Among the best renowned Wildlife sanctuaries in Assam known for its population of the Hoolock Gibbons (the only Ape species found in India) and the Bengal Slow Loris (North East India’s only nocturnal primate) – the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Jorhat district of Assam that is an extension of the Patkai mountain foothills. Also known as the Hollongapar Reserve Forest, this entire stretch (21 sq. km) of area is an evergreen forest of Assam surrounded by small local village and the lush tea gardens that is home to rich biodiversity’s of flora, fauna and avifauna. The dominant tree species found in the area of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is that of Holong (Dipterous carpus macro carpus) and henceforth this place is also called as the Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary.
The forest cover here at the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam connects to the evergreen tracts of Nagaland as well. Originally this place was not a protected area but with the gradual rise of human habitation due to the establishment of the tea gardens and rehabilitation of the people from Majuli who had lost their homes to the annual flood havoc caused by the Brahmaputra river a need was required to confer the 21 sq. km area as protected to preserve the habitat of the animal species around the area. Various attempts have been made since then to preserve the wildlife of the area and today the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is home to various primate species like:
- Hoolock Gibbons
- Bengal Slow Loris
- Stump Tailed Macaque
- Northern Pig-tail Macaque
- Eastern Assamese Macaque
- Rhesus Macaque
- Capper Langur
In addition to the above primate species, the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam is also home to Tigers, Leopards, Jungle Cats, Indian Elephants, Wild Boars, Civets, Squirrels, Jungle Fowls, Deer’s and many other mammal species including various bird species and reptiles.
And to boost the food habits of these species Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary has various flora species and the Bhogdoi river provides a source of water to the flora and fauna in the place that creates a water logged region that harbours various semi-hydrophyte plants and micro-system around the place. Some of the tea gardens around the area of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary are Meleng, Kakojan, Chenijan, Katoni Bari, etc. The only mode of exploration inside the forest reserves is by hiking as there are no safari options available here. One has to take the services of a guide and forest guard to access the forest reserves of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam and it is a nice chance for visitors to spot some of the primate species here.
Along with it one also has the chance of spotting various bird species inside the reserves of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and some of the bird species are Hornbills, Owls, Woodpeckers, Bulbuls, Drongos, Barbets, Egrets, etc. Since its inception as a protected area, the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary administration have taken numerous steps to preserve and protect the habitat of the animal species around here that has helped to maintain a healthy population of each of the primate species here but even today the threat looms over the animal habitat here as these are land encroachments by humans, large quantities of grass are collected from the forest reserves to feed the cattle. A railway track running across the area of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary divides the park and movement of trains often poses as a threat to the wildlife especially as the area acts an elephant corridor with movement of these big mammals to nearby forests of Nagaland and the threat to their poaching remains. Yet the animals thrive making Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary a successful conservation story and among one of the most pristine Wildlife Sanctuaries in Assam as well as India.
To reach Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary the best way is to access it from the town of Jorhat in Upper Assam. It is hardly about an hour’s drive from Jorhat tot eh Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and so one can plan on starting early from Jorhat here and hire the services of a guide along with forest guards and spend their day admiring the beautiful flora and fauna of the place especially the primate species.
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Exploring Jorhat, Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Majuli and Kaziranga National Park with our guests from Pune
The year 2020 was a very tough year for the industries associated with travel and hospitality due to the COVID19 pandemic as the entire World and the various countries shut their borders and induced lockdowns to prevent the spread of the deadly virus and the movement of people was limited to their homes. The good news came to us starting in January 2021 when people started planning vacations and the co8untry gradually opened up to various tourism related activities. We were contacted in the month of January by this team from Pune and the tour leader expressed his desire to explore the areas of Jorhat, Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Majuli and Kaziranga National Park and we worked out the tour package and their arrival date of the group at the Jorhat airport was fixed on the 4th of April, 2021.
The Itinerary for their tour looked like below:
Day 1: Jorhat Airport – Kaziranga Golf Resort
Day 2: Jorhat – Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary – Neemati Ghat – Majuli
Day 3: Majuli
Day 4: Majuli – Kaziranga National Park
Day 5: Kaziranga National Park Safari
Day 6: Kaziranga National Park Safari
Day 7: Kaziranga National Park – Guwahati
Day 8: Guwahati Airport
The earlier group strength was fixed at 24 people but at the last minute due to detection of COVID +ve members, the group size went down to 18 members.
I started from Guwahati on the 3rd April and I reached Jorhat along with the tour vehicles and we halted the night at Jorhat town and we prepared our day to welcomes our guests the following day at the Rowiah airport at Jorhat. The flight was scheduled to arrive at 11.30AM and I had made arrangements for lunch at the Nova Akhol restaurant at Jorhat town and along with the vehicle drivers, I went to welcome our group at the Jorhat airport at around 10AM. The COVID protocols were in place and the guests were all carrying their COVID –ve NAT reports and I could see that proper protocols were in place at the airport as well and people and security personnel could be seen wearing their masks and maintaining social distancing to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. The flight was scheduled and our guests arrived at 11.30AM at the Jorhat airport and the screening of passengers were being done at the airport exit and the group mentioned their travel plans at the exit along with names and contact numbers and soon everyone assembled outside at the airport and we boarded the luggage’s on our vehicles and we soon started on our drive to Jorhat town and we crossed the Jorhat Medical College and hospital area and headed further towards the JB College area and soon we reached the Nova Akhol restaurant that is a very nice fine dine restaurant at Jorhat and I had placed an order for veg-thali for the entire group of 18 members and we took our places and the meal was served shortly to us.
