I love photography. Thus, the best way to share my special experiences in Guwahati is by selecting 12 of my favourite pictures from the year gone by! Let me start this journey with Bhaona, the traditional theatre of Assam, which was an unforgettable experience!
(1) Bhaona, the traditional Assamese theatre: The first image shows a Bhaona actor dressed as Ram, waiting for the start of his performance. Bhaona was introduced by sixteenth century Assamese Vaishnavite social reformer Shrimanta Shankar Dev. This theatre group had come from the Majuli island.
This wonderful experience was enhanced because I was also able to see the actors putting up make-up and costumes, and getting ready for the performance. I loved being able to do that, to have a look behind the scenes, and to click pictures of their preparations.
That day they were performing the part from Ramayana where king Janak holds a Swayamvar (a competition to select the bridegroom) for his daughter Sita. This part of the play has different kings and princes who come to the Swayamvar with the hope that Sita will choose one of them. In Bhaona, usually men play all the parts, including the female parts. Thus, the princess Sita and her friends were all young men dressed as women.
It was fascinating to see the actors getting ready and putting on the make-up. I love looking back at the images from that evening. It was definitely a highlight of my life in Guwahati.
(2) The mighty Brahmputra river in Guwahati: When I had reached Guwahati in December 2015, I had been booked in a hotel close to the Brahmaputra. In those initial days I was able to spend the mornings and evenings to explore the life along the river. This was crucial to understand how this river influences the city life.
Because of that initial experience of living close to Brahmaputra, I make sure every month to go back to the river and spend a morning or an evening soaking up the different aspects of life on its banks.
I have selected an image of Brahmaputra that I had clicked on a cloudy evening of August. Due to the impending monsoon floods, a ship to help the monsoon affected persons was moored near the Kachari ghat. I love the contrast between the dark clouds and the light coming out from the ship. The picture also gives an idea of the way the river swells up with water during the rainy season.
(3) The Baul singers at Ambubashi: Kamakhaya temple in Guwahati is the most important pilgrimage site of the north-east and Ambubashi is its most important festival. The festival brings together Naga sadhus and thousands of pilgrims from different parts of India.
It was a riot of colours at the Kamakhaya temple during Ambubashi 2015. I was feeling drunk by the sounds, sights, colours and smells of the never-ending crowds. During this visit I discovered the Baul singers and my heart belongs to them.
My favourite experience of Ambubashi was with a small group of Sadhus and Baul singers sitting in a corner of a Shiva temple. Some of them were smoking pot. Among them was an old man, his arms thin like sticks and a box of talcum powder in a hand, filled with some seeds, so that it was making a swish-swish sound. He was in trance, standing and swaying gently with his eyes closed and his hands moving in delicate gestures. Behind him, a bearded man with drum and an ektara (one cord) was singing about feeling lost in nature and the contemplation of God.
That voice, that song, that rhythm of the ektara-drum and the serene face of the dancing old man touched me profoundly. Just to think of them makes me feel peaceful. It was one of the most touching spiritual experiences of my life.
(4) The landfill site of Boro Gaon: It is a small village off the national highway that goes around Guwahati. You can smell the city trucks full of garbage before you see them, going up and down the main road of Boro Gaon.
If you are not attentive, you can miss the landfill site very easily. However, if you follow a garbage truck, you will see the mountains of garbage and the people who work there, including many children. The rotting fruits and vegetables, give this place a sweet, slightly sickening smell that infiltrates your body and your cloths.
In the mountains of garbage you will also find the large and ugly looking Greater Adjutant storks, that are on the endangered list. You can also see other more beautiful birds, including the graceful egrets in pristine white and delicate yellow.
It is impossible to visit the landfill site and not be affected by it. When I think about that visit and look at my pictures, I still feel slightly sick.
I also remember my feelings of surprise that people working in the garbage dump had seemed cheerful enough, nor did they seem to mind that I was clicking their pictures in that place.
(5) The lake and the marshes of Deepor Beel: It is one of the protected natural areas of Guwahati. Its marshes provide a unique eco-system for the nature. During the monsoons, it becomes a real lake. During winters hundreds of migratory birds from north Europe arrive here. It is also one of the popular picnic places in the western periphery of the city.
The main parts of Deepor Beel where tourists usually go, have boats for visiting the lake and taking a closer look at the birds. However, there is an alternate way to reach parts of the Beel, that is not very far from the garbage dump of Boro Gaon.
After passing through the garbage areas, if you cross the railway tracks, you reach a more isolated part of the Beel full of thick and big round-shaped leaves, flowers and birds. When I had visited it, it was the beginning of the summer and most of the migratory birds had already left for their homelands in the north. However, I am planning to go back to visit this place this winter.
It is place of peace and quiet, an amazing experience!
(6) North-East GLBTI Pride Parade: In February 2015, the first north-east parade was held in Guwahati. As usually happens in the Pride parades, it was a colourful event with different cultural activities. I was pleasantly surprised because somehow I had an image of Assam as being a very conservative place!
The picture that I have selected from this parade is that of a woman singer from a band in Shillong (Meghalaya) who had sung about the rights of the lesbians and persons with alternate sexualities.
