A drive through the meandering roads of various districts in Assam and you are bound to come across old, colonial-style bungalows, still withholding their charm. You will notice them amidst tea gardens or in certain parts of the towns. It’s almost as if time instantly slows down in the vicinity of these magnificent structures, luring you into the spell of their vintage beauty, and also tales of ghosts and past incidences. Chung bungalows, as they are popularly known, are houses built on pillars or stilts, raising them above the ground. It is not just for the architectural beauty that you appreciate them, but also the brilliant planning that make them resistant to earthquakes.
Assam is an earthquake prone region, and therefore most Assam-style houses traditionally were built in a manner to guard them from earthquakes. The gable roof type is a prominent feature, along with the wooden railing that mostly surrounds the front portion of the house. The rooms are all arranged on the top floor, while the ground floor is commonly used to construct a garage and/or a store room.
There are different kinds of chung bungalows all over the state, varying in size, structure and design. They were built by the British during the 19th century when they came to Assam to start the tea business. In fact some of these bungalows bear signage of the year they were built. One of the bungalows I grew up in was marked 1932.
A basic chung bungalow typically contains about two to three bedrooms, whereas the elaborate ones, such as a few tea estate manager’s bungalows that are known as burra sahib bungalow, could have five to six or more bedrooms, with separate summer drawing room and winter drawing room as well. The sheer space, with rooms as big as an entire flat in the metro cities, could no doubt make it eerie to spend a night. But if you could gather up the courage, there’s nothing quite like the experience. Moreover, the brilliantly polished wooden furniture, luxurious upholstery, vintage artefacts, handcrafted carpets et al are surely going to be good enough to distract your mind and keep the chills away.
A visit to Assam surely calls for a stay in one of these chung bungalows to experience the beauty of it all. There are a handful of tea estates who offer luxurious stays for tourists, coupled with tea tastings. Well, time to start planning!