Located within the mighty Brahmaputra River in Assam, India, just under 18 miles from the city of Jorhat, is Mājuli Island. At 136 square miles in size, you need a Majuli Island travel guide to break down what to do and where to go on this mystical isle. This island in northeast India is the first in the country to become its own district. Depending on who you ask, it is also either the largest or second-largest river island in the world. However, Majuli’s allure comes from its status as a cradle of Assamese culture.
Majuli Island is home to the neo-Vaishnavite culture, a denomination of Hinduism. Its residents are a mix of tribal and non-tribal people. The largest population on the island is the tribal Mising, who traveled from the state of Arunachal Pradesh hundreds of years ago. Over 150,000 people call the island home and are scattered between 144 villages.
Some modernization has reached the island, with some homes now made of concrete instead of mud and bamboo. Institutions like schools and medical facilities have also been built. Despite that, life on Majuli Island hasn’t evolved nearly as much as other areas of India in the last several hundred years.
The villages are quiet and much of the island is still undeveloped wetland and wilderness. On an unfortunate note, the island is eroding away at an alarming rate and is thought to soon be in danger of becoming uninhabitable. But that doesn’t mean there’s little to do on Majuli. Quite the opposite, in fact! Let’s dive into what to do and where to go in our Majuli Island travel guide.
Majuli Island is only accessible by ferries, which run roughly six times per day. To reach Majuli, you must travel roughly 10 miles from Jorhat to Nimati Ghat, the area’s most important port. The ride will take roughly 20-30 minutes. This Majuli Island travel guide recommends having a local contact in Jorhat with a car or hiring a local driver like I did. If you don’t have a local contact or driver, a cab ride there will cost around 20 rupees.
There is a limited number of ferries that travel from Nimati Ghat to Kamalabari Ghat on Majuli Island and back, so make sure you know your schedule before you depart. The ferry stops running mid-afternoon, so if you’re still on Majuli Island after the final ferry of the day, you’ll be stuck there for the night. Here are the ferry departure times as of March of 2019:
3:30 p.m. (Final ferry of the day)
3 p.m. (Final ferry of the day)
Note that the ferries are rarely punctual and usually depart 15-20 minutes after the announced departure time. Also prepare for abrupt ferry cancellations and reschedulings. This Majuli Island travel guide recommends arriving at the ghats as early as possible.
This should guarantee you a spot onboard. Don’t wait until the final ferry from Kamalabari Ghat to make your way back to Jorhat. A last-minute cancellation could leave you stranded on Majuli Island and force you to find accommodations there.
You don’t have to worry about buying a ticket in advance. The conductor will sell you one once you’re onboard. The fees you will pay will depend on what you’re traveling to and from Majuli with. The heavier the vehicle, the higher the fee. Here is a rundown of some of the more common fees:
Passenger – 15 rupees (roughly $0.22 U.S.)
Bicycle – 10 rupees (roughly $0.14 U.S.)
Moped – 30 rupees (roughly $0.43 U.S.)
Motorcycle – 45 rupees (roughly $0.65 U.S.)
Light Vehicle – 706 rupees (roughly $10.16 U.S.)
Small Truck (Empty) – 756 rupees (roughly $10.88 U.S.)
Small Truck (Loaded) – 857 rupees (roughly $12.34 U.S.)
The ferries are essentially wooden boats that can carry a set number of passengers, cars, and motorcycles. They’re actually pretty small and once they’re loaded up, there’s very little room to move around. There’s cramped seating below deck if you prefer. If there’s room, you can sit outside on the deck. Those taking a car over to the island can stay inside their vehicles and enjoy the air conditioning if they get too hot.
Once the ferry sets off, be prepared for quite a lengthy ride. Although Majuli Island is just 17.6 miles from Jorhat, the ferry travels roughly 21 miles to get to Kamalabari Ghat. If things run smoothly, the ride should take roughly an hour. This Majuli Island travel guide recommends spending the time marveling at the beautiful scenery and chatting with the locals.
From Kamalabara Ghat, the nearest hotels and guest houses can be found less than two miles away. If you didn’t arrive with a car, you can hire rickshaws, Jeeps, and taxis to get around the island. Taxis cost 1,600 rupees (roughly $23 U.S.) for an 8-hour tour.
Now let’s get into the activities I recommend everyone do when they visit Majuli Island!
Majuli Island is famous for its satras, or monasteries. These are institutional centers associated with the Hindu denomination of Vaishnavism. One of the functions of the satras is to preserve and practice traditional forms of spiritual and artistic expression.
Vaishnavism was started by the Assamese saint Srimanta Sankardeva and his disciple Madhavdeva. The satras first appeared around the 16th century and grew in popularity through the 17th century. There were once 65 satras on the island, but only 22 are still operational.
One of these satras is a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. You’ll find vendors outside. I bought an orange bracelet there, which is something I always do on every trip I make to India.
As with all Hindu temples, you must take off your shoes before you go inside. The temple is quite expansive. On the grounds is the oldest brick house in all of India. There are many religious artifacts inside. If you’re lucky enough, you might get to witness a prayer session. It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture of Majuli Island and is a must-visit!
The highlight of my trip to Majuli Island was the time I spent at the Nutan Chamaguri Satra. If you only do one thing on the island, this is the one I recommend most in this Majuli Island travel guide. This satra is home to the island’s famous mask makers, who have been practicing the craft since the mid-17th century. The masks made here range from standard masks to much more extravagant designs, many of which are displayed on the walls.
The masks are brightly colored and include likenesses of gods, demons, and other mythological figures. One of the masks is an incredibly intricate likeness of Lord Hanuman, which you can wear in the shop and includes a mouth that moves when you talk!