It was a nice traditional Assamese meal that had rice, two types of dal, a mashed potato dish, mixed veg fry, pickles, papad, sweet dish, etc. and everyone liked the meal and we ended up with a soft drink and after the lunch we started on our drive from Jorhat town towards the outskirts where we would visit the Swargadeo Sukapha Samanway Kshetra and later we go to check into the heritage Kaziranga Golf Resort and call it a day. We shortly arrived at the outskirts of Jorhat town at 2PM and we went to explore the Sukapha Samanway Kshetra.
At the Sukapha Samanway Kshetra I purchased the entry tickets for the entire group and it was a nominal amount of INR 10 per head and we went on to explore this tribute to the founder of the Ahom Kingdom, Swargadeo Sukapha. The Ahom Kingdom was established by Sukapha who had migrated in the 1200s from the Shan Kingdom and he reached the Brahmaputra Valley along with a group of his soldiers and nobles and his family and that time the Brahmaputra valley had various indigenous groups inhabiting and Sukapha was responsible in uniting these various groups and bringing them under the Ahom Kingdom whose capital was established at Charaideo and further at Sivasagar. The Ahom Kingdom is considered to be the longest unbroken ruling dynasties of the country and the Ahoms were brave and fearless and they had clever war tactics that did not allow the Mughals to conquer Assam and bring the place under their map. The brave Ahom General Lachit Borphukan was responsible for the victory of the Ahoms over the mighty Mughal army at the fierce battle of Saraighat when the much smaller Ahom army was able to defeat a much mightier Mughal army with clever war tactics and the use of the powers of the waters of the Brahmaputra River.
The bravery of Lachit Borphukan remains in the heart and minds of the people of Assam and he is said to have been so dedicated towards his motherland that he beheaded his own uncle as he had shown negligence towards the duties towards his motherland. Not only in Assam but Lachit Borphukan is celebrated for his bravery outside the state as well and the National Defence Academy (NDA) awards its best cadet every year with the Lachit Borphukan medal and our guests could immediately relate to this as they hailed from Pune. The Ahom Kings were known to be patrons of architecture and they had built several historic monuments and temples across Assam and these monuments stand tall even today. The Ahom capital of Sivasagar is still having many of these historic monuments like the Rang Ghar (Asia’s first amphitheater and the Royal Pavilion), the Talatal Ghar fort (that had a network of secret underground tunnels that was designed to confuse the enemy soldiers), the Royal Palace of the Kareng Ghar at Garhgaon that is a remarkable construction, the Pyramids of India (Charaideo Maidams) at Charaideo, the Siva Doul temple, the Joysagar lake, the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Basistha Temple, Navagraha Temple, Sukreshwar Temple, etc.
We went to explore the place and at first we went to visit the huge statue of Swargadeo Sukapha that is placed at the centre of the place and we clicked our pictures here and later we went to visit the museum area here that depicts the various practices that were followed by the Ahoms and also the various artefacts from the Ahom Kingdom and a first floor that illustrates the various traditions, customs, practices and attires of the indigenous people of North East India.
We entered the museum and we had to open our shoes as this place is a dedication to the great legacy of the Ahoms of Assam and as a mark of respect shoes are not allowed inside the place. Also photography and videography are strictly prohibited and we had to deposit our mobile phones and cameras at the reception for safe keeping and we were offered a token as a proof of submission and later we had to collect the cameras from the place before leaving the museum premises. The ground floor on the right side depicts the models and illustration so the various practices that were followed during the time of the Ahoms and certain rituals that are even practiced today by the Tai Ahoms of Assam like the Madam Me Phi festival. The various cultures and traditions were written down in front of each of the models that were displayed across here and so was the various religious ceremonies, the introduction of the concept of the Buranjis of the Ahoms, a King’s court depicted in the form of a model, the story of the brave Ahom General Lachit Borphukan and the Battle of Saraighat as well as Itakhuli, etc. We took some time to explore this section and later we went on to explore another section on the left that illustrated the various artefacts from the times of the Ahom Kingdom that were donated to this museum by collectors and the surveyors.
Various ancient canons, pistols, robes of the Ahom Kings and nobles, swords, artillery used in warfare were displayed here and everyone loved to be a part of witnessing this section. Another section is present on the first floor of this museum here at the Sukapha Samanway Kshetra and this section displays the various indigenous people of Assam and North East India. As we walked towards this section we could see the various models of the various tribes of Assam and these models were built in a way that depicted the villages of these people and the models had a man and a woman with a distinct facial cut and these models were adorned in the traditional attires of these people and also the background represented the village environment and it depicted how they stayed in their traditional homes and engaged in occupation like agriculture, handicrafts, weaving, fishing, etc. Few of the tribes that were displayed here were the Mishings, Sonowal Kacharis, Dimasa, Karbi, Bodo, Deori, Tai Khamti, Singpho, Garo, Sumi Naga, Tai Phake, etc.
We took some time to explore this section and at around 3PM we finished exploring the museum and we came out of the campus of the Sukapha Samadhi Kshetra and we boarded our vehicles and started on our drive to the Kaziranga Golf Resort where our guests would halt for the evening. The drive is across a very beautiful tea garden area of Assam and the Kaziranga Golf Resort is one of the very beautiful places to halt near Jorhat area and we took around 30 minutes to reach the place and the manager of the place welcomed our guests and as this was a Sunday there were many guests who had come here to spend their day. The guests checked in to the place and I took some time to explore the area across the Kaziranga Golf Resort and the dinner would be a nice buffet dinner that will be arranged at the grand dining hall of the Kaziranga Golf Resort and I took leave to return back to my Hotel at Jorhat while the drivers would stay back at the place as the group would be leaving as early as 6AM the next morning and they would pick me up at Jorhat with their packed breakfast and we would continue on our exploration to the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary at Mariani near Jorhat.
