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Majuli Island: The Vanishing River Island of India

There is no dearth of natural wonders in India’s northeastern corner. One such exceptional phenomenon is the Majuli island of Assam. Majuli is a river island formed by the Brahmaputra, Subansiri, and Kherkutia Xuti rivers. It holds the Guiness Book record of being the world’s largest river island. Virtually cut off from the mainland of Assam, the only way to reach Majuli is by ferry. Thanks to its unique geographical formation, the bounties of nature in Majuli knowns no bounds. The lush landscape of Majuli is further enriched spiritually and culturally by the presence of the Neo-Vaishnavite Satras.

Serene landscape of Majuli
The Majuli island is defined by such serene landscapes.

However, all is not well in Majuli. Majuli island has been subjected to aggressive erosion due to the raging waters of the turbulent Brahmaputra River. Most of the island is surrounded by barren sandbars, which are prone to the deadly erosional activities of the Brahmaputra. Part of this erosion is natural, yes. But, with every passing day, the erosion of Majuli island is being expedited due to the climate change. Weather patterns have become erratic and unpredictable. This does not bode well with Majuli. Floods have become more severe over the years leading to the huge loss of life, property, and crops of the island’s tribal population.

Tranquility
Tranquility redefined.

As per the reports, the total area of Majuli was 1300 square kilometre back in the late 18th century. In the beginning of the 20th century, the island covered an area of 1200 square kilometres. Due to the aggravating erosion, Majuli occupies a mere 352 square kilometre in 2014. Experts predict that Majuli will cease to exist within the next 15-20 years.

Morning scenes
Morning scenes from the Majuli Island.

Why you need to visit the Majuli island?

The geographical fabric of Majuli makes it a one-of-a-kind place on the earth. As mentioned earlier, it is the largest river island in the world. Surrounded by the Brahmaputra, Subansiri, and Kherkutia Xuti rivers, the Majuli island is a little haven virtually cut off from the material world.

Sunset scenes
A place called serenity.

Moreover, travelling to Majuli Island is an adventure in itself. As it is an island located in the middle of the rivers, the only way to visit the island is through the ferry. The ferry transports not only humans but also vehicles and even animals! The journey of braving the truant waves of the Brahmaputra is indeed a memorable one.

Humans of Majuli
Humans of Majuli

Majuli is a perfect destination if you are looking for slow living and slow travel. Partly isolated, life on the Majuli island tiptoes at its own sweet pace. It stands as a stark contrast to the contemporary fast-paced world, where each one of us is sprinting towards our own ends.

Finding peace
Peace and quiet.
Aquatic plants
Aquatic plants.

The bounty of nature in Majuli knows no bounds. The island is characterized by lush greenery and countless water bodies. We visited during the onset of spring and hence witnessed the abundance of springtime flowers such as Shimul or Red Silk Cotton, Palash, Jarul, and Sea Hibiscus.

Palash
A Palash tree in full bloom.

The Majuli island is also a paradise for birding. Owing to the plentiful of ponds, tanks, and wetlands, countless birds such as Open Billed Storks, Egrets, Kingfisher, Water hens, Greater Adjutant Storks, Painted Storks, Purple Moorhen, and so on. It also provides refuge to various migratory birds during the winter.

Greater Adjutant
Greater Adjutant Stork.

Majuli is inhabited by the Mising and Deori tribes. Visiting this river island is a fantastic opportunity to learn about their livelihood and heritage.

Birds of Majuli
Flocks of vibrant ducks.

The Satras of Majuli are undeniably one of the prime attractions. They are the centre of Neo-Vaishnavite cult. Along with revolutionizing the religious practices of Assam, the Satras also played a significant role in shaping the state’s culture. The Satras are the centre of religious studies as well as cultural aspects.

Satras in Majuli
The Auniati Satra of Majuli.

Lastly, Majuli is under serious threat owing to the rapid and aggressive erosional activities of the Brahmaputra River. According to experts, the Majuli island will continue to diminish in size and gradually disappear from the face of the Earth.

Erosion of MAjuli
The aggressive erosion of Majuli island.

The Satras of the Majuli Island:

It was here in the Majuli island that Srimanta Sankar Deva had preached the sermons of Neo-Vaishnavism. He established the Satras on this river island to spread the gospel of Vaishnavism among the Assamese people. Initially, there were as many as 64 Satras on this river island. However, over time, the number has sadly decreased to 22. Owing to the aggressive erosion of the Majuli island, the majority of the Satras have shifted their base to mainland Assam.

Satras of Majuli
The Satras are undoubtedly one of the most intriguing places in Majuli.
Lamps
Lamps lit by the devotees.

The Satras are not merely religious institutions but also the repository of Assam’s cultural and artistic heritage. In addition to being a Vaishnavite monastery, the Satras are also centres of various traditional performing arts. Each Satra specializes in a particular cultural activity and practices a specific art form. Thus plays an important role in the cultural evolution of Assam as a whole.