(7) The monkeys of Guwahati: Local newspapers regularly carry reports of wild animals in Guwahati, including leopards and wild elephants. The city is surrounded by hills and forests. As explained above, Deepor Beel Wildlife park is part of the city. About 60 km to the east from the city, along the Brahmaputra river, it also has the Pobitora wild life sanctuary.
In the city, it is easy to see monkeys, ducks and geese. For example, you can see the golden langur monkeys near the Umananda temple in the Peacock island off Kachari ghat. Near by, in the Ugratara pukhuri you can see hundreds of ducks and geese. The temples are full of the more common rhesus monkeys as well.
I have selected the image of a baby monkey at Nabagraha temple to represent my joy at this close contact with nature in Guwahati.
(8) Festivals of Guwahati: Like the rest of India, Guwahati has a rich calendar of social festivals, especially the three Bihu festivals linked to the agricultural life. Durga Puja, Kali puja, Manasa puja, Vishwakarma Puja and Saraswati puja are some of the most important Hindu festivals. There are also the festivals of other religions that are widely celebrated here, especially Idd and Christmas.
I love participating in the festivals. Below you can see a picture of Saraswati puja from a girls' school of Guwahati, for which young girls were dressed up in saris and they had put on make-up, looking like "little women".
(9) Discovering the rock music: I prefer Hindi film music from 1960s to 1980s. I also like Hindustani and Western classical music. I am also open to popular English music of 1950s to 1970s. However, I had thought that I did not like the noisier music styles such as grunge and metallic rock.
In Guwahati I discovered that I can also appreciate the music of heavy metal bands, especially during the live performances. By chance, one evening I found myself in a metallic rock music concert and I enjoyed it very much. I still can't bear listening to it on radio or on my Mp3 player but in a live concert, I think that it can be fun.
Guwahati is a traditional city that values the legacy of Shrimanta Sankar Dev and Madhav Dev through traditional dance and music. At the same time, it an active hub for more contemporary music with well known singers like Papon and Zubeen Garg. Finally, it has different groups active in the rock music. The image that I have selected to show this aspect of Guwahati music life has the singer Rudy Wallang from the group Soul Mate.
(10) Life in the Brahmaputra islands: A meeting with the well known thinker-writer and activist of Assam, Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika from the Centre for North-East Studies (C-NES), took me to visit one of the islands in the Brahmaputra river at the periphery of Guwahati.
The riverine islands of Brahmaputra are beautiful places with white sands, the majestic river and the green fields, often full of flowers of different colours. At the same time, they are difficult places to live in, as they are usually without any services and get flooded during the monsoons.
It was a beautiful experience to visit one of the islands and to have a glimpse of the lives of people living there. It was another example of how the mighty Brahmaputra influences and shapes of the lives of people.
(11) Dances, plays and cultural events in Guwahati: The city has a rich cultural life with frequent opportunities for watching dances, plays and other cultural events. Places like Kalakshetra, Robindra Bhawan and Shilpagram play an important role in the organisation of such events, with the help of local music and dance schools and clubs.
The only difficulty is to receive information about the cultural events in time. I wish that soon someone will start an email based mailing list or a website that provides regular information about the different cultural events planned in the city.
Fortunately, the place where I stay is not very far from Kalakshetra and Shilpagram. As part of my morning walk, often I walk to that part of the city so that I can gather news about the cultural events planned there. They have wonderful programmes but sometimes there are few people watching them.
This year I had many opportunities to watch beautiful cultural programmes in Guwahati. I have selected a picture of the Bihu dance from the Republic day celebrations in the Veterinary College grounds in Guwahati, which was a wonderful experience.
(12) Spiritual experiences in Guwahati: I have already mentioned about my visit to Kamakhaya temple during Ambubashi and the opportunity of listening to the Baul singers. I have also been to Bashistha and Nabagraha temples. However, I feel that temple visits are more cultural experiences rather than spiritual experiences.
Guwahati also has Namghars, simple sacred places for Vaishnavite cult inspired by Shrimanta Shanker Dev. I found more spiritual experience in visiting the Namghars. The visit of Sri Sri Ravishanker in Guwahati was another of the spiritual experiences, though a little different from what I had imagined.
I like reading spiritual books and was expecting to hear something enlightening from Sri Sri. However, I found his speech to be a little disappointing, as he talked in platitudes mixed with marketing of his numerous brands, from "Sudanta tooth paste" to the "Art of Living Ghee" and "Shakti drops".
Walking on a ramp like a rock-star, he was surrounded by hundreds of delirious fans who chanted "Guru ji, Guru ji ..." and clicked his pictures.
However, I enjoyed the brief session Sri Sri conducted on meditation. Usually I have lot of difficulty in meditating. However, his approach of initiating with certain physical movements seemed to work with me. Ever since I have used that approach to meditation with good results. So even if I did not find any particular spiritual joy in his speech, I found it in meditation!
I have enjoyed putting together this post and selecting the pictures to go with it. It was great way to look at the hundreds of pictures I have clicked in Guwahati during 2015 and to have a flashback of my experiences in this city over the past 12 months.