Day 2: Jorhat – Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary – Majuli Island
The next morning I came to Jorhat Civil Hospital area where the group in their vehicles would pick me up at 7AM and we would be travelling to the Mariani area and further left to the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary. At Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary we will be met by our local guides who would take us deeper into the forest reserves of the Wildlife Sanctuary accompanied by a forest authority and we would have the opportunity here to sight the only Ape species in India viz. the Hoolock Gibbons. We had to ensure to reach early to the place because once the sun is completely up in the sky and the weather get slightly warmer then it gets difficult to sight these Hoolock Gibbon species as they move deeper into the forest reserves and so it becomes difficult to sight them. The drivers came on time and I boarded the vehicles and we started on our drive towards Mariani crossing Jorhat town. As we left the town outskirts, the beautiful countryside of Assam welcomed us and the roads are good so we enjoyed our drive along the way and I was directing the driver as her had never visited to this place earlier and to admit I had to take the help of Google navigation at times as well.
We soon approached Mariani railway junction and we had to stop for about 5 minutes as there was a signal crossing and after Mariani we could see the border of Assam and Nagaland and while the straight road leads to Mokokchung and Kohima in Nagaland we took a left diversion to travel to the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary. After a short drive we could see a dense forest cover approach us on the left and the lush green tea gardens on the right. We saw a signage welcoming us to the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and we took a left diversion and continued further on the drive to the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary entrance gate. Here we were welcomed by our guide Mr. Angshuman Barua who is a member of the team of the Gibbon Eco Camp and we would be having our lunch later in the day and here we stopped our vehicles and the group took their packed breakfast and everyone quickly had their food and at 8.15AM we went inside the forest reserves of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary accompanied by our guide and the forest authority. Apart from our group there were two other smaller groups who had already entered the forest reserves of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and there was a family from a European country as well and it was good to see that even foreign nationals were again visiting the places of interest in Assam as well.
The guide led the way followed by half of the group then another guide and a forest authority and I followed behind the group and we set out to explore the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary. The cry of the Hoolock Gibbons could be heard and the guide told us that as per the census done here few years back there were around 26 families of Hoolock Gibbons that inhabited the forests of Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and the protected habitat here provides them safety and they are now shoeing an increasing trend in their population. Earlier Assam was known to be a dense habitat of the Hoolock Gibbons but owing to the loss of habitat and hunting their numbers had dwindled and they were a threatened species and places like Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park now provide these Ape species of India a safe habitat. We kept walking inside the forest of Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and this is an elephant corridor as well and so armed forest authorities escort the groups so that in case there is an encounter with the wild elephants they can easily scare them away into the forests and the habitat of the elephants inside the forests of Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary was confirmed because we could see elephant dung across the track.
The guide kept looking out for the Hoolock Gibbons but up to a certain point we could only hear the cries of the Ape species but we were not successful in sighting them in the wild. Our luck favoured us a little ahead and we were lucky to spot the Hoolock Gibbon family and we sported one male, one female and two young ones and they were swinging atop the branches of the tree canopy here at Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and everyone was amazed sighting this primate species in the wild. The family swung across from one area to another and we also spotted another family of the pig tail macaques inside the forest reserves of Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary as well. It was a very lucky experience for us to be able to sight not only the Hoolock Gibbons species of Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in the wild but also the pig tailed macaque species as well and we thanked the guide for sharing us this opportunity and we started our hike back to the entrance of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary as we had to make up time and reach the ferry ghat at Neemati before 1PM after an early lunch at the Gibbon Eco Camp and the guide led us on our way out. While we were waiting outside we got lucky to sight another very rare species here at the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary of the Malayan Giant Squirrel that was perched atop a tall tree.
The Malayan Giant Squirrel is one of the largest squirrel species to be found in the World and it is to be found here at Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kaziranga National Park in Assam and we were lucky to be able to sight this species just while we were about to exit the forest office of the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and we took some time to capture images and videos of the species. Next up we thanked the forest officials and our guide and he said that he would be talking us to the Gibbon Eco Camp as well and so we all boarded our vehicles and we started on our drive to the Gibbon Eco Camp at Mariani. Mariani is not a popular tourist spot in Assam and therefore one will not find many accommodation options here and the Gibbon Eco Camp was setup keeping in mind to provide a unique budget stay for the guests who would come to Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and would like ot halt for the night and then go for the trek to explore the forest reserves inside the snacutary in the wee hours of the morning as the morning time is best to spot the varied wildlife and bords of the place. We reached the Gibbon Eco Camp and this is a budget place to halt for the evening and also the place was where we would be having our early lunch before we start on our drive to Neemati Ghat to reach Majuli Island in Assam.
The place has two traditional Chang Cottages that are built on an elevated platform with bamboo and each of the cottages has an attached bathroom and to enjoy the calm and peaceful environment of a village life this is an ideal retreat to spend our time as well. The tables for our lunch was laid out and the group requested for black tea and the members of the Gibbon Eco Camp arranged for our tea while we enjoyed the view of the countryside of Assam here at the Gibbon Eco Camp. The lunch was served to us shortly and it was a traditional Assamese meal that was served in a buffet style and it had rice, dal, potato fry, beans fry, carrot and potato curry, papad, fried eggs, pickles, chutney, etc. and it was a home cooked mela with the flavours of the natural and organic ingredients filling our taste buds and the entire group loved the meal. After lunch we started on our drive from Mariani to Jorhat and soon we reached Jorhat town and we took the Jorhat Bypass to travel to Neemati Ghat before making a quick halt to refuel the vehicles and we reached Neemati Ghat at around 1.30PM.
