Exclusive | Ashwaklanta Ghat to Saraighat, a death-trap since before Battle of Saraighat in 1671

A view of the Adh Pahar from Ashwaklanta Ghat where the intake-point of JICA North Guwwahati water project is being built.

Avishek Sengupta

North Guwahati, September 6: A stretch of about a kilometre along the north banks of Brahmaputra River — Ashwaklanta Ghat to Saraighat — once significant for the victory of Last Battle of Saraighat in 1671, has now turned into a graveyard of hopes and dreams.

After 347 years, yesterday, at least three persons — Ankita Baruah and Dimpi Bora, both HS first-year students in Cotton University and Kamal Das — died and several others are believed to be missing after a “overcrowded” mechanised country-made boat capsized after colliding with the pillars of the intake point of JICA North Guwahati water supply project at Ashwaklanta Ghat, a place that has been credited to give strategic benefit to the Ahom army against the raiding Mughal Army in the battle of Saraighat.

347 years after, today, despite efforts of the NDRF and its deep divers, SDRF, troops of the Indian Navy and personnel of the Army, both on the vessel and making aerial scan along the river from 5 am to around 5:30 pm, no survivor could be recovered.

Locals said there’s a reason why the Mughals were defeated, yesterdays boat got capsized and numerous other sporadic accidents happened along this stretch – a shallow gap between the Ashwaklanta Ghat and Adh Pahar (a small island on the Brahmaputra River).

According to legends, the island was formed by Shiva to hide (that translates to adh in Assamese) Parvati who used to bath at Umananda Temple from those in the northern bank of the river.

About 50 metres from the Ashwaklanta Temple along the water intake point of JICA North Guwahati water supply project, the pillars of which the boat collided and collapsed, on the river the rocky Adh Pahar, shaped like the diamond of the cards, bifurcates the streams.

“The river bed is rocky and shallow in this gap due to which, the water is always frothing here. this causes a whirlpool effect that drags anything that is floating on the river into this pocket,” Arupjyoti Medhi, a local here said.

Loknath Barman, a survivor of the accident recalled the boat that was bound to Mandhyamandap, about 1.5 kilometres from the spot of accident, faced a technical glitch due to which its engine stopped.

“When the engine stopped, our boat was dragged off course by the frothing Brahmaputra current within minutes towards the intake point where it finally collided. The accident probably would have been evaded if the intake point were not there, but the current in this area is very strong,” he added.

According to historical evidence, the Ahom Army under the leadership of Lachit Borphukan, during the reign of Ahom King Chakradhwaj Singha, had led an army from Kamrup (now Guwahati) and cornered the Mughal army, commanded by Ram Singh I of Awadh, assigned by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb between the Ashwaklanta Ghat and Saraighat on the river where they knew that the latter has no knowledge of riverine warfare and that the water current was most tumultuous there.

Deceased Ankita Baruah’s father, who’s been living at Madhyamkhanda, about a kilometre from the accident site since 1977 recounted, ” Accidents are common here. it was around in the 1980s when three women died in that area. Few years after another named Paresh Das died somewhere near here.”

Among the three river ports — Rajaduar, Madhyamkhanda and Majhgaon — along with the North Guwahati where ferries board passengers, the Majhgaon port, nearest to Ashwaklanta, was shut down as it was too dangerous for plying of boats.