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NH40 And Me

Most of you my friends already know my love for Shillong. Though living in Guwahati for more than 25 years we still have a house in Shillong, the same one where my husband is born and brought up. We spend most of our short school breaks,long weekends,Rongali Bihu, Durga Puja in Shillong. Not more than two years back travelling to
Shillong used to be so much fun because of the hassle free two and half hour drive and the  extremely picturesque landscapes that  NH40 offered.

 NH 40 is a National Highway of India entirely within the state of Meghalaya. It covers a distance of 216 km.It is the only lifeline for Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and the Barak Valley districts of Assam. At present a mega project is underway to widen a 61.8km section of Jorabat-Barapani section of NH-40 into four lanes. This project was approved by the Central Government to ease traffic snarls on NH-40, which connects Guwahati with the State Capital and extends to Barak Valley in Assam and Mizoram through NH-44. Authorities say that the improvement of this NH to four-lane standard would  bring in prosperity and development of the region.

 This ambitious project has not only  hit the daily  road blocks, traffic congestion creating immense suffering to the travellers but also completely changed the previous lush green terrain into a muddy mess.

 Slashed hills ,boulders of all sizes .

 Busy machine.

A lone wall standing with a beautiful painting of Jesus on it.Wonder what made the machines stop here! I captured this picture last year .

Noticed this new wall painting near the same site where once stood that wall with Jesus painted on it.

It used to be a beautiful house on top of the hill .
 En route from Guwahati to Shillong, most of the travellers stopped mid way at Nongpoh to freshen up and get some refreshments as there were many coffee-tea shops around.This place was also visited by Rocky and Mayur of Highway On My Plate fame. Nongpoh is also a good place to pick up bamboo pickles,fresh local fruits ,vegetables and other condiments.Look at the above pictures ,this is how it stands now. I hope the people who lost their homes and shops have received handsome compensations from the government.
 Now travelling to Shillong needs strategic planning so as to avoid getting stuck in traffic jams.The  large-scale of overloaded coal trucks have ruined NH 40 over the last few years. An increasing number of ten-wheeler trucks are playing havoc with NH 40. Besides, the number of trucks plying on this highway is increased from around 1,500 per day to about 2,300 per day which has now become a nightmare for travellers because of the traffic jams occurring almost every day.On January 14th this year, the Union Minister of State for Water Resources was caught in such a jam which lasted for two days and the minister reached Shillong on a friend’s motorcycle.There are news of people missing their flights, babies being delivered on ambulances.
 After last month’s trip we have a toy truck  at home which looks exactly like this.

A pretty cabbage farm. Not sure to find it the next time we are on NH40.Many farmers have already lost their agricultural fields.
 These lovely trees are next in line..

 This mini-truck was loaded with packs of match sticks.The truck driver fell asleep while smoking his bidi , so here is the result. Driver was not hurt in this .

 This is me reporting from NH40.

Assam’s Jadav Payeng : The Man Who Made A Forest

“My folks had been telling me for long to do stories on the Northeast. Good stories can be found in plenty over there. But when the Sunday Times editor himself asked me to find good stories from the Northeast, I actively started looking for some. My parents knew a wee bit about Jadav Payeng as we had spent eight years in Jorhat in the 90s. I was speaking to my mother one day when Payeng suddenly came up. She asked to speak to my uncle, Shashi Phukan of Bismoi, for more information. That I did. Through him, I spoke to a few more people before finding Payeng himself. We had the story in February, but couldn’t get proper photos, which is why we had to wait till the end of March to put it on the page. I am no nature lover, honestly, but I bow before people who show a high degree of commitment and dedication to nature and wildlife conservation.” This is what Manimugdha  said when I asked him  what inspired him to write this brilliant story.

Manimugdha Sharma :A brief introduction

I met him through Fried Eye Magazine about three three years back and since then we have been very good friends. Manimugdha is a renowned quiz master from Assam who has been associated with print media since last seven years.Presently he is working as a chief copy editor in Times Of India.This is how he likes to introduce himself -An ardent history buff, disgruntled movie fanatic, frustrated lover of literature and the Indian cricket team, romantic fool of the highest order,journalist, die-hard quizzer, random thinker, well-known chatter-box, brilliant architect who builds castles in the air, self-proclaimed philosopher, a truly wandering soul with a desire to leave my mark in the sands of time.

