About a two-hour drive away from Dibrugarh is the town and district of Sivasagar, situated in Upper Assam. The drive to this town is a wonderful experience – snippets of Assamese village life, fields of green and sightings of the lesser adjutant storks walking about in the fields are some of the pleasant scenes you will encounter. Most of the journey takes place on the NH37, which is a narrow highway with sharp bends and patches of potholes especially during the rains. With a reliable cab driver, however, the trip will be smooth and quite enjoyable.

Formerly known as Rangpur, this town was the seat of the Ahom kings and is, thus, historically important. Sivasagar served as the Ahom capital for about six centuries. The Ahom Dynasty’s first capital was established at Charaideo in 1261 CE by its first king, Sukapha. From Charaideo, it was moved to Charaguya in 1403 CE. The capital was moved two more times before king Rudra Singha shifted the capital to Rangpur in 1707 CE.

Vatsala Srivastava
The imposing Shiva Dol on a rainy morning
The imposing Shiva Dol on a rainy morning

The Burmese invasion of 1819 ensured the fall of the Ahom Dynasty. Then came the British, who ousted the Burmese and then proceeded to annex the region in 1826. The district of Sivasagar encompasses the above-mentioned places where you will find the last remaining traces of the erstwhile Ahom kingdom.

ORIENTATION

Getting around Sivasagar will not be difficult – there are plenty of auto and cycle rickshaws available. It is recommended, however, that you book a cab for the day, as it is more convenient. The three dols lie within Sivasagar but the palaces as well as moidams are on the outskirts of the town.

THINGS  TO SEE AND DO

The Dols

Situated in the heart of the town is a huge complex with three huge structures. The greatest of these, in the middle, is the Shiva Dol. To its right side lies the Vishnu Dol and the Devi Dol sits to its left. Queen Ambika, the wife of Shiva Singha ordered the construction of these three temples.

Vatsala Srivastava
A small temple within the Kareng Ghar complex
A small temple within the Kareng Ghar complex

Punctuated with small lawns, the entire complex has a marbled path running through it. The Shiva Dol, at 55m in height, is the tallest of these structures. Made of black stones and brown bricks, the dol stands on an octagonal plinth, has three entrances, and outer walls that are decorated with sculptures and floral motifs. Its dome has a golden trishul (Shiva’s trident) mounted on the top. According to legend, many invading armies, including the British, attempted to wrench it out, but were unsuccessful. Hence, the trishul remains where the Ahoms placed it.

Keeping in tandem with the structure of most Ahom temples, the Shiva Dol too has a pavilion at the entrance. This pavilion is then connected to the anteroom, beyond which, under the dome, is the garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum. The garbhagriha shelters the shivalinga.

The Vishnu Dol and the Devi Dol are similar to the Shiva Dol in structure and design. Connected to the Shiva Dol via a short path, these two are comparatively smaller. A common feature, however, is that the domes of all three dols have sculptures of Brahma, Shiva on his Nandi, Narasimha, Kalki, Devi sitting on what looks like a mythical winged creature, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana and even hunting scenes on them.

During Durga Puja, the Devi Dol attracts thousands of devotees from all over the country and is a sight to behold. Animal sacrifices are also held here.

Anwesha Madhukalya
The double-storeyed sports pavillion at Rang Ghar
The double-storeyed sports pavillion at Rang Ghar

Kareng Ghar

The construction of this palace was initiated by king Sukhrungphaa or Swargadeo Rudra Singha (r. 1696-1714) in 1698 CE. It was completed during the reign of Rajehswar Singha (r. 1751-1769). Built along a north-south axis with long annexes, this citadel originally had seven storeys – four above the ground and three below. The Kareng Ghar also has two underground tunnels, which were meant to be used as escape routes. One led to the palace at Garhgaon and the other towards Dikhow river. They were sealed a long time ago, by the British, and can no longer be accessed.

Unfortunately, today the palace is in a dilapidated condition and bears little resemblance to the striking structure it surely must have been centuries ago. As you walk past the gates you will notice two cannons on either side – the only artefacts on display here. A boundary wall surrounds the Kareng Ghar, which lies within manicured grounds.

Kareng Ghar was originally built using materials such as wood and bamboo. Later on it was renovated by Rajeshwar Singha – besides bricks, unusual binding ‘ingredients’, such as a paste made from sticky rice and eggs were used.

Straight ahead of the entrance gates are stairs that lead you to the first floor of the Kareng Ghar. Interestingly, the ground floor’s entrance is not very conspicuous, possibly because it was meant for servants of the royal family. As a result of this architectural feature, you end up visiting the upper storey first. In order to access this storey, which served as the royal quarters, you will have to climb a flight of uneven stone steps. Once at the top you will notice a small octagonal room to your left, which is believed to have been a temple. It has a domed roof with a trident on top. There’s not much left of the other rooms on this level. However, on the terrace, you can still see intricate carvings with floral motifs on the walls. One particularly interesting carving depicts a king sitting on his throne, engaged in conversation with one of his subjects.

