Brahmaputra River Cruise Day 3
Bramaputra River Cruise - Day 3 Majuli Island
After breakfast was served in the main lounge, we turned our chairs round to face the screen for today’s briefing. I really like this way of explaining about the culture and the day ahead; far better than doing it in the destination as it gives you more time when you are there to explore, rather than crowding round one person trying to listen.
Today Payal explained exactly where we were geographically and drilled down from a map of India to focus on the Assam region and show us how the mighty Brahmaputra River divides the area into north and south. Majuli Island is the largest river island in the world, however due to the ever present river erosion; it has shrunk from 483 square miles down to 163 square miles. It is only accessible by ferries and small boats.
Shagzil focused on the Mishing people and how they had made the island of Majuli their home - Mishing means "water people". The Mishing people are descended from Mongolian stock, and can look slightly South East Asian rather than classic Indian, and are the main tribe along the Brahmaputra River.
The Mishing or Miri people as they are also known, are the largest tribal group in North East India with a population of some 16,000, and are known as a more peaceful tribe than others, with many of them having embraced the Vaishnavite religion, one of the major branches of Hinduism. Their main occupations are in agriculture, growing crops such as rice, mustard, maize, vegetables, and bamboo, mainly for their own use but they do sell mustard to raise money. Weaving is also carried by the Mishing, and they also make all their own tools for daily life, such as baskets, boxes, fish traps, etc and seemed proficient in crafting all sorts of things out of bamboo, including their houses which are built on stilts to avoid the rising flood waters of the Brahmaputra river.
By this time the MV Mahabaahu had left its moorings and was heading to Majuli Island. This was the first time the ship had sailed and it was so smooth we didn’t realise we had left.
As we were sailing we could witness the erosion of the banks taking place right before our eyes, it was like Alaskan glacier calving but on a much smaller scale. The ship had reached the island and we anchored in the river near the ferry dock, basically a large floating pontoon. As the islands are all basically large sand bars, the area is prone to a lot of erosion and the original docking area had been washed away.
One of the ships tenders
We had to take the ships launches (tenders) to the shore, and were all given lightweight life jackets to wear before boarding. The amiable crew were on hand to assist us putting them on and we made our way outside and onto the mooring deck, down some steps and straight onto the tender. Very easy and I felt extremely safe doing so. The tender was a large open topped boat with plenty of seating.
Guests in the MV Mahabaahu Tender
The ship has two tenders and the entire compliment of passengers can get ashore in these so it wasn’t long before all guests had disembarked and had landed on the floating pontoon that served as the ferry docking area.
One empty tender, another on its way!
We made our way to a fleet of jeeps and boarded (three guests to a jeep). We were provided with dust masks as the jeeps kicked up a lot of sand as we were not yet on solid roads.
The fleet of smart Jeeps as seen from the tender
As we were heading off Payal saw some herons by the waterside so we stopped for photos and to take a look. She had the ships binoculars with her and was passing them around so all guests had the opportunity to view the birds.
Herons on Majuli Island, Assam, India
Back in the Jeeps and we were soon on the Tarmac roads. The island was so green and lush, with paddy fields on one side and small holdings on the other. Not so many vehicles on the island as the mainland so the drive was not quite so hair-raising, thankfully, but still a bit bumpy!
Mukhabbavana Dance, Majuli, Assam, India
We soon arrived at a clearing next to the river bank and made our way to a grass clearing complete with chairs to enjoy a dance performance of Mukhabbavana, an extract from Ramayana. We also saw a solo performance of Sutradhara, followed by an exciting interpretation of Dashavatar.
After some Indian tea and cookies we had plenty of time for photos, one of the dancers placed their mask on my head for photos! But my head was too big to work the mouth piece! Other guests were dressed up in traditional outfits.
Kamalabari Satra Monastery, Majuli Island
Back on the jeeps and we headed to Kamalabari Satra, a monastery that also offered hostel facilities to local boys, some of whom entered the monastery at age 4.
Kamalabari Satra Monastery
Their parents chose to send them there, as the monastery can offer their children better education, shelter and lifestyle than they could provide themselves.
As we arrived the priests were preparing for a performance later in the day, and it was great to watch them apply their make-up.
