Mr. Vivek and his wife had contacted us from Bangalore in the month of January and had expressed their interest in visiting North East India in the month of March 2018. They were planning to travel with their 10 year old son and they wanted to experience nature so I had designed an Itinerary for them to suit their travel requirement. They wanted to visit Meghalaya and Assam and so the final Itinerary was planned for them as below ~
Day 1 ~ Guwahati and Cherrapunji (6 – 7 hours)
Arrive in the morning at Guwahati Airport and transfer to Cherrapunji. On the way sight the Umiam Lake at Barapani. Cross Shillong city and here do local sight-seeing near Shillong by visiting the Shillong Peak and Elephant Falls. Later in the day travel to Cherrapunji.
Night Stay: Sohra Plaza Homestay at Cherrapunji (Extra Bed)
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 2 ~Cherrapunji ~ Double Decker Living Root Bridge (Trek Duration ~ 5 – 6 HRS)
Today early morning, we kick start the Double Decker Living Root Bridge Trek at Nongriat Village near Cherrapunji. Duration of trek is 5 – 6 hours. We will also spot the Single Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunji.
Highlights of the Trek:
- These Living Root Bridges (Single and Double Decker) are one of the most unique bridges in the world. They are grown by the ancient tribes of the Khasi hills
- Pools with pristine blue water
- Cross Hanging Bridge
- Picturesque Views
After the trek we’ll have lunch at the Local Market at Cherrapunji and savor Ethnic Khasi Delicacies and Cuisine. Later visit the Nohkalikai Falls and Seven Sister Falls and wrap up for the day.
Night Stay: Sohra Plaza Homestay at Cherrapunji (Extra Bed)
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 3 ~ Dawki – Mawlynnong – Cherrapunji (Day Trip)
After breakfast enroute to Dawki (Indo-Bangladesh) border and enjoy boating on the clear waters of the Umngot River at Dawki. Later depart to Mawlynnong (Asia’s cleanest Village). At Mawlynnong visit the Living Root Bridges, sight the balancing rocks and take a walk along the Cleanest Village of Asia. Experience the rich culture of the Khasi Tribes of Meghalaya. Travel back to Cherrapunji.
Night Stay: Sohra Plaza Homestay at Cherrapunji (Extra Bed)
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 4 ~ Cherrapunji – Kaziranga National Park (7 – 8 Hours)
Arrive at Guwahati Airport and transfer to the National Park of Kaziranga. Home to the highest population of the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros anywhere in the World, Kaziranga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Evening free at Kaziranga to visit the nearby tea gardens.
Night Stay: Nature Hunt Eco Camp at Kaziranga National Park(Extra Bed)
Meals Included: NA
Day 5 ~ Kaziranga National Park – Majuli Island (4 – 5 hours)
Early morning for an Elephant Safari into the interiors of the Kaziranga National Park. After Breakfast, go for a Jeep Safari into the interiors of the Kaziranga National Park. Later in the day depart to Majuli Island to catch ferry by 3.30 PM. Evening visit the Uttar KamalabariSatra at Majuli to witness the SattriyaNritya (which is among one of the eight classical dance forms of India).
Night Stay: La Maison De Ananda/Risong Family Lodge at Majuli (Extra Bed)
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 6 ~ Majuli Island
Today explore the mysteries of the Largest River Island in the World. Visit the Satras of Majuli and learn about the Neo-Vaishnavite cult of Assam. Visit the SamaguriSatra and learn about the ancient art of traditional mask making. Learn about the ancient art of pottery making. Evening spend time with the tribes of Majuli at their traditional Bamboo Cottages. Savor locally brewed rice wine ‘Apong’ of the Mishing tribes by a kitchen fire.
Night Stay: La Maison De Ananda/Risong Family Lodge at Majuli (Extra Bed)
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 7 ~ Majuli Island – Guwahati (7 – 8 Hours)
Morning we embark on our journey back to Guwahati. Cross the ferry at KamalabariGhat and travel to Guwahati.
Night Stay: Hotel NE Zone at Guwahati(Extra Bed)
Meals Included: Breakfast
Day 8 ~ Kamakhya Temple – Guwahati Airport(1st half)
After breakfast we proceed to visit the Kamakhya Temple at Nilachal Hills in Guwahati. We drop you off at Guwahati Airport for your evening flight to your onward destination. Tour Ends. Bid Adieu!
Meals Included: Breakfast
I had planned to travel personally along with them driving my car a Hyundai Verna as providing a personal touch to all our visitors is our prime motive. They were happy with the idea of me accompanying them along their journey as journey with a driver is mostly a silent ride. And I was there to guide them personally along all the major tourist places we were planning to visit. Below I narrate our experience on my journey with Mr. Vivek and family across Assam and Meghalaya.
Day 1 (March 30, 2018) ~ Guwahati Airport, Umiam Lake, Shillong & Cherrapunji
Our visitors from Bangalore were scheduled to arrive today at the Guwahati Airport at 9 AM and we were to travel to Cherrapunji after halts at Umiam Lake and Shillong. The flight got delayed by half an hour so they reached at 9.30 AM and we started on our journey. Our guests this time were a family of four. Mr. Vivek, his wife and their 10 year old son. A very cheerful and energetic family who were very eagerly waiting for this trip to North East India. We started on our journey from the Guwahati airport to Shillong. We didn’t take the city route to avoid the traffic and instead headed from the outer road after crossing the Deepor Beel wildlife sanctuary heading on to Khanapara. Khanapara is an interesting place in India as this is the border between the states of Assam and Meghalaya. Although is is a state border there is no toll gate or check gate that demarcates it. Instead it is divided by a divider on road wherein one side of the road is Assam under the Kamrup district and on the other side is Meghalaya under the Ri Bhoi district. At Khanapara we could see many Tata Sumo vehicles that ply regularly across Guwahati and Shillong and back that act as shared taxis for passengers. After a short wait for the traffic to clear we headed on our road to Meghalaya. The roads are good and it is a four lane highway which makes the journey quite smooth. After a short while we reached the point where a right on the road leads to Shillong and heading straight leads to Kaziranga National Park in Assam. So now we were in Meghalaya – the Abode of the Clouds!
We continued on our journey crossing Burnihat, the first town of Meghalaya that is renowned for its various industries like cement, the Coca Cola bottling plant for North East India, various stone quarries, etc. Burnihat is also known for its local market that sells various local vendors bringing in their fresh produce to sell here at the market. Most of the vegetables and fruits sold here are organic and tastes wonderful. One can see various vendors selling organically grown carrots, beans, potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, pineapple, banana, plums, etc. The colors of the vegetables in this market is joy to see. We took a short halt at this market area at Burnihat and bought few bananas to have along our way. Slowly the hills started and our journey continued on good roads across the green mountains of Meghalaya. After a while we reached a toll gate operated by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) where we had to pay the toll fees here. Our next halt was scheduled at Nongpoh.
