Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sibsagar - The Abode of Ahom

Shivsagar, that becomes Sibsagar when uttered with a heavy Bengali/Assamese accent, is the district headquarters located in the eastern part of Assam state. It was the capital of the great Ahom dynasty for nearly 6 centuries and now it's a heritage site with a group of temples, an artsy amphitheater and a magnificent fort. We journeyed from Dinjan village in Tinsukiya district to Sibsagar via Dibrugarh, it was a tiresome two and half hours long drive (120 kms) on some of the most horrendous roads.

There are three temples altogether - Shiva, Vishnu and Devi temples, all of which are located on the banks of the Sibsagar lake. Shiva temple is the biggest among three, it's got a sharp earth-coloured tower with Shiva's Trident (Trishula) at the apex. It's not as adorned as its south Indian counterparts, it has four smaller turrets in four directions just below the apex, each containing smaller tridents. The long passage at the entrance of the temple is home for many Sadhus (saints) wherein they sell divine sundries and give blessings. The interiors of the temple isn't very well lit, the sanctum sanctorum is accessible to the public. There is a small statue of Nandi, the bull and a Shiva Linga, which the people worship inside the sanctum sanctorum. Also there is a natural spring that is originated inside the temple and flows to the Sibsagar lake through a small covered canal. Both interior and exterior walls are contain carvings of many Hindu deities.

From Shiva temple, we had a look at Vishnu temple which was smaller than Shiva temple and then Devi temple which was the smallest among the three. The whole place is well maintained, there are lots of Sadhus always inviting you for exchanging their blessings with our money. We spent about an hour in visiting all three temples, performing poojas and clicking photographs, it was almost noon by the time we came out. There are these peddlers on bicycles selling all sorts of soaked grains and pulses, topped with onions, chilli, cilantro and lemon juice...I had a couple of varieties of them and they taste real good and spicy.

We head straight to Rang Ghar, you need to Assameseize it a bit by asking Ronghor if you want to get the directions from locals. It's an archelogical site, about 10 minutes drive from the temple, extremely well maintained by ASI. The tickets cost just Rs. 10 per person, it almost resembles a postcard with "Incredible India" promo on the back. An introductory plaque at the site says this:

This double storied royal pavilion was built by the Ahom
King Pramatta Singha (AD 1744-51) for watching games of
birds and animal fights besides cultural programmes. The
roof of the superstructure is constructed in the reverse
form of a boat having crocodile shaped endings the outer
walls and arches of this pavilion are beautifully carved
with geometrical and floral designs.

The staircase leads to the attic of the pavilion whose walls are composed of arched openings. It's really nice and breezy on the attic with beautiful panorama of the surrounding gardens. The lower part of the building has some arched passages with few crocodile patterns on the wall. It's a very unique amphitheater with an artsy outlook and sort of a oval shape.

From Ronghor we head to Talatal Ghar, the majestic fort of the Ahoms built by Rajeswar Singha, located stones throw away from Ronghor. Entry to the fort site is just 10 bucks and we see three huge and heavy canons at the entrance. The paved way in the midst of the lawned area leads to the staircase that elevates you to the platform which gives a view of the entire fort. The long open terrace with several annexes is the main feature of the fort, the annexes are enclosed structures with arched windows. The walls are built of thin red bricks and most parts remain unplastered. On the ground floor are arched passages which reminded me of elephant stables of hampi. Also on the ground floor is an entry to chambers which has pathways that lead to the uppermost part of the palace. There are beautiful carvings on the walls of the chambers and many beautiful pillars which are dilapidated by time. The view from the uppermost terrace is the best one that gives a complete picture of how the palace looks.

For photographing the light was just too perfect, the mild golden light of the evening, but we were very hungry for it has well past our lunch time and we hadn't had anything filling since morning. But there was one more thing in Sibsagar to see before we could settle down for a supper, it was Uttaran museum very close to Talatal Ghar. Its a collection of historical artifacts recovered from the excavation site, household articles of the past used in north-east and many natural sundries like gigantic beetles, snake skin, stick insects, bird nests etc.

Please click on the above image to see bigger,
it's a panorama made by stitching four images.

We then came to Sibsagar town and sat down for supper at one of the restaurants which served very delicious roti, dal-fry, paneer masala and jeera rice. We devoured it and started back our return journey. Though Assam is known for its tea estates and national parks, it still has a rich heritage which is very evident from the historical town of Sibsagar. It's surely a must visit to anybody who plans a trip to Assam.
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