The Hotel at Majuli had let their standards slide since my last trip there, and a few guests found it a bit uncomfortable. The warm bonfires, gorgeous sunsets, good food and the easy-going camaraderie of the group kept all in smiles. For me Majuli is magical, and I think some of that rubbed off on the guests too. And I am back in Bombay after completing my first tour. My travel companions and I had a good trip.
The Mishings Tribe
Four of the guests left to spend a day with their friend, stationed at the Jorhat cantonment and the rest of us went for a walk around the Mishing village situated near the hotel. The Mishings tribe is the most extensive indigenous tribe to inhabit the island of Majuli. They are descendants of a hill tribe based in the region of Arunachal Pradesh and China. Their lifestyle is simple, and they rely on agriculture, fishing and rearing of small livestock.
All of us were so impressed by how clean the village was and it had none of the foul smells and sewage issues we associate with rural India. The people were friendly without being too curious or in your face with questions. The children looked on in wonder and broke into charming smiles and giggles when we offered them packets of biscuits.
Climbing on to their homes in Majuli
A few of the villagers invited us to “climb” into their stilt level homes and very proudly showed us their kitchen and the living cum sleeping area, offering Rice and ash beer at our arrival. I preferred the ash beer, and it tastes a bit similar to the Japanese Sake.
It is humbling to see how well they keep their homes and their few possessions. They too, like all proud parents display their children’s latest artwork on their walls or table tops. In two of the houses, I noticed that the children’s study tables had books neatly piled up and held the center space.
Weavers of this world
The women of this tribe are skilled weavers, and they set up their looms below their bamboo huts. We saw some of them weaving and asked if they had any textiles to sell. It turned out to be a textile shopper’s delight, and we all came away with our bags full. The vibrant colors and patterns make for another story.
Invoking my roots
As we proceeded towards our picnic spot across the river, a group of women from another village joined the path ahead with their fishing baskets. I heard one of them tell our local guide in Assamese – ” Your tourists will have to pay to take our photos.”
So when I came up to them, I very casually addressed the eldest as Baideou (elder sister in Assamese) and asked her in Assamese, where they were going to fish and what varieties of fish were available here. I do not look like an Assamese. Hence the women were surprised.
Matchmaking with the locals
Curious enough, asked how I learned the language. When the women knew I am from Assam as well, they had their doubts. Pat came to the question – you are an Assamese girl, and you let your hair grey? “Be like us, dye it.” We basked in the laughter, and we bantered on aging for next few minutes and then listening to my fellow travelers and their opinion on Majuli.
What followed was a funny exchange and something that is truly Indian.
Them: Are you married? From where is your husband?
Me: He is from Tamil Nadu, atypical Indian characteristic expression gazed their face.
Baido: We heard that people from there are very dark, is it true?
Me: (pointing at my friend) She is from there, what do you think?
Baido: She is beautiful. Is she married?</.em>
Me: She is single, and her mother is hoping to find someone and get her hitched soon.
Baido: I am looking out for a girl for one of my boys, she seems suitable!
Me: (surprised!) City girls have higher standards of living baideou.
Baido: Once she sees my son, she will come dancing!
By now we were all into this matchmaking, and everyone was having a jolly time, expressing their views. Some of the younger women borrowed my binoculars and were trying to spot the Brahmani ducks (Ruddy Shelduck) and Lesser Adjutant birds perched by the river banks. They said they always wanted to look through one, but at Kaziranga, the charge of Rupees fifty had deterred them. So we kept up the bantering on the matchmaking as we all walked side by side towards the bamboo bridge.
Me: How is your son going to support his city wife baideou?
Baido: Why? The girl is healthy, and can be taught to work in the fields! She has a camera; she will take pictures and sell it to the tourists.
I just soaked in all of the innocence that is filled up in this region, lest they realize the expectations of city life!
Ending the day cheerfully!
In the midst of all our laughter, my friend said that she would have to turn down the proposal as she was sure the woman would be too intimidating as a mother in law. We parted after we had taken group pictures and they were very quick in pointing out that they also knew what selfies were, as their menfolk were doing it all the time.
As someone from the group mentioned, the best part of the trip wasn’t all the predictable things that regular tourists come to see in Assam, and it was the little glimpses and interactions with the locals that made it unique .