Last Updated on April 3, 2020 by Soumya
Bodoland! A name that was wrought in insurgencies not very long ago. It was hard to imagine the lives of people here let alone plan a trip to this part of India. Who could have imagined that Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) would soon be planning a Bodoland Ambassadors Program to popularise Bodo culture and natural beauty in the rest of the world! But here we are. An ambassador program that is two years old already. And doing very well.
I was lucky to be part of the Bodoland Ambassador Team 2019-20 (Season 2). We were taken on a well-organized 10-day trip to some really offbeat places in Bodoland and other lesser-known parts of Assam. Keen to know how it turned out? Read along to find out.
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An Overview of the Bodoland Ambassadors Program – From the eyes of a participant
Here is a brief on what the Bodoland Ambassadors Program is all about, the driving forces behind it, what to expect and what not to expect, and general logistics. If you are keen to apply for the next season, make sure you give this a thorough read.
What is the Bodoland Ambassadors Program?
Bodoland, an autonomous region within the Indian state of Assam, has remained in the shadows for a very long time. Insurgencies apart, many people including scores of Indians do not even know of the existence of this hidden gem. In order to counter this, Root Bridge Foundation got together with Assam Tourism, Bodoland Tourism, and the authorities at Dwijing Festival to bring to life an exceptional campaign to raise awareness about Bodoland. And the Bodoland Ambassadors Program was born.
Every year, the team (Gayatri Baruah and Javed Parvesh) at Root Bridge Foundation invites content creators (writers, photographers, videographers, illustrators) from around India to come and explore the virgin territories of Bodoland. The trip is fully funded (includes flights from any Indian city, accommodation, food, and conveyance). The tour lasts anywhere between one week to 10 days.
You just have to hop on to your flight and get to Guwahati. Then you will get started with one of the most amazing journeys of pristine Assam. You will attend a vibrant river festival, meet friendly Bodo people, go on wildlife safaris, and enjoy interesting conversations. Here’s a video by Footloose Dev, another Season 2 ambassador, that will tell you exactly what I am talking about!
What to expect at the Bodoland Ambassadors Program?
- Air tickets to and from wherever you live or are located in India.
- Clean accommodation throughout the trip. On a sharing basis. (You can scroll down to my section on Accommodation to see the names and short notes on all the hotels/hostels we stayed in)
- Traditional Assamese, Bodo, and Tiwa food depending on where you are during the tour.
- All conveyance within the state of Assam during the trip.
- You can also choose to stay back in Assam after the trip ends in case you wish to explore further. The organizers are more than willing to get you tickets for a later date.
- Lots of fun with fellow ambassadors and organizers and wonderful photography opportunities (of people, nature, and wildlife).
What not to expect at the Bodoland Ambassadors Program?
- Flight tickets from outside India. The team is willing to host foreign bloggers but they can pay for air tickets only within India.
- It is rural Assam. Sometimes toilets may be hard to come by or may not be that clean. Be mentally and physically prepared for that.
- Mughlai/Tandoor/Chinese food! 😀
What is the itinerary of the program?
Bodoland Ambassadors Season 2 was planned for 10 days. Season 1 was for a week. The Bodoland part of the itinerary was the same across seasons. However, Season 2 participants got to see a little more of rural Assam in the Karbi Anglong plateau. So, you now know that the organizers are willing to innovate and evolve!
Here’s how our itinerary for 10 days looked like.
Day 1 – 3: Bongaigaon & Dwijing Festival
- Day 1: We arrived in Guwahati and left for Bongaigaon later in the afternoon. The drive takes around 4 hours. We stopped midway for snacks and washrooms. Took us a little more than 5 hours, if I remember right.
- Day 2: Woke up to a misty Bongaigaon, had a sumptuous breakfast and engaged in a conversation with Mr. Chandan Brahma, the Tourism Minister of Assam who flagged off Bodoland Ambassadors Season 2. Then, we headed to the Dwijing Festival where we sampled Bodo food and learned lots about Bodo people and culture. Even saw the attractive art installations at Dwijing.
- Day 3: Spent the first half of the day visiting picturesque Kalamati on the India-Bhutan border. Visited a traditional Bodo village in the second half, had lunch and saw traditional fishing and weaving techniques. Some of my friends put on Bodo Dokhonas and danced to the tunes of Bagurumba. Spent the evening at Dwijing Festival, drank rice wine, and had an interesting interaction with Mr. Kampa Borgoyary, Deputy Chief of Bodo Territorial Council.
Related Read: A guide to the art installations at the Dwijing Festival
Day 4 – 7: Gelephu Bhutan & Manas National Park
- Day 4: We crossed the border to Bhutan and spent the day in Gelephu, a small border town. Tasted some delicious Thukpa and spicy Kewa Datshi.
- Day 5: Traveled to Manas National Park and arrived at the Smiling Tusker Resort. Spotted a pair of mama and baby rhinos and went for a walk with a couple of rescued-now-domesticated elephants.
- Day 6: The Safari Day. If you wish to do an Elephant Safari, you can do one in the morning. Some of us opted out of it and only did the Jeep Safari during the day. Spotted exotic wild animals including the Indian one-horned rhinos, elephants, and wild buffaloes. Watched a traditional Bagurumba dance in the evening.
- Day 7: Met and spoke to poachers-turned-protectors at Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society and left for Gibbon, Guwahati. Met up for a one-to-one with a senior founding member of Bodo Sahitya Sabha. Visited a local market, bought Assam tea and Bhut Jolokia (the famous ghost pepper).
