Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Saturday, May 26, 2018

Tourism & Heritage

 

 

 

 

TOURISM & HERITAGE IN ASSAM

The tourism sector, which was initiated here as back as 1958, is still in a fledgling stage and as an industry it is of recent origin in Assam. Although many people had visited the state for various purposes in the past, especially for business and religious activities, such movement does not come under the purview of tourism. Kamakhya has always been an important centre to attract pilgrims from different parts of India. However, when the British declared Kaziranga a game reserve in 1916 and wildlife sanctuary in 1950, Assam was projected as an attractive destination for tourists, particularly those who are interested in nature and wildlife observation. In response to this at least some people from inside and outside the state started visiting Kaziranga and also the Kamakhya temple in the later part of 1930s which may be considered to be the humble beginning of modern tourism in the state. Since then significant changes have taken place in the state’s tourism sector because of the various efforts made by the central and the state government in this direction. The contemporary status of tourism in Assam is thus quite significant and needs to be examined to from various perspectives of tourism development.

 

 


Tourism Policy

In context of performance and development of tourism sector, its present status is not so impressive in Assam. Though the tourism venture in the state was started as early as late 1950s, till now organized tourism activities are restricted only to a couple of destinations. It is only in 1987 that the state government notified a tourism policy followed by adoption of official rules in December 1992 (No.TSM/79/87/18 dt. 22.6.92). But there has hardly been any significant follow up action of such policies. Prior to that there has been no enunciation of policy on tourism sector on the part of Assam government. The requirement of the hour is to (1) formulate a need-based tourism policy, considering the strength and weakness of the state with an aim for optimum utilization and promotion of available infrastructure in the light of a demand oriented operational tactic, (2) restructuring of tourism machinery to streamline policy making, planning, management and marketing of touristic image and product of the region with a greater flexibility in linking the product and organizations at grass root level and the global market on the other, (3) give stress on tourism manpower promotion by creating an environment for tourism education and training, (4) formulate a tourism law to standardize facility, services and operation of the industry, (5) change the generalist operational tactics of tourism facilitators considering the diversified market demand and (6) focus on sustainable tourism venture that ensures growth of a peoples’ friendly and participatory nature in tourism industry with long term benefit to locals and environment in the areas concerned.

 

 

National Tourism Policy

 

Heritage & Culture

 

The colorful life of the people, their traditional customs, festivals and dances are some of the components of the rich cultural diversity of the state. Assam has the tradition of weaving which is rich also among the tribal people. Assam is also famous for its traditional sericulture practices -‘muga’ ‘endi’, and ‘pat’ silk, worm rearing and weaving. Sualkuchi is one of the world’s largest weaving villages often called the Manchester of the East. The entire population here is engaged in weaving exquisite silk fabrics. A renowned centre of silk production, particularly known for Muga - the golden silk of Assam which is not produced anywhere else in the world. It has also the tradition of folk and classical dance forms, mask making, puppetry, wood and ivory curving, bamboo and cane craft, etc. Besides, various forms of performing art of ‘Satra’ institutions like ‘bhawna’, ‘Jatra’, etc. are worth mentioning in this regard.

 

 

 

Satra

 

The Institution of Satra is a unique feature of Vaishnavism in Assam, founded by Sankardeva, the father of Assamese culture. Satras are basically monasteries which propogate neoVaishnavism. They also became centres for education and dissemination of the art of harmonius living. In the 15th century the first Satra was founded in Majuli. Since then sixty five Satras have come up for the propagation of ethics and socio-cultural ideals. However, at present there are only twenty two Satras in Majuli. The others had to be shifted to safer places due to the devastation of flood and erosion.

