From its location in the middle of the Brahmaputra River to travelling in an Aerei da Trasporto Regionale aircraft, a trip to Majuli is as unique as travel experiences can be. VERUS FERREIRA shares notes from his escapade to this river island.When it comes to exploring a new location, there’s nothing better than having a friend or relative who lives in the region that you are visiting. As I discovered on my trip to Majuli, a river island in north-east Assam, a local contact can do you wonders — not only with the nitty gritties of your itinerary, but also with unmasking rare and unknown facets of your destination.
To travel to Majuli, my family and I first reached Jorhat airport in an ATR (Aerei da Trasporto Regionale) from Kolkata, where I was received by my friend, Fr Joseph Pallikunnel. An hour’s drive later, we were on the river bank at the Nimatighat Jetty, from where ferries go to Majuli Island.
As you set sail from Nimatighat, you will cross a cluster of sun-kissed islands, the largest and most populated of which is Majuli. As our boat steadily hummed its way to the island over calm waters, it was hard to imagine that this peaceful river is the same Brahmaputra that turns into an unruly watercourse, which floods and often results in loss of life and property in Majuli during the monsoon.
Landing on the island shore is like stepping into a dream. From the picture-perfect visuals to the natural environs of this largely unexplored island, Majuli is just what you dream an island would look like. Unfortunately, even though the locale may be romantic, it can’t really be classified as a honeymooner’s paradise — unless of course, you’re willing to rough it out in nature. This is because the island lacks hotels and lodging facilities.
Understanding the culture
A storehouse of art and culture, Majuli is derived from two words — Ma which stands for Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity, and Juli, which denotes a granary. The island treats you to a pollution-free green carpet of the kind that is impossible to experience in any urban centre. The population of the island consists of tribals from communities such as Mising, Deuri and Kachari.
Remember the heavy floods I was talking about? Were you wondering how people manage to live on this island? Well, on my hour-long drive to Jengraimukh, I came across the answer. In order to prevent their homes from being flooded the Mising people, who are the majority here, build their houses about three feet above the ground, on either concrete or bamboo stilts.
The Mising are of the Mongoloid race and are the second largest tribe in Assam. Majuli has no liquor shops, but visit a Mising home and you’ll be treated to an alcoholic welcome drink of rice beer, which is known as Apong. The drink is served to everyone, irrespective of their age or gender. Along with it, the family will also serve you a chicken or pork dish. A great way to taste the local cuisine.
The treasures of Majuli
Majuli is the principal seat of the Vaishnavite faith, its culture and its practice. The treasures of Majuli are undoubtedly its satras, which aren’t just monasteries, but centres of traditional performing arts. The first satra was founded during the 15th century and since then, 65 satras have been built on the island. But, considering the battering that the island takes every monsoon, several of the satras have been moved to the mainland. Only 22 satras remain, the most prominent of which are Auiati, Dakshinpath, Garamur and Kamalabari. We visited Garamur and Kamalabari as well as a museum that exhibits old vessels and precious relics.
Living life the Majuli way
The island has plenty of activities that keep the inhabitants busy and which will provide you with a unique glimpse into rural life on an island. While the most common industry here is agriculture, with paddy being the main crop, fishing, pottery, handloom and boat making are other activities that the drive economy on this island. A trip to Garamur will treat you to a sight of the locals making cane baskets, while at Dakshinapat; you will get to see the ancient craft of mask making. Today only the devotees of Chamoguri satra practice this in Majuli. Silk weaving is another trade that is popular in Majuli — but it is not as apparent as other trades.