Majuli – India’s 1st & Only River Island District

Sunday, Jan 10, 2021 07:45 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Jan 10, 2021 02:17 [IST]

Majuli – India’s 1st & Only River Island District

S. BALAKRISHNAN

“Majuli! Majuli! I am dying to meet you, Majuli!” I must have poetically muttered during my siesta. That was enough for my wife to smother me with the pillow. Recovering, I explained Majuli was not my paramour but a riverine island that we will be visiting during our Assam trip. “Oh, what is so special about it? Don’t we have our own river island, Srirangam, the temple town, in Tamil Nadu?” she taunted me. While Srirangam Island on Cauvery River is connected by road and rail bridges, Majuli stands aloof on the mighty Brahmaputra and can be reached only by ferry; we will find out its other unique features when we visit it, I assured her. Relieved from her misconception, she lovingly thudded me (Oops!) with the same pillow and let me continue my Midsummer’s Day Dream about Majuli.
Throwing to winds the gentlemanly manners of ‘Ladies First’, I was the first to jump on to the RORO (Roll-On/Roll-Off) ferry at Nimati Ghat (Jorhat District). Our tourist taxi also jumped in next. Despite my thalassophobia (fear of deep waters), I could not help admiring the brute beauty of Brahmaputra; the ferry covered the 20 kms in 45 minutes, chugging against the upstream current. Our taxi carried us from Kamalabari ferry point to the Eco Lodge, some 10 kms further inside the Island. A vast stretch of grey alluvial soil laid spread across.
Majuli is said to be the oldest and the largest inhabited mid river island of the world, a fresh water island. This unique geographical formation is due to the vast dynamics of Brahmaputra (formerly known as Lohit or Luhit or Luit, flowing on the north) and Dhing & Dikhow (to the south).  The island took its final shape before 13th century, it is believed. Majuli lies amidst Brahmaputra in North-East & South-West angle, measuring 875 sq. km. (80 km. long, 15 km. wide). Srirangam Island in TN could be around 100 sq. km. at the most.
Majuli was declared as a district in 2016, few months after our visit; how unfair! Carved out of northern Jorhat district, Majuli is India’s first riverine island district!  While its population in 1901 was only 35000, now it is around 1,60,000, spread across 243 villages.
Majuli, as an island, is rich in biodiversity – both flora & fauna. Also, it is the nerve centre of Neo-Vaishnavism and the springboard for spreading it across the North-Eastern Region. This religious sect has its many hermitages (called Sattra) that have created a unique cultural heritage – music & dance, art & culture – that has been preserved, despite many onslaughts, for many centuries. These monasteries/gurukul are rich depositories of not only spiritual but also cultural heritage. We undertook a tour of three Sattras, guided by an inmate of a Sattra (they are all Brahmacharis) and witnessed mask making as part of their dance-drama heritage. The temples attached to these Vaishnavaite Sattras have a mind blowing rich collection of art, architecture & cultural treasures!
As we crisscrossed the island visiting these Sattras, the landscape was unbelievable for a riverine island – vast stretches of plains, water bodies, greenery, fields, villages, market! We also had the rare opportunity to learn about the Mishing tribe people who lead a simple life in their settlements. The market was throbbing with life – locally grown veggies & fruits.
The Majuli Island, though formed by Brahmaputra, is also facing severe erosion by the same Brahmaputra. Many villages and Sattras have fallen prey to the roaring river and have shifted to new locations. We stayed in Majuli for 2 days and one night which period was too short to explore this unique riverine island district. I have lived in Andaman Islands (which had the RO/RO facility back in 1978 itself) but this riverine island is matchless in many ways. I am dreaming of a week-long trip. Now my wife doesn’t mind me blabbering in my day/night dream “Majuli, I am dying to meet you again, Majuli!”
(krishnanbala2004@yahoo.co.in / 9840917608 Whatsapp)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi