Backpacker’s Guide to Majuli

Before I discuss my journey to this beautiful place, there are few things to I would like say. Do not visit this place if you are planning a regular sight seeing trip, do not visit this place if you are looking for a five star holiday. Visit this place if you want to put brakes on your fast paced every day life, visit this place if you want to enjoy local Assamese food, visit this place if you want serenity.

I visited Majuli in the month of February and it is certainly a good times to visit this place. My journey started from the Howrah station as I boarded the Saraigaht Express to Guwahati. Initially, I had planned to explore the city of Guwahati during the day as my train was supposed to reach Guwahati in the morning and the Buses for Jorhat generally leave around 9:00 PM. Unfortunately I did not get that chance as the train reached Guwahati by 7:00 PM.
The area outside Guwahati Railway Station is known as Paltan Bazar and is an important place for travellers visiting the North-East as this is the place from where you get your cabs and buses to various parts of Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. I checked at the Paltan Bazar bus terminal for a bus to Jorhat. There were none from Paltan Bazar but I was told that several overnight buses from the Guwahati ISBT that leaves for Jorhat. Lucky enough for me, the last ASTC operated bus to ISBT was to leave in next 5 minutes. I quickly hopped on to it and found a seat for myself. Next to me sat an elderly guy from North Lakhimpur, who came to the city to buy stuffs for his shop back home. At first sight, the life here was very similar to what we have in majority of the cities around the country. When this guy came to know that I was here to visit Majuli, he just shook his head and said “Majuli to abhi bhot chota ho gya h babu” ( Majuli has become smaller now).
I took me around 45-50 minutes to reach ISBT and as I was told, there were around 5-6 buses that were to leave for Jorhat at an interval on thirty minutes. Surprisingly, no matter at what time your bus was supposed to leave, the all reach Jorhat at 5:00 AM the next morning. I looked around for the ticket counter and got myself a ticket for an AC push back bus for around 300 bucks. My seat was somewhere around the back of the bus as the best seats were already booked online. After buying my ticket, I needed something to eat, I noticed that ASTC has setup a small and humble restaurant at the ISBT complex. They serve regular chapatis, rice and curries in there and I found the food to be of decent quality, though priced a bit on the upper side. After some wandering around ISBT complex, I boarded the bus and decided to take a good nap.
I reached Jorhat at around 6:00AM in the morning. Though, the road conditions were considerably good the journey was halted for two hours due a traffic jam on the highway. Had some poori-sabji for the breakfast and asked the preson selling pooris about how to reach Nimati. He suggested me take an auto-rickshaw to Jorhat market and then take a shuttle car to Nimati. I followed the instructions and was correctly led by the poori-wala. The auto-rickshaw charged around 10 rupees and the shuttle car charged 40 rupees. The shuttle journey is the one where start to get the feel of county side as the car suddenly takes a left turn and you are completely out of the hustle of the Jorhat town.
It took me another 30 minutes to reach Nimati. And I asked the car to stop as soon as I noticed a ferry ghat that said Majuli on the board. The ferry services for Majuli start from 8:00 AM in the morning. The first look at the mighty Bramhaputra river was enough to mesmerize me. The ferries from the ghat I unboarded at leaves for Dakhinapat. There is another ghat few hundred meters ahead, the ferries from the other ghat leaves for Kamlabari, one of the most populated areas on the island. I boarded my ferry to Dakhinapat and the Bramhaputra did some magic on me and I completely lost the track of the time it took me to cross the river. The ferry charges 20-25 rupees. Crossing the Bramhaputra is an experience in itself. Keep your eyes open and you can spot some beautiful birds, unfortunately I don’t know their names.
As the ferry was closing on to the ghat, we noticed a huge wave of people covered in white dhoti and angvastram approaching the river. They were monks from the Dakhinapat Satra, celebrating the change of a Yuga. After asking the locals around, I was told that this a festival to celebrate the beginning of a new yuga and they begin this by worshipping their father, The Bramhaputra. And something that really made me feel lucky was that they celebrate this once every 12 years.
After spending some time there I decided to walk ahead, crossed the river bed, and went past a long green patch before I could finally see some signs of humanity. I went ahead and visited the Dakhinapat Satra, chatted with a few monks and then decided to move forward. I visited a fast food corner in Bongaon and had some tasty pork noodles.