Various ferry boats ply on the Brahmaputra River from the Neemati Ghat to the Kamalabari Ghat and this is how people access the largest river island in the World of Majuli. We had two mini bus vehicles and these would accommodate only on the Govt. operated large ferry vessel and not on the smaller boats and therefore the one we were supposed to catch was scheduled at 2PM but on that day this ferry was not present and instead it was scheduled only at 2.30PM. This was a Ro-Ro vessel and it was a very new and sturdy ferry vessel that was operating and we soon loaded our vehicles on the vessel and we started on our journey to cross the mighty Brahmaputra River to travel to Majuli Island. Few of the group members moved to the roof top of the ferry to get a better view of the river and its banks and they even got lucky to sight the Gangetic River Dolphins on the Brahmaputra as well. We reached the Kamalabari Ghat at around 3.45PM and we started on our drive to explore the mysteries of the largest river island in the World of Majuli. We wanted to get some time to be able to watch the sunset by the banks of the River Luit but not before we checked into our place of stay here at Majuli at the Enchanting Majuli Hotel that is one of the prime properties in the island.
We had eight rooms booked for us at the place and we occupied the first and second floors of the place and the restaurant had prepared fresh snacks for us along with tea/coffee and the veg pakoras and biscuits. Everyone at first had their snacks as we had a very early lunch and later they checked into their rooms while I waited to take them to the nearby village and also to my camp at Majuli as well. Not all members of the group joined for the village visit that is a short walk away from the Hotel because it was a very early day and they must have been tired yet around 10 members joined and we walked towards the village and we admired the beautiful natural landscapes of the largest river island in the World. Majuli Island is the hub of the Neo Vaishnavite cult of Assam the island is home to numerous Satras and Namghars that were introduced in Assam by the holy Saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva and this was to promote and preach the teachings of Neo Vaishnavism and Ek Sarna.
We would be visiting the prominent Satras of Majuli Island tomorrow and learn about the various facets of art, culture and traditions followed across these Satras especially the art of traditional mask making with hands and the Sattriya Nritya dance performance that is one of the 8 classical dance forms of India. Majuli is home to various indigenous people of Assam and they include the Mishings, Deoris and Sonowal Kacharis and the Mishings is the dominant tribe inhabiting the island. We would be going to visit a local Mishing village and we at first went to visit my camp at Majuli – the La Lolat Eco Camp as I wanted to show our guests how bamboo is used in this island to create various things from handicrafts, houses, fences around homes, bridges, etc. Bamboo is a very versatile grass and it provides adequate strength as well and visitors can see this at practice at the camp that is built entirely with bamboo and has a thatch roof as well.
Our guests explored the cottages at my camp and later they went to visit a souvenir shop that was selling some of the traditional hand woven Mishing handlooms and also a small shop that was selling organic vegetables and we brought a few lemon pieces and as it was getting dark we decided to wrap up the day and head back to the hotel before we made a stop at a local fish market to see the various fish variants that were being sold here and soon we returned back to our hotel thereby ending another eventful day of our tour.
Night Halt: Enchanting Majuli
Day 3: Majuli Island
Today was our day of exploring the mysteries of Majuli Island and we would start the day after breakfast and we would travel to the Kamalabari area where we will start the day by exploring the Sri Sri Auniati Satra in Majuli Island. After a nice breakfast we started on our drive and we travelled to the Kamalabari area and further towards the Auniati Satra. This is one of the most prominent Satras of Majuli and Assam as well and the place is known to have several branches across Assam as well and the people of Assam respect the Auniati Satra. The Satradhikar of this Satra is a noted scholar and he is renowned across Assam. Auniati Satra is known for its celebrations of the Raas Leela festival and the Paalnaam and we reached the premises of the Satra and we parked our vehicles and removed our shoes before entering. We had to buy our prayer offerings here at the small stalls that are setup across the entrance and we purchased mustard oil, incense sticks, dias, salt, etc. to be offered at the Auniati Satra.
These Satras of Assam follow a typical build structure where the main prayer hall or the Namghar is located at the centre of the Satra and it is surrounded by the living quarters of the monks of the Satra called as the ‘Hutus’ and there are two or three Satra ponds and the house of the Satradhikar (Head of the Satra). Certain Satras of Majuli also house a museum that has on display various relics from the times of the Neo Vaishnavite movement, Ahom Kingdom and the past Satradhikars of the Satra as well. We went to visit the Namghar at the Auniati Satra and inside the Namghar an old monk was reciting the daily prayers and also playing a cymbal in the praise of God. We lit the lamps filled with mustard oil outside the Namghar of the Auniati Satra and later we went to visit the Namghar premises and also the Monikut of the Namghar as well. We offered our prayers and paid our contributions to the Auniati Satra and later we went to explore the huts of the monks and finally we came to the Satra museum where I paid for the entry tickets to the museum and we went in to explore the museum. Various artefacts from the times of the Ahom Kings of Assam were present like ivory chairs, robes, ivory walking sticks, swords, etc. and various other relics as well.
After we finished exploring the museum at the Auniati Satra in Majuli we took our leave from the place and we went back to the entrance and put our shoes back on and we started on our drive to the Samaguri Satra at Majuli that is located near the Salmora village area and once again we drive across the beautiful countryside of Majuli where we spotted the vast agricultural fields and the traditional Mishing homes that were built on stilts and were built with bamboo and thatch roofing’s. The drive went further into the countryside and in about 30 minutes we reached the premises of the Sri Sri Samaguri Satra in Majuli Island. The Samaguri Satra is renowned as the mask making Satra of Majuli Island – a traditional practice that was again introduced by the holy Saint reformer and Guru Srimanta Shankardeva. During the enactment of his plays Srimanta Shankardeva noticed that his followers would be able to follow the religious plays or Epics more if they could relate to the character that was being depicted in the play and so if the artist enacting the character would adorn himself with a mask it would be more lifelike and the followers would find the play more interesting and thus learn more about the Hindu Epics.
