Assam is dominated by the mighty River Brahmaputra, and its vast, lush valley sandwiched between the Himalayan foothills to the north and the Meghalayan hills and plateau to the south. An attractive state carpeted by plantations, forests and paddy fields, Assam is one of India’s few oil regions, and produces around sixty percent of the nation’s tea. However, the industry is not as profitable as it once was, and for the marginalized baganiyas (tea workers), mainly adivasis – tribal people brought in from central India by the British to work as indentured labourers on the plantations – depressingly little has changed since colonial times.
Social divisions and ethnic strife have lead to long-term instability in the state. The separatist group United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) began an armed struggle for independence in 1985, and in the early 1990s Assamese nationalism sparked opposition from Bodos, Cachars and other ethnic minorities. Bangladeshi migration into Assam has been a bone of contention for indigenous Assamese, resulting in the deadly clashes of 2012 between migrant Bangladeshis and Bodos that left several dead in the western districts of the state. Despite the seemingly unsurmountable ethnic tensions, occasional violence reported in the press, bandhs and political in-fighting, the situation has vastly improved along with the infrastructure. More and more visitors are enjoying the delights of wildlife and tea tourism as tourists are rarely embroiled in the strife that underlies the social fabric of Assam.