Sri Krishna
The Satras are devoted to the worship of Sri Krishna and his countless forms.

Two types of Satras are found in Majuli – one which is dwelled by the ‘Udasin’ monks who have taken a vow of celibacy, and the other by the ‘Grihi’ monks who marry and live along with their families.

Prayer
Morning prayer at Uttar Kamalabari satra.

The Satras are inhabited by resident monks who are known as ‘Bhakta’. They are led by the ‘Satradhikar’ who is both the religious and administrative head of the Satra. The monks have dedicated their lives to the worship of Sri Krishna. Along with puja and prayers, the ‘Bhakta’ group of monks also oversee the administrative and economic aspects for the seamless maintenance of the Satra. They also undertake the cultural activities which define their respective Satras. Moreover, most of the ‘Bhakta’ monks are expert artisans and craftsmen. They excel in manufacturing masks, boats, musical instruments and so on.

Inside the Satra
A different world altogether.

The heart of the Satra lies in its ‘Naam Ghar’ or prayer hall. Inside the Naam Ghar, there is the ‘Monikut’, which houses the main idol. Generally, Sri Krishna is the main deity inside the Monikut. Also, the idols of Jagannatha, Baal Gopal, and other renditions of Sri Vishnu are worshipped. Surrounding the Naam Ghar, the monks’ residential huts are arranged in a circular or semicircular fashion. The Satras also have ponds and tanks inside their premises. Furthermore, many of them provide accommodation to guests.

Rituals
Rituals performed inside the Dakshin Pat Satra.

Among the few remaining Satras, the following deserve a special mention:

Dakshin Pat Satra:

Believed to be the oldest Satra of Majuli, Dakshin Pat was founded by Sri Banamali Deva in 1584 CE. He was an exponent of the Rasleela dance. Even now, Dakshin Pat is renowned for its Rasleela program held every year in November. In addition to this, other types of dances and music are practised here such as Borgeet, Matiakhara, Jumora, Chali, and so on.

Entrance of Dakshinpat Satra
Entrance of the Dakshin Pat Satra.

The Naam Ghar of Dakshin Pat exhibits a serene ambience thanks to the mellow chanting of Bhagvata by the monks. The Monikut here houses a beautiful idol of Sri Krishna and another of Jagannatha brought from Puri.

Inside the Dakshin Pat Satra
Deities inside the Satra.
Lamps lit for ritual.
Lamps lit for rituals.

The monks here are friendly and eager to have a conversation. A few of them chatted with us and informed us about the lifestyle inside a Satra.

Inside the Dakshin Pat Satra
The interior of the Dakshin Pat Satra.
Residential area of the monks
Residential area of the monks.

Samaguri Satra:

The Samaguri Satra is probably the most famous among all the Satras of Majuli thanks to its age-old tradition of making masks or ‘mukha’. These curious masks are integral to the ‘Bhaona’ performances. The Hindu mythological characters are represented through these masks. They are prepared skilfully by assembling cane, mud, dung, and cloth.

Gateway to the Samaguri Satra.
Gateway to the Samaguri Satra.
Mask of Samaguri Satra
A mask representing Ravana.
Masks in the making.
Masks in the making.
Inside the workshop
Inside the mask-making workshop.

Dr Hem Chandra Goswami is instrumental in reviving and preserving this rich heritage of mask-making in Majuli. His studio inside the Samaguri Satra is loaded with masks of various shapes, sizes, and colours as well as countless accolades that he has received over the years. In 2023, he was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award.

Masks of Majuli
The masks of Samaguri Satra are world famous.
Incredible handicrafts
Piece of art.

Bengenaati Satra:

It was founded by Sri Murari Deva, the grandson of Sri Sankar Deva’s stepmother. Here, the royal robes belonging to Ahom King Swargadeo Gadadhar Singha are conserved. Also, the royal golden umbrella is under this Satra’s safekeep.

Uttar Kamalabari Satra:

This is a branch of the Kamalabari Satra which was established by Sri Bedulapdma Ata. The Uttar Kamalabari Satra is the birthplace of ‘Sattriya’, one of the Indian classical dances. Thanks to the efforts of the monks here, the ‘Sattriya’ dance form is gradually gaining popularity beyond the borders of Assam.

Uttar Kamalabari Satra
Gate leading to the Uttar Kamalabari Satra.
Statue
A statue depicting the Sattriya dance form.

This satra also specializes in the manufacture of boats. It is also an important centre for classical studies.

Open air auditorium
Open air auditorium inside Uttar Kamalabari Satra.

Moreover, the Uttar Kamalabari Satra is undoubtedly the most aesthetically decorated Satra.

