Assam, the state known to many as the Gateway to Northeast India, has its history dating back to the Great Epics and the religious legends of our country. Various places mentioned in the Great Epics like Mahabharata etc. are now identified with many sites found in the state of Assam. In the Mahabharata, Assam is known as Pragjyotishpur (the Land of Eastern Light). In the Puranas and Tantras, Assam was referred to as Kamrupa – the land where Kamadeva, the demigod of love, was reborn.
Popularly called as the land of the red river and blue hills, Assam is situated between 90-96 degree East Longitute and 24-28 degree North Latitude, bordered in the North and East by the Kingdom of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. Along the south lies Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Meghalaya lies to her South-West, Bengal and Bangladesh to her West. Assam has been a melting pot of various racial stocks, viz. Indo-Burmese, Mongoloid, Austro-Asiatic, Aryan, Dravidian etc. The state is inhabited by a large number of tribal groups; viz. the Boro-Kacharis, the Deori, the Misings, the Dimassas, the Karbis, the Lalungs, the Rabhas etc. Ahkhomiya or Assamese is the lingua- franca of Assam. Other official language spoken include Bodo and Karbi.
The state is bountifully blessed by nature in various ways. The word “Assam” come from the Sanskrit Word “Asom” meaning unparalleled or peerless. As such the state is unparalleled as nature has generously endowed the State with such bounties making it part of one of the 25 mega diverse region on planet earth. Since biodiversity is fundamental to the fulfillment of human needs, Assam rich biodiversity offers wide options and opportunities for sustaining human welfare including adoption to changes. It is part of the Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity Region; one of the two biodiversity “Hot Spots” in the country.
The climatic conditions also support the existence of many species that are endemic to this region and it is also the center of origin for commercially important plants including Banana, Citrus, Mango, Zizyphus, and Tea. Running and cascading through the entire length and breadth of the state are mighty rivers; the Brahmaputra in the north and the Barak in the south along with their tributaries which nourish a wide range of precious flora and fauna in the hills and plains of this charming land.
In Wildlife, Assam boast of a varied species that account for the state’s popularity. Assam can boast of possessing a host of endangered and rare mammals, avian and amphibian species. These include the one horned Rhino, pigmy hog, hispid hare, white winged wood duck, and great Indian hornbills among many others. Thus the state has constructed many wildlife sanctuaries to protect and preserve these endangered species. Pobitora, Sonai Rupai, Bura-Chapori, Laokhowa, Pobha, Chakrashila, Bornadi, Garampani, Gibbori, and many other are home to the wildlife population in the state. Besides wildlife sanctuaries, the state has numerous national parks that include the famous national park of Kaziranga. Others include Manas, Dibru, Saikhowa, Nameri and Orang.
An interesting aspect about some of the national parks in Assam is that they are considered as world Heritage sites. One such is the first and the oldest National Park in Assam that is home of the world famous one-horned Indian rhinoceros. Spread over an area of 430 sq. Kms, Kaziranga is of sheer forest, tall elephant grass, rugged reeds, marshes and shallow pools. The one horned Rhinoceros, Elephant, Indian bison, Swamp Deer, Sambar, Hog Deer, Sloth Bear, Tiger, Leopard cat, Jungle cat, Hog badger, Capped langur, Hollock gibbon, Jackal, Goose, Hornbills, Ibis, Cormorants, Egret, Heron fishing eagle etc. all form a part of the very complex ecological balance of the park. During Winter a large number of migratory birds are also seen here.
Another world heritage site, Manas is one of India’s most magnificent National Parks and the only Tiger Project in Assam. It is one of the nine tiger reserve sanctuaries in India and it has its own peculiar faunal features, the rarest species of which are Hispid Hare, Pigmy Hog, Golden Langur, Indian Rhinoceros, Asiatic Buffalo etc. Hundreds of the winged species migrate to the pleasant climate of Manas during Winter. Among them are Riverchats (White Capped Redstars), Forktails, Cormorants and various types of ducks including the Ruddy Shelduck.
Celebrated since ancient times, the Bihus highlight people’s conscious relation to its environemnet and preserving the importance that environment played in its inhabitant’s existence. Considered as the most important festivals of Assam, the Bihus is celebrate and coincides with a distinctive phase in the farming calendar. In a year there are three Bihu festivals in Assam – in the months of Bohaag (Baisakh, the middle of April), Maagh (the middle of January), and Kaati (Kartik, the middle of October). The most important and colourful of the three Bihu festival is the Spring festival “Bohag Bihu” or Rangali Bihu celebrated in the middle of April. This is also the beginning of the agricultural season.
Agriculture is the basic occupation of the people of Assam. Of the agriculture-based industries, tea occupies an important place in Assam. The state produces 51% of the tea produced in India and about 1/6th of the tea produced in the world. The tea estate in Assam has interesting history dating back to the British colonial rule in India. It is believed that a British officer by the name Robert Bruce discovered tea in Assam in 1823. A Tea Research Centre was started in 1911 at Toklai in Jorhat for developing more scientific and fruitful methods of cultivating tea plants, applying fertilizer, testing soil, selecting sites for garden and processing tea leaves. This is the oldest and largest Tea Research Centre in the world.
Assam state is very rich in forest resources and had been a conflict zone in regard to illegal deforestation and smuggle of various resources mainly the timber which is considered as the “Green Gold” of North-east India. Its porous border with Bangladesh has also added more to the conflict and has raised alarming concern over the fast depleting forest cover and other mineral resources. Extremists and Timber Mafias of Indian States and Bangladesh are actively engaged in deforestation in pursuit of timber. Addressing the issue, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) on 17th December, 1996, declared a verdict banning all sorts of cutting and destroying or felling of trees and its movement to Eastern Indian States except the West-Bengal State of India.
Besides forest resources, Assam has a rich oil resource. Assam is the first state in the country where in 1889 oil was struck at Digboi and hence the state boast of having the oldest oil refinery in the country. Linked to other parts of the countries by strongly constructed railway lines, the state is one of the most industrialised among all the other states of North-east India.