The Man Who Made A Forest

This story is written by Manimugdha and it was previously published in Sunday Times TOI. I thank Manimugdha for sharing this story here on my blog.

Jadav Payeng :The man who made a forest.

              French author Jean Giono’s 1953 epic tale, The Man Who Planted Trees, seemed real to many readers. They thought the central character, Elzeard Bouffier, was a living individual until the author clarified that he created the character only to
make his readers fall in love with trees, and more importantly, planting trees. Assam’s Jadav Payeng has never heard of Giono’s book. But he could be Bouffier. He has single-handedly grown a sprawling forest on a 550-hectare (55 square kilometres) sandbar in the middle of the Brahmaputra. It now has many endangered animals, including at least five tigers, one of which bore two cubs recently. 


Sunday Times found this sprawling forest and the man who made it after a hard negotiation with Mother Nature, literally. The place lies in Jorhat district, over 350km from Guwahati by road. You have to go off the main road at one point, take a smaller and shabbier road for about 30km to reach the riverbank. There, if you are lucky, you will find a boatman to ferry you across to the north bank, from where you must trek for another 7 km to reach destination. Locals call it ‘Molai Kathoni’ (Molai’s woods) after Payeng’s pet name, Molai.
The genesis of the forest dates back to 1979. During the floods that year, the barren sandbar had crawling visitors washed ashore by the torrent. When the water receded and it once again became safe to navigate the river, a 16-year-old Payeng went to the sandbar one day and found it dotted with dead snakes. That was the turning point of his life. 
 “The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could do something to grow trees over there. They replied in the negative and said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo, which I did. It was painful, but I still did it. I was alone; there was nobody to help me; in fact, nobody was interested,” says Payeng, now 47. 
He left home and education behind and made the sandbar his home—a decision that was criticized by everyone dear to him. But he didn’t flinch. Unlike Robinson Crusoe, Payeng willingly accepted a life of isolation. And no, he had no Man Friday; he himself watered the plants every morning and evening and did the necessary pruning. After a while, results started to show; and after a couple of years, the sandbar transformed into a bamboo thicket. 
 “The experiment was successful and I decided to grow proper trees. I collected seeds from here and there and planted those in the sandbar. I also transported red ants from my village, and while doing so, I was stung multiple times. That was some experience!” Payeng says, laughing.
 In 30 years, Payeng says, he has grown thousands of trees all by himself. And this he did without any monetary help from either the government or any NGO.

“There’s a variety of flora and fauna and endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger. After almost 12 years, we have seen the elusive vultures. And migratory birds, too, have started flocking here. There are hundreds of deer and cattle, which has attracted the predators.”

By predators, Payeng means humans, too. He cites a recent incident when locals killed a rhino seen in his forest at another forest in Sibsagar district.


“Somehow, people find it difficult to give up primitive habits. Nature has made a food chain; why can’t we stick to it? Who would protect these animals if we, as superior beings, start hunting them? I don’t think the rhino harmed the people who killed it.”
Poaching has been one of the biggest problems in the national parks of Assam. Payeng himself had alerted the forest department after he spotted a bunch of poachers in his forest. “I think they were part of an inter-state gang, two of which were caught on camera inside the Kaziranga National Park two weeks ago. After I alerted the department, a handful of guards came to my forest and nabbed those poachers,” says Payeng.  

The Assam state forest department learnt about Payeng’s forest only in 2008 when a

herd of 100-odd wild elephants strayed into the forest after a marauding spree in a few villages at Aruna Chapori nearby. Amongthe homes destroyed was Payeng’s hutment. It was then that assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time. 

 We were a tad surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest; but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and the animals like his own children. Seeing this, we decided to pitch in at an individual level. Help from the government wasn’t forthcoming; in fact, it was only last year that the social forestry division decided to extend Payeng’s work and took up plantation work on a 200-hectare plot. This forest is acting as a corridor for the movement of wild animals from Kaziranga to other parts, which is good. This way, the scope of man-animal conflict will reduce substantially. And there lies the importance of Payeng’s work. It is easier to construct a building, but very difficult to grow a tree. What amazes me is Payeng’s grit and dedication—he has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have become a pre-eminent authority in environmental issues,” Saikia says.