The vibrant interior
The vibrant interior of the Uttar Kamalabari Satra.
Inside the Satra.
The Uttar Kamalabari Satra is quite well-maintained.
Monks residences
Residences of the monks.

Auniati Satra:

Founded by Sri Niranjan Pathak Deva in 1653 CE, it is the largest Satra of Majuli. It enjoyed the patronage of the Ahom rulers and hence flourished abundantly. The Auniati Satra specializes in congregational prayer called ‘Paal Naam’, ‘Bhaona’ (theatre based on tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata) and ‘Apsara’ dance form.

Auniati Satra of Majuli Island
Entrance of the Auniati Satra.
Nam Ghar of Auniati Satra
The Naam Ghar of Auniati Satra.
Monks home
Living quarters of monks inside Auniati Satra.

It has a museum that displays ancient artefacts such as old utensils, jewellery, clothes, manuscripts, and handicrafts.

Musuem
Sadly, Auniati’s museum was closed when we visited.
Ancient artefact
An interesting artefact called ‘Laikhuta’.

Garmur Satra:

It was founded by Sri Jayarama Deva in 1656 CE. The Garmur Satra was patronized by the Ahom kings and used to be affluent in the past. At present, it maintains a museum which houses medieval weapons such as the ‘Bortop’ or canons.

While exploring the Satras, start with Dakshin Pat Satra as it is the farthest. Later, continue with the Samaguri Satra, Bengenaati Satra, Auniati Satra, Uttar Kamalabari Satra, and finally end the tour with the Garmur Satra.

Please note, for entering the ‘Monikut’, men need to wear ‘dhoti’ and women ‘sari’ or ‘mekhala sador’.

Things to do in the Majuli island:

  • 1. Visit the Satras: Visiting the Satras is undeniably the first thing to do on Majuli island. As already mentioned, the Satras are myriad centres of spiritual and cultural activities. Pay your obeisance at the Naam Ghar, observe the monks chanting prayers, practicing their arts, or simply carrying on with their day-to-day activities, strike up a conversation with the monks to learn about the Neo-Vaishnavism, and take a stroll around the Satras. Exploring the Satras is truly a remarkable experience.
  • 2. Pottery village of Salmora: Located near the Dakshin Pat Satra, Salmora is a small village that specializes in pottery. Almost, every house here is an artists’ studio. Interestingly, the pottery here is made without the potter’s wheel.
  • 3. Watch weaving by women: While exploring Majuli island, you will come across many women engaged in weaving in their homes. They weave ‘gamusa’, ‘mekhala sador’, etc in their traditional looms.
  • 4. Explore the Mising villages: The little Mising villages, characterized by the bamboo huts lifted on bamboo poles, are anything but picturesque. A walk inside the villages will let you know about the lives of the Mising tribe. Also, try ‘Apong’, the indigenous alcoholic drink prepared by the Misings from cooked rice.
  • 5. Birdwatching: Majuli is renowned for birdwatching. All around the island, you will come across countless species of birds. Thanks to its numerous waterbodies, this island has turned into a sanctuary for birds. It even provides refuge to migratory birds. You can easily spot Asian Open Billed Storks, Greater Adjutant, Purple Moorhens, Kingfishers, Waterhens, Egrets, etc.
STorks
A pair of Black Headed Ibis.
  • 6. Fantastic Sunrise and Sunsets: The sunrise and sunset on Majuli island are nature’s wonder. The breathtaking scenes will surely remain etched in your memories for a long time.
Breathtaking sunsets
Breathtaking sunset at Brahmaputra River.

Boat ride on Brahmaputra: A boat ride on the mighty Brahmaputra River in the early morning or during the sunset is another experience that you must have in Majuli.

Wander aimlessly: Hop on your cycle or bike, and roam around the island to your heart’s content. Stop at random points, take countless photographs, sit and stare at the horizon. We found this fanciful saunter around the Majuli island quite relaxing.

Random beauty
“A thing of beauty…”

Important FAQs:

Where is Majuli located?

As already mentioned, Majuli is a large river island in Assam. Back in 2016, the Majuli island was declared a separate district. It is 342 km away from Guwahati, 138 km from Dibrugarh, 151 km from Kaziranga, and 42 km from Jorhat.

Scenes from Majuli
Scenes from Majuli island.

How can I reach the Majuli island?

By train: The nearest railway station is Jorhat. From Guwahati, you can avail three trains to reach Jorhat – 12067 Jan Shatabdi Express at 6-10 AM (this train does not run on Sundays), 15665 BG Express at 2-30 PM, and 15669 Nagaland Express at 8-45 PM. The Jan Shatabdi Express takes 7 hours to reach Jorhat, while the other two trains take 8 – 9 hours.

You can also reach Jorhat from Dibrugarh by 15670 Nagaland Express, which leaves Dibrugarh at 2-30 PM and takes less than 4 hours to reach Jorhat.

