Discovering Digboi

Dig-Boy-Dig, the common phrase which is believed to be the origin of the name of the beautiful Upper Assam city of Digboi where the liquid gold, the crude oil was first discovered in the country and the first ever Oil Refinery of India was commissioned in 1901. Digboi is surrounded by Upper Dehing Reserve Forest which forms the part of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary at the foothills of the Patkai range. I and my wife Poppy were planning to visit this stunning place for a very long time. But last winter we had a reason to visit Digboi and ended up falling in love with the place after coming here. Being a Tour Operator by profession, a British couple Janet and Bryan Cupples whose ancestors were associated with oil & tea industry in Assam will be visiting Digboi with me in September this year. So, it was sort of an inspection tour to the tourist spots of Digboi.digboi1


After a very long drive from Nagaon, we reached Digboi Centenary Museum 1901-2001. The first museum of this kind in India is brilliantly maintained by Digboi Refinery. The exhibits both indoor and outdoor having many shining vintage equipments and machineries, present one an idea about the evolution and development of the oil industry in Assam from late 19th c. The historic Well No. 1 or the Discovery well, the first ever commercially viable well in India which was successfully drilled in September 1889 is also present in the museum premises. T.C. Lahan who was in charge of the museum then was a very helpful official. After a brief introduction and knowing the reason behind our visit, he was kind enough to accompany me to show the museum. Our next destination was 10 minutes away, the Digboi War Cemetery maintained by Common Wealth War Grave Commission. The War Cemetery of World War II (1939-45) tells us the story of many young soldiers of various nationalities who laid their life during the course of the war. Assam was an operational area of the Burma Campaign at the time of the war and Digboi being close to the Burmese border was on the line of communication. The middle-aged incharge of the cemetery complained me about the lack of visitors to his “territory” and thanked me and my wife for the visit. He was even happier when I told him about the visit of the British couple in September. The peaceful atmosphere, the bird calls and the green ambience in and around the cemetery gives one a heavenly feel.


Digboi refinery originally a part of the Assam Oil Company came under the umbrella of the Indian Oil in 1981 and now it has the capacity to process 0.65 million tons of crude oil. Since 1901, Digboi has become home to many people coming from various parts of the country to work here, providing Digboi a new identity. “Little India- as it shows unity in diversity”. Digboi township has some amazing guest houses located in between nature. We were lucky enough to spend a romantic evening in one of such guest houses “Hornbill Villa”. It is known as Hornbill Villa because a patient look will give one an eye candy view of Great Indian Hornbill in the nearby jungle from this property. The mesmerizing lush green hilly landscape around the Villa attracts many migratory, semi-migratory and local bird lives. Some of such birds are like Bar-headed Geese, Open Bill Stork, Saras Crane, Pond Heron, Large Egret, Cuckoo, Parrot, Orial, Swift, Kingfisher etc. What a pleasure to wake up in the morning with the sweet musical rhythm of the bird calls! I again have to thank T.C. Lahan and A.K. Nath, two Digboi Refinery Officials for allowing us to spend a night in this nicest ever colonial bunglow type guest house.


It was undoubtedly a refreshing and enthralling visit for us in Digboi, our pride, the pride of Assam, the pride of the country. An email from the British couple to me explains their excitement about their coming visit to the place where their ancestors worked, “Dear Udit, the number of days is getting shorter and shorter of our visit. Really feeling thrilled that we are going to visit Assam again and most importantly Digboi, the beautiful oil city where our forefathers spent some years working for the oil and tea industry. I am sure all these are going to be fun and of course Durga Puja. You must be very proud to have your home in such a land of variety. See you soon.”    


Udit Bhanu Barthakur is director, Eastern Iconic tours and travels (