There is more to Jorhat, Assam's cultural capital, than just sprawling tea gardens. This last capital of the Ahom kings resonates with a quiet sophistication.
The tea plantations on either side, as far as the eye could see, were a clear indication that we were nearing Jorhat in Assam, the centre of India's tea industry. Our guide Subhash told us that at least 150 tea gardens occupied the town which also has its own annual tea festival.
The tea industry grew rapidly after the British created a narrow gauge railway line here. Research, specially at Jorhat's Teklai Experimental Centre, is undertaken on new varieties of tea, leaves and soil, and many of the tea varieties that Assam is so well known for, have been developed and perfected here. The centre is known worldwide as one of the oldest of its kind.
History of Jorhat, Assam
Jorhat is one of the larger cities of Assam, and is blessed with scenic beauty. It also has historical importance as it was the last capital of the Ahom kings who ruled Assam from 1228 to 1826 AD. Towards the end of the 18th century, these rulers turned Jorhat into a thriving, culturally-rich city. It continued to prosper till it was attacked and destroyed by the Burmese army in 1826. With the arrival of the British, the city managed to regain some of its former glory.
Even today, Jorhat is known as the cultural capital of Assam. Jorhat Sahitya Shabha and Asam Sahitya Sabha that is located in the Chandrakanta Handique Bhavan constructed in 1926, have been successfully instilling pride in locals and encouraging independent thinkers. Celebrated writer Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, a Jnanpith awardee, came from Assam, and belonged to Jorhat. Historians and archeologists have a special interest in the city as its surrounding areas still bear witness to ancient remnants in the form of the burial vaults of Lachit Borphukan and Purandar Sinha, two legendary Ahom kings, apart from the Bun Gohani temple.
Jorhat gets its name from Jor meaning a couple and Hat meaning markets. Today Jorhat is a bustling city with a large number of educational institutions and the highest literacy rate in the state. We were able to buy as many as six daily local newspapers that are published in the city itself. A mix of tradition and modernity, the city, when occupied by the British, saw the building of the Club Road - Jorhat's first asphalt road. This road connects the city centre to the Gymkhana clubhouse.
Majuli- fresh water island on Zorhat, Assam
The first place one should visit in Jorhat, Assam are the Majuli Islands. Located at a distance of 20kms from Jorhat, Majuli are fresh water islands in the Brahmaputra river. The island is rich in its natural and cultural heritage with 23 villages located on it and most of the native tribal people. You will also get to see a rich habitat of different birds. This all and with the monasteries located here, Majuli in Jorhat has been selected as a place to feature in UNESCO's world heritage list of places.
The Gymkhana was built in 1876 by D Slimmon, and is a popular venue for horse races right from the days of its inauguration. The nine-hole golf course which is one of the oldest golf courses in Asia, lawn tennis grass courts, a swimming pool, billiards, polo and a cricket ground are all part of one of this one of club, one of India's oldest gymkhanas.
Religious places in Jorhat, Assam
Another tourist attraction here is the Dhekiakhowa place of worship established more than 462 years ago by saint and reformer Madhabdev. Baisnav religion devotees pay their respects here at the bor namghar (Assamese for place of worship). When we visited here, we were told of a local folklore that mentions the reason why the main pillars are made of a shorea robusta tree. One night, a monk of the bar namqhar dreamt that the river nearby with a shorea robusta tree was flowing in the opposite direction. The following day, as the dream came true, the main pillars of the Dhekiakhowa were made from this tree. The Thengal Bhawan was built in 1880 by Raibahadur Shiva Prasad Barooah who not only built the Bhawan but also ran the daily newspaper called Dainik Baatari (the first daily newspaper in Assamese) on its premises. Bangalpukhari is a tank in Jorhat that was excavated by money got from murdering a human being, and its water is never used by the locals.
Wildlife sanctuaries and Reserves in Jorhat, Assam
Nineteen km away is the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary known for apes, while 60 km away is the Nambar Forest reserve famous for its hot springs. The world-famous Kaziranga National Park is 90 km from Jorhat. From the city, one can visit Majuli, the Brahmaputra's biggest riverine island, and the largest in the world.
What to eat in Jorhat, Assam
Don't miss the opportunity to taste the fresh Assamese tea. For North Indian, Continental or Chinese food you can go to 'HOTEL GK PALACE( near railway station)' and MD's Sweets (at Gar-Ali, Lahoti / Balibat). If you would like to taste something native then visit Hotel Janata Paradise which specialises in Assamese food and will serve you an Assamese thali (a plate with various dishes native to region).
How to reach Jorhat
• By air Jorhat has its own airport.
• By rail: Jorhat has its own railway station.
• By road: Jorhat is well connected by road to major cities like Dimapur (82 km), Kohima (149 km), Imphal (227 km), Guwahati (293 km), Dibrugarh (136 km), and Shillong (376 km)
Where to stay in Jorhat
• Hotel MD Continental (Tel: 0376 2300430/2300431)
• Burra Sahib's Bungalow (Tel: 2304267/2304673)
• Thengal Manor (Tel: 230 4267)
• Mistry Sahib's Bungalow (Tel: 2304267)
• Hotel New Park (Tel: 2300721/2300745)
More articles: Assam