This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh
‘A good photo can tell a story… But a camera can never capture what the real eyes see’. This expression explains my feeling when my drive to Majuli started.
After our wildlife safari at Kaziranga National Park, we drove down towards Neemati Ghat from where we had to get our car onboard a ferry… Although the ferry sailed away from the banks, we saw ourselves taking a detour and approaching the same bank within 15minutes. A person who had alighted at Neemati Ghat had created a ruckus for having lost his bag of crackers in the ferry. So, he made the entire ferry return to the bank to find his bag back. Oh yes… Diwali with no fireworks?? After all the drama, our ferry took sail on its final trip of the day… It was approximately an hour’s journey across the mighty Brahmaputra towards Kamalabari ghat on the other end that had conveniently faded into the horizon. On the other end of our journey was Majuli, the largest river island in the World.
• Natun Samaguri Satra (known for mask making)
• Uttar Kamalabari Satra (known for the origin of Sattriya dance)
• Kamalabari Satra (known for boat making)
• Aouniati Satra (the largest Satra)
• Dakhinpat Satra (The oldest Satra in Assam)
We were sailing in the middle of the widest of the Indian rivers which seemed no less than a sea… In no time, it was sunset in the sky!! We saw the gold of daylight changing into molten red merging with the darkness of the sea to call it a day! Each fraction of a second was a spectacle to the eye while the universe around us was changing into hues of red. And at the distant horizon, the dark sky was being lit up with fireworks as if the world’s largest river island was set for our grand welcome. With last drop of the set-sun, our ferry reached Majuli Island. The welcome was more than what we had imagined while in the waters… The streetlights in the entire island were switched off and it was like time travel to the history books of ancient days when all towns and villages used to be lit by lamps with oil soaked wicks… All villages, all streets, all houses & shops, every courtyard and like every damned place in the island was lit up with diyas of Diwali reminding us the exact purpose of the festival- Celebration of the grand return of Lord Ram, Sita & Lakshman at Ayodhya..!! The distinct rural ambience with lamp lit bamboo huts reflecting in the swamp waters just added to the amusement we had.
After getting directions from our homestay owner, we drove through stretches of Gurmur only to be guided with lamps that marked the boundary between the road and the bamboo forests on a moon-less night… A neatly done-up bamboo cottage was awaiting our arrival in that bamboo island… After freshening up in our cottage, we took a stroll in that magical village in search of some local food for dinner. We had to satiate our hunger at a small but pleasant hotel with a simple Assamese Thali.
The rest of the night was spent star gazing in a clear moon-less sky outside our bamboo hut, with moist dew-kissed grass underneath and sipping apong- the local rice-beer… Right there, I found what I wanted from my trip- A piece of peaceful life… It was BLISS..!!
The next morning, we woke up leisurely and took a stroll around the village enjoying the rustic countryside… As it was start of the winter, we witnessed several endemic & endangered bird species including migratory birds that had come to nest in this extensive wetland. After breakfast, we decided to explore the cultural diversity offered by the island. Although I would any day choose to cycle around this vast district, my friend wanted to drive around instead and so we did…
Majuli has always been the cultural headquarters of Assam. It is known for its ancient monasteries which have been practicing various forms of art for over 500years now. These monasteries are called Satras. There were over 660 Satras in the island which has reduced to a handful of practicing schools now. We were hence keen on exploring a few of them. The drive around the bamboo groves alternately opened up to the swamp waters of the island making the drive very enjoyable. And every household had a loom placed outside under the shade of the hut with several women folk weaving the famous textile of Majuli. Several others were busy with the preparations for ‘RaasLeela’ the biggest cultural festival of the island flocked with people from across the world due for a few weeks ahead.
Firstly, we visited the ‘NatunSamaguri Satra’- known for mask making. The humble person Mr. Hem Goswami was patiently explaining the process of mask making to every visitor who dropped by. Since, the preparations were on for RaasLeela, most of the masks available were those of characters from Ramayana. We were amused with the way Mr. Goswami got into the skin of the character of the mask that he wore each time. Be it the aggression of King Vali or the gracefulness of seditious Mohini- He adorned them all with ease… We then drove across the island visiting various Satras scattered across the village. Lastly, at Dakhinpat Satra, we greeted the monks or Bramhacharis as they are called were all occupied in the practice of hymns for the Raas night!
The island is inhabited by the Mising, Deori & Sonowal Kachari tribes in separate villages in this bamboo district. And hence, the indigenous culture of the tribal folk is another attraction in addition to all the cultural and bio-diversity that the island has to offer. After all this exploration of the island district, we headed towards Dhunaguri Ghat from where a 3hour drive would get us to the gates of Arunachal Pradesh.
Firstly, we need to cross a small swamp with a ferry which is available at any point in time, so one needs to just hop in and get rowed across. There is a bamboo bridge being constructed by the local tribes parallely which I think is eligible to be called world’s longest bamboo bridge. The amount of engineering and effort the locals have been putting in is noteworthy. Next was a short drive through the tribal settlements to catch another ferry that runs on a fixed time. But, this drive was again like an emotional farewell to us by this beautiful island… The oblique rays of the setting sun laid a golden tone for the entire backdrop. With the bamboo huts onto our right, the view to our left was a visual treat! Grey waters of the Brahmaputra, green paddy fields, blue Himalayas at a distance with the golden sunset- all in one sight looked like layers of colors and terrain merging into one another forming as if a dream was frozen on canvas.
We waited at the banks for a long time and captured various silhouettes in the backdrop of a dreamy sunset until our ferry arrived. We boarded our car onto the launch and bid a final goodbye to the beautiful island and its people…
Majuli is THE place for a traveler who wants to break through some offbeat destination with multiple touch points- Cultural, traditional, geographical, eco and biological diversity all at one place!
• Take a cycle tour exploring the Satras around the island.
• Attend the annual cultural festival- RaasLeela in 3rd week of November.