Silchar is the headquarters of Cachar district in the state of Assam in India. It is 343 kilometres (213 mi) south east of Guwahati. It is the second-largest city of the state in terms of population and municipal area.
It also has the 2nd busiest Airport (76 civilian flights/week) in Assam and 4th busiest in North east after Guwahati, Agartala and Imphal.
After around 68 years of Indian independence, only recently, the railroad connectivity has been upgraded to broad gauge. Suresh Prabhu, the present rail minister, has announced direct rail connectivity to metropolitan cities like New Delhi and Kolkata with regular train services having been commenced as planned.
Silchar at night, December 2014.
Being politically stable in the otherwise disturbed Northeast earned it the bon mot of “Island of Peace” from India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Approximately 90% residents of Silchar are Bengalis who speak the Sylheti dialect, the rest being Bihari people, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Dimasa Kachari, Manipuri (Meitei), Marwaris, Assamese and some tribal groups like Nagas. Silchar is situated by the banks of the Barak River in what is popularly known as Barak Valley. Rice is the staple cereal. Fish is also widely consumed. Shuţki (the local name for dried fish), shidal chutney and chunga-r peetha (sticky rice cakes prepared inside bamboo sticks) are some of the local delicacies.
During the British rule, ships were docked at the bank of the river Barak. Gradually, a market developed at the bank and became a major place of economic activity. The bank was covered with stones to help dock ships and vessels, and the market was developed at a place that was fully covered with stones. People started to refer to the place as Shiler Chor, meaning “a bank of stones”. With the passage of time, Shiler Chor was simplified to Silchar, and ultimately the British officials started to use the name Silchar in their official documents referring to the surrounding area of the market. Thus Silchar became the official name of the place.
In the 1850s, British tea planters re-discovered the game polo in Manipur on the Burmese border with India. The first polo club in the world was formed at Silchar. The first competitive modern form of polo was played in Silchar, the plaque for this feat still stands behind the District Library, Silchar.
Silchar saw one of the uprisings in favour of the Bengali language. When the Assam government, under Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha, passed a circular to make Assamese mandatory, Bengalis of Barak Valley protested. On 19 May 1961, when Assam police opened fire on unarmed protesters at Silchar Railway Station, 11 agitators died. After the popular revolt, the Assam government had to withdraw the circular and Bengali was ultimately given official status in the three districts of Barak Valley.
At Silchar, the climate is tropical by nature. The wind generally blows from the northeast in the morning and from the southeast in the afternoon. Summer is hot, humid and interspersed with heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. Winter generally starts towards the end of November and lasts till late February. Towards the start of the Bengali month of Baishakh (mid-April) rain clouds start covering the skyline. Silchar is inundated frequently due to excessive rainfall and floods by the River Barak. Over the last three decades, Silchar and the Barak Valley have been ravaged by four major floods – one in 1986, followed by the ones in 1991, 2004 and 2007.