese tribal style and usually made of bamboo sticks, these houses are comfortable and well-equipped with adequate facilities.
In fact, Diphlu River Lodge is a popular option amongst tourists and boasts of having hosted Britain’s Prince William during his visit. The lodge is special because they not only organise wildlife and dolphin safaris, but trips to traditional villages and Assamese dance performances as well. If bathing an elephant is your kind of fun activity, they could arrange for that too!
What to do in Kaziranga
There are three specially designed tourist routes, through which you can traverse the Kaziranga National Park.
While rhinos can be seen at all of them, the Western route, Bagori, has most of them. But not only those, you can also see the water buffaloes, swamp deer, and migratory birds like geese and pelican on this route. Kohora, the central route, is where you will see elephants, eagles, and otters, if you’re lucky. There is also Agartoli, the eastern route, which is home to the park’s marine residents.
To explore these routes, you must get on the Elephant Safari or the Jeep Safari. While the former promises to be loads of fun, the mahout ridden Safari only accomodates up to four people at a time. Jeeps, on the other hand, are a better option if you are travelling with a larger group and would like a more comfortable seat while exploring Kaziranga.
Tip: The Elephant Safari is available only twice a day, so book a slot early to avoid disappointment!
Majuli: A disappearing island lost in time
After vigorously chasing the exotic wildlife of Kaziranga, immerse yourself in the tranquility of Majuli. Make your way to one of the largest river islands in the world (as certified by Guinness Book of World Records) for a sublime travelling experience.
As with poetry, Majuli will leave you feeling bittersweet. In the past 40 years, the island has lost one-third of its area. It is now roughly 600sqkm wide and continues to shrink further due to soil erosion. It is even speculated that the island may disappear completely within the next two decades — making Majuli a timely experience, in addition to being a beautiful one.
Tip: The best time to visit Majuli is during winter in India (November to March) because the island gets partially submerged during the monsoon season from June to October.
How to get to Majuli from Guwahati
To reach Majuli, first head over to Jorhat, which is around 300km away from Guwahati.
From Guwahati to Jorhat
By air, it will take an hour and a one-way trip could cost around 75 USD.
By car, it will take around 8 hours and cost up to 30 USD. You could hire a private cab or rent a car to drive through the scenic countryside by yourself.
By bus or train, it will also take around 8 hours but will be lighter on the pocket.
From Jorhat to Neemati Ghat
You can hire a private cab, shared vehicle or tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled motorised vehicle). It will take less than an hour and cost anywhere between 0.50 USD to 14 USD depending on which mode of transport you opt for.
From Neemati Ghat to Majuli
Buy your ferry tickets to Majuli at the Neemati-Kamalabari Ferry Service. It is a government-operated service that runs seven ferries every day between Jorhat and Majuli. The first ferry leaves at 8:30am and the last one at 3:30pm, and each ride costs about 20 cents.
Where to stay in Majuli
The island has many traditional homestays to choose from. They are also built in traditional styles, but because Majuli is quite popular with international travellers, you can expect comfortable and clean beds and washrooms even at this remote river island.
Homestays like La Maison de Ananda are popular with discerning travellers for the real local experience they provide. If you need Wi-Fi connectivity, River View Bamboo Cottage is the place to book. Other options include Jyoti Tatghar Homestay and Unique Bamboo Cottages.
What to do in Majuli
Embark on a journey of discovery by cycling your way around the tribal villages of Majuli and take in the greenery, peace and simplicity of the agricultural island. If you are travelling with a large group, you can also hire an open-air jeep.
Bird enthusiasts and wildlife photographers, head over to Sakuli Beel, Magurmari Beel or Verki Beel, to spot more than 250 species of birds! Many are migratory birds from Tibet and Siberia and some are even endangered species — like the spot billed pelican and slender billed vulture.
If you’re looking for a more exotic experience that will take you off the beaten track, board a ferry and head over to the Molai forest, famously known as the wasteland that was single-handedly transformed by one man’s dedication. After persistently planting trees on the 550-hectare land every day since 1979, the forest now inhabits rabbits, apes, rhinos, elephants and even a few tigers. There are also many varieties of trees to be seen here!
But it’s not all just wildlife and nature. While traversing villages like Salmora, Chinatoli and Dakshinapath, keep a look out for Kumars (pottery artists) and you might witness the traditional art of clay pottery in the making! Fun fact: There are 26 different kinds of eathern pots, try to spot them all!
Guwahati is truly unlike most destinations in India; it can lead you to delight, adventure, and peace, sometimes, all at the same time. It also provides easy access to Mount Everest in Nepal, and to the happiest country in the world, Bhutan. Like Guwahati, both countries also afford ample opportunities for adventure, wildlife and spirituality.
So instead of staring wide-eyed at Instagram photos, take a trip down to this lush paradise yourself and create amazing memories for a lifetime at Guwahati, the gateway to nature’s delight.
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Best time to visit
As Guwahati’s Monsoon season is from June to October, the best period to visit is from November to April.
Private cabs, shared vehicles and tuk tuks are easy ways to get around.
The official currency of India is the Indian Rupee (INR).