Bound by mighty Brahmaputra on the south and Luit in the north this 350 SqKm of Majuli Island, in Assam is the largest river island in the world. Majuli is a word derived from word Mojoli that literally translates into a narrow piece of land parallel between two rivers. The island is still holding on to its rich culture, traditional life style. The place is also haven for flora and fauna as I would like to put it,
The distinction of the island is in its isolation
How To Reach Majuli?
The fun of offbeat destination Majuli is in reaching there J
Our journey to Majuli started from Kaziranga .
A total distance of 125 kms the route we followed was Kaziranga—-Jorhat——Nimati Ghat
For backpackers there is local transport available from Jorhat to Nimati Ghat. Interestingly, these ghats are not permanent and each season the ferry location changes depending on the course of river, depth of water available and bank erosion. That’s a unique beauty of impermanence.
The Inland Water Transport operates the ferries so it is important that we choose a safe boat. Local tour operators like Koyeli Travels facilitate for a seamless Assam trip as they have updated information regarding time, location and type of ferry.
We started at 07:00 hrs in the morning with an aim to reach Nimati Ghat by 09:00 hrs. There are two morning ferries and it is advisable to catch the first one. We reached by 09:30 and by 10:30 our car was loaded in the boat. We spent our time clicking photographs.
Ghat has lots of good frames to capture.
There are shacks lined up with regular fish-rice available even as breakfast. We asked a lady at one of the shacks to prepare tricolour pasta ( we were carrying the packet, ofcourse) and she quite startled at our request. But then as a parent of a 4 year old kid, you got to be prepared.
Adventure Trip To Majuli Begins
Our adventure trip to Majuli began when the ferry left at 11:00 hrs. Bright coloured ferry with two wooden planks precariously positioned needed dainty walk to hop over the other side, reminded me of my desire to catwalk. I should be cautious of my desires lest it manifests in unimagined ways. The ferry loaded with tenor more car/jeep, multiple motorcycle, herd of goat co-adjusting with swarm of brightly dressed locals, resembled no less than a ship called for war. Inside the ferry wooden benches meant for thin people were lined. While I struggled to adjust for a while, I soon gave up and climbed atop the boat for fresh air and expansive views. Awestruck, I soaked into the views of white sand and water merging into the sky at the far horizon.
The ferry was operated by an experienced helmsman or locally called Majhi. Over mighty Bramhaputra, it is an art to steer the boat as the river is shallow at quite a few places and possibility of a boat hitting a sandbar is high. Majhi is assisted by a sailor standing on the bow with bowsprit to continuously monitor the depth of water. The sail time is about one hour. The white sand banks dotted with green patch of grass and cool breeze whispering music in your ears lets the time pass in a jiffy.
Carry a cap and drape to cover your ears for it can get windy over the river. For the local residents, the boat trip is their lifeline and I mean quite literally for I saw a water ambulance pass by. However, fascinating it might seem for traveller like me to be on a river island, life is tough on the other side.
We alighted at the northern bank by 12:15 hrs and followed a dirt track towards Majuli town. We were like the clothes in high spin dry mode in the washing machine tumbling and twisting from all angles on the jerky and bumpy roadless path. Having stayed in Northeast about 10 years ago, I was not only prepared but looking forward to this ride for in this rawness you could be sure of Nature’s bounty. The countryside landscape with thatched hamlets, water cranes amidst water hyacinths into the small ponds, miles of greenery, and half naked kids with ruffled hair waving and idyllic people around is a strange but refreshing sight. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the cemented road ahead. This progress is attributed to Majuli being declared a ‘district’ and the infrastructure growth is looking up, I was told later during ‘adda’ (tea time discussion laden with political overlays) with locals
What Can Majuli Trip Offer?
The island has rich cultural heritage that is preserved by the residents therefore one has to understand the place well before preparing the itinerary. Take it slow to sync with the pace of the place. We divided our itinerary into three major activities.
Visit Cultural Places
Experience Indigenous Lifestyle
Enjoy Camp site
Amrita, blogger of A Tale of 2 Backpackers, also recently visited Majuli and says,
That it is the largest river island in Asia was the reason enough for me to visit Majuli. Majuli is also the learning centre of the Neo-Vaishnavite philosophy. There are quite a number of Vaishnav Satras at Majuli where visiting is a unique experience in itself. Also, soil erosion is affecting Majuli greatly. From an area of 1256 sq km in 1991, it has now reduced to 875 sq km due to soil erosion. So visit Majuli before it disappears.
Visit to Satras
Sastras are intrinsic to social structure of Majuli. These are hermitages that preserve and disseminate the cultural and devotional practices of Neo-Vashnivites. The best way to understand the place is to spend some time listening to the monks here. There are four Satras in all; the first one we visited was Kamlabari Satra that was close to the ghat. The layout of all the Sastras are same – temple area in centre, surrounded by small hut like rooms of monks occupied in hierarchy, boys dorm room at the other end and a pond.
