Assam travels: Guwahati
My Assam travels brought me from Sikkim to Phuntsholing to Koch Bihar, Guwahati to Sibsagar which was as far as I could go and then back to Shiling, Silchar and Agartala, where I got a visa for Bangladesh.
The state has been over the years a disputed piece of India. Assam is one of the so called Seven Sisters provinces. The others are: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya and only a few of the "sisters" are open for traveling.
In Sikkim it had been very wet, I had not seen much of for example Darjeeling except a clear day here and there. I was hoping going east would give me better weather. And in fact it was better.
My first stop was Phuntsholing because I was told you could cross the border into Bhutan without a visa. it wasn't too far from Kalimpong, so why not.
But my first main goal was Guwahati. In fact it wasn't even Guwahati, nor the famous tea plantations (I would see plenty later in Shillong) that had attracted my attention but some photos of a strange looking complex: the beehive looking Kamakhya Temple.
You will find the temple at Nilachal Hill in the western part of Guwahati city. It is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to different forms of the mother goddess as the Dasa Mahavidya, including Bhuvaneshvari, Bagalamukhi, Chinnamasta, Tripura Sundari and Tara.
It is an important pilgrimage destination for general Hindu and Tantric worshipers.
It was an interesting temple, quite busy too but there were no other foreign travelers here (hardly surprising as few foreigners seem to make it to Assam which is still much underrated by international tourism.
It was a pleasure to be here even though the city itself was not too interesting. It was just another city on the way. However, that would change soon.
At the north banks of the Brahmaputra river I visited the Madhav Temple in Hajo. It's about 30 km from Guwahati city center and worth a visit. The temple is about 200 years old and important to both Hindus and Buddhists. Here's more about the Sibsagar and Hajo with the Madhav Temple.
The disappearing girl
India is a strange country in many way, and I don't mean that in a bad way. But one of the strangest things I have ever seen in my life happened right here in Guwahati.
I had spend much of the day on the other side of the railway, wandering through the streets, talking and observing people, eating in one of the countless bazaars and although the city has a legend that goes back many thousands of years, there's not a lot to explore.
I walked over the iron railway bridge, back to the railway station when a girl came up to me. In broken English she asked me for help with her train ticket. She told me she was a Burmese and when I looked at her face I believed that. She needed to know if the ticket she had was indeed for the train the next day to Lucknow.
I read the ticket, saw that it was indeed for the next day, 6AM train to Lucknow. But I had no idea if there were delays. Trains in Assam were notorious for delays up to 24 hours. I told her we could ask the stationmaster, downstairs.
We walked down the iron stairs to a small building on the right side of the platform. I opened the door and let the girl (she must be in her twenties, I guessed) in. We walked through a corridor, about 7 meters or so to another door and went inside.
The stationmaster was here and he confirmed that the ticket was genuine, and the train would leave the next morning to Lucknow at 6AM.
Then the girl opened the door and walked back through the corridor, and I was right behind her. She opened the door to the platform and went left. A few seconds later I was at the totally abandoned platform and saw ... no one.
The girl had disappeared. The stairs to the bridge were about 30 meters away, she couldn't have reached them. There was in fact no way she could have gone to any place in the few seconds I had lost sight of her.
I have never found out what happened with the girl, I even don't know her name.
Getting there and stay
Guwahati is on the main railway line to Calcutta and further ito Assam all the way to Sibsagar and Dibrugarh Guwahati has an airport connecting Assam with the major destinations in India.
You can travel by bus south to Shillong or by bus/rail to Sibsagar. Several potential interesting destinations in for example Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are off limits.
Guwahati has several good and very decent priced hotels in town. I stayed in the Hotel Mahalaxmi.
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Sibsagar and the nearby town Hajo have a few things you really want to see when in your Assam travels. Here's what makes Sibsagar interesting:
Sikkim is a small state switched in between Nepal and Bhutan. It's worth a visit, if only for the Rumtek monastery in Gangtok. But there is more.
Phuntsholing and the Bhutanese border
Phuntsholing is certainly not worth a visit. However, it is the border town with Bhutan and you can visit a few square km's in Bhutan without a visa. Thus I went there to see what there is to see:
You don't come all the way to Agartala to return and travel all the way back to Guwahati. Instead you will pick up a visa and go into Bangladesh but Agartala itself is quite nice too
Former British Hill station and now capital of Meghalaya province, a good stop over on the way to either Agartala or Sibsagar.