Therefore the guru came up with the idea of building traditional masks with the use of bamboo, clay and organic paints and these masks would later be adorned by the artists enacting the play. Over the years these masks became very popular and also with the advent of the modern times people begain to forget about their traditional masks and plays and gradually the art started to die away but the Satradhikar of the Samaguri Satra, Dr. Hemchandra Goswami came up with the idea of keeping this art form alive and he continued to practice this art of mask making and he took it to a next level by creating miniature masks and other forms of this art using bamboo and gradually the World would recognize the wonder of this art and today this mask making art of Majuli Island is renowned all over the World and visitors come here to witness this art form and also buy various miniature masks to be carried home as a souvenir. This mask making art of Majuli also earned Assam the best tableau for the Republic Day celebrations of 2018. As we entered the Samaguri Satra we could see the members of this Satra sitting at the open workshop and working to create the various stages of the masks all by hands and this gives an insight into how great an artist the holy Guru Srimanta Shankardeva was and how he helped to succeed in imparting the knowledge to his disciples.
The person working on these masks explained to us as to how these masks are prepared before we headed into the main room where we would meet the legend himself Dr. Hemchandra Goswami and learn about this mask making art from him directly. The preparation of these masks follows an entirely traditional process where the mask structure is created using bamboo sticks and the structure in built. Later a thin cloth is used to wrap across this bamboo mesh and special clay that is dug out deep from the banks of the Brahmaputra River mixed with cow dung is applied evenly across this structure and this is later wrapped up again in a thin muslin cloth and allowed to dry in the sun. Once dried organic colours called as Hengul and Heital are applied on the mask and after a final round of drying in the sun or a chamber during the monsoon season, these masks are finally ready. Various masks are built from smaller ones to big ones and these are now sold to various visitors who come to visit the Samaguri Satra in Majuli Island. At this time Dr. Hemchandra Goswami came to welcome us and he asked us to come to the display hall at the Samaguri Satra and we went inside after removing our shoes and we took our seats here and Dr. Goswami explained to us in detail how these masks are put into practice at the various Bhaonas or religious plays that are enacted across the various Satras of Majuli and also the Namghars of Assam and especially during the Raas Leela festival of Majuli Island. Everyone listened to Dr. Goswami with great interest and after learning about this mask making art of the Samaguri Satra we finally bid farewell and we started on our drive to the Salmora village that is another place that practices another dying art form.
This art form is none other than the art of pottery making with hands. Generally when we speak of traditional pottery making we can imagine a giant pottery wheel that keeps rotating and an artist uses this wheel to create pots of various shapes and sizes. But what differentiates this pottery making art of the Salmora Village is that there is no involvement of a pottery wheel and the pots are made with bare hands and what generally is a trade practiced by the men of the society in Salmora village it is the women folks who practice this art of pottery with hands. We reached the Salmora village and we went to visit the home of a local artist and we reached the place.
I called out the people of the house and at the porch of the house a man was sitting and he was extracting the fibre from the Himolu seed that is actually to be spun into cotton yarn and everyone loved to witness this. The lady of the house came out and she would be the one to help us witness this pottery making art and she went to arrange for the special clay that will be used to create the pottery art form. Everyone took their places and the lady started to mix the clay with cow dung and some sand as well and then she started to mould the clay and she used her bare hands to create a pot. These pots were earlier in great demand across Assam and the neighboring states as well but with the introduction of steel utensils they gradually lost their place but still there are patrons who prefer to use these pots especially to store water and curd and these villages send these clay pots to various places in Assam. The water stored in these pots remain cool during the summer season and therefore many people prefer to use these pots to store water and also these pots impart a unique earthy flavour to the water as well. We paid the family for showing this dying art form to us and with this we ended our visit at the Salmora village and we went back towards Kamalabari and further to Garamur area and we made a stop at a showroom run by the local self-help group women that had various souvenirs from handloom, handicrafts, traditional pickles, rice, tea, etc.
We allowed the group around 20 minutes to spend time exploring this emporium and to bring a souvenir of their visit to Majuli Island. After this we went back to our place of stay for lunch and today there was a Chinese menu for lunch and our group savoured this change in menu as they were mostly sticking to traditional Assamese meals for the past two days and after lunch we went out to explore the 2 no Futuki village area near the DC office at Garamur and we would be visiting my friend’s place here to witness how the local people in Majuli lived and we would learn about their traditional occupations as well. We reached the home of my friend and his family was present here to welcome us and I led to group in smaller teams to explore the house of my friend so that they could see how the people lived in stilt homes built with bamboo and my friend’s other showed our guests how they brew the rice beer of the Mishing people that is called as the Apong. The group was offered rice beer to taste as well and few members tried it and they loved the taste as well.
After savouring the rice wine we went for a short walk across the Futuki village and we reached a home of another Mishing family and here we would witness the weaving on the local loom and here we saw how the local lady of the house was sitting in front of this traditional loom as she was weaving out exquisite Mishing tribe handlooms. Our group members wanted to purchase this grand handloom woven by this lady but unfortunately her products were already sold to someone and she was rather finding it difficult to match the demands of these handlooms in the market and so we decided to stop at the market area of Garamur where we would allow the group to have some time on their own to look around and but their souvenir of their visit to Majuli Island. We bid farewell to my friend’s family and we proceeded on our drive to Garamur market where we stopped for around 30 minutes to shop around and later we would travel to the banks of the River Luit where we would watch the sunset and allow the group members to capture some nice pictures by the banks of the River. We reached the banks of the River Luit at around 4PM and we had about half an hour’s time before sunset and so the group leader allowed everyone some time to look around the banks of the river and they clicked some group pictures and finally watched the sunset and after around an hour we travelled back to our place of stay for evening snacks of momos and veg pakoras.
