Tucked away in India’s northeast corner is the state of Assam. With its wide open spaces, silk weaving, tea plantations, and lush wildlife reserves, it is surprisingly absent from the tourist radar. Wonderful! That is exactly why I recently dry ran it to precede a full-blown group tour in 2018.
For seven days, my husband and I explored Assam. Atop an elephant, we swayed through Kaziranga, home of the rare one-horned rhino. In Jorhat, we camped – ok, luxuriated – in a tea planter’s bungalow. Guwahati’s Kamakhya Devi temple train-wreck fascinated us at a 900-year old tradition of daily animal sacrifices to appease a blood-thirsty goddess. Sualkuchi’s sericulture, producing the world’s finest silks, was a must. But it was Majuli, a riverine island caught in the shallows of the mighty Brahmaputra that captivated us.
Majuli is the world’s largest inhabited riverine island. With the Brahmaputra forming a natural moat, it has developed into a world apart from the rest of Assam. Majuli’s exceptional cultural heritage dates back to 16thC saint-scholar Sankaradeva’s reform of Hinduism. He advocated the change from a ritualised caste-ridden religion to the monotheistic and compassionate faith practised across Assam today. Sankaradeva’s legacy lives on in fourteen satras (university-monasteries), each devoted to a fine or performing art discipline. Art forms such as mask-making, music, weaving, literature, and dance are used to espouse Lord Krishna’s divinity. In the satras, five hundred year old traditions continue to be handed down from one generation of monks to the next.
Our foray into Majuli was bookended by a memorable ride on a ferry with no guardrails and an impromptu top deck casino. Watch it here!
Casting forth every morning from our delightful bamboo cottage homestay, we traversed Majuli discovering its cultural riches.
Visit to drama-satra Semaguri with head Hemchandra Goswami, who spoke of his life-long devotion to mask making for dramas that honour Krishna. These raas-leela take place in October coinciding with Diwali.
Early morning in Majuli when children greet us on their way to school
Bamboo cottage breakfast cooked the old fashioned way
Villages of the semi-nomadic Mishing tribe – so called because the British, in an attempt to study their lifestyle, found them “missing” i.e. moved away due to temperamental flooding of the Brahmaputra plain. Their weaving is part of the fabric of their lives; each woman produces enough for her family’s needs or to barter.
I know I’m on the right track with this tour when the British Museum picks up on Majuli and produces this excellent video! Enjoy!
Your appetite whetted? Details of our North East India tour February 2018: Click here.