I am not new to Tezpur. I spent some of my early years here. However, after that for several decades I could not revisit it. There are a few things that are worth writing about from an archaeological POV but I could never manage my schedules. I did pass through it for some Arunachal visits but there was no time to explore. Finally, a few weeks ago I decided to devote some time to Tezpur. We were there to participate in an open quiz but stayed back another day for some sightseeing. It was a quick half a day when we managed to visit Da Parbatia, Bamuni Hills, Agnigarh, Chitralekha Udyan, and Mahabhairab Mandir. But before that let us talk about Chitralekha.
The origin myth of Tezpur revolves around the story of King Bana, who was invincible due to the blessings of Lord Shiva, and his daughter Usha, who had a blessing from Goddess Parvati to marry the person she sees in her dreams. She described her dream to her friend Chitralekha, who painted the image and that’s how they knew it was Aniruddha, grandson of Lord Krishna. Their love blossomed but Bana wasn’t willing and it led to a battle between Bana and Krishna. Lord Shiva also took the side of his devotees, which is why this battle is called Hari-Har Juddha (Battle between Hari & Har). Eventually, Bana was defeated and the lovers were united but the bloodshed gave it the name Tezpur, the city of blood (Tez=Blood).
While Chitralekha is a secondary character in this story, her presence is visible everywhere in Tezpur and it tells us something about the artistic and cultural proclivities of this city. That’s why, when Jyotiprasad Agarwala made the first Assamese feature film Joymoti (1935), he named his banner Chitralekha Movietone. Agarwala, along with Bishnu Rabha and Phani Sarma, considered the Trinity of Assamese culture during the twentieth century, belonged to Tezpur!
Like most other tales from antiquity in India, there are many claimants for the backdrop of this epic romance. There is something called Banasagar Dam in Kerala and I am also aware of the ruins of a fort called Banasur ka Kila near Lohaghat, a few kilometres ahead of Champawat in Kumaon. Nevertheless, I have never seen any other place embrace this story so wholeheartedly, elevating the supporting act to the centre, and flooding the entire city with alluringly voluptuous sculptures of the same.
The first place we visited in Tezpur is also the most popular spot in Tezpur called Chitralekha Udyan, which is a park for civilians but with some scattered archaeological sculptures too. It was originally called Cole Park as it was established by British Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Cole in 1906. However, it was renovated later and named after Chitralekha. Some genuine archaeological treasures have been placed here too. They were found at various locations in the district but I felt they needed to provide some technical details about these sculptures so that visitors can truly appreciate them.
Since we had an event later on, we did not spend much time at the park and moved to Mahabhairab Temple. My lasting memories of the city from childhood are of the visits to this temple. While mythology connects Tezpur to ancient Hindu epics, most of the archaeological sites are around 1000-1500 years old and the earliest artefacts are believed to be from Gupta era. Several dynasties ruled Assam during this period including Varmans, Salstambhas and Pala kings. While there are many ancient myths related to the temple, it has been rebuilt over the years and it is also a live temple in the middle of the city. So, I could not get any archaeological delight out there. The rest of the day was all about a quiz and a drunken soiree before we called it a day.
The next morning we had a lot to cover. As we had limited time, we decided to not rely on shared local transport and asked one autorickshaw guy to take us around. He demanded 800 and we eventually coerced him to do it for INR 700. We drove first to Da Parbatia, a few KMs out of the town. I have heard about it so much since childhood that I was eager to tick it off my list.
As of now, it is a small plot of land with remnants of what was probably a temple. What we have is the foundation of a structure, with a door jamb. It is the most intriguing of them all as for a long time it was believed to be a medieval temple built by the Ahoms. However, the 1897 earthquake destroyed the upper layer and revealed a Gupta Era door from the 6th century! On one side of the jamb, we have shapely female figurines sculpted on it. This is what remains of this site but if one just looks at it and closes the eyes, one can imagine a grand temple and a different civilization ruling these lands in the first millennium. I have seen similar foundations of lost temples in many other places. Pilak in Tripura comes to my mind first.
After Da Parbatia we drove back to town and reached Agnigarh. As mentioned before, it is a major part of the original story. It is believed that this is where Bana imprisoned his daughter to prevent her from meeting Aniruddha and this is why the battle also took place here. It’s a small hike to the top of the hillock, where a watchtower has been built too. From here, one can get a clear view of the Brahmaputra. However, I did not see any archaeological structures remaining here. Nevertheless, Tezpurians are determined to ensure that the hillock maintains its original character. That is why, many new sculptures have been built all over the hillock depicting various scenes from the story. Some of them were getting renovated or painted, denying me a clear frame.
