Majuli Island lies in the Brahmaputra River in Assam. Once it was the largest riverine island in the world, but every year the monsoon erodes more of its shore, and though it is still large – about 1.440 sq km (555 sq mi) – the island is shrinking at an alarming rate. Formed after a flood in 1750 when the river divided, it is a tranquil, flat, watery area, mostly consisting of paddy fields, water meadows, rivers and lakes and it’s home to many rare and migratory birds.
Traditionally, the islanders — who comprise several tribal groups — cheerfully rebuild their bamboo and mud houses after each monsoon season, but recently several villages have been entirely lost. It is to be hoped that the government honour its undertakings to prevent this unique location from disappearing completely.
Majuli is famous for its satras – Hindu monasteries set up in the 15th century by the philosopher Srimanta Sankardeva, who frowned on the caste system and idolatry. Now villagers meet in the large prayer halls to praise Vishnu in music, dance and poetry. Around 20 of the original 65 satras survive; as well as serving as places of worship, they are important as treasuries of the area’s culture, each one specializing in a different branch of the arts. The main settlements and satras are Kamalabari, with its centre for learning, and Garamur, which specialises in ancient weaponry.
The hospitable islanders tend dairy herds, fish and build boats. The women are famous for their exquisite weaving and their fine pottery. Majuli itself is renowned for the many different types of rice that are grown there.
Population: 140.000 (2001)
When to go: November to April
How to get there: Ferry from Jorhat
Highlights: Visiting the satras – some of the specializations are dance and arts at Bengenaati, jewellery and handicrafts at Auniati and mask making at Shamaguri.
Ras Purnima, the three-day festival that takes place in October/November.
Angammi Tribal Museum at Auniati – containing old manuscripts and artefacts.
Studying neo-Vaishavite philosophy at one of the satras. You might be able to stay there if you show real interest.
The spectacular sunsets over the Brahmaputra River.
You should know: As many as a hundred varieties of rice are grown on Majuli Island.