I figured that it was quite easy to reach Majuli island from Guwahati and reached Khanapara early in the morning. The locals pointed me towards shared transport from Guwahati to Jorhat and I was pleasantly surprised to find a good seat which cost only 300 Rupees. The route from Guwahati was suggested as the easiest way to reach Majuli; from Jorhat it was only an hour or two away.
On my first trip to the North East, back in early 2017 there were no plans whatsoever after a troubled Sunday regarding food in Shnongpdeng – Dawki in Meghalaya. I had been very lucky to hitch a ride back to Guwahati, having been first mistakenly thought of as a Bangladeshi immigrant!
From Guwahati, we crossed Kaziranga National Park and the gorgeous landscapes of Assam were indeed a sight to behold! Our shared mini bus stopped at Nagaon for breakfast and it was a welcome break for my hungry stomach. We rolled into Jorhat at 1 in the afternoon and immediately I set about finding a shared auto to Nimatighat. Since there was no possibility of lunch, I bought some bananas and oranges and ate them on the shared auto ride.
Nimatighat was the place to board the ferry to Majuli island and the distance from Jorhat to Nimatighat was approx. 20 kms. Shared auto charged around 25 Rupees and after some winding roads we reached Nimatighat Ferry point at 2 in the afternoon. A ferry was lined up and I was glad to have made it well in time.
There are regular ferries from Nimatighat to Majuli and there was quite a crowd that had gathered to buy the tickets and board the ferry. The ticket board had prices displayed for crossing two wheelers, four wheelers and even elephants across the river! I paid 15 or 20 Rupees; we were crossing the mighty Brahmaputra river and took more than an hour to reach the other side – Kamalabari. Majuli island from afar looked like a mirage of white sand.
There were buses and autos waiting at Kamalabari to ferry passengers to different parts of Majuli island. Both charge almost the same rate and I sat in a shared auto and asked them to drop me to Garamur market. I had asked the locals and understood that it would be easy to find accommodation in the form of homestays, hotels and guest houses near Garamur. Moreover, the people I’d met in Nongriat had mentioned the name ‘La Maison de Ananda’, and had highly recommended staying here.
In the auto I saw surreal vistas and gorgeous reflections in water and different shades of green. After reaching Garamur market, a few boards of guest houses were visible but it seemed like a very dusty main road and I wasn’t keen on staying like that. I kept asking around and the locals directed me to La Maison de Ananda and confirmed that it wasn’t an expensive place to stay. Maybe I had thought so considering its French sounding name. This stunning and rustic guest house was built in the traditional style of Majuli island and I was overjoyed to have found my way here!
The owner of La Maison de Ananda wasn’t around causing me a few anxious moments. It was already 4 and in the north east, the sun sets early. Thankfully, someone made some phone calls and I was allotted a bamboo room for 500 Rupees per day. I had a quick chai and quickly set about walking to the nearby satra. Even though I had heard a lot about the satras of Majuli island, the fading daylight meant that I had to rush back to the hotel before it got totally dark.
Monjit Risong (owner/manager) of La Maison de Ananda had reached by then and gave me brief information about Majuli island, various satras and the famous mask making satra. I was spellbound by the idea of Majuli and how it seemed like a perfect little world. Men rode cycles in the tiny lanes and life seemed to go on at an unhurried pace.
There were 10 more days for my return flight from Guwahati to Delhi. I was uncertain about how I wanted to go about things. Could I just stay in Majuli and not go anywhere else? But I also wanted to set foot in Arunachal Pradesh and spend time in Ziro Valley and possibly make it to Mechuka as well.
While drinking chai in Garamur Market someone had remarked that reaching North Lakhimpur from Majuli island is easy and didnt take more than 2 hours. I had kept the information at the back of my mind and walked back to my serene room in La Maison de Ananda. The structure had been constructed on an elevated platform (like stilts) and was quite airy and nice.
My neighbours were travellers from various nationalities. There was an old Japanese woman in one of the rooms, she seemed to be on a meditating vacation. In another room, there was a traveller couple who had been staying on Majuli island for more than a week and had no plans to leave.
In between all these thoughts and occurrences, I walked into the common dining space of La Maison de Ananda. A traditional wood fired kitchen was in an extreme corner while the seating area was on the opposite side. The entire structure was made with bamboo; the table was bamboo, the chairs were bamboo and it just made me feel at home. Dinner was served at 7 in the evening and was a fixed meal that cost 100 Rupees per person.
The food was really tasty and the dishes were a mix of local and traditional delicacies. The chilly was quite hot and it remains one of my most memorable experiences in Majuli island. It was served in a bronze plate and with the fire burning inside the room presented a classic picture. Being February, the weather was still cold in Majuli but it was an excellent time to be there. The fields were green and reflections of a few cottages in the water during sunset time are etched in my eyes.
Among the important places to visit in Majuli Island are chiefly the Satras; they are : Samugari Satra for witnessing the famous mask making of Majuli. Dakhinpat Satra, Aouniati Satra, Bhugpur Satra, Benganatti Satra, Natun Samaguri Satra, Uttar Kamalabari Satra, Natun Kamalabari Satra and Garamur Satra are some of the more interesting Satras to visit among the many other satras in Majuli island. Considering Kamalabari or Garamur as your base, distances to these satras are not more than 15 km away and it is possible to leisurely peruse their activities over 3-4 days.
