Whichever direction you move in Assam, chances are that you will encounter the Brahmaputra or at least a tributary leading to it. Jorhat is no exception. This ancient town has a rich history. It was a major economic centre as well, as its name suggests: Jorhat, or Jorehaut referred to the twin haats (markets) of Macharkhat and Chowkikhat, situated on the two banks of the Bhogdoi river during the 18th century.

Today, Jorhat, one of the most important cities in Assam, is home to many premier educational and research institutes, including the famous Tocklai Tea Research Centre, Assam Agriculture University and Jorhat Engineering College.

Swapan Nayak
Tocklai Tea Research Centre
Tocklai Tea Research Centre

History

Jorhat was the last capital of the Ahom kingdom. In 1794, Ahom king Gaurinath Singha moved the capital from Sivasagar to Jorhat, as a result of which it flourished and soon became a major economic hub.

But then a series of Burmese invasions from 1817 onwards ravaged the town. These attacks gradually decreased over the years that followed and eventually came to an end after the British siege in 1824. The British contributed greatly to the resurrection of Jorhat. Finding the soil here favourable, they set up multiple tea gardens around the region, which then resulted in the town’s rich economic status.

Soon after, a narrow-gauge train service was established from Jorhat to Kokilamukh Ghat, 13km away – a way to transport tea from Jorhat to the rest of the country.

But as was the case with the rest of the country, Jorhat was also gripped by nationalist fervour. It groomed great revolutionaries such as Maniram Dewan, Piyali Barua and Gomdadhar Kanwar who gave up their lives during the struggle for independence.

The well-maintained Gymkhana Club and grounds
The well-maintained Gymkhana Club and grounds

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Jorhat is a place where one can discover splendid tea estates and research institues.

Gymkhana Club

Built in 1876, the club was started as a recreational space for the British tea planters. Well preserved, but showing its age a little, the Gymkhana Club still exudes elegance. The well-kept nine-hole parkland-style golf course here, dotted with trees and small water bodies, will test the skill of experienced golfers. The golf club is the third oldest in the world and the oldest in Asia.

The club hosts several exciting horse races, and the Governor’s Cup is a much-coveted trophy awarded here each year. Besides these, the Gymkhana also boasts lawn tennis courts, billiards, polo, swimming pool, a gentlemen’s bar and a theatre. There is a cricket ground as well, the Gymkhana Ground, which has played host to the CK Nayudu Under-19 Cricket Tournament.

Swapan Nayak
Tea tasting, Tocklai Tea Research Centre
Tea tasting, Tocklai Tea Research Centre

Tocklai Tea Research Centre

This is the largest and the oldest tea research centre in the world, and has been conducting research on tea cultivation since its establishment in 1911. The guesthouse in Tocklai, built in 1926, has now been declared a heritage building. Note that prior permission from the Tocklai Administrative Office is required to stay over.

Jorhat Science Centre and Planetarium

Inaugurated in 2013, the Jorhat Science Centre and Planetarium is well-loved by children and adults alike. The complex has a gallery on the general principles of science explained in a fun way, and another one called ‘Story of Oil’, which has displays on the history of petroleum, its exploration, drilling and dispensing. The dome shaped state-of-the-art digital planetarium has daily shows, which are especially popular with children.

Raja Maidam

Maidams are burial chambers somewhat similar to the pyramids but much smaller in size. Ahom king Purandar Singha was buried in Raja Maidam, which is located on the south bank of the Tocklai river. Purandar Singha was buried here along with items he used in his daily life as well as his valuables.

The colourful façade of Dhekiakhowa Bornamgha
The colourful façade of Dhekiakhowa Bornamgha

The Ponds

Perhaps one of the most frequented pukhuris (ponds) in the town is Mithapukhuri. The term ‘mitha’ means sweet, and the name literally translates to sweet pond. As the story goes, a group of Ahom soldiers rested near the pond and feasted on amla fruit from the trees nearby. To quench their thirst after, they drank from the pond and found the water to be sweet. They, hence, named the pond Mithapukhuri.

Located to the south of the town is Bangalapukhuri, said to have been dug in the mid-18th century. According to local lore, a man by the name of Rupsingh Bangal murdered an influential Ahom general. From the money he received for the murder, he excavated this pond. Hence, the water of this pond is regarded as tainted and is not used by the townspeople.

Burigosain Than

Shakta, Shaktism or Shaktadharma is a denomination of Hinduism that regards the Goddess or the Divine Mother as the Supreme Being. The Devi or the Goddess is worshipped as the centre of the universe, and everything else is merely her various manifestations. Burigosain Than is one such Shakta shrine located in the heart of the town.

