27th September, 2014
One of the principles of Greener Pastures is to educate the natives of the region about the scope of the tourism in Northeast India and engage them. Recently on 27th September, 2014, we celebrated World Tourism Day as an opportunity to reach towards this principle. The theme for this year as declared by the United Nations has been ‘community development through tourism’, and we took it as a chance to engage younger generations with heritage and tourism.
Marking this occasion, we collaborated with Srimanta Sankardev School of Kohora Village near Kaziranga National Park of Assam, inviting twenty five students of Class 9 for an educational and fun trip to the historic town of Sibsagar. We chose the town as it defines the Assamese people, who trace their ancestry to the Ahom Kingdom, which had ruled the entire region for more than 600 years and had their capital at Sibsagar.
The day started with the children and their parents assembling near Kaziranga’s forest gate. An inaugural speech was delivered by Danny Gam, a Tourism Officer of Assam Tourism, and Vaivhav, both explaining the importance of sustainable tourism and the role which the children can play in community development through tourism in popular tourist destinations such as Kaziranga. The Principal of the school also appreciated our initiatives in his address, and the children acknowledged the members with a small felicitation, where our team and officers were given gifts such as a wooden Assamese rhino which we absolutely find lovely.
The students were accompanied by two of their teachers, along with our enthusiastic team members Swapan, Bornav and our director Vaivhav. The first destination after a 3 hours drive to Sibsagar was the historic Siva Dol temple, built by king Sib Singha of the medieval Ahom dynasty, whose capital was near Sibsagar and ruled Assam for six centuries. The children were not only taught about the Ahom architecture which is unique and uses local resources, but also the importance of preservation of built heritage. They then visited the Tai Ahom Museum, dedicated exclusively to Ahom cultural history. The students had looked fascinated by the various artifacts of their ancestors, with the girls especially paying attention to the jewellery, while the boys adored the Ahom swords.
Next was a visit to the District Office of Assam Tourism, where the department was also busy celebrating the occasion of World Tourism Day. The students first had an informative session with the Tourism Officer and then had an interesting educational session with Ranjan Baruah, a social activist from Guwahati, who was in Sibsagar conducting a session on training the youth as guides in the region. Ranjan in an engaging session explained the students the importance of the occasion of World Tourism Day, role of tourism in community development in the region and the responsibility of the children in sustainable tourism.
After the session, the students were taken for lunch at Koupat, a new restaurant specializing in ethnic cuisine of the Singpho tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, to which the children were quite unfamiliar with. The next destination that followed after lunch was the Rang-ghar, a prominent landmark of Sibsagar and the most famous monument of Ahom period. Swapan explained the purpose of the structure and how the royals enjoyed games and entertainment from the pavilion, with events such as bull fights and cultural dances that took place in the grand surrounding garden. It was late afternoon and we decided to end it with a visit to Tolatol Ghar, the royal palace. Tolatol literally means maze complex, the structure of the palace is built in a way to mislead any invaders. Swapan showed all the strategic points, the tunnel passages which haunted many of the children, and also revealed secrets about the structure that were unknown to the British colonists and Burmese invaders, such as a hidden tunnel which ran from the palace to a safer place many miles away. The day ended well and enthusiastically with some group photographs at the terrace of the palace, while the sunset across the Assam horizon revealed to us reddish shades of Tolatol Ghar. The most satisfying aspect of the day was that the children really enjoyed and learnt, as it was evident in their happy faces and their warm farewell.
Photographs: Bornav Raychaudhary