The chef at Enchanting Majuli is well trained and he had made some nice momos both veg and non-veg and the group sat down to enjoy their snacks and evening tea. We were supposed to travel to the Uttar Kamalabari Satra where we would be witnessing the Sattriya Nritya dance performance at 7.30PM and I asked the group to come and board the vehicle by 7AM sharp as we had to reach on time to witness the Sattriya Nritya dance performance that is once among the 8 classical dance forms of India that is practiced by the mal monks of the Uttar Kamalabari Satra. We started at 7PM and we had to drive towards the Kamalabari area and the Satra is present before this place and we arrived at the Satra parking and we had to remove our shoes and socks before entering the premises of this Satra as this is a very holy place. We went to the Satra Namghar and the monk who would coordinate with arranging the Sattriya Nritya for our group came out and he asked us to take our seats in the Namghar.
An old monk was reciting the evening prayers at the Namghar and he was playing the cymbal and the entire atmosphere felt so calm and peaceful. The members of the group that would perform the Gayan Bayan of the Sattriya Nritya took their places to perform and the front members who would perform the Nritya were holding the Khul (a drum) in their hands and the members behind were holding the cymbals and they began the Gayan Bayan performance of this Sattriya Nritya performance. As the performance started the group started to get very interested and no wonder his performance is one of the nicest things to witness here in Majuli Island. The Sattriya Nritya performance is renowned across the World and the monks from this Satra travel across the World to perform this dance and also provide lectures at various universities about the cult of Neo Vaishnavism. The monks started to play the Khul and the YTaal and they started the phase of this dance and they had some of the most elaborate facial expressions and everyone loved to witness this performance. The performance lasted for around 20 minutes and we paid our contributions and the small sum the Satra charges for hosting this Sattriya Nritya performance along with our voluntary contributions that is a very meagre amount to contribute to help keep this art form of the Uttar Kamalabari Satra alive. With this our day was over and it was a long day of exploring the mysteries of the largest River Island in the World. Dinner for the group was again arranged at the kitchen of Enchanting Majuli and today they would be served food in the traditional Assamese thali of Assam. I took leave and I took the drivers to my camp where we would halt for the evening after dinner.
Night Halt: Enchanting Majuli
Day 4: Majuli – Kaziranga National Park
Today morning we were all set to travel to Kaziranga National Park from Majuli where they would be halting at Kaziranga for three nights where they would take the opportunity to go for four jeep safari rides inside the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park and this is a good opportunity to sight the varied flora, fauna and avifauna of Kaziranga National Park. The group leader was a seasoned guide and he had literally explored most of the National Parks in the country and so he wanted the group to go for more safaris inside Kaziranga National Park as this would provide them with the opportunity of sighting the various animals of Kaziranga National Park and if lucky the Royal Bengal Tigers as well. We had to board the 7.30AM ferry that is a govt. ferry and this only could accommodate the two mini bus vehicles that we had taken along with us on this tour. We had to ensure that we board this ferry at any cost and so I went before the group to the ferry ghat at Kamalabari so that I could inform the people there to keep the place for our vehicles or else there is no prior booking facility available so this was needed because if the other vehicles cam before us it would be a problem and we would have to wait longer. I reached the Kamalabari Ghat and here I asked the official to book the lots on the ferry for our vehicles and he obliged to my request and at 7.15AM the vehicles around the ferry ghat and we boarded the ferry vehicles and I left the group here and my colleague would join the group at Kaziranga National Park and I bid farewell to the group as I had some work at my camp here in Majuli and I had to take care of it.
The drivers took charge and I instructed them to take the group safely to Kaziranga National Park and the lunch for the group was arranged at the Numaligarh Dhaba where they would savour veg thali the is a signature cuisine of the place. After lunch the group proceeded on their drive to Kaziranga National Park via Bokakhat and I had instructed the drivers to take them at first to the Kaziranga Orchid Park and later drop them at their place of halt at the Infinity Resort at Kaziranga National Park. The Kaziranga Orchid Park is the largest orchid park in India and this is a very popular tourist attraction here at Kaziranga National Park that comes after the safari rides at Kaziranga National Park both elephant and jeep safari options. The orchid park had various different orchid species that are to be found across Assam and North East India and this speaks highly of the rich biodiversity across the place. India is home to around 1800 species of orchid and around 1200 of these are to be found here in North East India itself and the Kaziranga Orchid Park aims to showcase these various orchid species to its guests.
Apart from the large green house that host these orchid species here at the Kaziranga Orchid Park there is also a section that illustrates the various indigenous handicrafts of Assam made with bamboo and cane and also a section of handlooms weaving where guests can view hoe the local women weave out some of the very exquisite traditional handlooms. There is also an orchid photo gallery, a rice museum, a souvenir section, an open gallery cum stage for display of folk dance performances, etc. Guests took their time to explore each of these sections and they enjoyed the section of handicrafts and handlooms and they were even amazed looking at the various varieties of rice that are grown across the region of Assam and North East India including the Bora Saul – a sticky rice variety and the Kumal Saul – a rice variety that doesn’t need cooking and is softened by simple soaking the rice in water. They shopped for memoirs of their visit to Kaziranga National Park here at the Kaziranga Orchid Park and they also enjoyed a session of the folk dances of Assam mostly the Bihu and the bamboo dance at the stage area and later the tempo drivers dropped our guests at the Infinity resort at Kaziranga National Park.