Here, the masks are made by building a three-dimensional framework from bamboo. Strips of linen that have been soaked in the clay-like soil from the banks of the Brahmaputra River are laid over the framework. Then, a mixture of cow dung and clay is used to further contour the mask. The mask is painted after the mixture dries.
The masks are worn in traditional song and dance performances. When I visited the satra, I had the pleasure of watching a musical performance that featured a young boy dressed as Lord Hanuman. He danced around to traditional music and put on a wonderful show that made me appreciate the local culture even more than I already did.
As a traveler who likes to collect masks from every location I visit, stopping by the Nutan Chamaguri Satra was a real treat. Not only did I get to learn why and how the masks are made, I also got to buy some smaller ones that were for sale! They only cost 600 rupees (roughly $8.65 U.S.) each. Visitors can also order masks, which take about 10 days to make and will be shipped to you.
This Majuli Island travel guide highly recommends making a stop at the Nutan Chamaguri Satra. It is a special and unique experience you can only have on this island. Trust me, it’s one you will never forget.
Tourists who spend a day on the island should make a pit stop in Majuli Town to grab a bite to eat. Majuli Town is located in the heart of the island and contains four streets. There are lots of roadside vendors and a commercial area. This town is the perfect place to do one of my favorite activities in India: try the local thali!
For my thali, I visited a local restaurant called Bitupoan Bhojonalaya. The thali consisted of ten different items. They included rice, dal, small potatoes, eggplant, green beans, carrots with onions, banana meat, bamboo chutney, and lentil chutney. I also ordered a chicken curry and a fish curry on the side.
As is the case in many regions of India, it is customary to eat with your hands, so I recommend washing them thoroughly before you start. This is something I can’t stress enough. The last thing you want (and I know this from experience) is to get sick and be knocked out of commission for several days. Keep your hands clean to lower the probability of catching a nasty bug.
The grated bamboo chutney had a pleasant, crunchy texture with a bit of spice. It was quite refreshing! If you love bamboo, you will enjoy this dish. The dal and rice are also extremely tasty, especially when you mix in a few of the small potatoes. My friends advised me to mix everything together instead of trying everything one by one. See which one works best for you!
Like most river fish in Assam, the fish is quite bony but flavorful. I despise fish bones, so I could only enjoy it so much because I had to pick it apart. I also recommend the green beans with peas, which are coated in an outstanding curry. You also must try the banana meat, which reminded me of bamboo and was phenomenal with the rice and potatoes.
This Majuli Island travel guide also highly recommends the chicken curry, which was rich in spices and had a mouthwatering flavor that I couldn’t get enough of. The chicken didn’t contain much meat, but it was incredibly buttery and fell apart in my mouth. And I can’t overstate how ridiculous the curry was. It was good enough to drink!
Outside of the fantastic flavors, the best thing about this meal is how fresh and clearly organic everything was. It was obvious that nothing had been frozen, and it was evident in the quality. What an outstanding meal!
Located less than a mile from Kamalabari Ghat is the Sri Sri Uttar Kamalabari Satra. This satra is well-known for its stage performances, which take place around India and outside of the country. The art performed includes dramas written by the saint Srimanta Sankardeva and his disciple Madhavdeva and dances like the matiakhara.
As with all Hindu temples, remember to take your shoes off before you enter and walk around the grounds. During my visit with my friend Rishi, I had the pleasure of seeing the place where offerings are given to the gods.
The most beautiful feature of Sri Sri Uttar Kalambari Satra were the paintings over the temple entrance. The paintings are over 300 years old and include depictions of peacocks, Lord Rama, Hanuman, and Garuda.
Sri Sri Uttar Kalambari Satra is one location in this Majuli Island travel guide that cannot be missed!
As nearly anyone who has visited India will tell you, traveling within the country is rarely predictable. Flights are often late, traffic jams will slow you down, and it’s not uncommon for modes of transportation to be canceled with no notice. This is why this Majuli Island travel guide recommends beginning the journey back to Jorhat long before the last scheduled ferry departure from Kamalabari Ghat.
My journey back to Jorhat was pretty chaotic to say the least! We arrived at Kamalabari Ghat a full hour before the final ferry was set to leave, but there was no space on it for us. My friends and I almost got stuck on the island for the night because they changed the final ferry time from 3:30 to 2:30. Remember, last-minute changes like these are common in India, so you always need to have a backup plan!
They weren’t sure our car would fit onboard, but my good friend Rishi worked something out so we could leave. We arrived just in the nick of time and were in the very last car allowed onboard for the day!
Because the current goes against the ferries coming from Kalamabari Ghat, the return trip takes longer than the arrival. This Majuli Island travel guide estimates you will be onboard for at least two hours. I visited in March, so that meant being on the ferry past sundown. The good thing is, you can see some gorgeous sunsets from the Brahmaputra River, so take that as a plus!
Also, be aware that, once you arrive back at Nimati Ghat in Jorhat, you will have to wait if you came by car. The ferry workers will unload every motorcycle, bicycle, and moped one-by-one before any cars are allowed to drive off the boat. When we arrived back in Jorhat, this process took an hour and fifteen minutes.
I’ll be honest, the amount of time it takes to unload each vehicle borders on the ridiculous. It’s a long, time-consuming process that will likely have you standing around and waiting in the dark. Ultimately, it’s worth it for a magical experience on Majuli Island.
Majuli Island is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited during my travels around India. The culture is both beautiful and captivating, the island itself is stunning, and the people are as friendly as can be.
It’s even more special knowing that the island is under constant threat of erosion from the Brahmaputra River and may not be around for much longer. I urge everyone in this Majuli Island travel guide to take a trip to northeast India, go to Jorhat, and visit this amazing island. If you love history, culture, and adventure as much as I do, it’ll be a place you will never forget.
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