He corroborates Payeng’s version on animals in the forest. “We counted at least five tigers here of which one was a female. She bore two cubs here and that’s incredible, given the fact that there’s growing concern about India’s missing tigers and efforts are being made for their captive breeding.”
Nevertheless, the government has been found wanting when it comes to taking steps to declare it a conservation reserve. Former Doner minister and Congress MP from Jorhat Bijoy Krishna Handique has recently taken interest in the forest. “I am going to moot a proposal to the Centre on behalf of Assam government to declare it a conservation reserve under provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. We will meet in New Delhi just before Bihu (April 13-15). I am hopeful of a positive result,” the MP told Sunday Times. He, too, agrees that it is time for the world to stand up and take notice of the man who grew a forest. Payeng would be happy.

BLOG UPDATED : 17.07.12 :

Received this mail from Manumugdha,sharing it here –
I am writing this mail with the intent of sharing with you all a moment of joy.

I believe all journalists report issues with the hope that somebody somewhere will take notice and do something to change things for the better. And whenever somebody does take notice, we feel encouraged all the more to find more stories that have the potential to touch human lives. This year’s Shanmukhananda Awards have given me one reason to be happy about—five of the seven awardees this year were selected on the basis of The Times of India reports of which three were mine.

In a letter to TOI, V Shankar, the president of Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha, a charitable trust based in Mumbai, confirmed this. The trust is celebrating its diamond jubilee this year, and to mark the occasion, they are conferring seven ‘Diamond Awards’ on people “who by dint of devotion to duty and exceptional commitment to the field of pursuit have added to the reservoir to goodness of our ancient land. Most of them have been unseen, unsung but have gone about their work, despite the sufferings and the hardships that the system have inflicted on them”.

The trust has decided to give out the awards in the following categories: ‘dignity to human body’, ‘honesty and probity’, ‘healthy mind, body and longevity’, ‘folk art’, ‘environment’, and ‘nation building’. And the awardees are T Mahadeva from Bangalore, M C Suresh from Kerala, Manohar Aich from Kolkata, Jadav Payeng from Assam, Nemi Bhagat Baba from Rajasthan, E Sreedharan and Horizon (NGO) from Pune.

Assam’s Jadav Payeng took 30 years to single-handedly convert a 550-acre barren sandbar in the Brahmaputra into a lush, green forest. I wrote about him on April 1 this year; the story had the headline ‘The man who made a forest’ (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/The-man-who-made-a-forest/articleshow/12488584.cms).

Manohar Aich from Kolkata is the world’s oldest Mr Universe at 100. Even at this advanced age, he is still ripped and continues to be a model of health (‘But what do you eat, Mr Aich?’ dated March 25, 2012. Web-link here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/But-what-do-you-eat-Mr-Aich/articleshow/12398977.cms)

Horizon is an NGO by ex-Army men, who have swept minefields in different parts of the world. I had broken their story to the world on March 4. The report had the headline ‘Mr Rao is all mine’ (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/Mr-Rao-is-all-mine/articleshow/12129715.cms?)

 The awards will be presented by former President of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam at an elaborate function to be held at the Shanmukhananda Theatre in Mumbai today. Each award carries a cash prize of Rs 2.5 lakh, a citation, a trophy, and a lamp.



