Once known as "Pragiyotishpura" or Light of the East, the most striking feature of Guwahati (also spelt as Gauhati), is the Brahmaputra, whose swollen sandy channel is so wide that the far shore is often rendered invisible. Of its many mysterious temples, 'Kamakhya' and 'Navagraha' both occupy commanding positions on hilltops while 'Umananda' sits on a small island in the middle of the Brahmaputra. Guwahati's main business, tea is booming with the new Assam tea auction centre holding auctions that previously took place as far away as Calcutta and London. The large oil refinery at Noonmati, on the northern outskirts, symbolizes Guwahati's recent growth and prosperity. The busy central market area contrasts sharply with the almost rural riverside feel northeast of the centre, and the surrounding hills rising beyond the coconut palms give Guwahati a fairly appealing atmosphere. Although strictly speaking Guwahati is split in two by the Brahmaputra - only crossed by the Straight Bridge and the ferries - "Guwahati" is taken to refer to the main town south of the river, while north Guwahati is virtually a separate town. The main roads out of town are the Assam trunk road, to upper Assam and the Guwahati - Shillong road to Meghalaya.
Formerly Known As: Pragiyotishpura
Main Attraction: Brahmaputra River, Kamakhya Temple
Best Time To Visit: October To May
Basistha: 11-km Hajo: 32-km Madan Kamdev: 40-km Darang: 100-km
Shillong: 100-km Nowgang: 120-km Orang: 140-km Tezpur: 181-km
Assam State Museum:
Archaeological and ethnographic displays are one of the major attractions in Assam's state museum, situated near the centre of city. The collection includes stone and copper plate inscriptions dating from the 5th century, a 12th century sculptures of 'Surya', terracotta pieces and costumes.
The Shiva temple of Umananda stands on an island bluff in the middle of the Brahmaputra. Its location, at the top of a flight of steep steps up from the beach, is more dramatic than the temple itself. Ferries and motor launches leave from Umananda Ghat, on the shore between the State Bank of India and the Ashok Hotel.
On the commanding Nilachal hill, overlooking the river 8-km west of the centre, the important Kali temple of Kamakhya, with its beehive-shaped 'Shikhara', is a fine example of the distinctive Assamese style of architecture. As one of the 'Shaktipiths', it marks the place where Sati's 'Yoni' (vulva) landed when her body fell to earth in 51 pieces, and is one of the three most important tantric temples in India. A short walk up the hill brings one to a smaller and emptier temple with great views of Guwahati and the Brahmaputra.
East of the town centre, atop another hill, is the atmospheric Navagraha temple popularly known as the "Temple of the Nine Planets", an ancient seat of astrology and astronomy - surrounded by large trees that shelter tribes of monkeys. Housed in a single red dome, again in the beehive style, the central lingam is encircled by a further nine representing the planets.
Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalashetra:
Further from the centre of the town, the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, on Shillong road in the Panjabari district, was opened in late 1998 in order to celebrate the cultural identity of the Assamese by promoting dance, drama, music and art. Sankaradeva was a saint, poet, scholar, social reformer and preacher largely responsible for the 15th century Assamese renaissance. It houses a museum, art gallery, open-air theatre and traditional Vaishnavite temple.
Janardan Temple, built in the style of Hindu and Buddhist architecture, at Shukaleswar hillock near Shukaleswar Ghat of Brahmaputra, the heart of town, is worth seeing. It was renovated anew in 17th century.
Assam State Zoo:
Guwahati's leafy and well-managed zoo and botanical gardens are 5-km east of the centre. Animals include the one-horned rhino, the state symbol of Assam, as well as tigers and leopards.
A little further is the Railway Township of Pandu, named after the King Pandu. Over here is situated the temple of Pandunath on the hillock. While in forest exile, Pandavas came and lived here in the guise of Ganesha. The images of Lord Ganesha and 'Pancha Pandava' brothers are present in the temple besides other images. The image of Nrisingha (also spelt as 'Nrusimha') incarnation maintains a difference from others. Further west, the sunset at Brahmaputra is simply touching.
Besides a picturesque waterfall 11-km southeast of Guwahati, two small red-domed temples at Basistha (also spelt as Vashistha), in Assamese beehive style, commemorate Vashistha Muni, the author of the Ramayana. Nestling within an impressive grove of trees, with rock carvings in the stream to add to the air of antiquity.
The small town of Hajo, 32-km northwest of Guwahati, has a special place in Assamese culture, having been sacred even before the Ahom arrived as Buddhists, let alone after their conversion to Hinduism? Holy to Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, it attracts pilgrims from all faiths, in apparent harmony. A long palm tree-lined stone staircase climbs a hill to the small Hindu temple of Hayagriba Madhab where, locals claim Lord Buddha gained Nirvana. Praying at the mosque of Pao Mecca situated nearby grants Muslims a quarter (Pao) of the spiritual benefit of Mecca.
Hajo's nearby village of Sualkuchi is known for the production of golden Muga silk, that involves virtually every household and for which Assam is famous.
Some 40-km north of Guwahati, Madan Kamdev was the site of a tantric temple of 'Shakti' (Durga) dating back to the Pallava dynasty (11th and 12th centuries). The temple, mentioned in the tantric scriptures known as the "Yogini Tantra", was evidently destroyed, though the cause is unknown. Much of the site remains unexcavated, but a museum preserves many finds including figures in various erotic postures, indeed some archeologists claim only Khajuraho rivals the expressiveness of its erotica.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air: Guwahati airport is situated 18-km east of the centre, and is served by taxis and airport buses, including those run by Indian airlines.
Rail: The railway station is in the centre of town with the state bus stand right behind and operates a very useful left luggage service. The back of the railway station leads into the Paltan Bazaar area, from which most of the private bus companies operate.
Road: Guwahati is the connector city of NH - 31, 37 and 40 with the other cities of India by road. Buses ply from Guwahati around the cities of Northeast India by National Highways. State Transport Express and Super Express buses of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal, Nagaland, and North Bengal ply from Guwahati.
Local Transport: Guwahati has an efficient and extensive system of minibuses too. Cycle rickshaws are easy to find around the centre of the town. The main terminal for river ferries is available at Sukreswar Ghat.
Summer Max. 35°C - 22°C
Winter Max. 26°C - 10°C
Rainfall: 182 CMS. (May - September)
Clothing: Cottons - Summer & Woolens – winter