August 2017 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!
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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Sibsagar: An Ode to Assam’s Glorious Past

Rang Ghar - Asia's first amphitheatre at Sibsagar, India

Far in the forests of the Brahmaputra river basin exists a land that was once a powerhouse of a kingdom. Known as the Ahom kingdom, this Assamese kingdom evaded all kinds of attacks (Mughal, Burmese and mainland India) for six centuries till they finally fell to the Burmese in the early part of the 19th century and then later annexed by the British. Somehow, Asia’s first amphitheatre (Rang Ghar), a couple of palaces (Talatal Ghar, Kareng Ghar) and some other traditionally designed Ahom buildings have surprisingly stood the vagaries of time. The best part about these buildings is its architecture, which has very minimal influence from the rest of India.

Maze of bells at Shiva dol, Sibsagar, Assam, India

Today, this land is surrounded by lush forests, tea gardens, lots of agricultural tract and scenic tributaries of the mighty Brahmaputra river. And located right in the middle of this gorgeous nature is a town called Sibsagar, which literally means ‘the ocean of Lord Shiva’ and which is known for its large water tanks. This town of Sibsagar, which was formerly known as Rangpur, was the capital of the Ahom kingdom from 1699 to 1788. Today, it is an ode to Assam’s glorious past and has in its home striking marvels from the rich Ahom era. And jot just that, it is home to four amazing 18th century temples – Shiva Dol, Vishnu Dol, Devi Dol and Ghanashyam Dol that add a religious and spiritual fervor to this town.

A couple next to the ancient walls of Rang Ghar, Sibsagar, India

As a visitor, this erstwhile capital of the Ahom kingdom offers everything from rich history, stunning ancient monuments, scenic nature walks, great Assamese food, colorful street market action and a peaceful temple experience. My personal recommendations are an early morning or late evening walk around the Sibsagar water tank, a visit to the temples during Aarti time, explore the Rangh Ghar inverted boat amphitheatre and the Talatall Ghar at around sunset time and a walk in the markets post sunset.

Skyscape near Rang Ghar, Sibsagar, Assam, India

A day trip from either Dibrugarh or Kaziranga National Park is definitely recommended. If you have time, you can also spend a relaxed couple of days here too. Either ways, don’t miss out on exploring some of Assam’s glorious past!

How to get here:

Traditional Assamese cuisine - deliciousness overload

The nearest airport is Dibrugarh, though the one at Guwahati has more options and hence better connectivity. The nearest train station is Simalguri, about 16 kms away. Trains heading towards Dibrugarh and Tinsukia usually stop here. Road connectivity is decent and one can take public buses or hire cabs to reach here from Shillong, Guwahati, Kaziranga or Dibrugarh.

Where to stay:

Most of the hotel properties are located in and around the market area opposite the Shiva Dol temple. I stayed at the Hotel Piccolo and it was a comfortable mid-market hotel that offered a convenient base to explore all the sights and attractions of this city.

Other Nearby Attractions:

Carvings on the walls of Rang Ghar - Asia's first amphitheatre

There are a whole bunch of things to see and do in this region:

1) Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, which is a great getaway for a rich wildlife experience

2) Majuli island, for those interested in a unique cultural experience on a river island

3) Dibrugarh, in case you are interested in a relaxed tea holiday

4) Hoolongopar Gibbon Sanctuary, for those who are interested in seeing India’s only ape

5) Pani Dihing Wildlife Sanctuary, for those interested in a rich birdwatching experience

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Travel Photo: Decorated Pillars of Lepakshi Temple

Maze of beautiful sculptures on the pillars of Lepakshi temple, Andhra Pradesh

Last weekend, I took my motorcycle out of Bangalore after a long two year gap. I was definitely rusty, but my motorcycle was just getting the feel of its brand new engine (the old one clocked 1,65,000 kms). As it is a new engine, I cannot open throttle as yet and hence wanted to choose a destination that wasn’t too far from Bangalore and that wouldn’t tempt me to hit the gun to the metal. The destination that I had in mind was the Veerbhadra temple at Lepakshi that is located near Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh, but at just 5 kilometres from the Karnataka border.