I chatted with Monjit and the ladies managing the kitchen and thanked them for serving me a great meal. The threat of mosquitoes was immense and I quietly ushered into my bamboo room and lay in the bed, it had been a crazy day! I had made it to Majuli island from Guwahati utilising all the good luck to make the other road and ferry connections and yet the early sunset meant I hadn’t really seen anything in Majuli. Even the famous forest man of India – Jadev Payeng lived in Majuli island.
Inexplicably, I woke up at 530 the next morning; paid the money at the guest house and reached the square with a few shops. Days begin early in this part of the north east and by 6 the sun was already high in the sky. Perhaps it was the urgency that I wanted to see two more far away places and that my return flight was already booked.
As travellers, we are all guilty of trying to do too much sometimes. Usually, I slow travel and am never sucked into the plot of ‘FOMO’ fear of missing out : But hey, this was my first trip in the north east and as human beings we constantly experiment with our travel styles. It was a funny time if I think of it now; what was I even thinking! And thats exactly how we learn; by committing mistakes; by realising that it is important to spend more time in places and practising ‘JOMO’ – joy of missing out!
The shops had began opening; a solitary breakfast had also opened its shutters and made delicious lal chai (black tea known as red tea in Assam). I waited for ten more minutes till they got the breakfast ready. It was the usual pooris & aloo sabji. I still had no idea how to make it to North Lakhimpur and still did not have the Arunachal Pradesh permit in hand. A quick google maps search revealed that it would take more than 4 hours by public transport. Last evening some locals had told me of some shortcut that would enable me to reach in less than 2 hours!
Over more cups of lal chai, a kind local understood my predicament and asked me to sit on his scooty to drop me near a rickety old bridge. The scooty traversed through some sandy stretches and I was certain we were going to fall into some ditch but nothing of that sort happened and we made it to the bamboo bridge alive!
I sat at the only tea shop there overlooking a pristine shallow lake with a few canoe like boats floating around. School children cycled across the bamboo bridge. I briefly wondered if I could capture some epic shots with the dslr camera but gave up, considering the fact that I was solo and there was only one other human being there. The other human being was like a toll collector who charged 10 Rupees from motorbikes that crossed occasionally.
Even though there was no proper road that could be seen, a battered old sumo was visible in the far distance. There were two more people who wanted to board it. I was still not convinced we would be able to reach North Lakhimpur in this manner and began a conversation with the sumo driver. He said that the 9 km distance in his sumo would be charged 40 Rupees and that this was indeed an easier and shorter way of reaching North Lakhimpur.
A few boats waited for passengers where the sumo guy dropped us. Over conversations with school children of a family headed to North Lakhimpur too, I was told that we would be crossing a few Missing villages. Missing is a tribe in this region and their rice beer and rice liquor is quite famous! Apparently there’s also some story about how this tribe got their name – ‘missing tribe!’ (also called Mishing tribe, Mising tribe, Miri tribe).
We paid 15 rupees and boarded the boat. It was a nervy 10 minute ride to get to the other side. Once on the other side, a rickety old bus waited for us to fight and get in.
The scene was picturesque; the 26 seater mini bus looked cute in the surreal landscape of a river, swaying trees, white sand with no concrete road and a few tribal kids. I somehow found a seat, there were around 40 of us in the bus. Someone told me that North Lakhimpur was 30 kms away from this point and that the bus would charge 40 Rupees. I was overjoyed!
As the bus swayed near the sandy patch close to the river, I wondered if I was better off spending more time in Majuli than trying to reach new places but the decision had been made. I was lucky to get a window seat; the missing tribal homes were pretty across the entire village and were made with bamboo. Every home seemed to have a small pond in front of it where a patch of green emerged from the water and men seemed to be fishing.
In my mind, I thought if I might have liked staying in that Missing village had I known a local. After some time on the non-existent road, we neared North Lakhimpur. It was time to say hello to new experiences. I hope to return to the fast eroding land of Majuli island soon and spend at least a week experiencing its various delights.
About Majuli Island :
Majuli is the largest freshwater river island in the world (or was it second largest!) on the mighty Brahmaputra river and lies in Assam. Majuli has an area of approx. 800 sq kms, and has recently been turned into a district. Majuli island is home to a mix of communities – the Mising tribe, the Deoris and the Sonowal Kacharis. Winters (October to March) are the best time to visit Majuli island. I am not sure but it is quite probable that monsoon is also a great time to be in Majuli if you like the rains!
Majuli island is quite popular for its traditionally celebrated festivals. Ural restaurant was recommended for tasting local cuisine of Majuli; apparently Majuli island grows more than 50 varieties of rice and some are available on the menu at Ural restaurant.
History of Majuli Island :
Legends states that during the medieval period, a great Hindu saint made Majuli island his home and that has been the reason for the birth of art, music and religion in Majuli. This culture still rests in the heart of Majuli island in the numerous satras. I was extremely surprised to see offbeat tourists from different parts of the world attracted by Majuli island’s spiritual aura and cultural extravaganza. The neo-Vaishnavite religion and temples in Majuli are major attractions. Historically, Majuli island is said to have been spread over more than 1500 sq kms but the waters of the Brahmaputra river have eroded more than half of it and now Majuli island has only around 800 Sq. km area.
I ran to board that bus! Excellent bakes in North Lakhimpur!
How to reach Majuli Island?
From Guwahati, first reach Jorhat by a bus or shared taxis. Flight and train connectivity is also there between Guwahati and Jorhat. From Jorhat, its a short distance to Nimatighat from where ferries to Majuli island ply. So, if one is on shared transport and leaves from Guwahati early in the morning – it is possible to reach Majuli island by 3-4 in the afternoon.
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