Nongpoh is a small township of Meghalaya which serves as a layover for the various tourist vehicles travelling from Guwahati to Shillong/Shillong to Guwahati because of the presence of the many local restaurants and dhabas here. Nongpoh has many local dhabas that serve hot and delicious food. There are also good restaurants like Jivas that serve only vegetarian food to its travellers as Meghalaya being a place where people prefer a non vegetarian diet that includes fish, chicken, beef and pork and many travellers here prefer to stick to a vegetarian cuisine only. So we decided to halt at the Jivas Restaurant at Nongpoh. It was around 11 AM so we decided to have some quick snacks here and then a late lunch after crossing Shillong. We ordered a mix meal of onion uttapams, french fries, masala dosa and coffee. While the adults stuck to the uttapam and dosa the young guy relished the french fries. After refreshing ourselves we headed on our journey to Shillong – the Scotland of the East.
The roads to Shillong continue to be good and we cross a few more small towns like Umling, Umshling and finally reach the Umiam Lake at Barapani. Umiam Lake is the largest artificial water reservoir of North East India and it is known for its crystal clear waters. Umiam is also a Dam that serves a source of hydro energy for the State of Meghalaya. The Umiam Lake Resort at Barapani is another travellers destination where visitors can get to enjoy boating trips on the clear waters of Umiam and also get to eat local refreshments. There is also a stay option here by the lakeside called the Orchid Lake Resort at Umiam. We halted a while at the Umiam view point on the approach to Shillong to get a glimpse of the clear blue waters of Umiam Lake and the clear skies too. There were many visitors along with us who were enjoying this view too. There are many roadside stalls here that sell farm fresh fruits like berries and pineapples along with tea, snacks and boiled eggs. We served ourselves with a cup of black tea and after clicking our pictures were all set to reach the city of Shillong – the Scotland of the East!
The approach to Umiam is when the four way no longer continues and the road is now onwards is only a two way road with regular vehicles plying. So the car speed reduces along with it the journey gets slightly slower adding to the mountainous routes. As we approach Shillong city we are greeted by many motor vehicle showrooms of the likes of Ford, Hyundai, Maruti Suzuki, Renault, Tata Motors, etc. Along with these showrooms are many number of petrol bunks. Meghalaya has a lower rate of petrol and diesel than many other cities of the country as the taxes are slightly lower here. Shillong is one of the most beautiful cities of North East India. The cool weather coupled with the occasional drizzle makes this place look amazingly beautiful on any day during the year. The beautiful colonial buildings, the modern Khasi boys and girls, the modified vehicles all add up to a modern touch to the city blending it with the colorful past of the British Era that can be seen in the rustic buildings and the various churches across the city of Shillong. Once you enter the city you can feel the modern era taking its toll on the beautiful city as there are traffic jams along the route and the narrow roads across the city are filled with hundreds of vehicles. The traffic is more on the entrance of the city where you reach the point where the left of the road takes you to the Don Bosco Museum at Shillong and continues further ahead to the local market of Shillong – the Barabazaar. The sight of local shops at Shillong are a sheer delight as you see many small shops lined up together and each selling various varieties of goods. From stationaries, flowers, vegetables, home needs, sweets, restaurants, meat shops one can find all kinds of shops along the roads of Shillong. The most important thing to see is that most of these shops are run by women folks. This is because Meghalaya matrilineal state where the head of the family is a lady. The family lineage is taken from the Mother’s side of the family. The man gets married and comes to the house of his wife. The family inheritance is entrusted to the youngest daughter in the family who is supposed to take care of her aging parents. While the female folks of the house go out everyday to earn a living, the men stay back at home and engage themselves in small businesses. In Meghalaya, most of the offices are held by women and the same can be seen here is Shillong too. After crossing the Barabazaar the traffic starts to clear til you reach the Rhino Point – a Left from here takes you to Shillong city and a right will lead you to Upper Shillong, Cherrapunji, Mawlynnong, Dawki, Mawsynram, Mawphlang, Mawphanlur, Nongstoin, etc. Since we didn’t have hotel reservations in Shillong we decided to take the road on the right to Cherrapunji. The traffic cleared to a huge extent and we continued to drive uphill towards Upper Shillong.
Our first sightseeing destination at Shillong was the Shillong Peak. After we reached Upper Shillong a small diversion the road on the left takes us to another small road that continues to Shillong Peak. Shillong Peak is the highest point in the East Khasi Hills at an elevation of 1966 meter above the mean sea level. It is a popular tourist destination of Shillong where many visitors come to get a bird’s eye view of the Shillong city. The roads to Shillong peak are quite narrow so one has to be drive with utmost caution and sound the horn especially at the road bends to avoid any sort of contact with the vehicles coming from the other side. It is an uphill climb and has shard bends along the road and it is always advisable to honk at these bends. The area of the Shillong peak falls under the Indian Air Force and they have a huge settlement area here under the Eastern Air command. Once you are about to reach the Shillong Peak there is a military check post guarded by the Air Force police who scrutinize you baggages and check for the valid ID proof details of t/ravellers. It is a necessary protocol to be followed here and no civilian or tourist vehicle are allowed to pass without a mandate security check. This often leads to a ruch of vehicles here at the entrance of the Shillong peak and is to be avoided as a sight seeing option if you are running short of time. We had time in our hands and during this visit there were not many tourists so we decided to go ahead and visit the Shillong peak. Once our security check was done we were allowed to cross the gate and after a short drive we reached the Shillong peak. It was a sigh of relief after crossing the humongous traffic at Shillong city. The Shillong Peak is a beautiful area to get a glimpse of the city of Shillong. There are two watchtowers here equipped with binoculars that give you a better view of the city of Shillong. We spend our time here and then headed to the next destination at the Elephant Falls at Shillong.
The ride down the hill was not a challenge and we in fact enjoyed the drive. After reaching the main road we continued ahead to be at first welcomed by the huge office of the Eastern Air Command of the Indian Air Force. The sprawling campus area also has a museum that is open to all visitors. We didn’t visit the museum on this itinerary and instead moved ahead to the visit the Elephant falls. After paying our entrance and parking fees at the entry gate we headed to the Elephant Falls. Another among the popular tourist destinations of Shillong, the Elephant falls is a set of three cascading waterfalls. This is called as the Elephant falls because, originally the Khasi people named this falls as “Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew (three steps waterfalls) because the waterfalls falls into three steps. Later when the British came and they found the waterfalls, they named it as the Elephant Falls because on the left side of the falls there was a rock resembling an Elephant. However, this rock was destroyed by the earthquake in the year 1897.” We first clicked our pictures on the first waterfall on top which is slightly a smaller one. Then we headed down to view the other set of waterfalls. The set of waterfalls which are below are much better to view than the one on top. The waters flowing down here are mostly rain water that pours down from the areas of upper Shillong and Mawphlang. It was getting late and so we decided to head back on our way to Cherrapunji. We stopped again after climbing back from the Elephant falls to get the guests dressed up in a Khasi attire and get their pictures clicked. The local Khasi attire of Meghalaya is a very unique dress wherein the man holds sword and shield to indicate their heritage warrior attachments to their ancestors.