People speak Telugu, Kannada and Hindi (owing to the heavy Muslim influence) here and the temple speaks a language of arts and sculpting from the mighty Vijayanagar empire. Bearing a close resemblance to the Vittala temple of Hampi, this rock cut temple is known for its magical pillars, the Naga protecting the Shivalinga and the fact that Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva share the inner sanctum sanctorium. This is definitely an off-beat day trip from Bangalore and one that is heavily recommended if you are a temple lover. More pictures and the entire experience in the full blog post that will follow soon. Do stay tuned.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Impulse Social Enterprises: Empowering Women of India’s North East

Traditional loom being prepared by hand by Mishing Tribe woman, Assam

A year and a half back, when I was giving my TEDx talk at IIT Guwahati, I met a lady whose story truly moved me. She was one of the speakers and her story was about how she empowered the women of the North Eastern states of India to fight prostitution, human trafficking, domestic abuse and child trafficking through the use of their traditional art, craft and weaving skills. The lady I am talking about is Hasina Kharbhih, the founder of Impulse NGO Network and one who has slowly and steadily created an active environment for the last 25 years that is addressing the root causes of human trafficking in the North East region.

Portrait of Mishing tribal woman weaving on her traditional loom, Panbari village, Assam

What started as a small initiative in her home state of Meghalaya is now a full fledged not-for-profit NGO (Impulse NGO Network) and a for-profit Impulse Social Enterprises (home to the Empower clothing, accessories and rural travel brands) across all the north eastern states and the surrounding international borders. Both these organizations fight human trafficking in the region. While the Impulse NGO network aims to report, rescue, rehabilitate, repatriate, and reintegrate human trafficking victims, the Impulse Social Enterprises aims to promote local artisans and create sustainable livelihood that helps prevent potential cases of dangerous migration, which might lead to women and child trafficking and abuse.

Mishing tribal women setting the threads right for the looms

Today, Impulse Social Enterprises has over 30,000 weavers under its wings across the Karbi, Mishing, Bhoi, Mizo, Idu-Mishmi and many other tribes of the north eastern region. They hand-hold these weavers and enable them to create traditional designs of scarfs, sarongs, bags, cushion covers, table runners, and many other accessories. These women weave whenever they find time amidst their day to day activities (cooking, washing, taking care of kids, running home, etc.). These clothes and accessories are then sold across India and even internationally too. And the weavers get a significant cut of the sales, thus creating a sustainable livelihood for them without having to venture out of their village region. All of this functions under the Empower brand. Some of their products are also sold online on their Empower store.

Mishing tribal women and their traditional looms, Assam

Another interesting product offered by Impulse Social Enterprises is Rural Tourism wherein you get to experience the life of a weaver up close, stay in their homes, eat with them, explore the true countryside life and spend a relaxed holiday. This way, you get an offbeat rural holiday experience while the village home that is hosting you makes some additional revenue that allows them to follow their traditions and yet improve their quality of life.

Mishing tribal women and their colorful clothing, Assam

I have personally experienced staying with the weavers at the Mishing village of Panbari located on the fringes of the Kaziranga National Park in Assam and I have to say that the experience was very humbling, a treat for my palate and one that I would repeat in the blink of an eye. In fact, I hope to stay with such weavers across all the different tribes in the different states of India’s North East.

Mishing tribal woman learning the art of weaving at Panbari, Assam, India

If you wish to do your bit in empowering the women of the North East and help Impulse NGO Network and Impulse Social Enterprises in achieving their mission, you can do any of the following:

1) Offer your services as a Volunteer to the NGO

Mekhla and Chadar being woven by Mishing tribal women, Assam

2) Buy some of the products created by these women in their eye catching traditional and yet trendy designs

3) Spend a off beat rural holiday with them in their village and see unique cultures of their tribal life up close

I hope all of us can do our bit in protecting the people and traditions of the beautiful north eastern region of India.

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