Majestic views, pristine waterfalls and winding rivers — Dima Hasao is the only hill station in Assam and, blessed with abundant natural beauty, it has turned into a major tourist destination. And that, too, after a decade of militancy and violence due to the demand for separate statehood.
Dima Hasao district continues to be a part of Assam with its autonomous council working alongside the BJP-led state government for the upliftment of people. The council, led by chief executive member Debolal Garlosa, is now focusing on making tourism as its mainstay.
“Dima Hasao is blessed with a lot of natural beauty. We have a lot to offer to our tourists. From massive waterfalls like Panimur to serene places like Umrangso golf course to mysterious spots like Jatinga, from hills in Maibong to the rivers flowing throughout, this place is also called Switzerland of the Northeast. Our council is fully focused on boosting tourism now,” tourism adviser to the council, Zed Nunisa exclusively told CNN-News18.
“Haflong town in Dima Hasao is now well connected by road, which has made it easier for tourists. Not just that, with our new tourism policy, the draft of which was recently released on World Tourism Day on September 27, we have focused on increasing homestays and hotels to accommodate tourists. We have also met with local social media influencers to promote Dima Hasao as a major tourist destination. We are also planning for more videos on and about tourist attractions in Dima Hasao. A website has also been launched to help tourists…” he said.
What to find in Dima Hasao?
With a dense population, Haflong town and, mostly all parts of Dima Hasao, are welcoming to tourists and local residents are known for their wide smiles and greetings — juthai (hello) — in Dimasa. Haflong is well connected by both road and railway to Guwahati.
The Haflong railway station is considered the most beautiful railway station in the northeast. Giant green hills and clear blue skies will greet you with a juthai at the railway station. Travelling a distance of 323 km on curvey roads with dense tree cover on both sides, it takes five hours to reach Haflong from Guwahati. The longest road tunnel in Assam — BG Tunnel No 9 — has also reduced travel time for tourists.
Haflong is a quaint town with picturesque homestays and small cafés by the side of the Haflong lake. Close by is the mystery of Jatinga, where thousands of birds drop dead on some moonlit nights every year during a particular season.
Zed Nunisa said the district was now promoting the Umrangso golf course as a destination wedding spot. With horses grazing, the valley surrounded by water reminds one of Switzerland. Close to Umrangso is a waterfall called Panimur, which is one of the biggest in Assam.
From kayaking to trekking, the council is now trying to bring in more adventure sports. “We have seen that other hill stations in the country have a lot of adventure activities. We are also blessed with beautiful hill terrains where a lot of such activities can be offered. So, experts have trained our men and we are ready to offer a lot of more adventure sports,” Zed said.
Dima Hasao was a witness to a lot of destruction during the Assam floods in 2022. Landslides not only blocked the road tunnel to Haflong, but also destroyed the newly built railway station. Roads and houses were all affected but, after a year, it is getting back on its feet to welcome tourists.
“Please come and visit us, we have a lot to offer. Dima Hasao will rise, must rise,” Zed added.
Dima Hasao’s violent past
The serene hill districts of Assam — Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao — have a long history of insurgency by Karbi and Dimasa groups, which was at its peak in the mid-1990s and was rooted in the core demand of separate statehood. In Dima Hasao, the demand began in the 1960s along with other tribal sections of undivided Assam.
While new states such as Meghalaya were carved out, Karbi Anglong and North Cachar remained with Assam on a promise of more power by the government, including implementation of Article 244A that allows ‘autonomous state’ within Assam in certain tribal areas. This was never implemented.
When the demand for ‘Dimarji’ gathered steam
A demand for a full-fledged state — ‘Dimaraji’ — gathered steam and led to the formation of the militant Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF) in 1991. It surrendered in 1995 but its commander-in-chief Jewel Gorlosa broke away and formed the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD).
In 2003, the DHD began negotiations with the government but the commander-in-chief broke away and formed the DHD-J (Jewel) with an armed group called ‘Black Widow’. These groups were violent and had popular support, though they signed a ceasefire in 2012.
The came the Dimasa National Liberation Army…
The Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA) was established in April 2019 to pursue the Dimasa people’s sovereignty through an armed campaign. Recently, it signed a peace agreement with the state government and the Centre.
In September 2021, the DNLA declared a unilateral ceasefire for a period of six months following an appeal by the chief minister. The ceasefire has been extended since. The agreement made the DNLA surrender arms and abide by the Constitution of India.
The terms were: disband armed organisation; vacate all camps occupied by cadres; join the mainstream; 179 cadres to surrender arms and ammunition with the promise that the central and state governments will provide Rs 500 crore each for the development of the Dimasa tribal areas; Dimasa Welfare Council to be set up by state government to protect, preserve and promote a social, cultural and linguistic identity to meet political, economic and educational aspirations; ensure speedy and focused development of Dimasa people residing outside the jurisdiction of North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC).
The agreement also provides for the appointment of a commission under Paragraph 14 of the 6th Schedule of the Constitution India — to examine the demand for the inclusion of additional villages contiguous to the NCHAC with the council. Under Article 244, this provides for the formation of autonomous administrative divisions — autonomous district councils (ADCs) — that have some legislative, judicial and administrative autonomy within a state.