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Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Centre

Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Centre

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Whta view of the majectic Brahmaputra river from the MBRHC
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Discover the transformed Old DC Bungalow in Guwahati, now the Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Centre (MBRHC). Immerse yourself in the rich heritage and culture of Assam through art installations, exhibitions, and scenic views of the mighty Brahmaputra.

I could not help feeling intrigued and excited when I got to know that the ‘Old DC Bungalow’ next to Brahmaputra river of Guwahati has been renovated, refurbished, and transformed into a Heritage Centre that was now open to the public. I promptly made up my mind to visit it someday soon. I had been to this beautiful bungalow perched prettily atop the iconic Borphukan Tilla, several times during my childhood when it was the official residence of my mother’s maternal uncle, who was posted as the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup District. The fond memories of my childhood visits were rekindled when my Maa and I attended a dinner invite by the then Deputy Commissioner over a decade back. Small wonder that I was keen to see what the very British bungalow would look like after the transformation.

The opportunity came by in April 2023 during my trip to Guwahati with my son who currently lives in Lancaster, United Kingdom. Both of us love spending time taking tours of museums and art galleries. So, we decided to devote an evening to spending quality time at the Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Centre (MBRHC).

Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Center (MBRHC)
Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Center (MBRHC)

As we walked up the pedestrian-only campus from the main entrance, I noticed that along with the old bungalow, the entire hillock atop which it has been standing for over 150 years, has been beautifully landscaped, creating a soothing sight of a lush green carpet of grass artfully interspersed with tall trees.

Placed along the pathway were the ‘Culture Wheels’, the first of Art Installations that form a part of THE ART GARDEN at the front aspect of the Heritage Bungalow. Resembling the Buddhist prayer wheels; each Culture Wheel individually represents the ethnically diverse tribes and communities inhabiting the Brahmaputra Valley. The vibrant sound of folk music resonates on turning the wheels as if telling tales of the colourful lives led by the respective tribes and communities and asserting the fact that music is the essence of the Celebration of the River Brahmaputra.

The Culture Wheels
Inspired by the Buddhist prayer wheels, each of the ‘Culture Wheels’ individually depict the tribes and communities that inhabit the banks of the River Brahmaputra, as it enters and exits India

Walking ahead we came across another eye-catching Art Installation, ‘The River Life’, which depicts the beautiful coexistence between the mighty River Brahmaputra and the people living on its banks.

The Art Garden
The art installation ‘The River Life’ depicts the interdependency of people and the River Brahmaputra.

The third Art Installation is the beautiful, one-of-a-kind ‘Heritage Mosaic’.

We headed straight to the viewing decks from where we could see the mesmerising view of tiny boats and steamers sailing on the mighty Brahmaputra. We clicked a few pictures against the evening skyline before walking over to the Heritage Centre.

Right at the entry lobby of the Heritage Bungalow is THE ART GALLERY, which provides artists and photographers with the opportunity to put up their collection of select paintings and photographs for a period of one month as a solo exhibition and also for purchase by visitors.

I felt very glad that while retaining its colonial glory, the ‘Old DC Bungalow’ now serves as a proactive centre for preserving and promoting art and culture and attracts visitors and art lovers who are keen to know about the rich heritage of Assam.

The moment I stepped into THE CENTRAL HALL, my attention was captured by the ceiling done up beautifully with a collection of traditional Assamese fishing equipment, such as jaakoikhaaloijulki/polochela/sera, along with dolaakulaa and bothaa (oars). Enhancing the beauty of the ceiling are a couple of chandeliers made of terracotta.

The Central Hall
The Central Hall with a theme of ‘Life along the River’

My mind immediately went to the living room of my home in Dibrugarh back in the 90s. I had done it up with locally made cane furniture and handloom weaves for upholstery, jaakoikhaaloijulkijaal as lamp-shades for filtering the soft yellow light and patterned terracotta pots of different shapes and sizes as pot-holders for my perennial plants. The room’s earthy decor and soothing ambience had earned me rich compliments from all who had visited us.

I woke up from my reverie as my eyes fell on the large, mounted picture of Lachit Borphukan, the brave Ahom warrior. It stood as a strong reminder of the legacy of this place.

