There are islands and then there is a floating district that has kept secrets of human civilization so diverse that one actually has to take pointers to bring them down on paper. We are talking about Majuli, the oldest and the largest inhabited riverine island of the world.
On our trip to the North East of India, Majuli was our first halt. But, before we start with the spills let’s take note of a few essentials:
How to reach Majuli?
Reaching Majuli could take you all three means of transport – air travel, road travel, and water travel as well. To reach Majuli, you first need to reach Jorhat as it serves as the main connection to the roads to Majuli. Jorhat is well connected by air, road and rail transport. Let’s break them away:
By air: Jorhat is well connected by air, with daily flights from Guwahati, and four flights a week from Kolkata. Got the game? We recommend Guwahati (Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport) as we consider Guwahati as the center point for anywhere in North East India.
By rail: Well, you can deboard a Delhi – Dibrugarh Rajdhani at Jorhat Railway Station. Besides, it has got several passenger and express trains from Guwahati. The Jorhat ISBT & Baruah Chariali are the two bus stops in Jorhat, ISBT comes first. However, you will get easy accommodation in Baruah Chariali. Hence, we recommend so.
By road: There are 2 places in Jorhat where the bus stops – ISBT & Baruah Chariali. You will reach ISBT first & next Baruah Chariali; 5mins in Auto from ISBT. In Baruah Chariali, you will get hotels for food & Lodging.
Majuli, from Jorhat, is only connected by water transport through the Brahmaputra. There are ferry services till 4 pm from a port called Nimati ghat (15 km from Jorhat). A ferry would cost you 10 bucks for Komolabadi Ghat and 15 bucks for Afala Ghat. You can also take your car along on the ferry – should cost INR 400 and INR 750 respectively for Komolabadi and Afala.
There you go, You have made it to the floating island. But then,
When is the best time to visit Majuli?
Majuli has got subtropical monsoon climate. Summers are humid and winters are pleasant. FYI, the island receives an annual rainfall of 215 cm. The best time to visit Majuli is during the winter months of October to March which coincides with the ‘Rasleela’, at the time of the full moon in the month of Kartik (November).
We went to Majuli Island in December – it was sunny with a pleasant winter breeze around in the day and the nights were cold.
What are the stay options in Majuli?
Majuli is a new town and the Kamlabari chowk has got access to various stay options ranging from resorts, hotels, and homestays.
You can also try stay options available with the ‘satras’ like the ones available in Dharamshala and gurudwara anywhere else.
We had camped by the Brahmaputra and did try to dig out the island from various angles.
Here is what we found for a list of things to know about Majuli:
1. Majuli floats around somewhere between the Brahmaputra and the Kherkutia Xuti.
The Majuli Island is formed by the Brahmaputra river in the south and the Kherkutia Xuti, an anabranch of the Brahmaputra, joined by the Subansiri River in the north. The island is about 300–400 kilometers (186–249 mi) east from the state’s largest city — Guwahati. It was formed due to course changes by the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries, mainly the Lohit.
It is the combination of Cluster of islets formed and developed in the mid-river stream of the mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries-the Luit & Kherkatia to the north & northeast and northwest extremity.
2. Majuli is the abode of the Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture.
Majuli as a Vasnavite site has its special distinction which made it unique in the eyes of the world. During 16th century A.D., concomitant with the renaissance period, that changed the face of the world, a similar resurgence in socio-cultural dimension by the great Vaisnava Saint Sankardeva had brought in the ideas of democratic social values, unification of diverse ethnic groups with verdant spiritualism which founded the basic fabric of a casteless social structure, the Assamese Society. It created a system of social governance and community living which continued over centuries, is a unique example of unity in diversity. In addition to that, Majuli is also enriched by the vibrant multicolored culture of its ethnic inhabitants belonging to the Mishings, the Deoris, the Sounowal Kacharis, the Ahoms, and the Nepali Communities.
3. Majuli is home to the folks of Missin Culture
The island has 144 villages with a population of over 150,000 and a density of 300 individuals per square km. The population of Majuli comprises the tribals, non-tribals, and the scheduled castes. The tribal communities include the Misings, the Doris and the Sonowal Kacharis. The scheduled castes include the Kaivartas, the Brittial Banias etc. The non-tribal communities include Koch, Kalitas, Ahoms, Chutiyas, Keot, Yogis etc. The Missing community has the largest population in the island who immigrated from Arunachal Pradesh to Majuli centuries ago. Languages spoken are Mising, Assamese, and Deori.
