The lush valley of the Brahmaputra, one of the world's great rivers, provides the setting for Assam's culturally rich and diverse communities. Although it is tea that has put the state on the world map, the fertile river valley is home to generations of rice farmers, and tribal populations continue to have a significant presence. A highlight of any visit is Kaziranga National Park, where the population of Asian one-horned rhinos has been steadily increasing over recent years meaning that sightings are virtually guaranteed.

Assam stretches nearly 800 km from east to west, the length of the broad floor of the Brahmaputra Valley. The Himalaya to the north and the Shillong Plateau to the south can be clearly seen. The state is dominated by the unpredictable Brahmaputra, constantly changing course to create new sandbanks, and encasing Majuli, the largest riverine island on earth. Earthquakes are common; one in 1950 was estimated as the fifth biggest earthquake ever recorded.

Unless you really want to see rain, avoid the monsoon. Assam is in one of the wettest
monsoon belts in the world. Even the central Brahmaputra Valley, protected by the rain shadow of the Shillong Plateau, has over 1600 mm of annual rainfall. The rest of the Assam Valley has up to 3200 mm a year, mostly between May and September. Although summer temperatures are high, from December to February it can be cold, especially at night.

The Ahoms, a Shan ruling tribe, arrived in the area in the early 13th century, deposed the ruler and established the kingdom of Assam with its capital in Sibsagar. They later inter- mixed with Aryan stock and also with existing indigenous peoples (Morans, Chutiyas) and most converted to Hinduism. The Mughals made several attempts to invade without success, but the Burmese finally invaded Assam at the end of the 18th century and held it almost continuously until it was ceded to the East India Company in 1826. The British administered it in name until 1947 though many areas were beyond their effective control.

Nearly 90% of the people continue to live in rural areas. The ethnic origin of the Assamese varies from Mongoloid tribes to those of directly Indian stock. There has been a steady flow of Muslim settlers from Bengal since the late 19th century. The predominant language is Assamese, similar to Bengali although harder to pronounce. In Assamese, “how are you?” is “
Apni kene koya?”
and “good” is “

The Assam Valley is in a strategically sensitive corridor for India, lying close to the Chinese frontier. Its sensitivity has been increased by the tension between local Assamese and immigrant groups. The failure of the AGP (Assam Gana Parishad) to hold its alliance together and to control the violence that has become endemic through Assam contributed to its downfall. Congress returned to power in the 2006 elections under Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, a lawyer and long serving member of the Lok Sabha, and won seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in 2009. The state has suffered a long- running low-intensity conflict and in late 2006 and early 2007 a number of bombings occurred in the capital Guwahati. The most troubled area is still the beautiful Cachar Hills in the south, and it is not recommended to visit this region in particular. Seek advice from your consulate and local tour agencies before travelling.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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