Back in the days of yore, this hillock and its vicinity along the river was known as Itakhuli. The legendary Lachit Borphukan had used the area as his naval headquarters. Recognising the poor strength of the Mughal navy and realising that a naval battle was not their forte, Lachit Borphukan, strategically charged against the massive Mughal army with a relatively small Ahom army and by dint of his knowledge in military intelligence, psychological warfare, and guerrilla tactics, despite his poor health condition, he not only thwarted the Mughal invasion but pushed them out of our land forever. The Mighty Brahmaputra stands as a testimony of this decisive attack on the Mughals and the glorious victory of the Battle of Saraighat. A permanent and befitting memorial dedicated to the valiant Ahom commander, Lachit Borphukan, will hopefully be incorporated within the premises of the Heritage Centre as an odé to his valour.

The theme of the Central Hall was ‘Life Along The River’. I went through the pictorial wall panels that laid emphasis on the theme.

One cannot miss the traditional taatxaal (weaving loom) placed in a niche of the Central Hall highlighting the fact that hand weaving continues to be an integral part of rural life and culture of the Brahmaputra Valley.

Up next was THE VIEWING ROOM which revolves around the theme ‘Weaving A Heritage’. I am a fanatic fan of handloom textiles and an ardent admirer of ethnic motifs. Therefore, I was delighted to see a well-curated collection of traditional weaves of the different indigenous tribes of Assam with their characteristic ethnic motifs, nicely framed to adorn the walls. Beautiful wall-mounted photographs of the natural organic dyes commonly used in the Brahmaputra valley accentuated the authentic autochthonous quotient of our land. The projector in the Viewing Room is used regularly for the screening of audio-visuals for the visitors.

The Viewing Room
The Viewing Lounge has a mounted projector for regular screenings

We entered THE RIVER LOUNGE, the main room of the bungalow. The tall windows with the rich paat-silk curtains, warm wooden panels, and the ornate artefacts sitting on the mantle of the fireplace brought on the vision of an upscale colonial living room. A chandelier comprising of an upturned boat suspended from the ceiling added an element of uniqueness, while beautiful paintings and well-upholstered lounge-style seating added up to a well-styled, sophisticated look.

The River Lounge
The spacious main room of the Bungalow.

We moved on to THE MEETING ROOM which is based on the theme ‘Navigating The River’. A large meeting table is placed at the centre and adorning the walls are pictorial representations of various vessels and ships that have sailed on the mighty River Brahmaputra right from the olden days. A few artefacts obtained from ships of the remote past serve as added attractions.

The Meeting Room
The Meeting Room with ‘Navigating the River’ as the theme.

Onwards, we walked up to THE LIBRARY HALL which comprises of two distinct parts.

The main portion is the ‘Vintage Assam Gallery’. The shelves hold neatly arranged books on varied subjects revolving around the River Brahmaputra and its valley. Pictures of the original bungalow as well as pictures of its journey through the process of restoration to the current renovated, refurbished Heritage Bungalow are displayed on the walls.

The Library Hall
The Library Room holds several books on varied subjects related to the river Brahmaputra

The other component of the Library Hall, aptly named ‘Majuli Corner’, can be distinguished by wall mounts of an ensemble of signature masks of Majuli, portraying the characters of ‘Srimad Bhagwat Geeta’, an integral part of Xattriya culture. Bisonis (hand fans), handicrafts by artisans of Majuli, and panel paintings illustrating the life of Lord Krishna, also adorn the walls.

A flight of steps led us to THE ATTIC ROOM which has been created by utilising the large gap between the false ceiling and the pyramidal roof of the original bungalow. It goes without saying that this room is nothing short of a ‘Musical Heritage’, showcasing a sizeable collection of traditional, indigenous musical instruments used by the tribes and communities living along the River Brahmaputra. Each instrument is a part and parcel of our folk culture. Although similar in the making, different ethnic communities have different names for the instruments that can widely be categorised into four groups; Membranophone and Audiphone which are basically percussion instruments, Aerophone or wind instruments, and Chordophone or string instruments. My son who is passionate about composing music pieces in his free time, particularly enjoyed this part of the tour.

