A journey through the untrammelled beauty that is the Northeast of India
1/2/2018 7:34:35 PM
|written By : Runima Borah Tandon|
Every time the plane flies close to the Himalayan ranges on the flight from Kolkata to Guwahati, my heart skips a beat. You can’t help but marvel at the spectacular beauty of the snow-clad peaks of the Kanchenjunga, as the plane circles low over this region. After a while, the topography changes to verdurous green, when you start feeling at home in the familiar terrain of Neelachal Porbat, Blue Mountains serenading the Brahmaputra valley. The idea of bringing my Singaporean colleague Rachel and her friend Jane was carried out on an impulse. When she expressed her desire to see the North-east, I welcomed her happily. I was excited to show them the spellbinding beauty of the Northeast. Five days were certainly not enough to show them everything, so I carefully prepared an itinerary that included Shillong and Kaziranga National Park, with a brief stopover at my sister’s home in Guwahati. This short preview of the untrammelled beauty of the North-east would surely make them come back for more in the near future, to discover the fascinating sights and sounds of the Northeast. We took the Singapore Airlines flight to Kolkata, stayed overnight at Swissotel which is conveniently located near the airport, and caught the morning (10.50 am) flight to Guwahati.
Once our plane touched down at Gopinath Bordoloi airport, it took us about 40 minutes to collect our baggage and head towards the city. My younger sister, along with my former classmate from Cotton College, was there to receive us at the airport. What better way to introduce a culture to Singaporeans than the unique cuisine of the place? So we decided to take them to Paradise, one of the oldest restaurants in Silpukhuri, Guwahati, serving ethnic Assamese food. The meal started off with gooseberry soup, served with a sweet and salty biscuit. It is a wonderful appetiser that leaves a refreshing aftertaste in the mouth. We were served in big round plates made of bell metal, dotted with many small bowls of vegetables, pickles, fish, meat and curries cooked in typical Assamese style. For non-vegetarian food lovers, Assam is a food paradise, for its deliciously cooked chicken, duck, mutton, pork and fresh water fish, cooked in different styles. But it has plenty to offer to lovers of vegetarian food, in the form of deliciously cooked vegetables – fried egg plant, cabbage, yellow dal (lentils), khutura haak (green leafy vegetables), bamboo shoot pickle, aloo pitika or mashed potatoes with mustard oil, onion, coriander and salt, the famous amita khaar, a delicious curry made from raw papaya, which is known to help in digestion. With our stomachs filled to the brim, we went back home to rest for the evening party that was being thrown by my brother-in-law to welcome our Singaporean guests, where he invited my old Cotton College hostel friends and family friends whom I had not met for over 25 years.
As evening fell, we converged at Confucius, an Indian Chinese restaurant located at the heart of GS road. You can call it more Assamese-Chinese than Indian Chinese. In India, Chinese food is prepared to cater to the palate of every state. So the Indian Chinese food that you find in restaurants in Delhi tastes different from that in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. That speaks volumes for the diversity of India, which can be discovered through the unique style of cooking and the spices used. Assamese cuisine is generally known for being less oily, less spicy, with exotic herbs adding inimitable flavours, which is why it appealed a lot to my Singaporean friends. Both Rachel and Jane felt connected to Assamese culture through the universal bond of food. Not only that, they were thoroughly impressed with the sorority and equal status given to women, with both men and women sitting together at dinner and discussing politics and culture on an equal footing. They were impressed with the heartfelt hospitality of the Assamese: “I liked the company of women. It was women bonding which was indicative of Assamese culture. The top-notch hostesses went out of their way to accommodate their ‘goddess’ guests.” We explained to Rachel that this is what we were taught by our mother- to consider guests as God, as part of the Assamese culture.