4. Majuli has got Satras, like the temples anywhere else
Popularly considered to be a welfare institution; Satras are contributions of Neo-Vaishnavism. Neo-Vaishnavism was a regional expression of the national Bhakti movement – the religious – social reform movement that swept across India in between the 12th and 15th century A.D. The prime focus of the Sattra is to enlighten individuals through spiritual and religious practices. The Sattra is the physical attribute of the religious beliefs of Neo-Vaishnavism. It is also the center of cultural activities which gives a unique cultural identity to the island.
The principles of Neo- Vaishnavism are disseminated to the common man through devotional music, songs, and dance forms. These cultural activities are an integral part of the Sattras. The Sattriya culture has been playing a pivotal role in binding together different ethnic groups of the region through the spread of religious ideologies of Neo-Vaishnavism and its cultural traditions since the 15th century.
5. Majuli is known for its Masks and Bhaona Theatre
The art of Mask Making is synonymous to Majuli. The much talked about masks of Majuli belong to the ‘bhaona’ theatre form. During the early 15th century, it was the then guru Shri Shankaradeva who brought up the use of these masks for theatrical performances called bhaona (bhavna) – emotion in English. The bhaona theatre is still celebrated as one of the major cultural celebrations of Assam. Almost all the satraas have curated the age-old tradition.
Samagri Satra, although, has got a studio of its own. The Curator of this studio is the satradhikari of this satra — Shree Hem Chandra Goswami. Do not miss upon a chance to sit and listen to it all from the guy who has documented it all in a now published book.
6. Best Sunrise and sunsets – the latitudinal difference in time makes Majuli a must visit place in North East India
So this is North East of India you are in – almost 30 degrees of longitudinal difference that creates a time difference of 120 minutes. Mother Earth takes 4 minutes to rotate through a degree of longitude and hence you get to see the sunrise at least 2 hours before in North East than in Gujarat or for that matter anywhere along the extreme west of Indian territory.
Mornings and evenings were the highlights of our #bawraybanjarayinnortheast trip. From the banks of Brahmaputra to meandering lanes made orange by the setting sun in Majuli – we were blessed by the sun god almost everywhere.
Best places to enjoy sunrise and sunset in Majuli – Komolabadi Ghat, sides of the roads leading into Majuli from Afala Ghat, on a ferry.
Suggested Read: Things To Do In Sainj Valley That Only A Few Know
7. Majuli is connected to the mainland by Ferries in the Brahmaputra
Yes, the people of Mjuli have got ferries to connect themselves to the mainland. Run by the govt along with a handful of private operators, this water transport system in Assam is the lifeline of people living in Majuli. An average ferry would cost you 10-15 bucks for Majuli from Jorhat and back. The ferries have seating inside and you need to buy a ticket from the counters located at the ghats. Although the toilets onboard are shabby and we should not be okay about it, but something is always better than nothing for this 1-hour sail.
These ferries also take home vehicles – we were in our car, we had to take it on board along with 2 others and around 60 motorcycles. Almost every trip of a ferry has similar nos of vehicles onboard.
8. Explore the farms around – tea gardens are here!
Majuli has 467 hectares of tea gardens – tucked rightly into the hilltops that become the stage for ‘sunset and rise drama’. Although during winters, you dun get to see much of activity during the late months, the late summers are when you get to see the plucking season from June to October.
You can, of course, buy tea here, but do think twice before trying the local chai – it’s bitter black tea.
9. Majuli is dying – You may not get to explore it after 15 years.
So all of this that we shared above is gravely endangered. Majuli once had 1,256 sq km of land.
An earthquake in 1950 reduced the island to some 800 sq km and initiated a prolonged erosion that has now cut it down to some 352 sq km.
Considering the rate at which the rampant erosion is killing the heritage of Majuli, it is high time that some civilian supported initiatives be undertaken.
Things are so desperate that the Municipal Council of Majuli is asking the travelers and potential stakeholders to document the loss and raise awareness.
We would be adding a couple more into the list in some time. Till then, do read about Majuli and help in creating awareness for the inevitable loss that could be avoided.
Further Read: Bawray Banjaray In North East – Live Blog