No1 Budget backpackers guide to Majuli Island
Imagine a land of incredible natural beauty, where distant tribal cultures flourish alongside wildlife. Now imagine that’s all easily accessible. Well, that is what you will find in the beautiful corner of the universe.
Tourism among foreigners is still relatively uncommon in Assam, and that is a real shame. With treasures like this to discover it is a small wonder why I want to write posts like a Backpackers guide to Majuli Island.
The government has recently lifted the difficult to obtain permits for the states up there. I want to show what’s so good about just one of the wonderful destinations in the far-flung reaches of the country, in the hope, it will begin to get the recognition it so deserves.
Majuli island is spectacular, so read on and discover how you can make this journey for yourself and make the most out of your time while you are there.
Majuli Island – A truly unique place in natures playground.
The island is a world unto itself, and I can say that because it literally is! Sitting in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra river, the island has developed a culture quite unlike anything else you will find in the country. It is a land of shifting sandbanks, Forests, farmland and timeless culture. The island is approximately 450 square km (but whos to say when it is continually moving.) It plays host to one of the best off the beaten track adventures you can have in India.
Many of the people who call this island home are Hindu, and Majuli is home to 22 Satras (ancient neo – Vaishnavite monasteries.) These temples offer a fascinating insight into local life as they welcome outsiders. This particular branch of Hinduism can trace its origins back to the early fifteenth century.
The primary focus of the Satras is to enlighten people through religious practices and teachings. The Satras are also famous for their unique arts, namely interpretive song and dance. Some of the Satras also produce some incredible masks that are much sought after. For more information on this culture in Majuli have a look at this post from the Indian government.
Three tribal communities call this island home the Misings, the Deoris and the Sonowal Kachoris. You will find many small traditional villages shimmering between the rice paddies, that you can hike or cycle too. The people are warm and welcoming, and this island is where you can easily pass a week exploring. But don’t take to long to get here. According to reports, Majuli island will be gone entirely in a couple of decades due to erosion, and that would be a big problem for both wildlife and the people of the one hundred and forty-four villages that call this place home.
Agriculture is the primary occupation of the people of the island, and the main cash crop is rice as it suits the wet climate. There are almost one hundred varieties of rice grown on the island, and the paddies themselves are stunning. Majuli is also the worlds largest river island so as you can imagine; fishing is also a vital source of income here. Some of the people also weave, and this provides a good source of cash. All of this is done on handlooms, and it is really something to watch the beautiful fabrics being created.
Majuli is home to a wide variety of animals including over 100 species of birds including such rarities as the Lesser Agitent, the Siberian crane and the Whistling Teal. The wetlands will enthral bird watchers as it provides an indispensable refuge for many species.
There is not much pollution on the island from lack of big industry and the massive amounts of rain they get each year and when I say massive I really mean it. Unless you really want to see it don’t come here during the monsoon as it will be heavily flooded and many of the people move homes to the few higher bits of higher ground there is on the otherwise flat island. Travel during this time would be very impractical.
Gatting a nights rest.
Once on the island, the first problem is finding a place to sleep, and there is not as many of those as you might expect. While there are quite a few places to stay the hotels there is are geared towards domestic tourists. They tend to be overpriced for what you are getting. My post is called a backpackers guide to Majuli Island, so let us take a look at one of two options I saw on the island.
I stayed at La Maison de Ananda. Take a shared taxi or get on one of the packed out busses from the pier to get to the village of Garamur. From there just ask directions as it is down a small dirt road that can be tricky to find, although it is very close to the bus stop.
The hotel is quite pleasant, and there are different kinds of room in a traditional style. The cheaper ones are made of bamboo and on stilts, and that was just fine for me. The owners try to encourage birds by putting fruit out and waking up in the morning watching the beautiful tropical creatures on my porch was just amazing. The village is also close to the primary hospital on the island should you need one but, as you can probably imagine it has minimal resources.
Getting a bite to eat.
There are some half-decent places to eat in town and the family you will be staying with serves fantastic traditional Assamese food in the evening. Snacks and breakfast are available anytime. Overall the option for massive Indian feasts are understandable very limited here, and I ate mostly in my guesthouse. Although eating off the market stalls and getting what you can from the small shops will save you a few pennies.
Getting around the island.
