We came, we saw and we loved. This is what we felt about Bodoland. The place with its scenic vistas, wildlife sanctuaries and adorable people simply stole our heart. The week we spent at Bodoland during the Dwijing Festival was simply full of unadulterated fun and joy. Because we discovered the “land untouched”, experienced a very colourful festival in Northeast India, went for the longest safari of my life at Manas National Park and of course met some wonderful people on the way. The cherry on top is that fact that we were there as the “Ambassadors of Bodoland”, trying to bring Bodoland on the tourism map. So sit tight and experience the wonders of Bodoland with the 2 Backpackers.
- 1 Is Bodoland safe to travel?
- 2 Where is Bodoland?
- 3 What Bodoland has to offer to tourism?
- 4 What are the places to visit in Bodoland?
- 4.1 Manas National Park
- 4.2 A visit to MMES at Baksa
- 4.3 Kalamati
- 4.4 Visit a Bodo village and get a slice of Bodo life
- 4.5 A few other interesting places:
- 5 How to reach Bodoland?
- 6 The Last Word
Is Bodoland safe to travel?
It is true that even a few days back, the word ‘Bodoland’ was taken with much scepticism because of its past. It was not considered ‘safe’ to travel here. When I told my family that I would be travelling to Bodoland, they looked at me as if I were some weirdo.
But all these fear, doubt is a thing of the past.
Bodoland is perfectly safe to travel. Period. And so is entire northeast.
As a solo female traveller, I would definitely say that there are very few places in the country safer than these areas. And this realization comes only after my extensive travel in the northeast India, both solo and with Agni. So ditch that doubt, keep an open mind and come visit Bodoland.
Where is Bodoland?
Bodoland is the land of the Bodos, an indigenous inhabitant of Assam. Lying on the foothills of the Bhutan Himalayas, Bodoland comprises of the four districts of Assam. The area is now known as BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts) governed by the BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) that has been given the legislative, administrative, executive and financial powers in the area.
We had visited Bongaigaon and Chirang area to attend the Dwijing Festival and also took a visit to the Manas National Park in the Baksa region. Kokrajhar and Udalguri district also falls under BTAD.
What Bodoland has to offer to tourism?
Bodoland is unmatched in biodiversity with important wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife reserves. Manas National Park is one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries of Assam. Apart from its rich floral and faunal beauty, the area is culturally rich. It is the heartland of the Bodos, the largest ethnic group of Assam. The people fiercely protect their traditions and culture and will also happily welcome you to their folds so that you can experience the Bodo culture as well as their hospitality.
Inspite of being so culturally and naturally rich, the region has never been in much public eye, mostly because of insignificant promotion and negative publicity. Now, along with the help of Bodoland Tourism and Ambassadors of Bodoland, the region will surely come to the tourism map.
What are the places to visit in Bodoland?
Manas National Park is perhaps the most iconic attraction of the region. But Bodoland is not only about wildlife. Here are some of the places that you can visit in Bodoland. We visited a few places while on our trip, but I would include a few more as well.
Manas National Park
As we mentioned before, Manas National Park is the most famous and developed attraction of Bodoland. Manas is an interesting place. It has a few specialities that make it singular from other places. Manas National Park is the only national park in India with five conservation status. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a Project Tiger Reserve, an Elephant Reserve, an Important Bird Area as well as a Biosphere Reserve. It is also the only forest area that has increased in size!
In 1992, UNESCO had declared the National Park as a world heritage site in danger. It was because of heavy poaching and felling of trees and other terror activities. Later due to the conservation efforts of the locals, the Manas national park was removed from the list of World Heritage Site in Danger. You can read about the conservation efforts in our post about MMES.
A walk with the elephants
We stayed at Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp at Manas. The camp had adopted two orphan elephants and named them Jaymala and Ratnamala. In the afternoon, we went for a walk with Jaymala and Ratnamala along the tea gardens. But first it was the time for some indulgence for Jaymala and Ratnamala. The mahouts took them to a nearby stream for a bath. Some of us went into the water with them to bathe them, scrubbing them with grass. It was good to see the two elephants enjoying the bath and sprinkling water on those who were around. Elephants are surely lovely creatures.
After a lazy bath, the duo took us for a walk. Yes, we followed Jaymala and Ratnamala through the tea gardens and the village roads. We would stop with them when they decided for a quick meal by breaking a branch. It was obvious that they were hungry after a bath! With the golden light of the setting sun, the whole place looked dreamy and all the photographers became busy for that ‘perfect’ golden hour shot.
Later we walked through the Bodo villages on the fringes of the forests. We simply entered into Bodo houses, took photographs and all that they did was give us a huge smile. Who said Bodos were not friendly?