Our next stop was Samaguri Satra a place that is glorified by Mr Hem Babu Goswami also known as the Mask Maker. These head gears are made for the Bhaona performance, where folklore of Ramayana is narrated in art form. We were totally intrigued by the masks, the process of making, the story behind and by the grandkid who amused us by wearing the mask and teasing while the master interacted with us.
In another Sastra, they idol worship is not practiced instead Gita is revered symbolic of Krishna devotion. An immersive devotional dance performance was presented by young boys. Later, the main swamiji told us that how almost every family in the surrounding villages offer one of their boys to the Sastra where the come very young and grow like a family. He came to the Sastra when he was just 2.5 years old. Today, he is a master and skilled in dance and singing. It reminded me of gurukul system of yesteryears.
Introduction To Regional Folk – Bhaona
I was lucky to be in Majuli in the season of Bhogali bihu, a revered month in Assam when Majuli wears a festive look and the Bhaona renditions is an indispensable part of celebrations. Bhaona is a traditional art form of dance, music and dialogues to spread religious sentiments. This is performed as part of yearly competition. The event is for 3 days, it starts late in the evening and extends into early morning. We attended the event and the fervour was a treat to watch. Our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was coming on the final day to felicitate the winners.
Experience The Majuli Lifestyle
In the island the time stands still and the daily activities of Mishing tribe of Assam is very much same as years ago. A complete contrast to our urban life laden with technological advancement this kind of lifestyle is a pure joy to witness. People of the tribe are very simple and inspite of the hardship to live in an isolated place they chose to stay. Unable to control my curiosity, I knocked at random hut of Mishing Tribe. The lady, dressed in crisp white sari and a tight bun wasn’t skeptical of us. She was rather welcoming and within 5 minutes we had stuck an emotional chord together. She recently lost her elder son while he went for higher education in Guhawati. Her simplicity and piousness will be etched in my heart forever.
Morning Walk & Bird Watching
In the quietness of morning, chirping of birds is a soul stirring ephemera.
I loved the walk by the river inlet early in the morning. Bird watching and spotting is one of the keenly pursued activity when in Majuli.
There was a bird couple swimming in the pond and I was told that they are together during the day time but will go to opposite banks when night falls as they were punished by Lord Rama for overhearing the dhobi responsible for separation of Ram-Sita bitch about him. So, Rama cursed the birds to have a similar fate of separation. True it was, I observed the pattern during morning and after sunset.
Take A Canoe Ride
To survive the yearly flood condition each house has a small boat carefully kept inverted during dry season in front of their house. You may request any household to take it over a lake or join a fisherman. I was totally thrilled to take a canoe ride and revive my memories of maiden trip to Arunachal Pradesh.
Hop on a Bicycle
Hire a bicycle and get lost amidst the trees and foliage. As Robert Frost says, take the path less travelled. There is no better way to explore the island.
Be The Quiet
You and quietness become one in Majuli. Experience this quietness, a rare moment of life. By sundown, an eerie silence dawns over the lush greens of Majuli with only the sound of crickets resonating and an occasional rumbling form the crushing of soft grass. It is just you, your voice within and an absolutely quietness with no outside chaos.. Unwind yourself, quieten the voices in your head and merge with the quiet outside.
I woke up refreshed like I never slept before.
Where To Stay In Majuli?
Enjoy A Mishing Tribe Stay At DekasangResort in Majuli
Majuli has number of resorts that has bamboo stilt houses with basic amenities. Information about these resorts is very scant so here again local tour operators like Koyeli can be trusted upon as everything in Majuli is dynamic. We stayed in Dekasang Resorts, a four star property professionally managed by the founder of famous Prag News. The place is tastefully decorated to give a feel of staying inside a Mishing tribe house. Wood and bamboo was extensively used in interior décor, even the bed was wooden block with canopy style mosquito net hanging from top. The resort stood on stilts and rooms was spacious with good ventilation. I loved every bit of staying in this authentic place. It was just like spending a day with due comfort ofcourse in a tribal house.
Excellent food and hospitality! Overall a homely feel and it felt more like a homestay. The owner spoke passionately and proudly about Majuli. It was inspiring to see how he was suing the local resources and wouldn’t hesitate to get in the kitchen to cook the meals. and he has used local resources to.
It was time to return to mainland when we came across this absolutely mesmerizing landscape of dried Brahmaputra river bed with temporary bridges over it. Our shutterbugs never rested during the Majuli trip. We did get loads of pictures but how could we capture the essence, the silence, the civilization, the simplicity of the place back to concrete jungle. So, I will hold on to the silence for as long as I can.