Day 8 – 9: Umswai Valley, Pobitora, Mayong
- Day 8: Visited Umswai Valley, home to some of the cleanest villages in India. Explored their history, culture, and local food.
- Day 9: Morning jeep safari at Pobitora, a wildlife sanctuary with the highest density of Indian rhinos. Met with an Assam Tourism Department official for tea. Visited Mayong, Assam’s village of Black Magic in the afternoon.
- Day 10: After a heavy, fulfilling breakfast, we left for Guwahati airport and bid adieu to the team.
Where does the Bodoland Ambassador trip begin?
The program begins at the Gibbon Backpackers Hostel in Guwahati. This is where you will find your cute little van all decked up with the logo of the Bodoland Ambassador Program.
Where do you stay during the program?
Accommodation during our 10-day trip was very well organized. It was always on a sharing basis. We were assigned a roommate (purely random) at the beginning of the program. You can continue to stick with them till the end or request a change if needed.
Here are all the places we stayed in during our trip.
- Hotel Cynett Park in Bongaigaon (4 nights): We spent our first 4 nights in the immaculate Hotel Cygnett Park. The breakfast spread here is great, has both Indian and Western options. Rooms are spacious and comfortable. There is a swimming pool too. Though the service was a little lacking and the front desk staff was not that helpful.
- Smiling Tusker Resort in Manas National Park (2 nights): A peaceful resort in the lap of nature right in the middle of Manas National Park. Again, great food (a lot of Assamese options – try the Aloo Pitika) for breakfast and dinner. You can ask them for hot chappatis too. Plus, there are tea and pakoras every evening around the bonfire. My favorite accommodation during the trip.
There is no hot water in the cottages but you can get some every morning for your bath. And the best part is this resort focuses on the rehabilitation of unemployed elephants. Two adorable elephants, Ratnamala and Jaimala will grace you with their presence.
- Gibbon Backpackers Hostel in Guwahati (1 night): We stayed at the Gibbon Backpackers Hostel on our way back from Bodoland to the Umswai Valley. The hosts were so generous they got us all Chinese food.
- Prasanti Tourist Lodge in Pobitora (2 nights): This guest house is still pretty nascent. We spent a couple of nights here (one without any power! but it was fun.) It was cold and you don’t really need the AC or fan. Try their chicken curry. It was yummy.
How & When to apply to become a Bodoland Ambassador?
You need to apply for the program on the Bodoland Ambassadors website. It is a simple application where you will be asked for personal details, blog links, social media links, and approximate numbers for traffic and engagement. Fairly simple!
Keep an eye for the announcements by following Bodoland Ambassadors on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Applications usually begin in mid-November and last till the end of the month. Organizers start getting back to you in the 2nd and 3rd weeks of December. The trip happens in the last week of December and the first week of Jan every year.
Is there a fixed selection criterion to get into the Bodoland Ambassadors program?
As far as I am aware, there is no predecided selection criterion. Our group was an eclectic mix of senior and junior bloggers, successful YouTubers, Instagram influencers, wildlife enthusiasts and photographers, culture addicts, foodies, solo travelers, artists, and environmentalists.
The selection committee focuses more on the quality of content that you create rather than on absolute numbers. If they believe you have the ability to deliver quality blog posts, videos, and/or social media engagement, then you have a good chance of getting selected. You can drop me a message on my Contact Page if you wish to delve into further details.
What are the expected deliverables after you complete the tour?
Depending on your strengths, you will be expected to deliver blog posts, videos, and photographs. Social media posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter also form part of the deliverables. You can do Instagram/Facebook stories during the trip. Remember the idea is to create content that stays for a long time to come and actually changes the narrative about Bodoland.
For example, my strength lies in creating detailed travel guides. I have done 3 blog posts so far (all to my liking and matching my travel style) and more than 25 Instagram/Facebook posts. I am planning to write more detailed guides. So keep checking for them.
The organizers are pretty cool about the timelines or numbers. They don’t enforce any deadlines and just let your creativity flow. That is the best part of being an Ambassador for Bodoland.
My personal thoughts about the Bodoland Ambassadors Program
I had lots of fun during my stint as a Bodoland Ambassador. I still am one. I loved the place and always promote it to my readers and followers.
My group was quirky and fun. Everyone was willing to adjust and adapt. The organizers Gayatri and Javed were totally the best you could ever get. Bloggers who had been on other FAM trips also confirmed this. So, you know you are in good hands when you get selected as a Bodoland Ambassador.
Many places that you are going to visit on this trip will be pretty remote. Sometimes you may not get the luxury that you are used to in cities. But you will get to meet some amazing people, enjoy bonfires, and get deeper into a place hitherto untouched by common tourist trails. If you are an offbeat lover, you will enjoy this. And unless you have the princess syndrome, you will do great.
Here’s what Macrotraveller, another fellow Season 2 ambassador, had to say about the program.
A few tips to make your Bodoland Ambassador experience even more memorable.
- The trip is scheduled in December-January in Assam. So, it is cold. And the Dwijing Festival is held by a river. It gets really windy and chilly in the evening. So, get your woolens. You will need a thick jacket for your evenings by the river.
- Get comfortable walking shoes. There is not too much walking involved. But sometimes, you may need to walk up a small hill, or hike down to the river, or just amble around the festival ground.
- People often ask me if there was any vegetarian food in Bodoland. Of course, there was. In fact, I ate more veg on this trip than non-veg. Have a look at my post on Bodo people and culture to find out more about food and what you can eat.
So, here’s my review of the Bodoland Ambassadors Program. Did you find it helpful? Do you want to know anything more? Drop me a message on my Contact Page and I will get back.
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