We bid goodbye to the Elephant falls and our moments at Upper Shillong to continue to Cherrapunji. We decided to have lunch at the next town of Upper Shillong at Soilyna huts. A unique modern restaurant, the Soilyna hut offers its visitors a unique dining experience at Upper Shillong. The restaurant offers Chinese, Indian and Khasi tribal dishes on its menu. We decided to have a simple meal of veg fried rice and paneer manchurian to go along with it. It was time to hit the road to Cherrapunji which was another hour and half drive from here. We continued on our journey crossing numerous small towns and admiring the sight of mountains and valleys along the way. The cool breeze and fresh air rejuvenated our minds and soul. We reached the view point near to Cherrapunji where we get to sight the majestic mountains and mountains valleys of Meghalaya at Lad Mawphlang. This is a popular stop over here and many visitors also try the zip lining activity here which is arranged by the Pioneer adventures of Shillong. There are two lines here – a shorter one and a longer one. The shorter one costs around INR 600 per head and the longer one costs about INR 1200 per head. We were not interested after a long day and we chose to click pictures of the beautiful landscape and then proceed to Cherrapunji. After driving for about another 30 minutes we reached the town of Cherrapunji – the Shade of the Clouds and the Second Wettest place on planet Earth after Mawsynram in Meghalaya. It was around 5 PM and it was already dark. As there was no means of doing any further sightseeing we decided to retire for the day. The stay for our guests was booked at the Sohra Plaza Homestay at Cherrapunji so we went on to check into the place. The Sohra Plaza is a popular stay option here at Cherrapunji. It is not a big place and has a total of 5 rooms to accommodate visitors to Cherrapunji. It is a budget stay with room tariffs starting from INR 2,200. The rooms are spacious and are equipped with television with DTH, hot water geysers and the place also has an inhouse restaurant that serves local Indian food and Chinese items on its menu. Our guests checked in to the room and we decided to rest for the next days trek to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat village. I checked into a small lodge nearby an ordered my dinner of rice, dal and chicken and went to bed early.
Day 2 (March 31, 2018) ~ Cherrapunji & Double Decker Living Root Bridge Trek at Nongriat Village
After a good night’s sleep I got up early at 5 AM. It rained heavily the previous night at Cherrapunji and it was still drizzling in the morning. We had our umbrellas and rain gear ready to start on our long trek to Nongriat Village. I headed over to Sohra Plaza Homestay to greet our guests and to order some breakfast before we left. We ordered Aloo Paratha and Bread Butter along with coffee for breakfast which was served at 8 AM> After our breakfast we started our journey to Tyrna village. We had to cross the market area of Cherrapunji but as it was still early in the morning only a few shops were opened. We could see many children in uniform getting ready to go for schools in and around Cherrapunji. Education is of prime importance in Meghalaya and most of the young kids here are entitled to primary education. It is a good sight to see this across Meghalaya. We reached a petrol bunk and from here we had to take a right to go to Tyrna Village. From here it takes around 30 minutes to reach Tyrna. Along the way we could spot lush green mountains of Cherrapunji along with the various waterfalls here.
After reaching Tyrna village we met our guide who took our bags and assisted us to buy bamboo sticks that would assist us on our walk to Nongriat. We started on our trek down the stairway to Nongriat and we had to climb down a total of 3500 stairs to reach village. We took halts along the way waiting to click picture and admiring the vast natural beauty surrounding us. After reaching down we took time for refreshments of energy drink and biscuits and then continued on our trek. We reached a sacred grove forest of the Khasis and the next step was an old hanging bridge build of iron wires that had a stream flowing beneath it. We had to carefully cross this bridge not to cause any sudden movements on it. After crossing the bridge it was an uphill climb and a little later we were encountered with another suspension bridge. This was an easy one to cross and we headed close to Nongriat village. Before we were about to enter the Nongriat village there was a first Living root bridge to be sighted a much smaller one though. We took our time to click pictures here and then we headed on to see the Double Decker Living Root Bridge of Nongriat. This root bridge is an amazing sight to watch and is the only Double decker living root bridge in the World! There were few visitors already here who were enjoying themselves on the stream that flowed beneath the double decker root bridge. Our visitors were enthralled to see this Bioengineering wonder and they spent a lot of time clicking pictures here. The young one took a chance to enjoy a natural fish spa here. I along with our guide went ahead to eat something at a small shop nearby where I was served with hot maggi and tea. After around an hour we decided to go back to Cherrapunji. The trek back to Tynra village from Cherrapunji is a challenging task due to the steep flight of 3500 stairs. We knew it would be a challenge and hence we were mentally and physically prepared for it. We took adequate breaks to catch our breath and climbed slowly and gradually after a while we got back to the top at Tyrna village. We thanks our guide and paid him and continued back to Cherrapunji to do the remaining sight seeing for the day at the Seven Sister Falls, the Mawsmai Caves and the Nohkalikai Falls.
Our next destination at Cherrapunji was the Mawsmai Caves. We choose the Mawsmai Caves because it was already around 2 PM and this place has a fair number of restaurants that serves good and hygienic food. When we arrived here we could see an army of tourists already gathered here. We managed to find place in one of the restaurants here and we ordered four vegetarian thalis here. The meal was simple but flavorful. After lunch we went on to explore the Mawsmai cave. I did not go in because I had visited it many times earlier. I asked the guests to go inside after explaining the route to them. Mawsmai caves is an interesting cave of Meghalaya. Across Meghalaya there are over 1500 caves many of them have not yet been explored. The World’s longest sandstone cave Krem Puri is located at Mawsynram here. Mawsmai cave is the most visited cave in the state and it has been developed as a touristy location. This cave is well lit inside with light bulbs so that tourists can find their way easily. Only a small portion of the cave has been made accessible to the tourists while the rest of it has been sealed. Once you enter the Mawsmai caves at first you will have to take a right that will take you deep inside the cave where you can see many animal fossils and the various stalactites and stalagmites. The entrances to the caves are short in height and pathway narrow so visitors have to be careful while exploring the cave. Then you come back along the same route, take a diversion to the right and the pathway will lead you out of the Mawsmai cave. Exploring the cave with many tourists who visit takes a total time of around 45 minutes. At times however, when rain waters fill the Mawsmai caves the right passage is closed for visitors and you have to take only the shorter route to explore the cave. After our visitors came out we headed to the next destination for sightseeing – the Seven Sister falls at Cherrapunji.
At the Seven Sister Falls too we were greeted by hundreds of tourists. The Seven Sister Falls or the Nohsngithiang Falls is a seven segmented waterfall in India and is said to be the fourth tallest waterfall in India. It is called as the Seven Sister Falls because the waterfalls is in seven different prominent lines along with smaller lines so the impression gives that there are seven individual waterfalls here. This is among the prominent waterfalls of North East India and a best sight to be witnessed during the monsoons when the rains are in full flow across Meghalaya. The lush valleys of Cherrapunji alongside the Seven Sister Falls is also a wonderful sight to witness here. We spent a little time near the Seven Sister Falls clicking our pictures and then headed to the next destination – the Nohkalikai Falls at Cherrapunji.