A popular religious spot, the presiding deity here is Burigosain. It also houses an idol of a priest. Both the idols were first established at Rangpur and were moved to the current spot later.

WHERE TO STAY

Jorhat has quite a few heritage properties. A great British archi-tectural building now converted to a heritage hotel, Thengal Manor (Cell: 09748497027; Tariff: ₹7,500) in Jalukonibari, is a wonderful stay option in Jorhat. It was built in 1880 by Rai Bahadur Siva Prasad Barooah. It was from here that Dainik Batori, one of the first newspapers in Assam, was printed. Burra Sahib’s Bungalow (Cell: 08135811819, 08473075579; Tariff: ₹6,500) is a beautiful 125-year-old heritage bungalow in Sangsua Tea Estate. Also known as The Club House, the bungalow has one heritage deluxe room and a well-maintained golf course, swimming pool, gym and spa. Within the same premises lies the Kaziranga Golf Resort (Cell: 09864468605, 09748497027; Tariff: ₹4,200–6,500), which has 15 comfortable villas. The resort shares the facilities with Burra Sahib’s Bungalow.

Banyan Grove (Cell: 09435514177, 08399008568, 097484 97027; Tariff: ₹6,500) in Gatoonga Tea Estate is another Colonial tea bungalow converted to a heritage hotel. Other options in the city include The Manor (Tel: 0376-2370170, Cell: 09854040071/ 72; Tariff: ₹4,000–9,000), a boutique hotel on AT Road. Hotel MD’s Continental (Tel: 2300430-31, 2301421, Cell: 09435703435, 09435703436; Tariff: ₹2,900–9,000) near railway station; and Hotel Earl Grey (Tel: 2372105/ 37; Tariff: ₹1,500–3,500) near Ajanta Cinema. Assam Tourism’s Prashanti Tourist Lodge (Tel: 2321579; Tariff: ₹850–950) on MG Road has rooms and dorms.

WHERE TO EAT

An old-time favourite is Belle Amies, near Elley cinema. It is popular for its chicken dishes and has a bakery too. Meridian Hotel has good food and service. Nimantran is a simple restaurant with delicious food. Saffron is a fine dining restaurant with a pleasant ambience. Balimahi Dhaba & Bar serves food and drinks at reasonable rates. Beijing Banquet serves decent Chinese meals. Sherlock is a popular fast food joint. For chaat and sweets, head to the famous Mithai Junction.

AROUND JORHAT

Lachit Borphukan’s Maidam (16km)

Considered one of the greatest Assamese heroes, Lachit Borphukan was a commander in the Ahom Kingdom who defeated the mighty Mughals in 1671. His maidam is located near Jorhat at a place called Gohain Gaon of Meleng-Hulungapar.

Dhekiakhowa Bornamgha (18 km)

This naamghar (a type of prayer site) is located in the small village of Dhekiakhowa, established in 1461 by the Vaishnavaite saint Madhabdeva. The honorific bornamghar (big naamghar) has been bestowed on this temple owing to its large compound and sacred status.

It is said that Madhabdeva came to this sleepy little village on a boat. A very poor family who used to reside here offered him some dhekia xaak (a type of fern) to eat. He loved the dish so much that the naamghar came to be known as dhekiakhowa (to have eaten the hekia). It is believed that the earthen lamp he lit then is still burning, religiously refueled by the priests for centuries now. A long queue of devotees is inevitable at naamghar. Outside are shops selling puja paraphernalia as well as religious texts.  

Inputs by Sheeba Bhatnagar

FAST FACTS

When to go November–April. Months of February–March and June–July are the best time to visit Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary

Tourist/ Wildlife Offices

Tourist Information Office, MG Road, Jorhat, Tel: 0376-2321579,

Divisional Forest Officer, Jorhat Division, Jorhat, Tel: 232008, STD code 0376

GETTING THERE

State Assam

Location In the central part of the Brahmaputra Valley, in the district of Jorhat

Distance 307km NE of Guwahati

Route from Guwahati NH37 and AT Road via Jagiroad, Nagaon, Bokakhat and Dergaon 

Air Jorhat Airport (7km/ 20mins) is connected by Jet Airways to Kolkata and Guwahati. Taxis charge approx ₹500 for a trip

Rail Jorhat Town Railway Station is well-connected with major cities in the country. Autos are available outside the station

Road NH37 connects Guwahati with Jorhat Bus ASTC and private buses have regular services to Jorhat town