A trip to a small tea garden : Bamonjuli

road from Naamkhola to Bamunjuli
    The second part of my post :Magh-bihu-2012-fish-catching-meji-and a sagolir puwali
Assam is the world’s largest tea-growing region .Tea industry in Assam is about 170 yrs old playing a significant role in state economy . It produces approx 51% of the tea produced in country and about 1/6th of the tea produced in world.The distinctive black teas from Assam is known for its body, briskness, malty flavor, and strong, bright color. Assam teas, or blends containing Assam, are often sold as “breakfast” teas . The Assam tea bush grows in a lowland region. Assam mainly exports its tea to Europe ,Middle East countries and also to Pakistan ,Eygpt ,Israel and Japan. Most of the large tea gardens are located in the Upper Assam and Southern Barak Valley region. . I always
wanted to write a post on one such lush green tea garden with a detailed account on how things work in there BUT my post today is based on a trip to a very small tea garden which  is in its initial stage .Small tea growers are also contributing to the develpment of tea industry .My brother-in-law is one such small tea grower.
Two years back he bought this tea garden which is situated at Bamonjuli a village around 40km  away from our native village.His garden shares the border with the famous Borengajuli Tea Estate.The above picture is of Borengajuli Tea Estate. Borengajuli Estate produces the most fabulous graden teas popular all over the world .Read more on it here and here at Culinary Teas .

Bamunjuli is about an hour drive away from our village Naamkhola.The road condition is not that good. Kanu da made this double storey house as a safety measure because of regular wild elephant visits .

It is a very very quite village. Most of the villagers here work in gardens as labourers .
This is Kanu da’s nursery where they grow and store small tea plants.He usually sells the tea leaf to the tea auction centre of the area like all other small tea growers but recently a Canadian delegate visited his garden and showed their interest in buying organic-tea directly from him.The delegate had come to visit mostly small tea growers of Assam.He is also keen on growing green tea and is working on it.

      This is how a tea flower looks like.

These are the homes of the villagers he bought the garden land from . They are the one who keep an eye on the garden in his absence.

An educational tour for the kids by their dear uncle . Kids come up with different stories everytime they see me sipping my tea .

This house belongs to a comparatively rich villager .

 The village has a govt school but most of the kids  don’t go there. Kanu da tried to convince the villagers to encourage their kids to go to school but it made no difference. Most of the kids here are sent to the  city and nearby towns to work as domestic helps.

 A view from the house .Watering and taking care of the trees is a tough work . Soon the tea leave plucking season will start and a lot of activity is expected here.

Kids had fun running up and down . My son got some tea leaves tucked in his jacket pocket for me knowing how much I love tea.

To protect their crops and houses villagers use these arrows to chase away the wild elephants .They put fire on arrow and shoot it into the air when elephants attack.There are many sad stories related to animal poaching but because of legal reasons I can’t share it here.

After lunch the group returned to Naamkhola ,had tea and refreshments. Bablu and Puja helped in packing sweets ,home made pithas , curd/yogurt for me and eggs for their cousins.

 After a tearful farewell they came back to Guwahati.

Bermuda touches soil for the first time in more than 10 years :By Siew Te Wong

Pic credit :Siew Te Wong
  Siew Te Wong :. Siew Te Wong is a renowned Malaysian wildlife biologist  who is at present the  CEO of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah  which he founded in 2008. . He is also featured in the book Wildlife Heroes :40 leading conservationist and the animals they are committed to saving written by Julie Scardina and Jeff Flocken . It is a great privilege to have him as my guest writer today.Here is more on Siew Te Wong .
Born in 1969 and raised in Penang (a state in the northern Peninsular Malaysia), Wong has always been an animal lover. As a kid he kept all kinds of animals like cats, rabbits ,mice ,birds,fishes,civets and many carnivorous insects too as pet.His father always supported and  encouraged it. By the time he was a teenager he became a very successful breeder breeding dogs ,birds and fishes. After high school he went to Taiwan to obtain a diploma in animal science and vetrinary. Four years later he pursued his Bachelor degree at the University of Montana USA ,followed by a Master’s degree and Phd all from the same university. Due to unforeseen circumstances he could not finish his doctorate. He studied the ecology of Malayan sun bears and the effects of selective logging on bearded pigs on his doctorate. In 2008 he founded BSBCC in Sepilok ,Sandakan, Sabah and holds the position of Chief Executive Officer since then.
Pic credit :Siew Te.Wong
.In his own words : Animal lover all my life. Decided to choose working with wildlife and help them as much as I could as my mission in life. Our own kind kills and eats them, destroy their home, and lock them in cages. I am here to help. Help the voiceless as much as I could. I try to influence other people as much as I could. Make others aware of the conservation issues. On the other hand, I am just like other people. I like food, I like to cook, I like to prepare good and tasty food. Asian food, especially is my favorite .Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thais, are some of my favorite food. I have some secrete recipes, maybe one day I will have my own restaurant when I retire as a conservationist and a wildlife biologist.Know more about him here at Ecoknights :Beer Necessity -A Walk On Wild With Wong Siew Te.
How this post happened : I was surfing through some wild life pictures and articles on net when I came across this beautiful write up on Sunbear by Siew Te Wong .Honestly speaking I knew nothing  about Sunbear until then .The moment I finished reading it my heart was full of love for sunbear and admiration and respect for  Wong’s work. .I wrote a very short mail to him where I introduced my self and told him about my blog and  requested him to be my Guest Writer.I told him that how I knew nothing about sunbear until I came across his write up .Soon I received a very nice reply from him where he kindly accepted my request and agreed to share Bermuda’s story here at My Room .We exchanged few more mails in relation to this post .I am sharing few lines from one of  his mail here :
I often tell people do what they do best to help us and the sun bear. For you as a blogger, blog about our work and sun bear. Like what you experience personally, you never know about sun bear until you read my blogs. This is the reason why I have to write more so that they can reach people like you and together we help spread the word on the plights of the sun bear. FYI, India also have sun bears but they are even little known about sun bear in India. They are found in the eastern tips of India, in Arunachal and Assam Provinces. So people in India need to know more about them as well.Hope one day sunbear will be a well known bear.
 So friends here we are taking you to a lesser known world of beautiful Sunbears.I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation  to Mr. Wong for being my guest writer and also for  providing me pictures and all the information that I needed for this post.
About Sun Bear :