We moved on from here towards Bamuni Hills, another few KMs out of the city. This was the most intriguing part for me because it’s the largest archaeological cluster yet so little is known or talked about it. It is another hillock overlooking the river and with a spiral pathway towards the top. The top of the hillock looks like a heap of ruins. Small cultures that were parts of pillars and walls of a once magnificent structure now are simply lying all over the hillock. So, all I could do was click pictures of what is visible and just fantasise over what it could have been.
It is like most other major archaeological sites in Assam like Madam Kamdev or Sri Surya that are also located stop hillocks near the river. However, I felt it was closest to the ruins of Deopahar in terms of design but that one is better preserved. The driver also suggested we visit the nearby temple of Maithan, which was the place where Usha worshipped. However, it is a live temple full of people and we could not see any archaeological elements out there and decided to move on.
After spending some time at Bamuni Hills, we drove back to the city and the auto dropped us at Tezpur Museum before bidding adieu. The museum itself was a small one but located in a nice vintage building. It has some interesting artefacts found at various places around the district. It also boasts of some photographs, documents, and artworks by prominent personalities from Tezpur. The most intriguing thing here is an illustrated version of Kalika Puran. Photography is not allowed inside so I can’t really show it here.
Tezpur had more to offer but this is what we could manage with limited time. Modern Tezpur city is a busy place with numerous hotels and restaurants and gradually improving air, road, and rail connectivity. While the cultural heritage of Tezpur enriches one’s soul, it can also become a hub for adventure lovers and backpackers in the near future owing to its strategic location. But it will work better if you read up a bit about the place before visiting.
Tezpur Travel Guide
How to Reach Tezpur?
Tezpur is well-connected. The small airport has now become functional with flights from Guwahati, Kolkata, Pasighat, Shillong and Lakhimpur.
From Guwahati, you’ll get regular buses throughout the day and it takes only 4-5 hours.
The nearest train station is Dekargaon, which is a few kms away from the town.
Where to Stay in Tezpur?
It is one of the bigger towns in Assam and there are scores of hotels and lodes of various budgets all over the town.
What to See and Do in Tezpur?
Following are the places to visit in Tezpur including the places we have described already and also a few more spots that we did not cover.
Chitralekha Udyan (Cole Park): A park with some archaeological pieces scattered all over.
Agnigarh: The place central to the Chitralekha story is full of newly built sculptures depicting the story and good views from the top.
Mahabharab Temple: A big Shiva Temple in the middle of the town.
Bamuni Hills: A major archaeological site with heaps of ancient sculptures atop a hill where probably a magnificent structure stood in ancient times.
Da Parbatia: Another major archaeological site with a remaining base of a temple and a door jamb from Gupta Era.
Bhomoraguri Rock Inscription: A medieval rock inscription in Assamese that describes and incident of Ahom armies defeating an invading army of the Bengal Sultans. Read this post for more details.
Ganesh Ghat: A ghat on the bank of the Brahmaputra river with a temple.
Jyoti Bharati Museum (Poki): The ancestral house of Jyotiprasad Agarwala and his illustrious family now turned into a museum.
Tezpur Musem: The government museum which is small but has a few interesting articles.
Padum Pukhuri: A man-made lake in the heart of the city with an island in the middle connected with bridges.
Hazarapar Lake: It is located 5 kilometres west of Tezpur town. It is believed to have been constructed by Harjar Varma of the Varman Dynasty.
Gateway to Arunachal
The most underrated aspect of Tezpur is its location. Apart from the local attractions, it acts as a gateway to some of the most popular Himalayan tourist destinations of Arunachal Pradesh, especially the popular Bhalukpong- Bomdila- Dirang -Tawang route. Despite that, most people usually land in Guwahati and drive 5 hours extra to enter Arunachal. However, with the introduction of direct flights to Tezpur, it has now become the ideal gateway to Arunachal by cutting down driving time by four to five hours. Additional upcoming Arunachal circuits like Shergaon-Rupa, as well as Seijosa (known to boast of four varieties of Hornbills), are also a quick drive away from Tezpur.
Call of the Wild
There are several major wildlife destinations around Tezpur. Nameri National Park, not far from the Arunachal border, is an excellent escape for nature lovers. Apart from the likes of elephants, tigers, leopards, several types of deer and primates, it is also known for the endangered white-winged wood duck, which is the state bird of Assam. On the other hand, if you want to see the state animal of Assam, the one-horned rhino, you can drive to Orang National Park. Both of these national parks are barely an hour away from Tezpur.