After a satisfying lunch, I decided move forward towards the other satras. Just when I was about to leave, one of the staff of the restaurant asked where I was heading. I simply said I would me walking towards Garmur and would be visiting other satras on the way. He said he would be happy to drop me there and would also show me the satras on the way there. For a moment I was suspicious, if the guy is trying to make some easy money. But to my surprise, when I asked him if he would charge something for this, he just smiled and said “Arre bhaiya, hum apne guest log se paisa nai lete“(we don’t ask for money from our guest).I still insisted on paying for the fuel as that was the least I could have done, to which he finally agreed.
The first place we visited was the Samaguri Satra, the satra famous for hand made masks. I sat around and watched them making masks with their bare hands, using straws and clay. One can try some masks themselves, take some selfies or buy as few of them as souvenirs. After spending some time we decided to move further. The journey was really comforting for the eyes. Hailing from the cities, so much of the greenery awes us for sure. And adding to this are the beautiful flocks of migratory birds. Occasionally, you may come across a fisherman, catching fishes using spears or small nets on the beels.
When we finally reached Garmur, I thanked the guy and paid him 100 bucks for the fuel. Then I called Rajeev, a local guy belonging to the Mishing tribe who ownes a small cottage in the Garmur area. He told me that he have few tents available in his cottage named La Lolat. These cottages are run in close cohesion, If the person u called does not have rooms available in his cottage, he would arrange one for you in some other. La Lolat has a setup of tents available at 500 Rupees a night.
I reached there, freshened up and decided to put my head to the bed, a much needed rest. Rajeev called me and invited me for the inauguration of a place nearby. So much for the much needed rest, I walked my way as I was directed by Rajeev. I was the inauguration of a cafe called Majuli Cycle Cafe, a place to promote sustainable tourist on the island. A perfect place for a traveler I would say. One may hire a bicycle to roam around the island, sip some coffee or read his favorite book, all under a single roof. This was an initiative by an NGO named Root Bridge Foundation. The inauguration was a mini feast for people looking for a piece of Mishing culture. And I was happy that I decided not stay on my bed. I also met a french couple there, and to my surprise this was their fifth visit to the island.
In the evening, Anil, the caretaker of the cottage arranged a bonfire for us. Along with me, there was an Assamese family and three Israeli ladies who were staying in there that night. We all sat around the fire, discussing every day life, getting to know each other and singing Bollywood tunes and on occasions some Israeli songs. All of this with bottles of apong, a local rice beer, one of the speciality of the Mishing tribe. Anil aslo preapered a feast of dinner for us,an all Mishing dinner, roasted pork, a pork cury, an oilless fish curry, mashed potatoes and rice.
Next morning, I packed my bag and left again, I just asked Rajeev if the satras could be visited on foot to which he answered affirmatively. My first stop was Garmur Satra, a small satra in the neighborhood. A place established around the 1650s. Wondered around the satra, visited the Namghar(prayer hall) and then decided to move ahead for the Kamlabari Satra. Another beautiful and peaceful place where I can visit and sit for hours. However a bit short on time I moved further. After a walk for about an hour I reached the Auniati Satra, the largest and the oldest of all. This satra has around 700 monks and is famous for it’s dance forms. I found a young monk, about half my who wished me a hello when I entered. I sat with him for about 45 minutes, learning about their lifestyle, their daily routine and the way the whole satra works.
It was 10:45 AM and I did not want to leave the island so soon. So I decided to take a walk through the kaccha roads passing through the Mishing village. The Mishing houses are stilted and have a thatched ceiling. The space below the floor is generally used to keep lifestocks and boats. As the island is flooded almost every year, a part of very good planning I would say.
It was around 2PM and I decided to walk towards the Kamlabari Ghat, the other ghat aprat from Dakhinapat Ghat, from where one can get a ferry for Jorhat. It took me around 1 hour to reach the ghat. With a heavy heart I took a final look at the island and boarded the ferry to Jorhat. From there I had an over night bus to Guwahati and then a flight to Kolkata.
Best time to visit: October to March, especially during the Ras utsav(I visited in the month of February)
Places to stay: La Mansion De Ananda, La Lolat
Contact Person: Rajeev (98647 04338)
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