The Nohkalikai Falls is located on an outer area of Cherrapunji and is one of the highest points of Cherrapunji. The drive to the Nohkalikai Falls from Cherrapunji town is one of the most scenic drives in India where you pass across the gorgeous valleys of Cherrapunji and the sight gives you a feel like you are in Scotland – as many of our visitors have said. The road is narrow and twisty and one has to be careful while driving. After sometime we reached the Nohkalikai falls. The Nohkalikai falls is the tallest plunge waterfall in India and the third tallest waterfall in India. It is just an amazing spectacle to be witnessed. I had gone to visit the Nohkalikai falls over 50 times but have never got bored of sighting it over and over again. The gushing sound of flowing water fills my body and mind with an utmost solace. Once we reached here at first there was a cover of clouds that hid the waterfall but it cleared in a few minutes and we were able to sight the Nohkalikai falls. Our visitors too agreed that this was one of the most beautiful waterfalls they has ever seen. This waterfall has an interesting folklore behind it to why it is named as Nohkalikai. A Khasi woman named Likai had lost her first husband and she had a daughter from her first marriage. She married again but her second husband did not like the daughter. He would often abuse the daughter and one day when Likai had gone out for work the man killed the daughter and cooked her flesh for food. When Likai came back from work she was very hungry and she quickly had the food of rice and meat. But her eyes fell on the fingers of her daughter wrapped up in betel leaves and put in a corner of the kitchen. She was filled with utmost grief and not knowing what to do of grief and anger she came to the waterfall and jumped off from the edge of the cliff of this waterfall. Since then this waterfall is called the Nohkalikai falls meaning the Leap of Ka Likai. Interesting to be true we read the story on a billboard placed here and then went on ahead to visit the local shops that sell various goods of handicrafts. There are other small shops selling fresh cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and peppercorns that are brought from the local jungles of Cherrapunji. Many small children set up shops here too. They speak fluent english and they go to school in the morning at the Ramakrishna Ashram and later in the day they sell goods to augment their family income. There are larger shops here that sell various other goods including locally grown pineapples. It was about sun down and we decided to retire for the day after visiting the local market at Cherrapunji. As it was already evening, most of the vendors at the local markets had closed their shops and gone back home. We did not get much to see and so we headed back to the Sohra Plaza Homestay to retire for the night and plan our next day visit at Dawki and Mawlynnong.
Day 3 ~ Cherrapunji, Dawki, Mawlynnong & Cherrapunji
Today our visit was scheduled at Dawki – the border of India and Bangladesh and the place known for the clear waters of the Umngot river at Dawki and next at Mawlynnong – Asia’s cleanest village to return to Cherrapunji for night halt. We started at 8 AM after breakfast to Dawki. The beautiful landscape of Meghalaya greeted us and accompanied us along the way to Pynursla. The last town area till we head to Dawki. We halted at Pynursla to refuel our tank and to have a cup of tea. Our next destination for halt was at Dawki. Continuing from Pynursla after 30 minutes the straight road reaches a dead end with two diversions one on the right that leads to Mawlynnong and one on the left that leads to Dawki. We took the left road to Dawki. After crossing a few more places we reached a point where the road starts narrowing down and deteriorates too. This is when you realize that you are closing in on Dawki. As you approach Dawki you start driving down the mountains of Meghalaya reaching the plains of Bangladesh and you can feel the temperature increasing fairly. On your right you can see the plains of Bangladesh and the presence of Border troops of India (BSF – Border Security Force) can be seen around. There are also many trucks to be seen that transport coal and stone across the borders. These trucks are however not suited to ply on such small roads thereby causing inconvenience to other cars. As you start approaching the border you get the first view of the clear waters of the Umngot river and many visitors and locals can be seen fishing, boating and enjoying themselves on the river waters. After a while you reach the small township of Tamabil. Then after crossing Tamabil you will reach the boating point at Dawki where you are sure to get caught is traffic as many cars will be parked alongside the narrow road and vehicular movement becomes difficult due to halting of other cars along the way. Once you are successfully able to pass through this mess you will reach a suspension bridge of Dawki which was built in 1932 by the British. Please no photography on this Bridge due to instructions. This is a one way bridge and only one vehicle is allowed to pass at a time over it. After crossing the bridge you will reach the second boating point at Dawki and then the trucks start to line up ahead of you near the excise office at the border of India and Bangladesh at Dawki. You have to make your way across these trucks and then cross the border heavily patrolled by the security forces of BSF. We parked our car and then approached the security forces seeking their permission to cross the Indian border and reach no man’s land. There were other tourists around and they granted us permission to cross the border. We went ahead and clicked our pictures here and later returned to India to continue to our boating experience at the waters of the Umngot river. Our boatman took us down the cliff to the boating point and we started on our boat ride. There were many visitors here from India on one side and on the other side from Bangladesh as well. We enjoyed our ride on the clear waters and the boat ride lasted for about and hour and a half.
After completing our boating session at Dawki we headed to the cleanest village of Asia at Mawlynnong in Meghalaya. The drive from Dawki to MAwlynnong from an inside route takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes and in this route we travel alongside the border of India and Bangladesh with the BSF outposts present along the way. On the way we also cross two beautiful waterfalls of Meghalaya. The roads are not very good so we had to drive slowly and at around 1.30 PM we reached Mawlynnong. It was a sunday and therefore most of the shops and restaurants were closed. Only one restaurant was open and there were many tourists inside here all awaiting their chance to find a place to sit and have their lunch. We too had to follow the same ordeal and after much struggle we found a place to sit and lunch was served to us. It was a simple meal of rice, dal, potato sabji, pickles and one more sabji. I took an omelette and after lunch we took a short hike across the Cleanest Village in Asia. The small homes and clean surroundings made us feel in touch with nature and we continued to visit the balancing rocks at Mawlynnong village. Next up we headed to visit the Single Decker Living Root Bridge of Riwai at Mawlynnong. This is the most popular tourist spot of Meghalaya as this is the most easily accessible living root bridge in Meghalaya. We bought our tickets and reached the root bridge after a short 10 minute hike. After spending around 30 minutes here we came back to travel back to Cherrapunji at 5 PM. By the time we reached Cherrapunji it was 7.30 PM as the roads were covered with fog and we had to drive very slowly. The guests ordered theri dinner and I went to my homestay to retire for the night and prepare for the next day drive to Kaziranga National Park from Cherrapunji.
Day 4 ~ Cherrapunji, Shillong & Kaziranga National Park
Our visit to Meghalaya was coming to an end today as we planned to bid goodbye to Cherrapunji in the morning to head over to Shillong and then back to Assam to continue to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park. At Shillong we planned to make a halt at the Don Bosco Museum – one of the finest museums of indigenous studies in North East India. We left after breakfast at around 8 AM and travelled across the mountains to reach back to Upper Shillong. It was a Monday and there was quite a bit of traffic on the road from Upper Shillong to Shillong city. The traffic decreased in a while and we reached the Rhino point at Shillong and we headed to the Don Bosco Museum.
It was around 10.30 AM and we moved on to continue our journey to Kaziranga National Park. We crossed Umiam, Barapani, Umshling and Umling to reach Nongpoh. At Nongpoh we decided to take a short break and we stopped here to have a cup of tea and some freshly cut pineapples and cucumber. We would have a late lunch so we took a few bananas to have on the way. We crossed the toll gate at Nongpoh and later reached Burnihat and finally entered Assam at around 12 PM. After this we crossed Sonapur, Jagiroad, Nelli continuing to Raha. At Raha it was around 1.15 PM and we halted to look at the various small shops here that sell coconut water and items of bamboo handicrafts. Our guests picked up a few gift items and then we drove again to reach Nagaon bypass. It was around 2 PM and we stopped for lunch at the Seven Sisters Dhaba here. There are quite a few roadside Restaurants cum Dhabas here which are very neat, clean and modern restaurants that serve hot and delicious food. Most of the travellers of highway halt at these Dhabas for lunch and dinner and these Dhabas serve wonderful traditional Assamese food served on thali. We ordered Assamese Thali that had rice, dal, black dal, fried ladies finger, mixed vegetables sabzi, papad, pickles, salad, chutney and sweet. We finished our lunch quickly and drove off to Kaziranga National Park. After Nagaon the roads is no longer a four ane and also the condition of the road is not very good so we have to drive slowly to avoid the occasional pothole. After Nagaon we crossed Puronigodam, Amoni and Missa to reach Kaliabor.
