Soon after his visit to Assam in 1841, British official William Robinson wrote in his diary that most of Guwahati’s residents lived in thatched houses built of reeds and bamboo mats. Even residences of Europeans were of bamboo mat, without even a wooden door. The Assam Administrative Report of 1874-75 mentions that the only permanent structures in Guwahati were the Record Room and the Treasury attached to the Court. And, even the Court comprised only of wood and bamboo mat structures with inflammable roofs. 

Therefore, in 1874, when the Governor General of India Lord Northbrook decided to visit Assam, his accommodation posed a serious problem for the local administration. After a lot of hairsplitting it was finally decided that a part of the Commissioner’s office would be converted into a Circuit House. The administrators were however at their wits’ end to stitch together a “royal” welcome for Lord Northbrook, who was expected to officially announce a separate chief commissionership for Assam covering an area of 54,100 square miles and including the then districts of Kamrup, Darrang, Nagaon, Sibsagar, Lakhimpur, Khasi-Jaintia Hills, Garo Hills, Goalpara and Sylhet-Cachar.

Several suggestions were mooted but the one that found ready acceptance was construction of a gate at the point where the Governor General would land. The gate that would be named the Gate of Honour would have arches and be designed on the lines of the famous King’s College Chapel arches of England.

Accordingly, a design was prepared and the land adjacent to the Sukreswar Devalaya, then the site of a weekly market, was chosen for anchor of Lord Northbrook’s ship. The rectangular gate of brick and limestone was to have twelve arches -- five each along the length and one each along its breadth.  

  On August 27, 1874 canons boomed as the Governor General alighted from his ship at Sukreswar ghat. Lord Northbrook took the gun salute and entered Guwahati through the imposing gate. 

 It was not long before the Northbrook Gate became the town’s signpost, drawing admiration from all of its 11,000 odd residents. News about its grandeur also spread far and wide and visitors began to arrive in streams from all across Assam to see it.  

Over the last 130 years the Northbrook Gate has stood in silent vigil over the town’s verdant valleys, enchanting hills and mighty Brahmaputra. It was witness to town’s elevation into a first grade municipality in 1876. It also watched the rapturous welcome accorded to Lord Curzon during his visit in the beginning of the 20th  century. 

On November 1, 1919 Jnanadabhiram Baruah escorted poet Rabindranath Tagore to this very gate, where the Noble Lauteate spent nearly an hour gazing enraptured at the beauty of the Brahmaputra. On February 12, 1949 when an urn containing Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes was Immersed by Pitambar Dev Goswami and Gopinath Bordoloi in the Brahmaputra to the strains of Queen Hazarika chanting Jai Raghu Nandana very near Northbrook Gate, its arches soaked in an entire city’s grief. 

              In the devastating earthquake of 1897 almost all brick structures of the town were razed to ground. Only the Northbrook Gate stood untouched. The gate thus remains one of the few 19th century British Raj structures that stands intact to this day. It also reminds us that for a brief spell of forty days in 1874 Guwahati was the provincial capital and administrative headquarters of Assam, before it was shifted to Shillong. Official correspondence refers to Lord Northbrook’s Guwahati visit as “visit to the administrative headquarters of the province of Assam”.

 Northbrook Gate is the city’s most unique landmark, an unusual piece of architecture that lords over all it surveys. Quite rightly British officials called it the Gateway of Assam – a name by which it is still known.