Assam and its adjoining stated in the North East of India are famous for silk. Silk was the royal attire of Tai Ahom Kings. These people came to Assam from a Chinese province through Patkai range of hills and enchanted by the beauty of the region, settled permanently and intermingled with the local people. They must have brought the silkworms with them from China.
Silk is woven in the homes. It is part of economy of the state. Of many varieties Muga: the golden silk and Eri or Ahimsa silk are most famous. Eri is produced by the silkworm called Philosamiaricini and is reared indoors on the leaves of Castor, Kesseru, Payam and Tapioca trees. The yarn from cocoons is spun. The word Eri is derived from Erranda which is Indian word for Castor.
It is produced only in Assam, the East Khasi hills and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Bodo women weave Dokhana (draped skirt), Chaddar (upper cloth) and Jhumara in addition to plain shawls. Endi shawls are highly prized outside. The same silkworms produce different colors of thread in different areas.
So we reached Nazira after harrowing experience. It was very cold there. In the winter, the sun goes down at about half past four in the evening. Those were the days when an extremist outfit called ULFA was very active. There were kidnappings and murders. So people ventured outside mostly in the daytime or under the protection of security forces.
We left in the early mornings and came back early. We went to see the Sivasagar town which was the capital once upon a time of Assam under the rule of Ahom kings. Ahoms came from South-East Asia and settled in North East India for good. Although in the beginning they followed Buddhism but converted to Hinduism and began suffixing “Singh” to their names. Thus the town of Sivasagar was founded by King Shiv Singh. It is a large town. There is a very large lake called Shiv Sagar. In fact the whole area has number of such lakes and the water in them is very clear.Adjacent to the lake is a Shiv temple called “Shiv Dol”. It is gigantic structure.
Most of the trading is in the hands of Marwaris which originally migrated from Rajasthan. In fact they are so enterprising merchants that there is hardly any place in the North-East where they have not set the shops.One reason for their flourishing in this part of the region is the indolent nature of the local people.There is many shops which sell the silk sarees and cloths. The silk is from Assam and Manipur and comes in three main varieties namely Golden Muga, white Pat and warm Eri Silk. These varieties are produced by the same silkworms when fed on leaves of different trees. Everyone who goes there purchases the silk along with the tea. You can see unending stretches of tea plantations everywhere along the main roads.
Then we visited the “Madams” which are very elaborate mud structures where the bodies of kings and other royal people are interred exactly in the same fashion as the Pharaohs in Egypt.
Days went by very fast and time came for returning. There was a train in the early afternoon and we went to Simulgudi station again. There people moving here and there confused and worried. There we saw a notice saying that due to “Bandh (strike)” in Cachar Hills all the trains going towards Silchar shall remain cancelled for next 4 days. We went back feeling helpless and thought of going to Guwahati and from there more trains shall be available for Silchar although we had to do a lot of useless journey. So we boarded a train after 2 days and it reached Guwahati at noon. The scene was not promising.I went to booking counter for a train inquiry and ticket. As usual no reservation was available on the counter. I caught hold of a tout and gave him extra money for getting the berth reservation. The train was at about 4 O’clock in the evening which meant we have to occupy the berths after sometime and sleep and reach in the early morning at Silchar.
But as the night approached, there happened a surprising thing in the train. There was no electricity in the train. On top of it, the train was over crowded and there was not an inch to move for going to toilet. The reservation did not have any relevance because on such trains which stop at every station people alight and board at every station. The train halted at some station where we procured some candles and a match box. Without light you could see the person sitting next to you. Sometimes I was afraid that if anyone of us moved, he or she could not retrieve the way back.
Somehow, the night passed and reached Silchar in the early morning. It was such a perilous journey.