Saturday, November 27, 2010

DAY 56 – Kohora to Dergaon

Sanjay Sil is employed in the DRDA Lodge, basically to liaison with foreign tourists. He is extremely polite, knowledgeable and conversant with English. This makes him a unique asset of the Lodge. Chetry had detailed him to conduct me around the Kaziranga NP. He did this with élan and filled me with nuggets of information about the Park, the locality and Karbi Anglong. He was insistent that I should leave only after breakfast and he ensured toast and omlette with tea at 6 am. However, I will never forgive him for ‘guessing’ my age as “over 60”.
Dipak Choudhury, SP Dhubri had told me that I should visit Sivasagar if I am in the vicinity of Jorhat. Since the arrangements were to halt in the Police Training College Officers’ Mess in Dergaon, I confirmed from Mr. Surinder Kumar IPS, Principal PTC that it would be feasible to visit Sivasagar in the forenoon and return to Dergaon for the night halt, if I started early from Kohora. He was also kind enough to liaise with the SP, Sivasagar to detail a ‘guide’ and make available the Police GH for lunch and rest. At 6.15 am the roads were free and I made good time to reach the Sivasagar Police GH at 8.30 am, after a drive of nearly 160 kms.
By the time I had a cup of tea Pulin Dowarah, of the Assam Police, arrived to conduct me around the ancient sites of the Ahom dynasty. The Ahom dynasty spanned the years 1228 to 1826, when 42 Ahom kings ruled over Assam. The first king of the Ahom dynasty, Chao-Lung Siu-Ka-Pha, is reported to have migrated from the Yunan Province in China (or from the Shan State of Burma – historians are divided on this) across the Patkai hills in 1228 and established the first capital of the Ahoms in Charaideo in 1253 AD. Over 6 centuries the capital was relocated to 5 different locations, all within the present day Sivasagar District. The Ahoms are credited with unifying the peoples of the hills and plains of Assam culturally and linguistically into one nation. The Ahoms used ‘impermanent materials’ till the 17th century for construction. It was only in the latter half of the 17th century that bricks and stones were used. It is no surprise, therefore, that vestiges of monuments of the 17th century and later alone have survived to give us a flavor of the power of the Ahoms.
The Sivasagar Pukhuri (in Assamese ‘tank’ is called ‘pukhuri’) is the most remarkable landmark of the town and is located in the heart of the city. [I picked up this story from Pulin Dowarah: There are seven Pukhuris like Sivasagar, Gaurisagar, Joysagar, Rudrasagar, Borpatra, Tengapukhuri, etc. The Ahom kings reportedly bathed in the waters of the seven pukhuris every seventh day.] The Tank, dug in 1734, was the brainchild of Queen Ambika, the second wife of King Siva Singha – hence, the name of the tank. Around the majestic rectangular Tank are administrative complexes of various departments and District Administration. The three temples on the southern bank of the Tank, the Shivdol, the Vishnudol and the Durgadol hog the limelight. The Shivdol, at 33 metres, is the tallest Shiva temple in India. The trident atop the Shivdol is perched on a golden, egg shaped structure. The British were unsuccessful in pilfering this despite an honest try in 1823! It is understood that a powerful earthquake in the 1950s brought the 80 kg golden structure down and it took a chopper to place it back in position. The lingam in the Shivdol is inverted; it’s just a hole in the ground.
The Rang Ghar is arguably the first Royal pavilion, from where the King and other dignitaries watched outdoor sports like buffalo fights, wrestling, bird fights, etc. A feature of the Ahom structures is the high ceilings due to which the rooms in the buildings remained cool throughout the year. The Talatalghar is a seven storeyed palace, which has four storeys above the ground and three below. This beautifully maintained palace ground is the venue of the Bihu festival every year. The Golaghar, near the Talatalghar, was the Royal arsenal to store arms and ammunition. The main palace of the Ahom kings in Gargaon, when the capital was located there between 1540 and the 19th century was substantially damaged by the Assam Tea Company (of the English East India Company) when they removed bricks and stones to build their offices. The Joysagar Pukhuri is the biggest man made tank, and as with the Sivasagar Pukhuri, there are three temples on one of its banks. The finest example of Ahom legacy is the Maidams at Charaideo. This is the sacred burial ground of the Kings and Queens of the Ahom dynasty. The Maidams are our own Pyramids – the kings and queens were buried in coffins with valuables and trusted henchmen for their easy and safe passage into the next life. The size of the Maidam indicates the importance and power of the person concerned. Unfortunately, the ownership of the Maidams cannot be established. Moreover, the tombs were pilfered by the British and all valuables were removed through a hole at the top of the mounds. The ASI is now involved in the restoration and beautification of some of the tombs. The Namdung stone bridge, built in stone in 1704 over the Namdung River, was decommissioned only recently due to the movement of heavy vehicles engaged in oil exploration. Only a visit to Sivasagar and its neighborhood can educate a keen tourist about the spread and power of the Ahom dynasty that withstood many incursions and attacks during its time. More modern is the Dikow Bridge built in the 1800s by the British, which could be lifted to permit the passage of steamships with high masts. A boat, built in iron, recovered from near the Dikow Bridge is on display near the Maidams in Charaideo.  The present day importance of Sivasagar is on account of it being an oil town.
The PTC Officers’ Mess is just the right place to rest a tired body. Beautifully maintained and with service oriented staff to look after you, I could not have come to a better place to halt for the night.

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