From Kaliabor a left from the road takes you to the town of Tezpur and this is your gateway to Arunachal Pradesh From here you can go to Nameri National Park, Bhalukpong, Bomdila, Dirang, Sela Pass, Jaswantgarh, Tawang, Bumla Pass, Mechuka, Itanagar, Aalo, Ziro Valley, Pasighat, Lakhimpur and other destinations of Arunachal Pradesh. We chose to head straight to Kaziranga National Park after reaching Jakhalabandha. After crossing Jakhalabandha you can see sign boards welcome you to the Kaziranga National Park. The heritage tea gardens of Kaziranga National Park start greeting you along your way now. The various signs and banners along the road warn you to limit your speed stating the right now you are entering an animal corridor so please drive carefully and limit your speed. There are signages sponsored by Reliance Jio and Numaligarh Refinery Ltd. (NRL) stating the number of animal species found here at Kaziranga National Park along with the numbers, the details of the Big (5) animal species present at Kaziranga National Park and much more. Once we reached a spot here the tea gardens were looking lush green we stopped for a while to click pictures. The magnificent view of the tea gardens at Kaziranga National Park brings a sense of calm to your mind. After this we started on our drive again. At first we enter the Burapahar range of the Kaziranga National park at Gorakhati Forest Subdivision. One can see the various signages of the forest division welcoming you to the Gorakhati range of Kaziranga National Park. It is also from here that the series of speed bumps along the roads of Kaziranga National Park begins. In total there are a total of around 27 speed bumps along the roads which help in reducing the speed of the huge vehicles that ply along the National Highway 37 that passes along the entire area of the Kaziranga National Park from across the five ranges of the park.
A little while later on the drive we could see the entrance gate of the Burapahar safari range. From there we continue the drive to reach Bagori Safari range at Kaziranga National Park. From here the major Hotels and Resorts at Kaziranga National Park begin. At first you will find the Kholong – the Green Village resort. Next up are the Landmark Woods Resort and the Bonroja Motel. After the Bonroja motel just adjacent to it is the entrance gate of the Bagori Safari range of Kaziranga National Park. The Elephant Safari rides for Indian Nationals are conducted here at the Bagori Safari range of Kaziranga National Park. Also the Jeep Safaris are conducted here too at the Bagori Safari Range. Along the entire area of Bagori one can find many roadside Dhabas. These Dhabas serve as the midway halt for the trucks plying on NH-37 transporting goods between Guwahati and the major towns of Upper Assam mostly at Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and vice versa. Next up we find the La Vue Resort and a little ahead is the JB’s Resort at Kaziranga National Park.
Next up is the Rhino View Point in between the Bagori and Kohora Safari ranges of Kaziranga National Park. We stopped here and we could see many One Horned Rhinoceros in the open fields. Along with the Rhinoceros there were many deers, a few Asiatic Wild Water Buffaloes and many varied species of Birds some perched stop the rhinoceros and water buffaloes. There were vendors waiting here who were giving out binoculars on rent for a very small amount. We took two binoculars from them and were able to get a very clean sighting of the rhinoceros here at the viewpoint of Kaziranga National Park.
We left the view point and headed further. Next up we reach the mountain crossing of Burapahar. This is a landslide zone during monsoons so vehicles are advised to drive slowly and carefully here. Once you cross the mountains there is a famous temple here called as the Bur Aai Mandir. Most of the vehicle drivers along this route halt at this temple to seek blessings for a safe journey. I have been praying here since my childhood whenever I cross Kaziranga National Park and hence we made a quick stop here and I offered my prayers here. Later we continued on our drive. All along the drive there is only greenery around. The sight of the majestic tea gardens are also very soothing to the eyes. Next up we arrive at the Kohora range of the Kaziranga National Park. The main safari range of Kaziranga National Park, Kohora is where the most luxurious resorts of Kaziranga National Park are present. Kohora is a small township area in Kaziranga National Park famous for its jungle safari range and also the varioustea estates. On the left hand side of the main town of Kohora is the entry gate of the Safari range and on the right hand side there is an Assam Tourism Tourist Complex. Just at the Market area there are two budget guest houses namely the Rhino Cafe and the Drongo Guest House. There are also many shops that sell eatables and fruits. There is a tourist information office operated by Koyeli Travels and also two retails outlets of Assam Tea. The very popular one among these two is the Hathikuli Retail Outlet of Tata Tea. CTC Tea here costs around INR 300 per Kg. They also offer other varieties of tea ike green tea, organic tea and tea leaves too. There are a few good restaurants around the Kohora town as well – the Pelican Dhaba and the Maihang Restaurant offers delicious ethnic Assamese meals to its guests. Once you cross the main entrance gate of Kohora various homestays, tourist lodges, guest houses and resorts start greeting you. The first on the left comes the Anabill Homestay and the Namdang Guest House along with the Santi Lodge. On the right side of the road you will find the Kaziranga Florican Lodge and the Nightingale Nest. Then comes the Kohora SBI ATM. After crossing the ATM on the right hand side there is a small lane. In this lane you will find the Bora’s Homestay, the T G Resort, the Kaziranga Resort, the Bonhabi Resort and the Subhalaya Guest House at Kaziranga National Park. A little ahead there is another lane where you can find the IORA Resort and the Emerald Resort at Kaziranga National Park. Then comes the Kaziranga Orchid and Biodiversity Park – the Largest Orchid Park in India. This would be our next stop before checking into the Nature Hunt Eco Camp at Kaziranga National Park.