Gayan Bayan performance
We were ushered into the main temple for our devotional performance of the Gayan Bayan that lasted a good 20 minutes. After this we had time to mooch around, and I met two young monks who were also getting ready for the performance later in the day.
After our trip here we drove back to the ferry port, along the dusty track again!
Majuli Island, Assam, India
Back on board
Embarking the MV Mahabaahu from the tender
That afternoon as we were sailing the Brahmaputra, we headed up on the sun deck to watch the scenery pass lazily by. It was a mixture of barren white sandy islets and areas of tropical jungle. Every year at monsoon season various islands as are flooded, some washed away for ever and new ones are formed all the time. We had a local pilot on board with us and we were following a research vessel that helped navigate the ever changing river.
Sandy embankment on the Bramaputra River
The river at this point was as wide as far as the eye could see, punctuated with sand bars, islets and more established islands thick with vegetation. At low water the river is 10km at its widest point and 1km at its narrowest, and is a great example of a braided river. The Brahmaputra river upper course was long unknown, and it’s identity with the Yarlong Tsango river in Tibet was only established by exploration in 1884. Starting in the Tibetan Himalayas, the river flows along the suture line of two tectonic plates, and at an average height of 4,000 metres is the highest of the major rivers in the world.
Herons on the Brahmaputra River, Assam, India
We spotted cormorants, herons and other bird life as we sailed toward the sunset, including a very brief glimpse of the elusive river dolphins. Unlike their sea going cousins, these dolphins do not play in the ships wake, but stay submerged for up to 3 minutes before briefly surfacing for a breath of air. It really is a case of blink and you will miss them. Pink coloured with long snouts, to me they resemble the dolphins found in the Amazon River. Hopefully we will see more as the cruise progresses.
Jungle along the banks of the Brahmaputra River
We cruised down the river for a good few hours enjoying the warm breeze and occasional fisherman that we saw sailing by; this is what it’s all about, it was a magical moment and you really felt you were off the beaten track and miles away from civilisation, perfect.
Deserted Island & BBQ
At about 6 pm before dinner we had pulled up against a sand bank with some sparse vegetation on it, and barely little else. The crew managed to erect a gang plank out of bamboo and rope, and even managed to tie on a handrail! It caused much excitement, especially when one of the crew had to use a bamboo pole and pole-vault off the ship to anchor our moorings!
Building the gangway
Once secured we were free to debark and we wandered over to an area that had been set up with tables and chairs and a BBQ - now the sun had gone down and it was really dark! A bonfire was set up ready to be lit but as it was windy they decided not to do this.
MV Mahabaahu tied up to a deserted island
It was great sitting on this uninhabited deserted island, sipping beer and chatting to our fellow guests - truly a unique experience. Back on the ship for 7pm for dinner, this consisted of Indian dishes, salads and European cuisine. All the food so far has been delicious and it’s been great trying authentic Indian food.
Food on board MV Mahabaahu
After dinner we went to the Soma Bar and Shagzil was playing a popular Indian board game called Carron, kind of like billiards but with disks (think draughts) where you had to flick the puck against other pieces in order to get them into the corner pockets.
Great fun and easy to learn, but hard to master! Shagzil had been playing since he was a kid and pulled out some amazing rebound shots that sent the pieces flying around the board and into the corner pockets. Very impressive! My moves were not nearly as good! Great fun and I hope to play it again during the cruise.
We stayed tied up to this island overnight, as the ship is not allowed to sail in the dark.
Links to the rest of the blogs
- Brahmaputra River Cruise - Day 1 - Local market and embarkation
- Bramaputra River Cruise - Day 2 - Sibasaga, Assam, India
- Bramaputra River Cruise - Day 3 - Majuli Island
- Bramaputra River Cruise - Day 4 - Mishing Village & Kaziranga boat safari
- Brahmaputra River Cruise Day 5 - Bishwanath Ghat & Tea estate
- Brahmaputra River Cruise Day 6 - Kaziranga National Park
- Brahmaputra River Cruise Day 7 - On board & island BBQ
- Brahmaputra River Cruise Day 8 - Kamakhya Temple & summary
MV Mahabaahu Video - showing cabins, public rooms and destinations
For more information or to book this trip see here - Brahmaputra River Cruise
All images and text (c) Scott Anderson - The Luxury Cruise Company 2014