By air: Jorhat is the nearest airport, but flight schedules are a bit erratic here. If you are planning to fly in, it’s better to opt for either Guwahati or Dibrugarh. Both have multiple daily flights from Kolkata.

By road: Buses to Jorhat are from Khanapara Bus Stand of Guwahati. Buses are also available on the Dibrugarh – Jorhat route.

Graffiti work
Vibrant graffiti spotted at Uttar Kamalabari Satra.

How to avail of the ferry services to Majuli?

From Jorhat, you need to take the ferry to reach Majuli Island. The ferry leaves from the Nimati Ghat, which itself is quite far from the Jorhat rail station. It takes 45 minutes to reach the Nimati Ghat from Jorhat town, and the last stretch of the road is in bad shape. We had hired an auto for INR 500 to reach Nimati Ghat.

Ferry ride to Majuli
Ferry ride to Majuli

We advise you to pre-book the tickets online from the official site of Assam Inland Water Transport as it will save time. The entire process of online booking is hassle-free. You can also purchase tickets from the ferry ghat. The price of the ticket is INR 30 per person. You can also transport your bike, car, and even goat on the ferry, and each has separate charges.

The first ferry leaves Nimati Ghat at 7-30 AM and the last one at 4-30 PM. The ferry service is hourly and thus extremely convenient. Also, it is punctual. It takes an hour to reach the Majuli island from Nimati Ghat. Please note, that the island itself has two ghats – Kamalabari and Aphalamukh. Book your tickets to Kamalabari, as it is closer to the prime locations of the Majuli island.

Ferry
The ferry ride is an adventure in itself.

On reaching Kamalabari Ghat, you can either hop on the shared autos and jeeps or rent one for yourself. We had booked a Sumo car for INR 300 to reach Garamur area of Majuli.

Likewise, the first ferry from Kamalabari leaves for Nimati Ghat at 7 AM, and the last one at 3 PM. It takes 1.5 hours to reach Nimati as the ferry sails upstream. If you are leaving from Aphalamukh Ghat, you will get the first ferry at 7-30 AM and the last one at 3-30 PM.

What is the best time to visit the Majuli island?

November to March is the ideal time for exploring the Majuli island. Avoid the monsoon as Majuli experiences flooding every year due to the heavy rains. Summer is also not conducive for travelling to Majuli.

If you want to experience the Raas Utsav, visit in the last week of November when the Raas Purnima is held generally. Of course, consult the calendar before booking your tickets.

Nature in abundance
Nature in abundance.

Where can I stay in the Majuli island?

Majuli offers a handful of accommodation options. First, there is the Assam Government’s Prashanti Eco Tourism Resort at Kamalabari. Cottages are available here, though they are on the pricier side.

At Garamur, you will find a plethora of homestays. Most of them are built in the style of Mising homes – a straw-thatched cottage standing high on bamboo poles. The oldest and most reliable among them is the La Maison de Ananda and its subsidiary Risong Family Guest House. It is conveniently located, and the owner is extremely friendly and helpful. The rooms are pretty basic (a common occurrence in Majuli given its remote location). Also, it has its own restaurant.

Cottages
Bamboo rooms at La Maison de Ananda.
Cottages
Cottages at La Maison de Ananda.
Food
The food was delicious too.

Apart from this, you can also stay at Okegiga Homes, Dekasang Majuli, Ygdrasill Bamboo Cottage, Ayang Okum River Bank Bamboo Cottage, and River Wind Cottage.

We suggest contacting the homestay over phone for rooms and prices. Prices shown online are quite exaggerated.

How can I travel around Majuli?

Bike/scooty is the best option to explore the nook and crannies of the Majuli island. Most of the homestays offer bike/scooty on rent. It will cost you INR 500 per day. We absolutely enjoyed exploring Majuli on a scooty.

Cycling is another option for travel around Majuli Island. However, please keep in mind that most of the attractions on Majuli Island are located far away from Garamur, where the majority of the homestays are located. So, unless you have ample time on your hands, it’s better to avoid cycling. Cycles will cost you around INR 100 per day.

You can also hire a car to scout this island.

Scooty at Majuli
Riding scooty around the Majuli island is fun.

Where can I eat at Majuli?

You can try Mising food at Rishong Family Kitchen. For Assamese cuisine, visit Pulu Restaurant and Joha Restaurant near Kamalabari.

Simple lunch at Majuli
A simple lunch platter at Majuli.

What to pack for Majuli?

We suggest packing modest clothes for Majuli. The ambience of the Majuli island is traditional, so it would be best not to pack your shorts and mini skirts here. Also, you will be visiting Satras which are active temples and monasteries. So, we advise wearing clothes that cover your shoulders, abs, and legs.

Also, pack a comfortable pair of waterproof shoes. Carry an umbrella and hat also.

The Floating Pebbles

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