This was the first time I was going to be in Guwahati for a few days on my way home to Shillong. Over the years Guwahati has been reduced to being just a transit point for me, enroute home. I have been wanting to explore the city for a while now but that hasn’t happened yet. However, a little bit of Assam happened in the form of Majuli – and a long-standing wish was finally fulfilled.
I’m back after a prolonged blogging hiatus and what better way to restart than writing about Majuli. Also known as the ‘Cultural Capital of Assam’, Majuli is the largest river island in the world with a total area of 352 square Kilometres. Formed by the confluence of River Brahmaputra and its tributaries, the island is however shrinking due to extensive soil erosion that’s chipping away its banks. In fact, surveys have indicated that the island may cease to exist in just 15–20 years. It is a biodiversity hotspot and houses several villages. It’s a UNESCO world heritage contender too.
It was the second week of April, time for the most important festival of Assam – Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu, which celebrates the Assamese New Year. This wasn’t in my mind though when I had booked the tickets, way back in the month of February. Rather, I was concerned about the weather, as we were at the brink of Summer. Well, it turned out to be one of best times to visit Majuli – the festive season of Spring. Though locals told us Winter would be the best time for the various cultural festivals held during that time, such as, Raasleela, Majuli Festival, Magh Bihu, etc. Summers and Monsoon are not the right time to visit the island, for obvious reasons.
Reaching Majuli by itself is an exciting venture for city people like us, especially if you choose to take a ferry over River Brahmaputra. It takes about an hour and is really convenient. The ferries carry not just people, but vehicles too. So, you can choose to take your own car or bike. Another way to reach Majuli is through road but that’s a very long arduous drive and takes close to 10 hours. We took an overnight train from Guwahati to the town of Jorhat. There we hired an autorickshaw that dropped us to Nimati Ghat, where we boarded the first ferry that was leaving at 7.30 AM. The double-storied ferry was unusually crowded. Jostling through the crowd we managed to reach the upper deck while the ferry was well into the mighty Brahmaputra away from the shores.
What We did at Majuli
We landed at Kamalbari, the Ferry Ghat of Majuli, boarded a shared taxi and reached the homestay that we had booked. The simplicity, peaceful, and rustic charm of Majuli was immediately evident. Wrapped in anticipation, we were all set to explore the mystical island in the next two days. One of the two days happened to be my birthday and I hadn’t planned to be here. It was the best coincidence.
An ideal way to explore the island is on a two-wheeler. This will enable you to traverse through the narrow pathways of the village interiors. A car can limit your experience to a large extent. Consequently, we rented a two-wheeler, which became our companion for the next two days. We had no particular plan or itinerary and simply rambled around Majuli’s green fields and straight roads, literally going wherever our eyes took us. We did plan to visit the Satras, a few of which we had shortlisted. Satras are religious and cultural institutions or monasteries dedicated to Lord Vishnu that profoundly influence the social lives of local people. Satras deserve a separate post where I’ll write in greater detail. (Read Here)
Majuli felt like a bride draped in green! She was gorgeous and vibrant. Anywhere we looked green was all that we saw. Soothingly refreshed we kept riding all day long ingesting Nature’s calming bounty so much so that we even missed having lunch on the first day. Now and then we would just take a turn from the main road and explore the narrow pathways through the interiors of the island.
It being the time of Bihu, we had the unique opportunity to experience Assam’s rich culture through the traditional Bihu Dance. The invigorative dance celebrates the vitality of Spring and is performed by groups of young men and women. At Majuli, we found groups of little children dancing around the lanes and bylanes in their traditional Assamese attires – the red and beige mekhela chador (the tribal children wore mekhela chadors of various colours). They had no qualms about dancing for us, as well, each and every time we requested a group. The tradition is they dance and you offer them a small sum of Rs 50 or so as a token of your appreciation.
Majuli is home to many tribes – Misings, Deoris, Sonowal, and Kacharis. Of these, Misings are predominant. We had plans of touring at least one tribal village but we gave that a miss as our random meanderings was turning out to be more fun and interesting. On the second day, we spent the afternoon hours on the banks of Lohit, which is a tributary of Brahmaputra. The quietude of Lohit left us spellbound and those 2-3 hours was like a lifetime of peace and solitude.
My friend, R, who was with me on the trip spent most of that time laying down on a patch of green grass on the banks of the river. I, on the other hand wandered around and met a couple of women from the Mising tribe. Since I can speak Assamese, language was no barrier. We exchanged stories and got a glimpse into each other’s’ lives. A group of three chatted with me while they collected some kind of specific leaves from the vegetation around the river bank. This was in preparation for a village feast they had that evening. They even invited me to their home. Then, I watched two other women catching fish that lay hidden in the clusters of water Hyacinth. I had no idea what they were doing until they explained it to me. It was a wonderful afternoon, one that I will never forget.
We spent the evenings watching sunset over River Brahmaputra. Sun down and the island is all quiet, there’s nothing much to do anymore. We did try riding around in the dark but that was quite boring and we gave up.
Majuli’s food is worth a mention too, especially the fresh fish and the rice beer or Apong. Unfortunately, we happened to miss the latter due to reasons that aren’t worth mentioning in this post. Well, there will be a next time and that’s for sure.
Majuli’s peaceful and tranquil vibe pervades my senses even now as I write about it. It’s simply meditative!
I leave you with two of my Instagram posts, if you are interested to know more. First one for Bihu Dance and second one for the scenic nature.