The Kaziranga Orchid and Biodiversity Park is run by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti – a peasant organization based in Assam. This park spreads over a sprawling area and has an Orchid garden, a rice museum, a museum of handicrafts and handlooms, a cactus garden, a small amphitheatre where traditional songs and dances of Assam are organized, an Ethnic restaurant, a huge lake where there is boating facility anda souvenir shop. The entry ticket to the Kaziranga Orchid and Biodiversity Park costs INR 100 for Indian Nationals and INR 500 for Foreign Nationals. We bought our tickets and headed to explore the Kaziranga Orchid Park. Once we stepped into the park on the right hand side is a greenhouse that has various species of orchids from across Assam and other North East Indian States. We were welcomed by a young girl who would act as our guide and show us around the greenhouse explaining about the species of orchids blooming. We took our time exploring these beautiful plants and many of these plants had their local names as well as scientific names written alongside in placards. Once we finished the tour of the greenhouse of the Kaziranga Orchid Park we came out to see the various handlooms of Assam on display.There were traditional looms of the tribes of Assam on display and we saw a Mishing lady weaving traditional Mishing handloom on one of the looms. The end result was looking very colorful and elegant. In this area there are also various bamboo handicrafts kept on display like traditional farming tools and fishing traps all made up either of bamboo or cane and all these tools were handmade. Next there is a small rooms that displays in pictures various historic monuments of Assam and North East India. We could see the Kareng Ghar, the Talatal Ghar and the Rang Ghar monuments of the Ahom Kingdom at Sibsagar in Assam. Next on we headed to the rice museum of the Kaziranga Orchid Park. Here around 200 varieties of rice all grown in Assam are put up on display. Alongside this there is a display hall of pictures of various orchid species of North East India. Adjacent to it is a souvenir shop where visitors can buy various organic products like pickles and traditional souvenirs. Then there is a small open area where young boys and girls perform the traditional folk dances of Assam ike the bamboo dance and the colorful Bihu dance. We sat down and enjoyed these live dance performances. Next we headed to visit the cactus garden at the Kaziranga Orchid park. We saw the various cactus species here. We did not plan to go on boating on the lake here as it was getting dark and we decided to have a cup of tea here and then move on to our place of night halt. The tea was very flavorful and we moved out of the Kaziranga Orchid Park. On the outside there are many small shops selling souvenir items like rhino models crafted out of wood, various handlooms, tea, ginger, honey, pepper, etc. Our guests bought a few rhino models to take home to Bangalore with them. As we were preparing to leave the Kaziranga Orchid Park while I was reversing the car I did not see behind properly and I mistakenly hit my car bumper into a tree. Though not much of a damage happened the rear bumper came out of its slot slightly.
Next we headed to the Nature Hunt Eco Camp at Kaziranga National Park. The Nature Hunt Eco Camp lies between the Kohora and Agoratoli range of Kaziranga National Park. One has to take a diversion to the right of the main road and then travel for another 200 meters to find this beautiful place here at Kaziranga National Park. Started in 2010 as a small setup with tented accommodation, the Nature Hunt Eco Camp has come a long way today in terms of infrastructure and excellent service. Today the camp has 6 traditional Assamese Style Cottages and a big dormitory set amidst a natural campus which is filled with tea gardens and natural greenery all around. There is a dining area and a reception cum lounge area at the center of the property that proudly illustrates its Tripadvisor rating as the best in class service provider in Hospitality at Kaziranga National Park. The Nature Hunt Eco Camp is run by two dynamic youths Ronnie Bordoloi and Shankuraj Khound who belong from Assam and have been involved in the tourism and hospitality sector of Assam since 2008. The operations at the Camp are headed by an equally able Manager – Mr. Aovick Dasgupta who spends all of his time at the Camp providing individual attention to all their visitors here at the Nature Hunt Eco Camp. The property offers double and triple sharing accomodations for its guests while the dormitory offers stay options to around 7 people. We had booked a traditional Assamese Cottage with twin occupancy with a provision for an extra bed for our guests. Our guests checked into their rooms and I went ahead to discuss days arrangements with Aovick the manager of Nature Hunt Eco Camp. I checked with him for the Elephant Safari and Jeep Safari bookings for the next day. He told me that everything was in place and only the Elephant Safari time was not yet confirmed. It could be either at the 5.30 AM slot or the 6.30 AM slot. I asked him to try to book the 6.30 AM slot for us and he told me that he would try his best. So I bid goodbye to everyone for the night and now it was time for me to check out my place for stay for the night as I didn’t book any place priorly. I always stay at the Subhalaya Guest House at Kohora during my visits to Kaziranga National Park and so I headed there. My luck was good and this place was not occupied that evening. I easily found a room and refreshed myself. While I wanted to go out to the Pelican Shaba to have my dinner but I was dead tired after the long drive from Cherrapunji so I offered the caretaker at the guest house a hundred rupees to get me food from here (I would burnt the same amount of fuel going and coming back). The young guy readily agreed and I ordered for fish curry, rice and dal from here. I turned on the television to relax for a while and it was then Aovick called to give me the news that the Elephant Safari slot was at 5 AM. It was a disappointment to hear it as it meant that now I had to get up at 4AM to take my guests from Kohora to Bagori to the Elephant Safari range. So I decided to retire early and after having my dinner I went to bed at around 9.30 PM.
Day 5 ~ Kaziranga National Park & Majuli Island
The alarm went off at 3.50 Am and I quickly get ready to take our guests from the Nature Hunt Eco Camp to the Bagori Safari range at Kaziranga National Park. A boy named Bodo from Nature Hunt Eco Camp also joined us to check in our guests safely at the Elephant Safari ride. We reached Bagori Safari range at 4.45 AM and the place was already filled with many tourist vehicles who had brought along their guests to Kaziranga National Park. Bodo took our guests to the Safari office and handed them their tickets and took them inside to board their Elephant Safari. I did not go in there and decided to have a cup of tea and biscuits while I waited for my guests to come back from the Elephant Safari ride. I had been earlier on Elephant Safaris into the interiors of Kaziranga National Park from the Bagori Safari range. It is quite a bumpy ride. The Mahouts are well trained to handle their elephants and they take every step to make your ride a comfortable one. The Elephant Safari rides at Kaziranga National Park lasts for about an hour and these elephants take you into the reserves of Kaziranga National Park and being as huge as they are they can go close to the rhinoceros at Kaziranga National Park so that you can get a close view of these majestic animal species. You can go around on the elephant back and come back to the safari endpoint. While I waited I could hear the various vehicle drivers discussing their tours and their guests as to which places they had come from in India and how their food and lifestyle habits differed from our people here in Assam. It was interesting to hear their conversation. After an hour the guests came back and we headed back to the Nature Hunt Eco Camp. I was still sleepy as I got up very early and it was only 6.30 Am. I asked Aovick to arrange for the Jeep Safari for my guests and decided to go back to my room to take another nap because I had to drive the vehicle to Majuli Island after this.
By the time I got up is was 9 AM and I decided to have my bath and breakfast and go back to Nature Hunt Eco Camp. I arrived at 10.30 AM and the guests had not yet arrived back from their Jee Safari ride. Aovick offered me another round of breakfast and the hot puri sabji tempted me and I ate them. By the time the guests arrived back it was already 11.45 AM and we had to rush to be able to be on time to catch the ferry from Neemati Ghat to Majuli Island. After refuelling the tank at a fuel station we headed directly to Neemati Ghat near Jorhat. During our journey we crossed the Agoratoli safari range, Bokakhat, Numaligarh, Dergaon to reach Jorhat. We took the Jorhat bypass to go to Neemati Ghat which took us about 20 minutes from here. By the time we reached Neemati Ghat it was 2 PM. The ferry boat was scheduled at 3 PM but it is always advisable to reach early because there would be many vehicles awaiting their turn to load on the boat and a big ferry can accommodate a maximum of 6 cars only. We were no. 3 in line and it was assured that we could board this ferry and it was also the last ferry for the day to Majuli Island. I met a few of my friends here who had come to Jorhat and now were returning back to Majuli. While I spoke to then I asked the guests to eat something at the local restaurants here. The boat finally arrived at 2.30 Pm and I got my vehicle loaded on the ferry. I also had to buy individual ticket for the passengers and also pay for the vehicle. The ferry finally started its journey at 3 PM and we headed off to the Largest River Island in the World – Majuli Island. The ferry ride takes about 1 hours time downstream to reach the Kamalabari Ghat at Majuli Island. The ferry was completely packed and people also went on top to find a place to sit there. A group of men gathered on top and they started playing cards. I sat alongside them and watched them enjoy their game of cards. I came down after a little while and brought tea for myself and our guests. There is a small shop inside the ferry that sells packed snacks and tea. By the time we sipped our tea we admired the beauty of the mighty Brahmaputra river. We tried to see if we could spot river dolphins but our luck didn’t favour us. The sky horizon looked amazing with the gradually setting sun and the cool breeze made us feel very close to nature far away from the noise and pollution of a city life. We arrived at the Kamalabari Ghat at 4 PM and I offloaded my car and we started on our drive to the heart of Majuli Island at Garamur. We finally arrived at Majuli at 4.30 PM.