In the tropical forest of Southeast Asia, lives a bear species call sun bear. These bears are small, the smallest of all the eight living bear species, and have black fur that are not easy to be spotted when they forage on the dark forest floor under the multi-layers forest canopies.Sun bears are the tree loving bears. They are forest dependent species. They live their life completely in the forest. Without forest, there will not be habitat for the sun bears. They need healthy forest to survive as in the forest that they find sufficient food, shelters, mates, and propagate.Sun bear holds many world’s records.They are the world’s smallest bear species. However, they have the longest tongue, longest claws, and largest canines relatively to their size if compared to other bear species .They are the world’s most arboreal bear species. Yet, sun bear is the world’s least known bears. They are the least studied bear species. Wong  often refer them as the forgotten species.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 BSBCC aims to conserve sun bears through improve animal welfare for captive sun bears, raise conservation awareness for sun bear with educational programs, conduct research to learn more about this little known bears, and rehabilitate pet sun bears into the wild.Know more on BSBCC here.

      Bermuda touches soil for the first time in more than 10 years
Caged, pet sun bears have a sad life. From the day they were captured and kept as pet, most of them will NEVER touch the soil, climb the trees, and dig the ground again.Many of our rescued sun bears also have the same fate. However, with our state of the art forest enclosure, the rescued sun bears at BSBCC have the chance to enjoy the forest.
Bermuda, a 10 year old male sun bear at BSBCC, was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on October 10, 2002. He lives on a concrete floor since the day  he was captured from the wild as a little sun bear cub. For him, the ground is always a smooth layer of concrete floor, until today.
This is how far Bermuda willing to go on the first day to forest enclosure.
 Bermuda finally passed his electric fence training lately. We let him out to his forest enclosure for the first time on Valentine Day Feb 14th. We put food, and honey (all time favorite food for bears) on the ramp to encourage/lure him out of his den. What he did that entire day was pocked his head out to reach the food and honey on the ramp without stepping a foot on the ramp.
This is a very pathetic story for all caged sun bears. To all of them, confined and locked up in a small cage is life. They do not know the world beyond the cage. Rain, soil, trees, leaf litters and other natural vegetation and natural elements in the forest all are something that they never come in contact. The only time when they walked on the forest floor was during the first few weeks or months of their life, until their mothers were killed and they were captured by poachers. To them, forest is an alien nation, fills with unknown bugs and unknown noise; the place that is so strange, insecure and uncertain. All of our adult bears decided to stay inside the den and not wondering into the forest enclosure when we released them out to the forest enclosure for the first time. It sometime took them weeks if not months to wonder out from their den. Only the young once would go out immediately and enjoy the forest without second thoughts.
Bermuda’s reaction when we let him out to the forest enclosure was not exception on Valentine Day. Over the next week or so he still kept himself safe under the protection of his den although the door to forest enclosure was staying open all day long. The food that we left on the ramp and the forest floor has attracted troops of forest bandits – pig-tailed macaques and long-tailed macaques, to enjoy their free meals. Bermuda, sometime I questioned his “male-hood,” just stood in his den and watched his food being stolen away by these intelligent primates.
A smart pig-tailed macaque robbed the food that we placed on the ramp to encourage Bermuda the sun bear out from his den to explore the forest enclosure.
A smart pig-tailed macaque robbed the food that we placed on the ramp to encourage Bermuda the sun bear out from his den to explore the forest enclosure.
 Three macaques ganged up to rob food from the bears. The scene is like hyenas gang up to steal lion’s prey in African savanna.
The only thing that Bermuda did was watching the bandit took his food and sticks his tongue out!
