Situated on the Brahmaputra, Majuli is the world’s largest river island. Recently decreed the 35th district of Assam, the island is famous not just for its size but for its rich culture. The tribes of Majuli are far removed from modern-day, urban life and have thus preserved traditions and a rich heritage.
The island is indeed huge at about 350 sq kilometers. It can only be reached via a ferry ride from Jorhat, and one that doesn’t operate 24 hours. Nevertheless, the ferry ride across is a beautiful experience, especially during sunset when the skies take on a burning hue. Jorhat can be reached by air, road or rail with regular flights from Guwahati and Kolkata.
We are always on the lookout for places that we can unwind at truly, not just tick off our checklists and Majuli, with its lush greenery and welcoming locals, is one such place. The locals are warm and friendly and disposed to invite any new visitor into their homes over a cup of tea. It is most saddening that this gem of a place is eroding away at startling speed. The island has been the target of floods year after year and loses land to the wrath of the river. Every year, several houses are destroyed and lives lost. The island is full of markers for flood levels and it is heart-wrenching to think of the indigenous tribes who bear the very distinct possibility of losing their island entirely within a matter of two decades. The Government has been trying to counter the problem, but it is believed that the measures taken are further exacerbating the problem.
It is advisable to only visit Majuli during the dry season between October-March.
The people of Majuli
As can be expected, there are no real hotels in Majuli. However, there are cute and cozy bamboo huts used as guest houses that only make the entire trip more authentic, without leaving behind a huge carbon footprint. One of the guest houses, La Maison D’Ananda was started by a French couple who visited this island and fell in love with it. This was the first guesthouse opened on this island and is definitely worth staying at.
Eating in Majuli is a bouquet of local dining experiences. Being so cut off from the rest of the world, there are not too many multi-cuisine options. Food is more or less a simple affair served in the accommodation one stays at. The local fare is a combination of rice cooked in a leaf along with vegetables, fish or chicken cooked in banana leaves. A trip to Majuli is incomplete without a visit to Risang’s Kitchen. A part of the La Maison De Ananda, which is run by the Risang family, this restaurant attracts visitors due to the authentic Mishang food it serves. The food of the local Mishang tribe is served along with their rice beer called apong.
Wherever you decide to stay in Majuli, the culture and traditions are all around.
There is the concept of Satras, that are home to traditional arts, theatre, dances and religious practices. People weave the renowned Assamese looms, make pottery out of clay and also make the masks. The Satras are of two categories – Grisathi Satras which are more liberal and allow marriage, promote arts, theatre etc and the Udasin Satras that are more conservative and a celibate order. The most famous is the Dakhinpat Satra of the latter variety.
A woman weaving handlooms
The satras of Majuli are unique
This little known island village, however, is famous for its time-honoured art of mask making. Hemchandra Goswami, the revered mask-maker of Majuli and the Satradhikar of the Natun Samaguri Satra, is an artist extraordinaire and it is apparent in the details and intricacies of the masks crafted by him. The Natun Samaguri Satra has been carrying on this practice of mask-making since the 17th century. The masks are used for Ras Leela festival and the Bhaona, a street theatre style of Assam. The mask-making process begins by making a 3D framework out of bamboo. Strips of cloth dipped in the clayey soil of the Brahmaputra along with cow dung are used to layer and create depth. Once complete, the mask is painted using vegetable dyes and takes on the grandeur of the formidable characters it represents. Goswami’s family has been in this profession for over a century and one cannot skip visiting his workshop while in Majuli.
Majuli is famous for its masks
Majuli, like most little-known gems of the country, is a repository of culture and the grassroot ways of living. Everyone needs a reminder of what that is like from time to time. If you’d like to book a tour to this vibrant island, contact us and we’ll make it happen!
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