Freshly arrived from the glorious wetlands of Cherrapunjee, we stayed just one night in the dodgy city of Guwahati before getting the hell out of there again. Can you tell that this is not my favourite city? We made tracks inland, or in-state I should say, to the city of Jorhat – the gateway to the largest river island in the world: Majuli.
As this is India, and nothing in India is never straight forward especially not when it comes to transportation, we naturally had to witness a man making a huge fuss over someone sitting in his seat. All the more humorous, of course, since we all had to get off and swap buses 10 minutes into the journey. You’d be forgiven for thinking the chaos stopped there, but I was well and truly caught in the middle of things simply trying to exit the bus. In a cramped space, it can be somewhat difficult to hoist a 15kg pack onto your back, especially if you are trying to avoid taking off someone’s face in the process (although, there have been occasions when this hasn’t bothered me in the slightest…) so naturally, I would rest my pack on an empty seat first, if such a space was available, and flex my giant muscles to get the thing on my back. However, when all the Indians are fighting their way onto the bus before anyone has managed to actually exit the bus, said space fills up fast and before you know it you have a middle aged man yelling at you that you are in his seat. “I know!” – I yell back at him, “But if you don’t get out of the way how do you think I can get past?” Honestly, I never learn. Things started getting louder and louder and louder until he finally just tried to move past me and sit on top of my pack. My heart rate has gone up just writing this post.
So, Jorhat. We arrived.
There’s not much to report on this city except for the one place that made the best wraps, and therefore was the one place that we ate at for three consecutive days. And I also so a dog with it’s eyeball hanging out. That was pretty gross.
After tracking down a shared rickshaw to take us to the neighbouring village of Nimarighat – departure point for the island – and holding on for dear life crammed alongside Angelo, the driver and both our packs, we jumped on board the already rather full and dingy wooden river boat. The people were hustled below the deck, and motorbikes were parked on the roof and in perhaps not my smartest move I settled myself down in front of a small car and began to pray to every Hindu deity that the small stone wedged in front of the tyre would not be dislodged and send me off the side of the boat. You can imagine my horror and relief when twenty minutes into the journey the driver actually pulled on his handbrake.
I peeled my eyes for the rare river dolphin that is said to exist in these parts – even if I doubted that anything could survive amongst an Indian waterway – and was rewarded with not one, but three!
We were transported to our guesthouse on the other side of the island: a traditional, stilted bamboo hut, and wandered about in search of food before hitting the best spot on the island to watch the sunset. Naturally, we got lost, and forgot to bring a torch. A local man decided to accompany us back to the village, and when it became clear to us that he wasn’t so well in the head we walked a little faster in the hope he might forget what he was doing and go home again. There was a sense of calm and quiet on the island that held a lot of appeal. The locals live off the land and off the water in a quiet corner of India.
The island itself is actually the largest river island in the world and has a unique and important cultural soul. A different branch of Hinduism is practised here – neo-Vaishnavism, where they believe that Vishnu is the one supreme power – and it involves plenty of singing, chanting, acting, and theatre in general. Satras, a type of monestary, are dotted all over the island, and consist of not much more than a large space in which they can perform the poems, music and theatrics that are customary to the religion. The young students here dress all in white – their longyis fashioned into what looks like a giant diaper with legs – and they do not cut their hair.
Another of the satras we visited saw us stumble across a small group of young boys practicing their chanting and drumming. We were invited in to listen and talk with them, but didn’t want to disrupt them for too long. We were unlucky in that we didn’t manage to see the whole congregation playing together before we had to head back on our bikes. It was a slow and many-bugs-in-face experience as we didn’t have any lights on our bikes, and the island has little to no electricity at night. We were aided at least by a brilliant full moon, and blood-red sky and as we approached the town we were greeted in turn by small tea light candles outside each house – a gesture of celebration of the god of wealth and prosperity.
We left the island around lunchtime the following day and spent another day eating vege rolls in Jorhat. Our longest train journey to date was coming up the following day: 30 hours to Patna, and the capital of the poorest state in India, and we needed some quiet time before the onslaught of Indian crowds. After a mere hour on board, we were joined by a group of happy-clappies. And I mean true blue, Hare Krishnas. The ones that only sing three different words. Hare, Rama and Krishna. Over, and over, and over. For hours on end. Without stopping even for a minute. And they dance. Oh my, how they dance…