This afternoon as I was writing another blog on Fulung and Mary, Marianne our volunteer from UK rushed into the office, “Bermuda is out to his forest enclosure!” Wai Pak and I grasped our cameras and went down to witness this historic moment. This is the moment where he step foot on the forest floor for the first time in more than 10 years and we do not want to miss that! Although he did not wonder off far from the guillotine door of his den, we can tell from his fast pacing behavior that he was nerves and wanted to go back. Wai Pak then scattered some bread in the enclosure to encourage him foraging and exploring a bit more. He just ate the bread that was close to him without much exploration. After tens of minutes, he finally found his way back to his den and did not come out to explore again.
Bermuda is finally out to explore the enclosure. Although not much area covered, it is a good try for sure!
 That was a good start for a captive sun bear willing to wonder off his den on the 7th day. Gutuk, another old male bear still decided to confine himself in his den although the door to the forest enclosure has been open for the past 3 months. 
Bermuda finally walking on soiled ground, not cemented floor. It may seem nothing for a bear, but for Bermuda, this is a big deal!
I am sure Bermuda soon will gain more confidence to explore the forest enclosure. What he need is time and encouragement. In BSBCC, we will give him both!

Related Links :

Logo BSBCC-small

Magh Bihu 2012 : Fish Catching, Meji And A Sagolir Puwali .

a huge tree captured on camera by sobbing Gauri
Magh Bihu / Bhogali bihu of Assam is a harvest festival which marks the end of winter harvesting.The term Bhog means enjoyment,merriment and luxury.Granaries are full and there is lots of feasting and enjoyment all over Assam during this time (mid Jan to mid Feb).The same festival is observed all over India as Makar Sankranti/Pongal/Lohri.My old friends already know that every year during this time, I alongwith my family go to my husband’s ancestral village Naamkhola .This year
too we had similar plan but because of a very bad flu bout I could not accompany my family and had to stay back at Guwahati .This is was the first time that I spent three days alone at home without my kids .
                                                      another shot by her : a guy walking on bamboo sticks
Surprisingly my son who is otherwise very clingy , little shy and mommies around most of the time was least bothered while my daughter who is quite adjustable to any given situation was devastated.I  gave her my camera and requested her to bring some real good pictures for  viewing and my blog post .Given project  helped and she agreed to go without me . In this post I have used some of her clicks and rest of the pictures are  captured  by Chandan.
Prityotama and Ganesh
  They reached Naamkhola in two hours and in those two hours I received three calls and more than ten sms from my concerned daughter.We communicate in Assamese most of the times but her calls were in Hindi .”Apna Khyaal Rakhna (take care of yourself)” said a heavy and concerned voice over the phone. I knew the frequency of calls and messages is going to drop down once she meets her  cousins .And I was right .While refreshments were being arranged for them Bablu ( my nephew ,Chandan’s cousin’s son) took them to show this sagoli (goat) goat Priyotoma and her puwali ( kid) Gonesh.
 On the field nearby village folks were busy preparing meji. Mejis are made particularly by the menfolk,with bamboo sticks,hay and wood pieces. Meji burning is a ritual where fire(Agni) is worshipped on the day of Sankranti. Know more about it here.
 In few minutes my son and sagolir puwali (as he fondly) remembers Ganesh) became good friends and were inseparable. Soon it was time for fish -catching for Uruka feast .Celebration of this bihu is mostly centered around community feast on Uruka i.e. the eve of Sankranti. On this eve people organise Bhoj(feast) either within the family or in groups.We like to keep it as an only family feast.You can know more on Uruka here .
 This is our fish-pond .It is typical of almost most of  Assamese village houesholds to have their own fish pond as fish is an integral part of Assamese cuisine.Soon Kanu da and his staff proceeded towards the pond to catch fish for Uruka bhoj. My brother-in-law Bhaskar (popularly known as Kanu Da amongst family and friends) takes full care of this pond , farm and fields.Brought up and studied  in Shillong he finally opted for farming and transport business .Happily married and father of two kids he and his family love every minute of their village life . Both the kids go to a good school in nearby town.