A 7-hour long safari
Well, we must say that it was the longest safari that we ever did. And it was totally worth. The ride was bumpy, we got covered by dust, but we continued our quest to see the flora and fauna of Manas National Park. We spotted a few animals, drove through the green cforest, and then abruptly the scenery changes. Manas River appears out of nowhere and all of us get down to enjoy a few minutes at the riverbank. The Manas National Park is named after the Manas River that flows from the gorges of Bhutan.
A few minutes turned out to be quite some time. The landscape was so gorgeous! The clear blue waters of Manas River rippled across the rocky terrain. The white pebbles on the bank provided a perfect contrast to the blue waters. The green mountains provided the perfect backdrop to take photographs and selfies and make videos. And I stood there quietly for some time mesmerized. I think we were all quite glad to see the sudden change in the landscape.
We also visited the Bhutan border where the Bhutanese counterpart of the sanctuary is known as the Royal Manas National Park. The safari proved quite successful as we spotted elephants, rhinos, deer, Himalayan Giant Squirrels, water buffaloes and a few birds. We had a fleeting sight of the Himalayan Gaur, but no tigers. Not that we expected to see the big cat, but when our safari driver cum guide told us that he had spotted a tiger only a few days back, we became a bit hopeful. Well, we had to be satisfied with the sight of paws only.
When we almost got trampled by an elephant!
Elephants are lovely. But only when they are domesticated or are at a safe distance. May be we were emboldened by our tryst with Jaymala and Ratnamala! During the safari, we saw a wild elephant and her cub standing peacefully. We did take some pictures from a distance, but somehow all those in our jeep decided to get a bit closer. We got down from our jeep and went towards the elephants. Niharika, a fellow blogger was with her camera trying to shoot the activity of the duo. Suddenly, there was a loud trumpet and I could see the mother elephant charging straight at us. There was only a thin fence between the elephant and us, which could have been very easily trampled by the elephant.
And we ran. We ran like never before. We ran for our life!
There were a few locals who then shouted at the elephant to calm it down. Thankfully, the elephant decided to listen to them or may be she showed mercy to us. Whatever be the reason, we thanked our stars for such a close encounter with a wild elephant! And I decided never to go so personal with any wild animal.
Those few seconds were the most remarkable as well as fearful moments. Interestingly, Niharika somehow managed to keep her camera rolling and we got shaky footage of the episode where you could hear our screams and then the sound of running.
Enjoying a cultural evening
In the evening, a surprise awaited us. There was a Bihu dance performance by the local villagers. The Assamese songs have a very melodious and catchy tune. Not only you will fall in love with the songs, you will also tap your feet with the numbers. So all those who were present tried to perform Bihu dance. Although I am not sure what was actually happening. At least, we tried!
What is the cost of safari at Manas National Park?
At Manas National Park, you can go for an elephant safari as well as Jeep safari. Elephant safari takes place early in the morning at around 6:30 – 7:00 AM. The rate for elephant safari is INR 500 for Indians and INR 1500 for foreigners.
Jeep Safari takes place in the morning (from 9:00 AM) and afternoon (from 2:00 PM) for half day and full day.
Entry fee for Indians is INR 100 and foreign nationals are INR 500. The cost of jeep safari is INR 2000 for half day and INR 4000 for full day.
A visit to MMES at Baksa
If you are visiting the Manas National Park, you must take a visit to MMES or Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society. The society is mainly responsible for the conservation of wildlife in the area. The poachers for whom Manas had got a ‘danger’ tag have now turned conservationists and they fiercely protect the forests and wildlife. Read about MMES in our previous post.
The Bhutan border at Nganglam is also quite near. It is a pleasant drive to the Bhutan border. Nganglam is known for its huge cement factory. You can enter into Bhutan by taking a permit at the checkpost. I think with a proper permit, this place can also be an entry point to Bhutan apart from Phuentsholing.
You may also like : Bhutan Travel Guide
Kalamati literally means ‘black soil’. Located at the Chirang district, Kalamati is a part of the Manas reserve Forest and a buffer zone of the Manas National Park. Kalamati has unique landscape extending up to the Bhutan hills. The Kanamakra River flows through the valley near the Indo-Bhutan border. Incidentally, Kanamakra means ‘blind spider’, though I do not know why the river is called so.
Kalamati is the meeting point of the wild animals. They come here for licking salt the black soil of Kalamati contains. A very few visits this place. Since it was near the Bhutan border, we could see military outposts there. Kalamati is yet to be developed as a proper tourism spot, but it is a great place for a day visit.