         


The Main Existing Satras of Assam

 


Major Festivals

 

Assam is a land of fairs and festivals. Most of the festivals celebrated in Assam have their roots in the diverse faith and belief of her inhabitants, but a spirit of accommodation and togetherness characterizes the celebration of all festivals. The perfect fusion of heritage of her numerous races has made Assam the home of the most colorful festivals which are passionate, compelling and mesmerizing reflecting the true spirit, tradition and lifestlye of the people of Assam. The major festivals celebrated in Assam are Bihu, Baishagu, Ali-Ai-Ligang, Baikho, Rongker, Rajini Gabra Harni Gabra, Bohaggiyo Bishu, Ambubashi Mela and Jonbill Mela and so on.

  

 

Arts and Crafts

 

The people of Assam have traditionally been craftsmen from time immemorial. Though Assam is mostly known for its exquisite silks and the bamboo and cane products, several other crafts are also made here.

    

    

 

 

Cane and Bamboo

Cane and bamboo have remained an inseparable parts of life in Assam. They happen to be the two most commonly-used items in daily life, ranging from household implements to construction of dwelling houses to weaving accessories to musical instruments.

The Japi, the traditional sunshade continues to be the most prestigious of bamboo items of the state, and it has been in use since the days when the great Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang came to Assam that visitors are welcomed with a jaapi.

Cane and bamboo furniture on the other hand have been a hit in the domestic as well as the export market, while paati, the traditional mat has found its way into the world of interior decoration.

 

Metal Crafts

Bell-metal and brass have been the most commonly used metals for the Assamese artisan. Traditional utensils and fancy artiicles designed by these artisans are found in every Assamese household. The Xorai and bota have in use for centuries, to offer betel-nut and paan while welcoming distinguished guests. The entire population of two townships near Guwahati - Hajo and Sarthebari, are engaged in producing traditional bell-metal and brass articles. They have also used their innovative skills to design modern day articles to compete with the changing times.

    

 

Handlooms

 

Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being muga, the golden silk exclusive only to this state. Muga apart, there is paat, as also eri, the latter being used in manufacture of warm clothes for winter.Of a naturally rich golden colour, muga is the finest of India’s wild silks. It is produced only in Assam. The women of Assam weave fairy tales in their looms. One of the world’s finest artistic traditions finds expression in their exquisitely woven ‘Eri’, ‘Muga’ and ‘Pat’ fabrics.

The traditional handloom silks still hold their own in world markets They score over factory-made silks in the richness of their textures and designs, in their individuality, character and classic beauty. No two handwoven silks are exactly alike. Personality of the weaver, her hereditary skill, her innate sense of colour and balance all help to create a unique product.

The Tribals on the other hand have a wide variety of colourful costumes, some of which have earned international repute through the export market. Weaving in Assam is so replete with artistic sensibility and so intimately linked to folk life that Gandhiji, during his famous tour to promote khadi and swadeshi, was so moved that he remarked : “Assamese women weave fairy tales in their clothes!”

  

 

Woodcraft

 

Assam has always remained one of the most forest-covered states of the country, and the variety of wood and timber available here have formed a part of the people’s culture and ecomony.

An Assamese can identify the timber by touching it even in darkness, and can produce a series of items from it. While decorative panels in the royal Ahom palaces of the past and the 600-years old satras or Vaishnative monasteries are intricately carved on wood, a special class of people who excelled in wood carving came to be known as Khanikar, a surname proudly passed down from generation to generation.

The various articles in a satra and naam-ghar(place of worship) are stiff cut on wood, depicting the guru asana (pedestal of the lords), apart from various kinds of birds and animals figuring in mythology.

Modern-day Khanikars have taken to producing articles of commercial values, including figures of one-horned rhino and replicas of the world-famous Kamakhya temple - two items heading the list of demands of a visitor from outside.

   

 

 

Masks

 

With tribal art and folk elements forming the base of Assamese culture, masks have found an important place in the cultural activities of the people. Masks have been widely used in folk theatres and ‘bhaonas’ with the materials ranging from terracotta to pith to metal, bamboo and wood.

   

 

 

Potential Tourists Sites

   

Efforts have been made to identify and develop tourist spot and to classify them as per availability of tourist resources. 