Tarini Singh
Steps leading in to Rang GharSteps leading in to Rang Ghar
Steps leading in to Rang Ghar

The ground floor has several halls that were probably used as storage space, stables and servant quarters. Damp and dingy, these are long corridors with unusually small arched openings in each wall. You will have to bend down considerably to walk through one of these. These arches are believed to be a Mughal influence and can be seen throughout the building.

As is the case with all of Sivasagar’s monuments, young couples looking for some privacy make up the majority of visitors here. Even so, a tour of this citadel will not take up a lot of your time.

Entry Indian ₹5; Foreigners ₹100 Timings Sunrise to sunset

Rang Ghar

This double-storied, elongated oc- tagonal structure served as a royal sports pavilion and was built by king Pramatta Singha in 1746 CE. The king and his retinue used to sit here to watch games that were organised for his entertainment, especially during the festival of Rongali Bihu.

Believed to be one of the oldest surviving amphitheatres in Asia, the Rang Ghar’s shape resembles an inverted long boat with three turrets in the centre. The ground floor is a large hall with ten archways, five on either side of the building.

The top storey of the Rang Ghar is accessible via a flight of steps. However, kings never had to use it since this floor was low enough for them to access it directly from elephant back. As you ascend the stairs you will notice remnants of geometrical and floral designs on the structure. There is a small landing at the top of the stairs with niches on either side, which are at a slightly higher level. This landing is a good place to stop and take pictures. From here head up into the top storey for views of the entire complex from arched windows that run along the length of the structure.

The ASI has tried to develop a park here with fountains and swings for children.

Entry Indian ₹5; Foreigners ₹100 Timings Sunrise to sunset

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Brahmaputra (Tel: 03772-222200, 211115, Cell: 07399019903/ 05, 09854967844; Tariff: ₹950–8,000) on BG Road is perhaps your best bet for accommodation in Sivasagar. The rooms are nicely done and the food and service are good. Hotel Shiva Palace (Tel: 222629, 225204, 225184, Cell: 09954729782; Tariff: ₹999–5,000) on AT Road has a restaurant, bar and Internet. Hotel Piccolo (Tel: 223126, 222173, Cell: 09859287203; Tariff ₹1,500–4,000), on Arunodai Path, is one of the oldest hotels in Assam. Assam Tourism’s Tourist Lodge (Tel: 222394; Tariff: ₹600–775) is strategically located with spacious, clean rooms. Other, more basic options here include Aryan Hotel (Tel: 220936; Tariff: ₹800–1,300) in Jayanthi Market, and Talatal Hotel (Tel: 223510, Cell: 09435057167; Tariff: ₹800–1,500) on Boarding Road. All have restaurants.

WHERE TO EAT

Hotel Brahmaputra’s Kaveri and Hotel Piccolo’s Blue Maid restaurants are popular for their Indian and Chinese dishes. Hotel Shiva Palace’s Skychef serves multi-cuisine fare. Bamboo Grove is a restaurant offers Assamese, Indian and Chinese cuisines. Koupat in Central Market has traditional Assamese and Singhpo food.

Food Cart is a sought after fast food joint. Its momos are delicious. The Brahmputra Restaurant & Bar is popular for its Indian and Chinese fare.

Inputs by Vatsala Srivastava

FAST FACTS

When to go October–February

Tourist Office

Tourist Information Office, Sivasagar, Tel: 03772-222394, W assamtourism.gov.in, STD code 03772

GETTING THERE

State Assam

Location Bounded by the Brahmaputra in the north and Nagaland to the south, Sivasagar sits in the eastern part of the state

Distance 57km NE of Jorhat

Route from Jorhat AT Road via Chenijaan, Kakojan, Jhanzi and Gaurisagar

Air Nearest airport: Rowriah Airport in Jorhat (75km/ 1.5hrs). Jet Airways connects Jorhat with Kolkata and Guwahati. Taxi costs approx ₹1,200

Rail Sivasagar Railway Station. Dibrugarh Express, Jorhat Intercity and Rangiya-Dibrugarh Express connect Sivasagar to Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Kolkata and Bengaluru. However, Simulguri, about 16km from Sibsagar, on the Guwahati-Tinsukia main line has better connectivity. Taxis, buses and shared autos available outside the railway station for Sivasagar. Shared autos charge about ₹15

Road NH37 connects Sivasagar with Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and other cities in Assam Bus ASTC and private operators provide regular bus services to Sivasagar from Guwahati and many other cities in the state