The night was young, but darkness and silence seized the place. All one could see was the pitch dark of the night. The trees, the small thatched houses and all the evening shadows merged into one – darkness. In the stillness of the misty winter’s night, I made my way down to the river Lohit at Majuli in Assam. While I breathed in the freezing air by the river, million stars shimmered in the dark cold water that flowed peacefully along the island. As I stood there mesmerized and captivated by the reflections of the stars in the river, in the distance…, the faint sound of drum-beating added to the beautifully haunting moment.
The drum-beating in celebration of an event, a customary practice of the tribal communities of the place, would go on in the dead of the night till the wee hours. The tribal communities include the Misings, the Deoris and the Kacharis. Apart from them, other ethnic groups and non-tribal communities inhabit the paradise island Majuli, meaning land between two parallel rivers.
As I held on to the enchanting night, a lone tree that stood tall and green by the river clung on to the island with half of its roots exposed to the wind and cold. The river water had washed away the soil around it during heavy floods in monsoon time. Soon, perhaps in another monsoon, the flood water would have washed away all of the roots and the tree gone along with the land and other vegetation around. Such is the danger posed to the ecology and the island Majuli or Majoli as the locals call it.
Heavy soil erosion caused by flood situation during rainy season has shrunk the world’s largest river island. Its fast diminishing condition poses a serious environmental concern and existential threat to the locals. It is feared that in the next 15-20 years the island would submerge due to the heavy erosion. According to statistics, the initial island area was 1250 sq km. However, erosion has reduced the island area to 352 km (2014).
Located about 20 km away from Jorhat, this peaceful and exotic island in river Brahmaputra has now become a popular tourist destination not only for its rustic beauty, but also for its rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. The island district is known as the hub of Assamese Vaishnavite culture. According to reports, the island has 21 satras of Vaishnava – centres of traditional art and crafts. The satras impart cultural knowledge to the inhabitants of the island through the training of traditional songs and dance forms, art and drama. Kamalabari, Tengapania and Dakhinpat with unique Assamese architectural designs are some of the more popular satras worth visiting.
Apart from the visit to the satras or monasteries, while in Majuli, one can enjoy long treks or cycling by the riverside, go for early morning bird watching, hire a boat and sail down the river Lohit or take time to watch traditional plays and craftwork or work up a bonfire under the starlit sky and soak up the cool wet air. The big river fish nicely smoked in the bonfire is a delight that one must not miss.
The simple local food, including varieties of rice and fresh river fish, prepared and steamed in bamboos and local brew made of different herbs and flavours are a must try. Authentic tribal food are served in several homestay cottages and guest houses in the island. Most of the cottages are made of eco-friendly indigenous products such as bamboos and thatched roof with modern amenities and facilities that makes for a comfortable stay. Ayang Okum, a riverside bamboo cottage, provides a truly rejuvenating stay.
When to visit: One can visit Majuli any time of the year, but October-November is the best time to visit the place if you love the mist, the dews and the Raas festival which falls on a full moon day and is celebrated during the month. The mornings and evenings are quite cold during this time of the year, but the days are sunny. So carry both cool and warms clothes if you are traveling during the winter season.
How to reach Majuli
The nearest airport is the Jorhat airport. There are daily flights from Guwahati to Jorhat. You can catch a flight or travel by train or road from Guwahati to Jorhat and take a ferry ride from Jorhat to Majuli island. The ferry ride, which operates twice a day from Jorhat and Majuli, is a beautiful calming experience.
If you believe in stars and the misty ways, a visit to Majuli island should be in your travel list for the year.
By Asanna Gonmei