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Because when you stop and look around, life is pretty amazing! Northeast India always has the effect of stopping me on my tracks and look around to admire its beauty. Be it the#landscape or the #people or its festivals, I am always in awe of the place. This is Kalamati, near Bongaigaon – also an Indo-Bhutan border. Its a place where very few tread. But the place stops you in track. We visited this place as #ambassadorsofbodoland during the #dwijingfestival And I thanks @everycornerofworld for capturing this moment! 😊 #travel #travelphotography #northeastindia #awesomeassam #natgeotraveller #travelgram #bodolandtourism #assam #kalamati #dwijingfest #incredibleindia #landscapephotography #blue @bodoland.ambassadors @incredibleindia @aweassam @bodoland_tourism
Visit a Bodo village and get a slice of Bodo life
After our visit to Kalamati, we took a trip to the Bodo village to see and understand their way of life. The Bodos are a friendly lot. Always smiling, they do not hesitate to welcome their guests, how inquisitive they may be. Bodo society is mainly agrarian and weaving is also an important source of income. No Bodo house is complete without a loom and you can see women weaving a dokhna (traditional dress of the Bodo women) or Gamcha (they men wear these) while humming a melodious tune.
Life in a Bodo household
The Bodos have their own distinct culture and tradition. The Bodo houses are built around a courtyard. The head of the house stays at the northern side. Most of the valuables are also kept there. South side usually has the kitchen. The courtyard has a place for worship. Bodos usually follow Bathou Dharma and the Brahma Dharma. Most of the families rear silkworms for weaving too. The Bodos are also expert in bamboo handicrafts. The colourful culture of Bodos is reflected in their unique and distinct festivals, music, dance, handloom and handicrafts.
At the Bodo village, we also went along with the Bodo women to observe their fishing techniques. The women use baskets for catching fishes, something that I had seen at Basar too. But the process is different here. After that, we were invited for a sumptuous Bodo lunch.
The Bodos are traditionally non-vegetarian. There were served with a large number of food items. It is in the Bodoland, I have tasted snails, pigeon and even silkworm for the first time. Though non-vegetarian options are plenty, vegetarians will not go hungry too. They use a lot of vegetables and herbs for cooking. The plain black daal (lentils) and a couple of vegetables were served for the vegetarians. And finally, there was the rice beer! We saw how they make rice beer through an elaborate process.
It would be really a crime if I do not mention about the pithas. Pithas are a sweet dish made of rice flour, sesame seed and often jaggery and it is one of my favourite dishes. The Bodos are also quite fond of paan (betel leaf) and supari (betelnut). They often have them and will also offer it to their guests. If you are having them for the first time, take in less quantity, because their betelnut is pretty strong!
A few other interesting places:
Bogamati is located at the foothills of the Himalayas near the Bhutan border. It is a beautiful picnic spot around the Bornadi River.
Chakrashila Wildlife sanctuary
This is another wildlife sanctuary in the Kokrajhar area that is rich in diversity. The Deeplai Beel and Nayekgaon Rubber Garden are also important for Golden Langur viewing. Deeplai Beel is also the home to a large number of migratory birds.
The Baukhungri peak is an attraction in this area. A three-day festival is held at the Baukhungri hills during April.
Other places of interest are Chowki, Bhairabkhunda, Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary and Ultapani Reserve Forest. Ultapani is an important place for sighting Golden Langurs. You can visit the website of Bodoland Tourism to know more about these places.
Dwijing Festival is a 12-day annual festival held during December and January to promote tourism and cultural activity in Bodoland. It is a culmination of song, dance, food, fair and all this interesting in Bodoland. The festival is held at the banks of Aie River in Chirand district near Bongaigaon. Read more about our guide to the Dwijing Festival at Bodoland.
How to reach Bodoland?
The nearest airport is at Guwahati. From Guwahati, you can drive to any of the destinations in Bodoland. As for us, our trip started at Bongaigaon, about 185 km from Guwahati. Bongaigaon also has a railway station.
Bansbari Range, the entry point of Manas National Park is about 136 km from Guwahati and can be easily reached by car.
The Last Word
Manas National Park and wildlife have so long been the prime attraction of Bodoland. We personally think that cultural tourism can be developed very well around Bodoland. Adventure tourism is also being developed in the area. If properly nurtured and developed, the place can be a prominent tourist attraction.
Whether or not Bodoland gets to become a separate state or not, should not be a deterrent for developing tourism. I am sure the local people have understood the importance of peace and stable life.
The rivers are an important asset of the region and can be developed into tourism spots. There is ample opportunity for river sports like river rafting and angling in this region. Having said about the prospect of tourism development, we would also suggest that nothing should be done at the cost of nature and ecosystem. Sustainable tourism can bring in long term income and job for the community.
A few more pictures of Bodoland!
We had gone for a week-long trip to Bodoland as a part of Ambassadors of Bodoland. we stayed for 4 days at Bongaigaon and 2 days at Manas National Park. We have fallen in love with the place in these days.
Do share your thoughts about Bodoland. Follow us on Instagram at @taleof2backpackers for more travel stories.