 I had instructed both my kids to keep a safe distance from pond and they obediently followed that .And also they were under constant observation and excellent care of ma( my mother -in-law) and Jonali their aunt (my sister-in -law).

Bablu was already in the pond trying his hands on fish catching .All the invitations to join him were flatly refused by Gauri telling him ,”Ma ie manaa korisee”( ma said no ).

 The pond is not very deep but because my kids are not good swimmers as yet I am not comfortable in letting them try .This is how our pond looks when emptied for half yearly cleaning.

 The fish  net was already  placed in position .The net used here is called Tana -Zaal ( meaning pulling net) .It was time to pull it out slowly and check the catches.The man in blue shorts is our Kanu da.The different variety of fish found in this pond are Kandhuli(Feather back) ,Chetal(humped feather back),Rau (Rohu),Common carp ,Grass carp,Silver carp and few other small ones.

 The net gets heavy because of too many fishes in it .You can see fishes jumping .

 Each fish is carefully selected depending on it’s size and variety .Immature ones are thrown back to the pond .The one above looks like a great catch.

 They found a snake too in there which was thrown back to the pond.After an hour fish catching session was over .

 Happy people here.Each fish weighed between 2- 3 Kg .More than fifteen fishes were caught that day .Kanu da kept eight and rest were distributed amongst staff and some other close friends.

 Babloo with his catch.

 Saharia men ready for Uruka Bhoj (feast).

 They also collect pumpkin flowers to make fritters.This picture is from one of our previous trips.

an old picture

Kanu da takes them on a short tractor ride if time allows.

pic from our previous trip

 Some cricket is played .

A trip to the smelly pigsty is a must.

Kaustubh and Gauri are very fond of milk so they get their special share .

an old pic

The evening is enjoyed by watching making of sunga peetha and uruka feast later.

Next morning people gather around Meji .

Soon after meji burning ritual we usually go on village round visiting friends and relatives but this time Kanu da had planned a picnic at his newly bought tea garden which is in it’s budding stage.I will take you there in my next post .

A Special  Request : Dear  friend Rachna who blogs at Rachna Says  has started  something very interesting to help everyone here at  Rolodexo.com. It is a simple concept that allows a person to create a virtual business card that looks exactly like a physical business card free of cost.The idea is to help every self-employed person, professional, housewife and student get a unique identity by creating own Biz Card. They can share this card via email, embed on blogs/websites, use on their resumes and even attach as signatures on Gmail or Outlook.Very soon there will be an Android App for those wishing to share this card through cellphones. No paper, no physical card, environment friendly and absolutely free. Try it today, and let us spread the word for the benefit of common people.The website URL ishttp://rolodexo.com .The   FB page of the Application is  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rolodexocom/235758923168750?ref=ts  

                                           Thanks.


