Majuli. The largest river island in the world.
A man fishing in a pond at Majuli. (Life Unearth)
By E Kay
Situated in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra, it is a place of serenity, history and breathtaking scenery. At about 352 square kilometres at present, this river island is steadily losing it's surface area every year, thanks to the massive erosion that takes place especially when the monsoons set in. A place that once housed over 60 satras, the island now has just over 20 satras, thanks to the rapidly changing landscape. A birds paradise, this mesmerising island is where we made our way to, just before the monsoons. And what a journey it was. Exhilarating to say the least. Our starting point was Shillong, over 464 kms away.
Thanks to the well maintained Jorabat Nogaon Highway and the newly constructed Shillong Jorabat highway, the journey was not as strenuous as we thought it would be (we sure did have sore bottoms for a couple of days after the journey, especially the pillion rider, that is yours truly). The road from Nagaon to Jorhat at the time we travelled was in a really bad condition, but perhaps by now it could be better. Anyways, we started our journey rather late, at around 7am in the morning. That was one of the few mistakes we made in the course of the journey. And why? Because we missed the last ferry to the island from Nimatighat at Jorhat. Yes. There is no other route as of now to Majuli, except by ferry. Perhaps there are helicopter rides I am not too sure.
Sunset along the Jorhat Highway. (Life Unearth)
So since we started late from Shillong, and since we did not rush our journey, we ended up reaching Jorhat at around 7pm and by then, we had missed the last ferry that takes commuters to the beautiful river island. En route you will pass by Kaziranga but I'll leave that journey for another day.
So, the last ferry leaves the boarding point at around 4:30pm. Fortunately or unfortunately, we ended up staying back at Jorhat the first night.
The first ferry to Majuli leaves at around 7:30am. So we woke up real early and rushed to the Riverside to get our ferry tickets and to also load the motorbike onto the ferry. A valuable piece of information to all who want to take their own car or bike to Majuli: Get to the Ghat early so u can leave as soon as possible especially if you have your car or bike with you.
Rates of items to be carried on ferry.(Ekay)
Every ferry takes a maximum of 3 cars only per trip and about 15-20 two wheelers. The cars and bikes are loaded on a first come first serve basis, so if you are taking your car across, it will take some time for your turn. A lot of tourists who visit Majuli prefer to take their own vehicle as it is convenient and a better option to get to one point to another in Majuli. There are however, a number of bicycles and mopeds available for hire on the island.
Passengers inside the ferry to Majuli. (Ekay)
It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to load the 3 cars and the two wheelers onto the ferry. The vehicles are arranged on the top of the ferry precautiosly in quite a jiffy. We were told that everything is taken to Majuli via the ferries. People, cattle, pigs, goats, tractors, food items and even elephants. And each have a different rate.
View of Majuli from the top of the ferry. (Life Unearth)
It takes about 1 and a half hour to reach Majuli. And let me tell you there are no life jackets handed out to commuters. There is no life guard and no safety railings or decks or any other precautionary measure you would otherwise expect in a boat or a ferry crossing the unpredictable Brahmaputra. The ferries are made of wood, built really low and are creaky. Definitely not for the faint hearted. It's interesting, though, to watch the locals travel to and fro with such ease and fearlessness. All that said, the ferry ride is the most amazing part of the entire journey.
Mask displayed at Chamaguri Sattra institute in Majuli. (LU)
Once we get to the island it's about 7 kilometres from the ghat to the town centre. The people get off the ferry first, and then the cars and bikes are unloaded. For those of you who opt for public transport, there are shared cabs available from jorhat to nimatighat, the boarding point for the ferries and at kamalabari ghat at Majuli, the dropping point to the town centre.
We get our bike and we head off to the town looking for our guest house. These days, there are a good number of private guest houses and hotels that you can stay in besides a few government run accommodation.
Statues displayed at Chamaguri Sattra institute in Majuli. (LU)
Camp site in one of the resort at Majuli. (Life Unearth)
Once we check in, we freshen up and then head out exploring the island. We visit a number of satras, interact with a few priests in the satras, visit a few mask making institutes (the speciality of Majuli), handloom centres and get absorbed in the sheer beauty and serenity of the island.
A haven for nature lovers, this place is teeming with various species of birds. Close your eyes and imagine yourself lying on the green grass at night, watching the hundreds of stars above you and waking up to the loud melodic chirping of birds. That's Majuli for you.