Assam: The Land of Fun &
Brahmaputra River Cruise & Tribal Tour
One of the great rivers of Asia, the Brahmaputra commences its 3,000-km
journey to the Bay of Bengal from the slopes of Mount Kailash in western
Tibet. As Tibet’s great river, the Tsangpo, transverses east across the
high-altitude Tibetan plateau north of the Great Himalayan Range,
carving out myriad channels and sandbanks on its way. As it tumbles from
the Himalayan heights towards the plains of the subcontinent it twists
back on itself, cutting a deep and still unnavigated gorge, until
finally turning south it emerges in Arunachal Pradesh as the Dihong.
Just beyond Pasighat, it meets the Dibang and Lohit in the north-east
state of Assam (India) and finally becomes the Brahmaputra.
India’s North East is one of the few regions in the world where
communities live close to nature, nurtured by ancient tribal knowledge
systems. More than 70 per cent of Assam’s population depends on
agriculture and forest resources for its livelihood. But the region’s
environment and an entire way of life are endangered by a long history
of acute underdevelopment and violent conflict.
Most of Assam’s population lives in the Brahmaputra River valley – a
river so wide that its far bank cannot be seen in places. The river’s
tributaries feed production of the local crops, especially rice – the
staple of the region. This is one of the rainiest places on earth. Each
monsoon season, rains of up to 118 inches create floods on the
Brahmaputra, washing away stretches of highway and causing wildlife to
flee low-lying forest areas for higher ground.
It is over 50 years since the last daily passenger boat from Calcutta
travelled through Assam along the Brahmaputra River with a mixed
complement of tea planters, forest officers, soldiers and magistrates.
This trip recreates the romance of that classic journey.
Majuli Island has been the cultural capital of Assam for the past five
hundred years. It has also been the cradle of Assamese civilization.
Although the exact origin of Majuli may be a point of contention,
written records are found of the visit of Shankardeva, a social
reformer, during the 16th century. He promulgated a form of Hinduism
that was also called vaishnavism. He established monasteries or
hermitages that were called satras. These satras became the hub of
culture, art, religion and lifestyle. Even today these satras preserve
weapons, utensils, jewelry and other articles of cultural importance.
The tribal folk culture of Majuli is also intersting. These include the
Mishing tribes from the state of Arunachal who have migrated here many
centuries ago. In addition, the
inhabitants also include the Deori tribe. These people have an ethnic
culture, music and dance forms untouched by modernism. The handloom work
of these tribes is famous, and pottery is made in Majuli from beaten
clay and burnt in driftwood-fired kilns just the way it was done in the
Since the atmosphere is washed ever so often by the rains and also
perhaps because there are no industries or factories, Majoli is blessed
with a totally pollution free atmosphere. A large number of migratory
birds visit this island.
The Vaishnava Sattras (monastic orders)
In the 15th century, a saint by the name of Sankardeva took shelter in
Majuli and spent a couple of months at Beloguri (in west Majuli) which
was a place of glory for the historic and auspicious. He established the
first Satra or monastic order on the island, and from it grew sixty-five
“Sattras” which propagated ethics and socio-cultural ideals. But at
present there are only twenty-two Sattras in Majuli. The others had to
be shifted to other safer places due to devastation by floods and land
A Treasure House of Performing Arts
These Sattras are a treasure house religious and folk music and dance: “Borgeet”,
‘Matiakhara’, ‘Jumora’, ‘Chali’, ‘Notua’, ‘Nande Vringee’, ‘Sutradhar’,
‘Oza-Pali’, ‘Apsara’, ‘Satria Krishna’, ‘Dasavater’ etc
The Majuli Sattras along with Kuruabai Sattras exercise tremendous
influence on the life of the Assamese people. They are even to-day the
glorious religious institutions of Assam, and are not only the seat of
religion, learning and education, but the very centre of traditional
cultural activities like dance, drama, music and religious recitals.