Chalapathar: In Tai territory

Forty kilometres from Sivasagar, near Sonari, Chalapathar is perhaps one of the few ‘heaven-on-earth’ destinations. From peace and serenity to flora and fauna, culture and heritage, Chalapathar is a mosaic of experiences. Here, with the Tai-Khamyangs one can perceive the way of life of the greater Tai race—whose members are today scattered across various parts of Southeast Asia.

Tai migration to Assam beginning with the Tai Ahoms and followed by the Tai Phakes, Tai Khamyangs, Tai Khamtis, Tai-Aitons, and Tai-Turungs happened between 13th and 18th century CE. A part of the greater Assamese society today, their distinctive heritage adds to the kaleidoscope of Assamese culture. Assam boasts of its Theravada Buddhist culture owing to the Tai communities.

In mid-April, the quiet of Chalapathar is broken by the gaiety of Poi Sangken. Similar to Thailand’s Songkran festival, and locally known as Pani Bihu, it is marked by people throwing water at each other—signifying the washing away of sins. Buddha statues are then taken out from the Vihars (monasteries) and household shrines and gently washed. Evenings are for the divine, with Simithongs (candles) and prayers.

Surrounded by evergreen Chala Village Sanctuary that boasts of a rich varieties of birds and animals, a trip to Chalapathar is an exotic experience. The forest itself is an example of community conservation—with the Tai Khamyangs of Shyam Gaon not only managing to stop the felling of trees but also managing to conserve the khailong (Gnetum), a tree whose seeds and leaf are used in the mouth-watering Khamyang cuisine.

Postscript: Sample the exotic taste of khailong-flavoured dishes and visit Pani Beel, a veritable jewel in the crown of Chalapathar!

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