Day 5: Kaziranga National Park Jungle Safari
Today was the day of jeep safari rides inside the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park and my associate at Kaziranga National Park had arranged for the jeep safari rides along with the guides and he himself is a wildlife photographer having captured many captivating moments in the wild with his camera and in the morning session they would be going for a jeep safari ride inside the forest reserves of Kaziranga National Park at the Eastern range of the Park at Agoratoli that is known to be the less frequented zone and so the sighting of rare animals can be done here. With the COVID situation hovering around, the tourists to Kaziranga National Park were much lesser when compared to the previous years but still the local tourists from across Assam and North East India helped to boost the tourism footfalls at Kaziranga National Park this year allowing the safari owners and hotel owners to make a decent profit or else it could have been a big problem for them. The jeeps arrived at the Infinity Resort at Kaziranga National Park to pick up our guest sand they started on the drive from the Kohora area of Kaziranga National Park to the Agoratoli area of Kaziranga National Park. The drive takes about 30 minutes and so the guests left as early as possible because as mentioned earlier, wildlife sighting is best observed during the wee hours of the morning.
Therefore the visitors wanted to reach the safari zone before the sun was up and they reached the Agoratoli forest office and they went in after completing the forest entry formalities here at Agoratoli. Kaziranga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its population of the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros and the place is home to the highest population (around 2/3) of the total population of the One Horned Rhinoceros species around the World. Kaziranga National Park is also home to Royal Bengal Tigers, Asiatic Elephants, Hog Deers, Asiatic Wild Water Buffaloes, Leopards, Jungle Cats, Hoolock Gibbons, Capped Langurs, Malayan Giant Squirrel and around 500 species of birds that are very rare and endangered as well. A visit to Kaziranga National Park is a must for any wildlife enthusiast and to be able to spot a One Horned Rhinoceros from up close is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be experience here as well. The guests went fo0r their safari inside Kaziranga National Park and upon entrance they successfully sighted the grand Great Indian Hornbill species. A little further into the safari ride they spotted the one Horned Rhinoceros, Asiatic Wild Water Buffaloes, Assamese Macaques, Capped Langurs, Wild Boars, Hog Deers, Sambar Deers, etc. and the various resident bird species of Kaziranga National Park as well.
As their visit was planned in the month of April it is not an ideal time to visit Kaziranga National Park especially for bird watching but all the other sightings happen very well of the animals. The jeep ride took them deeper into the forest reserves and they say many more animal and bird species and at around 10AM they came out of the forest reserves of the Eastern range of Kaziranga National Park and they headed back to the Infinity resort for lunch and in the afternoon they would be going for another round of safari at the Central range of Kaziranga National Park at Kohora. There was a slight rush with the number of visitors being more today as it was a weekend and so my associate had to ensure to make the group reach the forest office of the central range of Kaziranga National Park in the afternoon by 1PM so that they could have a relaxed safari from 1.30PM and this would provide them ample time to explore the forest reserves of the Kohora range. My associate had hired the services of a tiger tracker here at the central range because many reports of tiger sighting were reported from the central range of the park and the safari started and everyone enjoyed their visit here.
The group members were successful in capturing many images of the animals and birds here at the Central range of Kaziranga National Park. The guest shad heard a lot about the famed Assam tea and so they wanted to buy tea to carry back ho0me and so the jeep safari drivers took our guests to the showroom of the amalgamated tea plantations that is known to have good quality tea and our guests made their purchases here and later they were dropped back at the Infinity resort thereby ending a fruitful day of wildlife safari here at Kaziranga National Park. There were two more safari rides scheduled at the Western and central ranges again with the hope of being able to sight the Royal Bengal Tigers of Kaziranga National Park here.
Night Halt: Infinity Resort at Kaziranga National Park
Day 6: Kaziranga National Park Safari
Today was the day for another two rounds of jeep safari inside Kaziranga National Park and the safari would be at the Western range for the morning session and then again at the central range of the afternoon session. The jeep arrived and took our guests from Kohora to Bagori area and the drive takes around 15 minutes and they reached the safari point at 7.30AM and after the entry formalities they started the jeep safari rides in the forest reserves of Bagori in Kaziranga National Park. The western range of Kaziranga National Park at Bagori is known to be the home of the One Horned Rhinoceros and this is where the visitors can get many good and close sightings of the One Horned Rhinoceros on their jeep safari rides. Also the elephant safari rides for the Indian Nationals are conducted here at the Western range of Kaziranga National Park. The rhinos of the western range are very close to their territory and therefore they are mostly found sticking to their territory grounds and so one can easily spot the rhinos from up close. Along with the Rhinos and the calf, the group even spotted male tuckers here at the Bagori range and later they came back to the resort for lunch and in the afternoon they again went for jeep safari ride inside the forest of Kaziranga National Park. Even though our guise and tiger tracker tried their best along with the jeep drivers to look out for the tigers so that they could show the group but unfortunately it was not a successful attempt and our guests couldn’t end up spotting the tigers of Kaziranga National Park.
Day 7: Kaziranga National Park – Guwahati
Today morning our guests would be travelling to Guwahati from Kaziranga National Park and they had originally planned to leave in the afternoon but they had to visit the Kamakhya temple as well in Guwahati and as they had an early morning flight the next day , so they ensured to leave in the morning itself to travel to Guwahati from Kaziranga National Park. We had arranged for Toyota Innova vehicles to pick our guests from the Infinity Resort at Kaziranga National Park to travel to Guwahati in comfort and this was arranged from Guwahati itself and the Innovas reached Kaziranga National Park in the morning to take our guests to Guwahati. The group was scheduled to leave the Infinity resort at Kaziranga National Park at around 9AM after breakfast so that they could reach Guwahati by lunch time at around 2PM and after lunch they could visit the Kamakhya temple shrine in the later afternoon. Also the tour vehicles would drop them at the Hotel at the Pan Bazar area in Guwahati and from here they could hire the services of the Uber taxis and travel to the Maa Kamakhya temple to seek the blessings of the holy Goddess. The drivers of the Innovas loaded the luggage’s on the vehicle and at 9AM the guests started on their drive to Guwahati from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park.