The guests were booked at the La Maison De Ananda – the Homestay property at Majuli Island owned by the pioneer of the tourism industry at Majuli Island Mr. Danny Gam. Danny Gam built this property with the assistance of two French architects who had come to Majuli Island in 2005 and they wanted to start a good place for the stay of tourists here. From a modest beginning today the La Maison De Ananda is the most favored stay option here. One traditional bamboo cottage built in the traditional Mishing tribe some style on an elevated platform and the other is a concrete cottage that is built with bricks and mortar and modern fittings. Our guests choose to stay at the concrete cottage and Mahendra Payeng the caretaker of the La Maison De Ananda helped the guests to check into their room. I headed to my own property at Majuli Island – the La Lolat Eco Camp. My caretakers Anil and Baskor were there at the Camp along with a few guests from Israel who were halting at my camp. I went in to greet the guests and I discussed their stay here. They were very satisfied with the services provided by Anil and Baskor and also were okay with the costs of the tents we were charging. The La Lolat Eco Camp was an initiative of Danny Gam and myself to provide budget friendly accomodations to backpackers at Majuli Island. It is a basic set up with six tents for the stay of our visitors along with a common bathroom and a kitchen um dining area.
I went in and got out my luggage from the car and checked it into a tent. I asked Anil and Baskor for their preparations for dinner for the evening and paid them some money to buy groceries, vegetables and meat from the nearby market. I had also invited our guests over for dinner at our camp so the guys were informed to cook vegetable curry and fry along with traditional dal and brown rice for our guests as they were vegetarians. I got refreshed and went to pick our guests to watch the performance of Sattriya Nritya at the Uttar Kamalabari Satra here in Majuli Island. The arrangements were not yet ready so we decided to grab a bite to eat at the newly opened Majuli Cycle Cafe at Garmur. We ordered for veg rolls and coffee and by the time it we finished eating it was 7 PM. We headed to the Uttar Kamalabari Satra to witness the classical dance form of India in person. By the time the Sattriya Nritya performance started it was almost 8 PM and we could see young boys all dressed in traditional Sattriya attire assume their positions to begin the dance. Below is the video recording of the performance.
After the performance we headed to the La Lolat Eco Camp for dinner. Anil and Baskor had prepared an elaborate dinner of rice, dal, mixed vegetables, a brinjal and potato curry along with papad, chutney and salad for the guests. The guests from Israel were not yet back to the camp so I asked the guests to have their dinner early. The meal was delicious and our guests appreciated the efforts of Anil and Baskor and after dinner they decided to walk back to La Maison De Ananda. Few of my friends from majuli came along to meet me and they bought ‘Apong’ – a traditional Mishing Rice Beer along with them and the guests from Israel were also back. We offered them rice beer and they readily agrees. We discussed Majuli for sometime and then after dinner we went to bed.
Day 6 ~ Majuli Island
The next day we were scheduled to explore Majuli Island. I went to pick up our guests who were ready and having Breakfast. At first we set out to explore the Auniati Satra at Majuli Island in the Kamalabari area. The Auniati Satra is one of the most prominent Neo Vaishnavite Satras of Majuli Island. Once you arrive at the Sri Sri Auniati Satra in Majuli Island, you can see various small shops selling items that are needed to offer prayers at the Namghar of the Satra like oil, incense sticks, sweets, religious threads, etc. At first we went to open our shoes in the designated area near the Satra and then we went to buy a puja thali to be offered at the Namghar of the Auniati Satra. We bought a simple thali that cost us INR 80 and we went on inside the Auniati Satra at Majuli Island. On entering the Satra we had to walk a little and take a right to reach the Namghar area of the Satra. An elaborately decorated door welcomes you along with a statue of Garuda. Once you are inside the Namghar there is a place where you can light the earthen lamps and burn the incense sticks you bring along. There will be Monks sitting in the large hall area of the Namghar and reciting hymns in the praise of the Lord. The entire atmosphere fills your mind with peace. Then we went ahead inside the deity hall of the Auniati Satra and offered our prayers and donations here. There are monks here who bless you with flowers. Then we came out of the Namghar to see an age old trunk of a tulsi tree. It is a huge sized trunk of a Tulsi tree that used to be present in the earlier days. These days the tulsi grows generally as a shrub and doesn’t grow so big. After admiring the tree trunk we came to visit the Museum inside the premises of the Auniati Satra.
We had to pay a small entrance fee to enter this museum. This museum contains relics and artefacts from the ancient days of the establishment of the Satra and from the days of the Ahom Kingdom as well. The most prominent artefacts here are the items made out of ivory like chess boards, footwear, walking sticks, small chairs, etc. The ancient robes of the Ahom Kings along with the sword used by the brave General Lachit Borphukan re also the prime attractions of this museum. There are various traditional musical instruments made out of bell metal and copper put on display here. We spent about 30 minutes here at the museum and finally left the Auniati Satra to head to our next destination – the Samaguri Satra at Majuli Island. The Samaguri Satra is located around a 30 minute drive from the Auniati Satra in Majuli Island and is famous for its art of traditional mask making. Mask making was very popular during the time of the Holy Saint Srimanta Shankardeva who introduced these mask to depict the various mythological characters so that people could identify them in the plays. They were conceptualized as a tool by Shrimanta Shankaradeva to make and depict the characters of ‘Srimad Bhagwat’ to the devotees. Masks helped to provide a physical form to the puranic characters. They also helped people to associate with the character and expressions of the mythical heroes. The Samaguri Satra has been carrying forward this ancient art and preserving this dying art form under the able guidance of its Satradhikar Sri Hemchandra Goswami.
We had to drive through various Mishing villages to reach the Samaguri Satra in Majuli Island. Along the drive we could see various traditional bamboo cottages of the Mishing people and we realized the poverty around here. Every year the Brahmaputra river erodes a major chunk of this island during the floods and people lose their houses and cattle. We could see the remains of the eroded portions of certain villages along our way. In sometime we reached the Samaguri Satra in Majuli Island. Once you enter the Satra you will be greeted with various forms of traditional masks that are put up on display here. The day we reached the Samaguri Satra, Sri Hemchandra Goswami was present at the Satra and also present were his students who were learning the art of mask making with him. Sri Hem Chandra Goswami at the Samaguri Satra of Majuli has been practicing this art since the last 20 years and he continues to train artisans of the island to learn the art of mask making thus keeping alive this tradition.
Masks are used for religious performances and traditional dramas. Mainly materials like bamboo and cane, cloth, clay and rock color etc are used for making masks. In some case wood may also be used. Traditionally three types of masks are prepared viz.
- Mukha: these are face masks.
