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Himalaya

Day 97: Dibrugah to Majuli Island

Michael Palin - HimalayaMy first sight of the mighty Brahmaputra is from the ferry boat station at Neamati ghat, a few miles from the crowded town of Jorhat.

There is an air of lassitude to the place. A bus is drawn up, waiting to collect disembarking passengers. Dogs chase each other sporadically before curling up on one of several coal heaps. Tarpaulin-covered shacks offer tea and samosas.

The river seems very still and very silent. It's around 500 yards wide, I would guess, but it's difficult to tell, as it fills more than one channel. The land is endlessly flat. Out there all the lines are horizontals, subtle pastel shades fading into distant perspectives. The Brahmaputra is like an inland sea, as magnificent and implacable in its own way as the plateau where it was born.

Somewhere downstream is Majuli, the world's largest river island, and we're here to try and get ourselves aboard one of the embattled ferry boats that are the only means of reaching it.

The bank on which we're waiting will probably be submerged after the monsoon rains swell the river, which might account for the lack of any jetty. When the boat arrives, embarking passengers have to slither down the bank as best they can and cross two wooden beams that serve as a gang-plank. The 100-foot-long flat-bottomed boats set no store by elegance. There is a basic cabin below, which is covered by a corrugated aluminium roof. Passengers pack in as best they can. From the anxious shouts and gesticulations you might think this was the first time a ferry had ever docked at Neamati but, as ever, remarkable order comes from the chaos, and by the time we cast off, every late-comer is aboard, as well as several bicycles, one or two motorbikes and a white Ambassador car. The women gather below and a mixture of men in Western and local dress sit, stand, squat and generally make themselves comfortable on the corrugated sheets above.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 97: Dibrugah to Majuli Island
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Dibrugah
  • Book page no: 227

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