Exploring offbeat places remains my biggest fascination as a full-time traveller. And when those offbeat destinations are rich in culture, history and natural beauty too, things become even more interesting. Bodoland, for me, was one such place.
I happened to visit Bodoland to attend a 12-day cultural fest called Dwijing Festival that takes place in Bongaigaon town in Bodoland, Assam. Other than the festival (that I attended for 3 days) visiting a couple of wildlife sanctuaries, a few local villages, and getting a basic introduction to the lives of indigenous communities in Bodoland, was on agenda.
Also Read: My First Impression of Bodoland
So out of my nearly 5-day travel in Bodoland (three days at Dwijing and two days at Manas) here are some places/experiences I will recommend.
What To See In Bodoland: Popular Tourist Places
Dwijing Festival, Bongaigaon: Dwijing Festival is an annual river festival celebrated for 12 days (from 27 December to 7 January) on the banks of the Aie River near the Hagrama Bridge in Bongaigaon. The idea of the festival is to give an introduction to Bodoland and bring all its unique colors and stories in one place. Dwijing acts as a wonderful platform for those who want to know a bit about Bodoland but are not sure where to start from.
Think of the Hornbill festival in Nagaland, that’s what Dwijing is for Bodoland, in Assam.
At the festival ground, expect cultural dance/music performances, local games, adventure activities, art exhibitions, and a lot of food. To make it even more interesting, some big-time talent and celebrities like Mika and Vishal Shekhar are also invited every year.
All in all, it acts as a stage to introduce Bodoland and mark its presence – with its distinctive and diverse culture – on the map. The vibes of the festival are alluring, with the festival ground serving as a venue to bring local Bodos and tourists together in one place. In 2019-2020 (27 Dec to 7 Jan) Dwijing festival ran its fourth edition.
From Guwahati, the site of Dwijing festival is located some four hours’ drive away.
Read More: Dwijing Festival, Bodoland, Assam
Manas National Park: Located in the Himalayan foothills, Manas is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, a tiger/elephant reserve and a biosphere reserve. By definition, Manas National Park has one of the highest population densities for one-horned rhinoceros in the world (Pobitora wildlife sanctuary, in Assam, has the highest density in the world) almost guaranteeing a sure-shot sight of a rhino to those visiting the park.
Other than rhinos and tigers, Manas National Park is known for its rare and endangered wildlife, including the wild water buffalo, the golden langur monkey, the Assam roofed turtle, the pygmy hog, and the hispid hare. In total, Manas provides habitat for 22 of India’s most endangered species of mammals. It is possible to do a jeep-safari, or an elephant-back ride and explore the park. We did both!
Manas National Park extends itself into Bhutan where it is known as the Royal Manas National Park.
There are a few places to stay near Manas National Park, and we happened to stay at Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp. It’s called an Elephant Camp because they have adopted two orphan elephants named Jaymala and Ratnamala. It is possible to feed and walk with the elephants along with the tea gardens, and even watch and help the mahouts bathe the elephants in a stream nearby.
From Guwahati, Manas National Park is located at nearly three hours’ drive away.
Kalamati: An extension of Manas National Park in the west, Kalamati is named after its black soil content. It is at this point that wild animals come to lick the salty black soil of Kalamati Hills, and that’s why the name Kalamati that literally translates to BLACK SOIL (black for ‘kala’ and Soil for ‘mati’). But it’s not the black soil that’s the motivating part to visit this place.
The motivating part is, however, the landscape – a white riverbed, a silently flowing river Kanamakra and an extended landscape that marks the beginning and the foothills of Bhutan in a distance. It is at Kalamati that Kanamakra river divides India and Bhutan. Cross the river and you literally step onto Bhutanese land. But be advised that it’s not allowed, so you can pretend to cross!
For anyone visiting Bodoland, and particularly Dwijing festival, Kalamati makes for a great destination to enjoy a peaceful and open landscape and see Bhutan from a not-very-common entry point. If you will Google search for Kalamati, you will possibly be redirected to some other location, so here’s a pinned location to make it easy for you to located Kalamati (well, not literally so)…
To get to Kalamati, you will need to have your own vehicle, with prior permission from Forest Range Office Amteka Range, Koila-Moila. The entry point for Kalamati starts from Koila-Moila Bazar.
Visiting A Bodo Village: The highlight of my entire time in Bodoland remains the Bodo village of Nangdorbari. And I am sure, to have a similar experience, you don’t need to find Nangdorbari but any village in Bodoland will do. And that’s for a simple reason – the people!
People in Bodoland are kind and welcoming. Talk to them, laugh with them, or get some selfies clicked, you will certainly enjoy every interaction. Since tourists in Bodoland are rare, it is possible that people may appear a bit reluctant to your presence, but that will be only out of pure shyness.
During our trip, we visited a few villages around Bodoland and wherever we went, it wasn’t just the host family meeting us (or let’s be honest with the word ‘SEEING’ us) but the entire village… giving an experience that is rare to find nowadays.
It is possible to venture into anyone’s house in Bodoland (with a smile) and explore their day-to-day life. In Nangdorbari, for example, other than tasting local food which included things I can never explain other than a very basic composition they’re made of, we explored local fishing and weaving techniques.
Since life in Bodo villages revolves around basic livelihood, most families can be seen weaving, fishing, and busy in their fields.
Bodoland: A New Destination In Northeast India In Making
For most Indian travellers, Northeast India remains a mystery. Anything beyond Shillong, Gangtok, and Guwahati makes most of us doubt our plan… How to go there? Where to stay? Would it be safe to travel? Do they even speak our language… and so on and so forth! Under such affairs, if someone introduces a region that is fairly unknown (even to an intrepid like me, forget seasonal travellers) and we have never heard of it before, things become even more complicated. And Bodoland, in Assam, is one such region.
Before my visit to Bodoland, which happened in December 2019, I had no idea about its existence either. Though I had heard of Manas National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary as two different destinations, I didn’t know they’re a part of a much larger territory called Bodoland – a new and upcoming tourist destination in making, in the state of Assam.
At this stage tourism in Bodoland is at its very early stage – something how tourism in popular places in Meghalaya might have been some 5 years ago. During my Media Trip To Bodoland, I found out that Assam government and local NGOs (including Rootbridge Foundation, that organised everything for us) are working to develop and publicize the tourism in Bodoland, as tourism can create a positive impact on society, create more rural livelihood and employment while ensuring the conservation of the traditional culture and natural resources of the area.
So yea, when you will visit Bodoland, you may not find the best of the infrastructure and comfy hotel rooms everywhere, but that’s not what travelling in northeast India is about anyway. And for how safe it is travel in Bodoland, be rest assured, just as safe as it is in Goa or someplace else!
Disclaimer: I visited Bodoland on a media trip (called Bodoland Ambassadors) organised every year to bring travel journalists and bloggers to Bodoland. Though the trip was funded and all our experiences were neatly crafted by the organising committee, all suggestions and recommendations are solely mines. I only recommend what I personally try and find worth appreciating.
Some of the pictures used in the article belong to Jimmy Kamballur, who was the official photographer of Bodoland Ambassadors Season 2. You can get in touch with him on Instagram.