- Lotokai mukha: this type of mask is used to move lips, eyes hands etc.
- Bor mukha: this is nearly life size or even larger in special cases.
Traditionally, first the frame of mask is prepared using bamboo and string etc, then using color and cloth the final finishing is done by the master craftsmen. Bhakats plant trees as per their requirement and maintenance of these trees are also their responsibility.
There are two types of masks based on frame material used:
- Made of bamboo
- Made of paper
Bamboo is spliced into small pieces and long thin sticks are crafted into a skeleton of bamboo shaped as per requirement of the character. Over that, a layer of cow dung or clayey soil is applied for minute details such as nose, eyes, ears and others. A piece of cloth is stuck over that with gum and dried in sun. Hengul, Haital, Neel, and Balichanda (mica) is applied for accentuation.The paper mache masks are made with clay cast. The clay is shaped with a knife, seeds of Bihmana or Kendu is crushed for making the gum which is applied over the pieces of paper. They are then soaked and cast on the clay cast. Hengul, haiatal, Neel, Dhalmati etc are powdered on a brass plate with stone and they are applied for color. The brush used is made of cat’s hair stuck on a pointed bamboo. The colors and dyes are stored in small bamboo nodes.
The paper masks are used only for making headgear. For other parts bamboo, mud, and cloth are used. The masks that are made for the characters of Brahma, Hansa, Ganesha, Gaduda, Jatayu, ten headed Ravana, Kumbhkarna, Taraka, Maricha, Subahu, Putana, Chakravat, Kaliya Naag, Bakasura, Aghasura, Dhenukasura, Batsasura, Hanuman, Jambuban, Baraha, Nar Simha etc. Masks for Krishna, Rama, Lakhshmana are not made. For the day of the performance they are regarded as the God’s incarnation. Apart from these the craftsmen also prepare Dadhishal, rathas (chariots) for war, swords, Gada, Bow and arrow, axes, trishula, Vajra, Chakra, Headgear, Nupur, full sized cow, horses etc are also made as per the need of the story being recited.
A little later we headed inside the main room of the Satra that displays the various masks of Majuli. Here a person even demonstrates the art of using these masks and performing at a Bhaona. It was an interesting sight to see the person performing various steps of the mythological characters that are enacted in the Bhaona. We watched this performance for sometime and then Sri Hemchandra Goswami came in to explain the heritage of the art of mask making to us. After listening carefully to all he had to say we finally bid goodbye to the Samaguri Satra of Majuli Island after offering a small donation to the Satra as our appreciation of keeping this heritage art form alive.
Next we headed to the Salmora village famous for its art of traditional pottery making in Majuli Island. This village is quite close to the Samaguri Satra and we arrived in a short while here. I had asked for a village family earlier to arrange for a session to show us how they make these traditional earthen pottery. An interesting fact here is that they do not use any pottery wheel in moulding these pottery products and instead they use they hands to give shape and structure to the pots and other items which they produce here. The clay used is a special clay that is brought from the river banks of the Brahmaputra river after digging a deep hole in the sand bed and then extracting the mud from there. The lady of the house brought some mud and water and she started to make the pottery products in front of our eyes. It was an interesting art form and within minutes she had made two pots and another item and demonstrated it in front of our guests. We were really intrigued by her quick actions and the final outcome of her efforts. She kept the products to dry out in the sun. After discussing other talks as to how they transport their produce, their source of income and other we finally bid goodbye to the Salmora village and headed back to Garmur area in Majuli.
It was around 2 PM by the time we reached Garmur so we decided to have lunch as we did not have much to do in the afternoon only cycling and visiting the riverside. I stopped at the Ural restaurant in Garmur – one of the only available decent restaurants here in Majuli. Ural serves its visitors simple yet delicious food in a traditional Assamese Thali style. The vegetarian offering is good here so I asked our guests to have their lunch here while I headed to another place where they serve delicious fish curry and i prefer non-vegetarian food.
After lunch I dropped the guests at the La Maison De Ananda and they would bring along their cycles to go to the river sid and I went back to the La Lolat Eco Camp. After about half an hour they came on their cycles and I borrowed Anil’s cycle and we headed to the banks of the River Luit at a nearby village. Here we spent some time by the river banks and watched the local people taking out their boats and going fishing. We admired the bright colored sky during the sunset and then returned back. Dinner today again was arranged at my Camp and my friend Mr. Rupam had prepared an elaborate feast for our guests consisting of black dal cooked over fire, brown rice, local ferns, roasted tomato chutney, fried small round potatoes, roasted brinjal over fire, salad, papad, etc. Guests were enthralled after the dinner and they even asked for a second helping. After dinner we said goodbye and today would be our last evening at Majuli Island.
Day 6 ~ Majuli Island & Guwahati
Next morning we started early to reach the Kamalabari Ghat to catch the 8.30 AM ferry to Neemati Ghat and continue on our journey back to Guwahati. It was a long six hour drive from Jorhat along with a one and half hour long ferry ride. We got the car loaded onto the ferry and then reached Neemati at around 10 AM. By the time we reached Jorhat it was 10.30 AM and we stopped to have our breakfast. Net stop was at Kaziranga National Park to refuel and then to buy tea from the Hathikuli retail outlet. Next we stopped at Amoni for lunch at the Triptire Ahaaz restaurant operated by Assam Tourism Department. An elaborate thali was served to us and after lunch we headed directly to Guwahati to arrive at 5 PM. The stay was booked at Hotel NE Zone at Guwahati. I dropped our guests here and then headed home for the night.
Day 7 ~ Guwahati City & Guwahati Airport
Today we were set to explore the city of Guwahati before our guests depart by the evening flight back to Bangalore. After breakfast we headed to visit the Umananda Temple on the World’s smallest inhabited river island of Umananda in Guwahati city. We proceeded to the Uzaan Bazar area here in Guwahati where we had to park our vehicle and then board a ferry boat to reach Umananda Island. After reaching the Island we had to climb a stairway to reach the temple premises. We bought a puja thali and headed to seek blessings inside the Temple. The Umananda Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it is said that Lord Shiva stayed here in the Umananda Island with Goddess Parvati. It is also believed that while Lord Shiva was meditating here at Umananda Island, Kamadeva – the God of Love was interrupting him during his meditation. Lord Shiva got so angry that he opened his third eye and burnt Lord Kamadeva with this and hence this hillock on which the temple is located is called the Bhasmachala hill. We went inside the temple dome where we offered our prayers to the Lord. There are other temples around and we just had a glance at these temples and came down. The Umananda Island was earlier famous for its population of the Golden langurs – a highly endangered Primate species whose population is now limited only to Assam and Bhutan. At present there is only one male langur surviving here as authorities have shifted the female langur to the Assam State Zoo. We were fortunate enough to spot the male langur in its natural habitat and after clicking pictures we headed back to Uzaan Bazar. Next up we visited the Assam State Museum at Ambari.
After this we had our lunch at the Steaming Mug Cafe at Ambari and next we headed to the Maa Kamakhya Temple.As we didn’t have much time in our hands we did not enter the main temple shrine of the Kamakhya Temple. Instead we visited it from outside and headed to the Guwahati Airport. I dropped our guests and bid them goodbye to come an end of our eight day long journey across North East India across Assam and Meghalaya.