On the basis of the available tourist resources in the state, the department has categorized tourism as follows: wildlife tourism, cultural tourism, pilgrimage tourism, adventure tourism and tea tourism. Pilgrimage and wildlife categories still continue to attract the domestic and foreign tourists. The sakti peeth Kamakhya and Kaziranga National Park still constitute the most attractive points for both domestic and foreign tourists. Though the concept of cultural tourism is comparatively old, which encompasses people and their culture; it has not been duly projected for tourism development. Adventure and tea tourism are the two areas, which have been very recently adopted by the tourism department for development. 

Department of Tourism has identified as many as 31 sites of tourist’s interest. However, tourist infrastructures are quite limited and confined to certain sites only. The sites are:

1.  Gauhati and its surrounding, covering spots like Kamakhya temple, Umananda, Sukreswar temples, Basisthashram, Nabagraha temple, State Zoo, State Museum, Gandhi Mandap and Some comparatively recent attractions like the planetarium, Gita mandir, Balaji temple and Sankar Dev Kalakhetra developed within the city environment

2.  Sualkuchi, the most important center of indigenous Assamese silk industry

3.   Hajo, the unique meeting place of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism and also known for its historic monuments, bell metal and brass products prepared by local artisans

4.   Chandubi, a nature spot and known for its lake (dubi) and an ideal picnic spot

5.   Pabitara, a small wildlife sanctuary having more rhino density than that of kaziranga

6.   Madan Kamdev, an important archaeological site

7.   Manas, a world heritage site and only tiger reserve in Assam

8.   Barpeta, known for its Vaishnav monastery and craft

9.   Tezpur, one of the beautiful towns of the Brahmaputra valley, possesses a number of archaeological sites, pilgrimage and scenic spots in an around it

10 .Bhalukpung, basically a nature and adventure site and known for Nameri national park

11. Orang national park, having third highest population of Asiatic one-horned rhinoceros

12. Bardowa, the celebrated place of pilgrimage possesses some of the relics associated with the life and works of the saint Sri Sankardeva

13. Kaziranga, well known for its national park and the important tourist destinations of central Assam

14. Garampani, the promising tourist destination of the state having a few natural hot spring and a wildlife sanctuary

15. Majuli, a river island and important centers of Vaishnava culture

16. Sibsagar, the capital of Ahom kingdom having some of the important historical monument sites of the state

17. Jaysagar, a historic site known for Jaysagar tank and temple

18. Gaurisagar, a historic site

19. Ajan Pir Dargah, known for the Dargah of Hajarat Ajan Pir, the Muslim saint famous for his contribution to the Assamese devotional songs, called Jikir and Jari

20. Gargaon, the capital town of the Ahom kingdom, known for its seven-storied palace

21. Charaideo, the original capital of Ahoms, famous for Maidams or burial vaults of the Ahom kings

22. Dibrugarh, an important city of upper Assam and a commercial, educational and administrative focal point

23. Tinsukia, an important business center of eastern Assam and a transit point for visitors to and having Dibru Saikhowa national park in its close proximity

24. Digbai, known for its oil industry and a war cemetery of World War II

25. Haflong, the only hill station of Assam

26. Jatinga, a nature site and ideal for bird watching

27. Mahur, an ideal place for adventure activity and picnic

28. Maibong, an ideal nature site having archaeological remains of its Kachari king

29. Umrangso, another attractive site for nature lovers and picnickers

30. Diphu, the district headquarters of Karbi Anglong and potential site cultural and adventure tourism

31. Silchar, an important center of economic, cultural and administrative importance in the Barak plain having an archaeological site at Khaspur

32. Bhuban, a pilgrimage and nature site.

      

 

Major Archaeological Ruins of Assam

Potential pockets for Tourism Development, Assam

Major Historical Monuments of Assam

The Main Existing Satras of Assam

National Tourism Policy

 

For more information about Tourism & Heritage of Assam you may visit:

ISBEID

Directorate of Tourism, Govt. of Assam

Assam Tourism Development Corporation