They crossed the Kohora and Bagori areas to reach the Burapahar area of Kaziranga National Park and continued further towards Jakhlabandha and then to Koliabor. The four way lane welcomed them at Nagaon and here they made a stop to use the costumes and have tea at the Anuraag Dhaba and later they continued on their drive to Guwahati via Raha, Jagiroad and Sonapur. The Innovas reached Guwahati at Khanapara area and they drove to drop our guests at the Hotel Mayflower at Panbazar that is one of the very good hotels in the city. Our drivers dropped our guests who checked into their rooms and they had their lunch at the hotel and the members decided to visit the Maa Kamakhya temple atop the Nilachal Hills in Guwahati. The Kamakhya temple is one among the 51 Shakti Peethas in the country and also among the 4 Adi Shakti Peethas and is considered to be one of the holiest temples shrines is considered to be one of the holiest temple shrines in India. Dedicated to Goddess Kamakhya, it is said that Goddess Sati’s womb fell atop the Nilachal Hills in Guwahati when Lord Shiva was carrying her mutilated body across the Indian Subcontinent performing the Tandav Nritya. Hence this temple shrine is also called as the temple of bleeding Goddess as it is believed that every year in the month of Asad (June) the Goddess menstruates and the waters of the River Brahmaputra turns red thereby making Assam the Land of Red Rivers and Blue Hills.
This is the time that Guwahati plays host to the Ambubachi Mela festival that is often referred to as the Eastern Mahakumbh and lakhs of pilgrims and holy Sadhus congregate at the Kamakhya temple shrine to seek the blessings of the Goddess. The first three days the temple doors are shut for the devotees and across Assam all the temple shrines are closed and also no kind of agricultural activity or worship is carried out during these three days and only on the fourth day the temple doors are thrown open and devotees throng the temple shrine to offer their worship and seek blessings of the Goddess. Kamakhya temple was earlier renowned by its cult of Shakti and Tantra and the black magic sorcerers revered Goddess Kamakhya and they performed their supernatural feats at the temple and even offered human and animal sacrifices to appease the Goddess. Though human sacrifice practice has been abolished the practice of animal sacrifice still continues at the Kamakhya temple shrine. Also this is one temple shrine where there is no idol to be worshipped inside the main sanctum of the temple and instead them is a stone ‘Yoni’ in the shape of a vulva that is worshipped and this shrine is fed continuously by an underground stream of water and touching this water is when the Darshan at the Kamakhya temple ends for the devotees.
As per mythology that goes for the construction of the Kamakhya temple it is said that the first sign of the temple construction was said to have been made by Lord Kamdeva – the Hindu God of love. When Lord Shiva had burnt Lord Kamdeva into ashes with his third eye as Lord Kamdeva was distracting Lord Shiva during his meditation here at the Bhasmachal hills in Guwahati located at the Umananda island, Lord Kamdeva’s wife had pleaded Lord Shiva to bring back Kamdeva back to life as he was only trying to do his duty to carry an important message to Lord Shiva from the other Gods and he didn’t have to die for doing his duty and as Lord Shiva had cooled down he agreed to this and he brought back Lord Kamdeva to life but later only to realize that Lord Kamdeva did not regain his original beauty to be called as the God of Love. After lots of months of salvation Lord Kamdeva was asked to build a temple shrine atop the Nilachal Hills as this was where he would regain his beauty and it was with the help of Lord Viswakarma that Lord Kamdeva built the Kamakhya temple and he regained his beauty and the place came to be known as Kam Rupa (the place where Lord Kamdeva regained his beauty).
But gradually this temple started to fall into ruins and it was only until the Koch Kings got lost in the forest that they found an old lady and she told the Kings that their wish to conquer the area could happen if they built the temple shrine in Gold and the Kings agreed to build the temple with Gold and they were able to become rulers of the place but even after this they couldn’t fulfil the promise of building the temple with gold and thereby their kingdom started to have trouble again. It was only when they rebuilt the temple shrine with a piece of Gold across each pillar of the temple shrine that the temple structure held and so did their kingdom. The temple was however destroyed by a Muslim invader and it was when the Ahom Kings came to power that they started to take deep interest in the cult of Shakti and Tantra and they became staunch followers of Maa Kamakhya and they even converted to Hinduism and they started to rebuild the temple again and Siba Singha is credited with the restoration of the Kamakhya temple shrine in its present form.
Today the Kamakhya temple shrine is the holiest temple shrine in the country and North East India and it can be said that it is the most attractive tourist destination in North East India as well drawing thousands of visitors who come to the temple every day to seek the blessings of Goddess Kamakhya. Some patrons of art consider the Kamakhya temple as a centre of art as well and the place is known for its various rock cut sculptures that are found on the temple walls and these are considered to be a work of art as well. The temple gets busy as early as 4AM in the morning as the devotees need to wait for their turn to enter the main temple shrine at the inner sanctum. Our guests had planned their visit in the afternoon as this is the time when the temple get less crowed and one can get an more free Darshan of the temple shrine. They took their time to explore the construction of the Kamakhya temple and after the Darshan they visited the local market area of Fancy Bazar in Guwahati and returned back to their hotel and prepared for their early morning flight next day to Pune thereby ending our tour of Jorhat, Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Majuli Island and Kaziranga National Park.