Purpose: leave Nongriat and the fantastic scenery of Khasi Hills in the state of Meghalaya and go to Majuli, a river island situated in the mythical Brahmaputra, that run through Assam plains.
Obstacles: First it was necessary to overcome about 3000 steps that separate Nongriat from Tyrna, and there find a public transport to Sohra. Then go from Sohra to Shillong, and from Shillong to Guwahati. And from Guwahati reach Jorhart before the last ferry leave to Majuli Island.
Mode of transport: sumo (shared-taxi), tuk–tuk, tempo (shared tuk-tuk), bus and ferryboat.
Team: three intrepid travelers of different nationalities, with extensive experience traveling through India.
Looking at the map, knowing a little about how to travel in India, and being already familiar with the transport system in the Northeast states, this trip, although ambitious had no major problems, apart from the fact that it will take two days to win the nearly 470 kilometers that separate Nongriat from Majuli. To all this joins the need to spend a night in the city of Guwahati, whose hospitality wasn’t a good memory from the last visit.
But the Northeast States have their peculiarities that have created unexpected obstacles, requiring much patience and effort. First, it was the Holi Festival, celebrated by Hindus in Assam, and being a holiday just before the weekend allows many people to travel, making difficult to find public transports. By chance or not, this weekend coincided with Easter, and being Meghalaya a strongly Christian state, it was guaranteed that no public transport run from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. With this scenario, we could end “stuck” in the uninteresting village of Sohra for a few days. Adding to all these, the Assam regional elections, that put the quiet island of Majuli in the itinerary of the election campaign of the Indian prime minister, which brought with it thousands of people, in a kind of pilgrimage.
Climbing the steps from Nongriat to Sohra left legs tired, the body soaked in sweat, and some melancholy for abandoning such paradisiac place.
But the bucolic calm of the countryside was quickly replaced by the rush and stress to leave quickly Sohra and reach Shillong in time to take a “sumo” to Guwahati, in a period that the weekend and the Holi Festival had put lots of people traveling, decreased the chances of getting a places in the sumo which link the capitals of Meghalaya and Assam states. But this mission was done with success, despite the long wait near unfriendly and drunken staff of sumo company, who took advantage of the situation charging a few extra rupees for the ticket.
On arrival at Guwahati was repeated the frustrating search for accommodation, in a city where many of the hotels and guesthouses don’t allow foreigners, pushing us too costly options. After a dose of antipathy, just the unattractive dorm of the Youth Hostel remains, which in these situation proved to be quite friendly, and where the decay of the place gained a touch of “patina“.
Despite the comforting meal and a deep night of sleep, the group was demoralized by the idea of 6 hours bus ride to Jorhat. But waiting for us, was a modern luxury bus, from the recommended state company, ASTC, with comfortable and spacious seats, giving encouragement for the next step of this journey.
As the flat and monotonous landscape of Assam, of rice fields and tea plantations passing through the windows, the eyes were getting heavy and the body surrender to sleepy inertia. But nothing lasts, and we were suddenly forced to abandoning the comfort of air-conditioning, dumped to the dusty and noisy edge of the national highway, without knowing exactly where we were. So this way we arrive to Jorhat!
At Jorhat, there was no time to stops, and from tuk–tuk to tempo, in the middle of the disorganized city traffic, we made the turbulent journey through a dusty bumpy road, until Nimati Gaht. After this last tempo ride, squeezed between other passengers and luggage, arriving to the muddy banks of Brahmaputra, in time for the last boat, was a relief.
From Nimati Gaht (also written as Neamati), a makeshift ferry pier where the stormy river doesn’t allow lasting structures, followed a quiet trip to Majuli, in a crowded ferry boat, where the roof of the passenger compartment, is used to transport goods and motorbikes… and a few more passengers. The trip on the boat’s roof, besides the fresh air provides a view to the island, whose completely flat surface blends with the horizon.
As we left the ferry directly to the sand bank that forms Majuli (officially the world’s largest river island), we were hastily conducted to an already full shared-taxi. Soon all the vehicles were full and quickly leave the pier area. Luckily a military bus gave us some space and a pleasant talk. After the journey through the sands, follows a green and rural landscape, where the road takes us to the first village: Kamalabari.
And when finally, after almost two days on the road, we finally arrive at our destination, the biggest obstacle of all trip emerged: finding accommodation in Majuli.
The options are not many on the island, but to aggravate the situation, our arrival coincided with the visit of Indian Prime Minister to the island, during the campaign of regional Assam elections. In India, political campaigns mobilize many people, but this time, the situation has worst due to the presence of Modi, on which lies a sort of almost religious veneration, attracting an unusual crowd to the island. As it was the first time a prime minister visited Majuli since India’s independence, lots of people come to the island to see him, reducing the chances of find accommodation.
With the help of some locals, vegetable vendors, taxi drivers and even from the troops, that were there to ensure the security of the Prime Minister, it was possible after 3 hours of searching to find a place to sleep, where the owner took advantage of the situation, inflating the price of the rooms.
Despite being a bit unpleasant, the room offered conditions for a well-deserved rest after a terrible meal, of dal and potato curry, an oily paratha and a stew of yellow pea and more potato. This boring yellowish meal marks the beginning of a series of meals, which force me to correct my quote “that the Indian food even if not good, is never bad!”… as the stay in Assam made me change my mind!!!
How to go from Nongriat to Guwahati:
- climbing almost 3000 steps until reaching the main road;
- walk to Tyrna, for about half-hour; from here you can also take a taxi directly to Sohra;
- Bus or shared-taxi from Tyrna to Sohra: 40 rupees (20 minutes)
- “sumo” from Sohra to Shilllong: 70 rupees (1.5 hours)
- Shilllong in the sumo ends in Babra Bazaar, within a terminal on the top floor. To find the sumo to Guwahati is necessary to go to a bigger terminal in another concrete building about 5 minutes further up, in the same street, on the left side. If there any available sumos here, you need to catch a taxi (or walk) to Police Bazaar, and then down the Keating Road (left of GS Road) until you find the sumo stand to Guwahati, the left side.
- sumo from Shilllong to Guwahati: 170 rupees (2.50 hours but can be more than 3 hours depending on the traffic).
- In Guwahati, the sumo ends at Paltan Bazaar, near the bus terminal and the train station.
How to go from Guwahati to Majuli:
- Bus from Guwahati to Jorhat: 330 rupees (the trip takes seven hours, stopping for breakfast). The bus leaves the passengers outside the city, on the highway. From here to the Bus Terminal of Jorhat, is not that far and can be done on foot.
- Shared-taxi (tempo) from here to the center of Jorhat (Jorhart bazaar): 20 rupees (10 minutes)
- In Jorhat (bazaar) there are shared-taxis (tempo) to Nimati Gaht: 20 rupees (20 minutes)
- Ferry Nimati Gaht to Majuli Island: 30 rupees (1 hour)
- Shared-taxi from the pier to Kamalabari (the nearest village): 30 rupees (20 minutes)