To get around the island, hire a bicycle and if you want to go a bit further, hire a motorbike. Please take note the roads are in a deplorable condition as the whole island floods annually in the monsoon. The Satras are mostly within cycling distance, but some of the more traditional villages are quite far so you will need a motor. It takes some time to visit the island as there is so much to see and it is spread out, not to mention things here tend to happen in time rather than on time.
There are shared Rigshaws and busses that sporadically link the larger villages on the island but, you can bet there will be both to greet you when you arrive on the boat.
Connecting in Jorhat
The gateway to the island is from a very unremarkable town called Jorhat. Many travellers will stay at Hotel Heaven as it is one of the few hotels in the area that accepts foreign tourists, and is affordable. While the hotel is definitely not heaven, the staff are friendly, and it makes for a decent night’s sleep. There is a restaurant that sells tasty food and has Wifi downstairs. The rooms are between 800 and 1200 rupees for a nights sleep. The shared jeeps to the pier are from just outside the hotel, so that makes it super convenient. If you have to stay because you missed the last boat, this is the best option for backpackers.
To reach the island get an auto to the pier then its a 20 rupee boat journey for an hour and a half. Crossing the Brahmaputra river. It is a very scenic experience in itself. The boats leave at 8.30, Am 10.30 Am, 1.30 Pm and 3 pm, and the return journey is at 7.30 Am, 8.30 Am, 1.30 pm and 3 pm. There are places to get some snacks and have tea if you wind up turning up early. Bear in mind its quite away from Jorhat when you do plan your journey.
Jorhat is connected very well to destinations all over Assam, and that makes getting to the island a breeze despite its remote location. The ASTC bus station has frequent connections to towns such as Guwathi, Sibsigar and Tezpur. The bus station is in the middle of town and two minutes walk from the Hotel Heaven. There are three daily trains to Guwahati although train No 12068 Shatabdi express is the most convenient. The station is half a kilometre from town, and there are many shared rickshaws to make that journey that cost no more than twenty rupees a seat.
For more information on getting around this vast subcontinent, check out my post on the subject. It is packed with tricks and tips to make it a little more stress-free for you.
Hoolongapar gibbon sanctuary
Most people will not linger in Jorhat as there is little to offer the tourist. But a short auto ride away is the beautiful Hoolongapar gibbon sanctuary. Its is only 25 square km, so it is the perfect place to get up close and personal with the Hoolock Gibbons.
These animals are not only Indias, only apes; they are also critically endangered. The tiny park offers a refuge for six other primates including, the capped Langur, Assamese Macaque and Bengal Slow loris. Their home is heavily fragmented from the encroachment of tea plantations and the railway line that runs right through the park.
The park is also home to Tigers, Elephants, Boars, Jungle Cats, three kinds of Civet and four kinds of Squirrel. There is also two hundred and nineteen species of birds recorded inside the park as well as several species of snake. You will have to have an armed guide inside the park as there are some big animals in there and it is policy. Be careful on your approach as the local people warned me Elephants frequent the tea plantations and you have to walk right through one to get to the entrance from the road. I have had run-ins with elephants before, so I can say with confidence they can be quite aggressive.
The cost of a ticket for foreigners is Five hundred rupees and two hundred and fifty for Indian nationals. A camera will set you back another five hundred, and this includes your phone so keep it hidden away unless you want to pay again.
To get to the park is easy enough, you get a shared auto from near the bus stand in Jorhat to Mariani. Then you get another to very close to the park entrance. It is a ten-minute walk down a dirt path to where you can pick up a guide. Obviously, get there as early as you can as animals are more active in the cool of the morning. When it is time to leave walk out to the road and flag down another shared auto back the way you came.
Summary of my post a Budget backpackers guide to Majuli island.
This place has so much to offer there is small wonder why I want to share this with my readers. The sad fact is so few tourists make it this far. Although that is probably a good thing in many ways as the area is home to many fragile tribal communities who call this place home. That might all change if the border between Myanmar and India becomes open properly. That would mean an influx of tourists heading this way and one the local communities would probably not be able to deal with.
Whatever the case may be, please don’t leave it to long to visit as according to scientists, the island simply will not be there any more for anyone to enjoy. I hope this post has whetted your appetite for a little adventure and if it has I doubt you will be sorry, you came. That about wraps up this post and as usual, if you have any questions, leave them in the space provided. So until the next time my fellow intrepid traveller, happy trails.
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