Majuli, an unknown Paradise – Two days of bliss in lap of nature
“Land of the river and whispering wind
Sweet rice and plenty of fish,
Where the sun rises to the sound of hundred birds
And the evenings resonate to the music of cymbals and kirtans.”
‘Travel is one of the investments which makes one richer’. During spring (Bohag) as we were scrolling through various travel itinerary and last-minute cancellation of the trip to North India belt, suddenly one of my friends suggested let’s explore – Majuli before the paradise ceases to exist. During that time already Pancham aka Nilotpal Bora’s mesmerizing video on Majuli was doing rounds that captivated everyone as well. So we decided to pack our bags to experience one of the largest river island in the world, Majuli, also the cultural capital of Assam. Majuli originally comprised of an area of 1250 sq.km but today due to erosion and other climatic changes the island is merely left with an area of 421 sq.km. If proper measures will not be taken to save the island, it could disappear within the next half century which is so alarming for the native inhabitants as well as us.
Jorhat is the nearest town to Majuli which is well connected by road, rail, and air. To reach Jorhat there are daily buses or trains available to and from Guwahati at regular intervals. I guess this trip was meant to be that is the reason while booking there were exactly 3 seats available in Inter-City Express. To reach Majuli one has to board a ferry from Nimati Ghat in Jorhat. Shared rickshaws are easily available outside the Jorhat bus to stand as well as railway station that ply to Neamati Ghat frequently through the day.
The ferry services to reach Majuli are available daily from 7 am to 4 pm from Nimati Ghat. While returning from Majuli to Jorhat town one can board a ferry from Kamalabari Ghat which also ply between 7 am to 4 pm. The boat ride takes little over an hour and is a pleasant ride over the mighty Brahmaputra River.
The population in Majuli is around 1.4 lakhs and comprises mostly of three tribes – the Missing Tribe, Deori tribe and the Sunuwal-Kosari tribe. The most commonly spoken language in Majuli is Assamese and the different tribal languages which are named after the tribes itself are also spoken. The locals are also well versed in communicating in English and Hindi.
From Nimati Ghat we left for the guest house at Kamalibari Satra since tourist lodge was not available during Bihu time but in a way blessing in disguise as we got the golden opportunity to experience peaceful Satra life. The hospitality of the satra people especially the Satra dangoriya cannot be described in mere words. We were indeed grateful to them for preparing mouthwatering dishes especially Bohag Bihu Jalpan for us. It was very heart touching to see though financially not very stable yet people had such huge heart and came across many orphans who grew up at the Satra and leading better lives and being self-reliant.
Majuli is also the abode of the Assamese neo-Vaisnavite culture. The population on the Island comprises of only the Hindu community and they are mainly Vaishnavites who are followers of Lord Vishnu. It is a belief amongst the locals that Lord Krishna resided in Majuli for a major part of his childhood and hence the worship of Krishna is considered most holy on the island.The main attractions in Majuli are the tribal villages and the satras (monasteries) which are dedicated to Lord Krishna and signify different forms of the God. About 25—26 Satras are remaining now in Majuli out of which Dakhinpat satra, Uttar Kamalabari, Garmur and Auniati satra are few of the famous satras in Majuli. Auniati Satra, one of the oldest and most famous Satras in Majuli. Ahom king Joyddhaja Singha built it in 1653. The Satra has its own museum which conserves artifacts from Ahom period and a library that displays ancient manuscripts.These satras are propagating the religious ideology of great Assamese medieval Vaisnavite Saint Sankardeva & Madhavdeva, preaching Sattriya culture.
The most convenient way of getting around the island of Majuli is by renting a car for the day since all the attractions can be easily covered in a day. If time is not a constraint then cycling around is the best way to explore this river island and get a real local feel of the place.
These satras are taken care of by different sects, tribes, and sub-tribes and have a head priest or scholar to carry out the daily rituals. It is a common practice for everyone entering the monastery to leave their footwear outside the satra complex and burn a diya (oil lamp) while inside the monastery. These satras are culturally very rich and one can also witness local monks dancing and depicting various mythological stories during festivals. We witnessed the much-gifted art of mask making at Samaguri satra. On our way, we also witnessed few endangered bird species. The island supports a variety of birds, fishes, reptiles, amphibians and many species of aquatic animals and plants. More than 250 species of birds have been recorded on the island. In winter, many species of migrant birds visit Majuli and its surrounding areas. If you are lucky enough one may spot river dolphin as well.
Later we visited the Missing village. The inhabitants lead a very simple life and are always happy to help and welcome travelers to their villages. It is a common practice in the Missing villages to invite tourists to their homes and offer them a bowl of freshly prepared rice beer ‘Apung’ and we witnessed how they prepare the same.An interesting fact about Majuli is the way the houses are built here. The houses are made of bamboos and placed on concrete pillars at a height of about two feet from the floor. The architecture of the houses is such due to the heavy rainfall in this area. Post monsoon, locals get together and build houses manually with fresh bamboo canes. We had the Missing authentic food and were also delighted to pick few hand weave Missing attire for our folks back home.
We experienced ‘Goru Bihu’ in a very joyful manner watching the cows being pampered with a bath with haldi and enjoyed our boat trip to farthest point too. On one of our ride back, we met a gentleman who makes bicycles from bamboos. We were glad to see such creativity and talent but the sad part is the lack of financial assistance they received from the government. When we had the tough time getting adequate cash from a single Atm we wondered what would have been the scenario among the natives during Modi’s demonetization.
The main occupation of the population in Majuli is agriculture where crops like rice, potato, and cabbage are grown. The Rakh festival is celebrated with great pomp and grandeur here and the best time to visit Majuli is during the months of November to February.
Thus two blissful days of exploring this heavenly paradise was a great experience for three of us. With the deepest gratitude for the favourable weather, we left for Sibsagar to visit majestic Shivadol on the first day of auspicious Bohag i.e our new year festive joys.