Sri Sri IswarHatiSatra Of Sualkutchi

The Institution of Satra/Xatra is a unique feature of Vaishnavism in Assam. The Satra, or Vaishnavite Monastery, is an institution which was established by great social reformer Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva.Satras soon became centres for education and symbol of the art of harmonius living in Assam. Today, the number of Satras in Assam is well over five hundred.Couple of months back  we visited Sualkutchi to see the Annual Boat Race.As preparation for the race were on way we were invited to the house of  Mr .Hemchandra Bharali and Mrs Dipali Bharali . Mr . Bharali had served for Govt as an  Asst . Director Of Sports and Youth Welfare Dept .He is the key member of the race commitee.During conversation I expressed my desire to visit Majuli(abode of the Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture) someday to
see the Satras there.Hearing this Mr . Bharali suggested that we visit three hundred and fifty years old Sri Sri Iswarhatisatra which is famous for it’s great wood carvings and paintings.We readily agreed to it and soon followed Mr. Bharali as our guide.(In the picture : Mr. Bharali ).

A Satra has been defined as:-ekanta vaisnava yot nibasa karai . jibako saran diye, tak Satra kai – which means Where the single-minded Vaishnavas reside,where they offer shelter to the souls, that place is called a Satra.They are of great importance because of the fact that they contain manuscripts, artifacts and antiques of immense historical value.

Here we were introduced to the present Satradhikar or the head of the satra.. The bhakats, monks, live here under the guardianship of the Satradhikar .All important activities are conducted under his guidance and supervision.He told us that by calculating working years of different Satradhikars the estimated age of this Satra is over three hundred fifty years old .In the Satras, the Nama Prasanga/prayers are generally held three times a day.The most sacred space is the Manikut . It is the sacred room where the Guru Asana (sacred throne) is located. Manikut literally means ‘house of jewels’. It is also here that the other-Satra valuables, wood carvings, metal works, ancient manuscripts etc. are housed. It is a sacred area and beyond a certain limit general devotees are not allowed in.I have pictures of Manikut entrance but not sharing it here on request .

 These Instituitions work both as the hub of religious learning and as residential schools.Here is a view of the assembly hall .The hall always faces the east.

 Satras have always  encouraged the arts and crafts, like dance, drama, music, book-illustration  for the beautification of the Satra interiors .The above carving depicts the scene from Ramayana .Those who are familiar with Ramayana can see the war between Laxman and Kumbhkaran , Hanuman bringing Sumeru Parvat ,Lord Rama and Lanka king Ravana.

 Doors with carvings of lion motifs are called Shimhaduar .The doors had beautiful brass work on them.Wish that the ripped paint and the dirt over the paintings were taken care of.We were told that soon this site is going to be developed as a tourist destination.

 Another panel depicting Sita Haran by Ravana ,the fight between Jatayu and Ravana and Sita at Ashok Vatika.

 This is how the complete wood walls of the main prayer hall/assembly hall look like .The walls are usually left with railings or perforated wood carvings of devotional imagery, which allows light and air at the same timeThe floral carvings look gorgeous on closer look For many days I repeatedly kept on looking at the pictures of these amazing art work.

From Ramayana : Lord Rama ,Laxman and the fight between Sugreeva and Baali. Because of time limit as we had to go to the Boat Race venue we could not see the carvings on the other side .

 These are the pictures of founder Satradhikars.As told by the present Satradhikar they are kown to have lived very long life .

Later ‘Bhakats’ invited us to their kitchen for some light refreshments.Though the term ‘bhakat’ means any devotee -Many  devotees live outside the Satra and generally lead a family life.The celibate Bhakats known as Kevaliaa which popularly applied to mean those devotees who either hold office of the Satra or lead the life of a celibate within the Satra campus.We were served Chira ,Curd topped with delicious cream and generous amount of  sugar .
 info courtesy :attribute to sankardeva.org.

Pukhuris or  water tanks are used either for sacred or utility purposes. Each tank or pukhuri is allotted for a specific purpose such as rice washing,bathing  etc.  The environment around had a number of flowering and fruit bearing trees, which provide ample shade. The height of the main structures do not exceed those of the trees around them.

Soon we had to rush as the procession towards the boat race was about to begin.We left the premises with a promise to the villagers that if possible we will visit this beautiful Satra  again so as to see the interiors of the assembly hall which we missed this time.

I will be away for a week visiting our ancestral village for celebrating Magh/Bhogali Bihu (harvest festival).I wish you all A Very Happy Bihu.

(This new feature of reply thread in blogger comment section is great , go to comments- settings and choose Embedded option in Comment Location)