The Attic Hall
The attic of the Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Center houses an extensive collection of indigenous and traditional musical instruments from the tribes and communities living along the river.

Back to the ground floor, we stepped into ‘Lahé Life’, THE CRAFT SHOP, and checked out its display of locally crafted curios and collectibles that can be bought by visitors as souvenirs and mementos.

The Craft Shop
Visitors can buy souvenirs and memorabilia from the Craft Shop

Having completed the enriching tour of the Heritage Bungalow, deservingly dedicated to the spirit and legacy of the majestic River Brahmaputra, we walked out and towards THE RIVERSIDE GARDEN in the backyard of the bungalow. The beautifully manicured garden boasts of lovely blooms of seasonal flowers with a pathway laid along the riverfront surrounding the heritage bungalow.

The Riverside Garden
Enjoy the view of the majestic River Brahmaputra from the riverside Garden

 

A high point of THE VERANDAH of the Heritage Bungalow is that it overlooks the mighty Brahmaputra and the Riverside Garden. A functional kitchen caters to the limited seating arrangement on the long veranda offering a supply of sweet and savoury snacks and refreshments. Needless to say that it is an ideal place for family and friends to catch up and enjoy the beautiful view and fresh breeze from the Brahmaputra.

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The Verandah
An Ideal Place for Family and Friends to Catch Up

Walking up the pathway along the Heritage Bungalow, we came upon THE PLAY ZONE. Sheltered among tall trees, this corridor of activities includes a colourful ‘Play House Cluster’ for toddlers, a multi-level ‘Play Zone’ for the energetic kids, a full-size ‘Snakes & Ladders’ game board laid out on the ground, and a large outdoor ‘Chess Board’ with every chess piece specially designed to represent images of Ahom soldiers. Parents and guardians can relax at the sit-out area with its umbrella-shaded tables overlooking the river, while the children engage in games and play.

The Play Zone
A corridor of activities

The tour was done, it was time to treat ourselves to some refreshments at the Starbucks Café.

One would have to admit that Starbucks India could not have chosen a better location than the Brahmaputra riverfront to have this exclusive outlet.

Through its glass facade and the seating arrangement outside, the café offers its guests the welcome opportunity of sipping their chosen beverage while enjoying the spectacular and surreally beautiful view of the River Brahmaputra. It was a little crowded, but we were lucky enough to take a table outside.

Right in front of the Starbucks Café is the open-air AMPHITHEATRE, dug a few feet deep into the ground. Its round backdrop is done up with a seamless painting depicting the lush tea gardens and scenes from the Kaziranga National Park. Undoubtedly, the amphitheater makes a remarkable venue for showcasing the rich culture of our state through various art forms. The soothing view of the mighty Brahmaputra and the cool breeze would, of course, serve as added attractions.

The Amphitheater
A place to showcase performing arts

While walking towards the exit, I felt a warm feeling of satisfaction deep in my heart. I felt happy that the ‘facelift’ of the iconic DC Bungalow of Guwahati has brought it alive with all its glory. Furthermore, it has been maintained very well since being open to the public following its inauguration by Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu on 3rd October 2021.

The Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority has done a commendable job and deserves to be applauded for the admirable initiative.

The Mahabahu Brahmaputra River Heritage Centre is indeed a befitting homage to the majestic River Brahmaputra and to the triumphant victory of the Battle of Saraighat.

Information that would be useful for visitors.

With the objective of maintaining peace and quiet, vehicular traffic has been prohibited within the MBRHC premises.

MBRHC has an assigned car-parking space with an overhead connecting walkway.

Silent electric passenger carts are available for ferrying visitors from the main Entry Gate into the campus and back.

Entry Tickets :

  • Children below 10 years- Free of charge
  • Person with Disabilities – Free of charge
  • Person aged above 75 years – Free of charge
  • From 10 years to 75 years – ₹100/- per person
  • The Entry Tickets have to be retained by the visitors during the entire course of their visit. Entry is only through the security cabin at the Main Gate.
  • No edibles allowed.
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  • What a beautifully written article and loved how you provided information regarding the tickets etc.
    Definitely visiting this place next time. Love reading your articles

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