Guwahati is the capital of the Northeast-Indian state Assam. It’s said to be the gateway to the Northeast, as it serves as a hub for this part of the country. The city felt quite different from other parts of India that we have visited so far. But we mostly explored the area where we lived, because Seri got sick. Even we didn’t see that much of the city, we experienced its tastes and one spiritual ritual.
From Pelling to Guwahati
We traveled from Sikkim’s Pelling to Assam’s Guwahati by sumo and a night train. Between the rides we had to spend a few hours in New Jalpaiguri. Walking around in the city was not too pleasant with our bags, but we found a nice vegetarian restaurant where we could sit in peace and eat some excellent thalis.
This time we traveled on the night train’s 2AC class, which was a completely new experience for us. 2AC is a bit more ”luxurious” compared to the 3AC class and especially to the sleeper class which was our usual choice on the journeys before. The biggest difference to 3AC class is that the compartments are divided by a curtain. So basically one gets more peace, but in reality the curtain doesn’t help that much because anyone can still just pop their head in between the curtains to see what’s up. The curtain also opens every time someone walks past it in the narrow alley.
We got again first to the waiting list when booking the tickets, but managed in the end to get two confirmed tickets. Anyhow, out berths were on different ends of the carriage. When we boarded the train, the workers started to organize that we could stay in the same compartment, which was really nice of them. It was a bit of a hassle as we had to change our place three times, but finally we got our berths in same compartment, which we shared with another couple. The couple didn’t speak anything so the night was relatively peaceful.
Arriving to Guwahati – Never trust OYO vol 2
Next morning our train arrived to Guwahati some 4 hours late. We took a rikshaw to our homestay and on the way it started to rain. After traveling for 24 hours we were not exactly happy to hear that there is some problem with our booking as we arrived to the homestay. They told us that they couldn’t accommodate us for two nights as agreed before. At least we could stay the first night, unlike two other groups who arrived after us and who needed to search for a new place straight away. The whole confusion seemed to be caused by OYO again (the others had booked via OYO, we had learned our lesson and used good old Booking.com). The next day the homestay people could somehow sort out the problem (cancel the next OYO bookings, we assume) and we were allowed to stay for another night after all, which was nice.
In the next hours the rain and wind got stronger and it started to thunder. We couldn’t help but wonder if the others had found some place to stay or if they were getting soaking wet while searching. And more than that we were worrying how the shelters of the slums we saw from the train’s window before reaching the city could take such weather.
Getting stuck in Guwahati
Our initial plan was only to use Guwahati as a hub for our road trip to the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary where we wanted to celebrate Johanna’s 30th birthday. Originally, we had planned to stay in Guwahati only one night before the trip and one night after it. But because the place where we wanted to stay in Pobitora was booked on the dates we had planned planned, we decided to stay two nights in Guwahati before setting off to Pobitora. After coming back from the road trip Seri got sick and we got stuck to the city for another two nights. Due to Seri being sick and all the computer work we decided to do because, for once, the internet was working well, we didn’t see too much of the city. But we liked its flare, our neighborhood and its food.
11th Avenue Café Bistro
This creatively decorated little place with a cozy balcony could as well have been some hipsterish bistro in Europe with its cool, young customers. The food there was really good. First time we had some great vegetarian burgers. After Johanna’s birthday trip we came back there. Seri had forgotten to pack the birthday present to the road trip, so we decided to continue the celebration the next day. We had some pretty decent pizza and yummy potato wedges while Johanna opened the present (which was ear rings from Hampi, btw). If you’re in Guwahati and up for some western food (and atmosphere) for a change, this is the perfect pick.
Like the name suggests, the food is so good that you could easily get fat here by not being able to stop eating. Seriously, the Indo-Chinese food (which seems to be really common in this area) was delicious. Among many other things, they have fried momos with dozens of options for sauces. We tried the ones in Szechuan style sauce. Along with the momos you get some simple but tasty soup. They also have nice “lunch boxes” where you get to taste many things at once. The interior was decorated in a Buddhist style and the service would deserve a gold metal – the guy who served us on both of the times we visited was super sweet, and also clearly interested to talk with the foreigners.
The Assamese thali
Google knew to tell us that a place called Paradise Restaurant has great Assamese thali. The prices were a bit higher in an Indian scale, around 300 rupees (3,60 Euro) for a thali, but the place was atmospheric and the food just amazing. When we entered, we were seated at the most romantic table of the restaurant. This was a good place to have Johanna’s last dinner as a 29-year-old.
The Assamese thali was our first touch to the traditional Assamese food, and it definitely didn’t disappoint us! The Assamese food is in general not very spicy (which we usually prefer), but the flavors were very special. They use a lot of drying and fermentation techniques, as well as mustard seeds and mustard oil, that give the food almost wasabi-like taste. There is a certain order in which the thali should be eaten. The first dish is khar, an alkaline liquid prepared with bananas. The last one is a tenga, a sour dish. The desert in this thali was a really nicely spiced rice porridge. Along with the food are served different pastes made out of rice flour, mustard seed and olives. A perfect way to start your journey into Assamese cuisine!
Rolls from the street
This is the only thing we ate in Guwahati that we DON’T recommend. We had some vegetable filled roti-rolls at one random street stall in front of Nehru Park. The taste was okay but we assume that Seri’s food poisoning came from this place, as he spent the following evening and night shivering under the blanket or sitting on the toilet.
The holy ceremony
We wanted to visit Umananda Temple, which is on a small island in the river. Unfortunately, when we finally found the place where the boats to the temple are leaving (completely wrongly marked on Google maps), it was too late. Apparently, the last rides to the island leave some time before 5pm. We were a bit disappointed but could admire the views over the river to the island from the mainland.
On our way back we passed a temple and heard really loud music from there. We decided to peek in and were invited to join the prayer ceremony, pooja, that was happening at the moment. It was quite fascinating to see the priest performing the ritual involving holy smoke, chanting and blowing a horn made out of a seashell. In the end he put bright red dots on our foreheads and gave small flowers to our hand as blessings. Maybe this intimate ceremony in a small temple was anyway more special experience than visiting the temple on the island.
Guwahati’s traditional transportation
On the same evening we decided to take a bicycle rickshaw back to our guesthouse. We just wanted to experience this mode of transport, since it still seems to be really popular way of getting around in this city. Unfortunately, the communication with bicycle rickshaw drivers was quite hard as it seems that they are in general not speaking any English. Somehow, we thought that we had agreed on a place and price but our driver ended up dropping us somewhere on the way and demanding much more money.
Roadtrippin’ and rhinos
We liked Guwahati, but the highlight of our stay in that area was the motorbike road trip to Pobitora, where we saw plenty of rhinos and spent a night in a bamboo hut in the “village of black magic”. We rent our gorgeous Royal Enfield bike on the Trivane Rentals in Guwahati. More about our unforgettable road trip coming soon!