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On the way to the wettest place on earth
Kaziranga N.P. (India) to Cherrapunjee (India), Jan-21-08 / Jan-30-08
The last two weeks were characterised by rest and nature. It started in the absolute highlight of North-eastern India, Kaziranga National Park. This fabulous park accommodates 2/3rd of world’s remaining population of one-horned rhino’s (a little bit more than 1800 rhino’s are left in Kaziranga N.P.). And we did see them! On our safari’s we saw more than thirty rhino’s, of which some of them very close. And that wasn’t all. During one of the jeep safaris we were surprised by a group of ten wild elephants that crossed the path just in front of our jeep. The group, including some baby elephants, seemed to be unimpressed about our presence and continued their trail into the bushes of the park. During the second jeep safari we saw a male elephant protecting the carcass of his female against the vultures that were grouped in the trees around the death elephant. Once in a while the male elephant trumpeted loudly, to scare away the vultures that tried to eat from the carcass. The female was already dead for some time. We could smell the stench from a long distance. It was heartbreaking to see that the male elephant could not have accepted the death of his female, and still tried to protect her from the vultures. Kaziranga N.P. is really recommended for everybody who wants to see both the wild rhino and the wild elephants in this part of the world. Besides that, the park has a great birdlife, including the impressive Adjutants.
A group of wild elephants that crosses just in front of our jeep
After Kaziranga, we travelled further northeast to Majuli. Majuli is the biggest river island in the world. If it will stay the biggest river island in the world is uncertain, because it suffers a lot from erosion. In the past, the size of the island was more than 1200 square kilometres. A little bit more than 400 square kilometres remain today. The reason for the erosion is the increasing power of the Bramaputra River, especially during the monsoon period. Every year, huge parts of the island are swallowed by this huge river. Besides that, a lot of deforestation took place to create more agricultural fields for the increasing population of the island (which is more than 135,000 people). Majuli is a great island to spend some days. You can find interesting Hindu monasteries (Satra’s) on Majuli as well as traditional tribal villages in where the time hasn’t changed a lot last hundreds of years. We spend four days on the island, out of which we used three days to explore the island by bicycle. During our visit to the Auniati monastery (the biggest Satra on the island), we met the friendly monk Sri Nutiel Dutta. He showed us around the island for one day, and brought us to the mask-making monastery, where they make mask in a traditional way for Hindu festivals. We were also lucky that during our visit to Majuli, the Bhawona Mahutsava Festival took place. This festival is only celebrated once in every three years and takes place near the Auniati monastery. During this festival, stories from the holy Hindu books are played by groups of artists from all parts of Assam. Every evening, the dramas are watched by a huge number of spectators. The monk took care that we got some great places near the stage, so that we could observe the spectacle well.

The most special moment on Majuli was when we witnessed the start of the construction of a new wooden ship. By accident, we saw a group of six people building a boat in the dry river bed, near one of the many small Mishing villages (the Mishing are tribal people which can be found on Majuli). They just started building a wooden ship of 27 metres (90 feet). By the time the boat is finished, the water will come back in the river because of the start of the monsoon and the boat will be launched automatically. There are no drawings. All knowledge is in the heads of the six people. The building of the boat will take approximately three months, and today they chopped the front stem out of a trunk. Afterwards, they manoeuvred the stem in the right position and supported it by Bamboo stocks. Then it was time for a ritual. The principal of the boat offered milk, rice and salt to the gods, to ask for a prosperous construction of the boat. By the end the praying and offering was finished, rice pudding and sweets were handed out to the workers to celebrate the start of the construction. We as interested spectators were not forgotten, and received also some delicacies. By the way, the total costs for building the ship is INR 85,000 (= € 1,500), and this is including the labour costs, the wood and the engine. That’s cheap, was our first thought.

On our way back on the ferry from Majuli island to Nimatighat

We stayed two days longer on Majuli than expected. The reason is that we decided to spend the Indian Republic Day (January 26th) on quiet Majuli. It can be dangerous to travel in the north-eastern part of India on Republic Day, because militant separatist movements use this day to carry out bombings or to attack governmental organisations. The north-eastern part of India still has a lot of separatist movements that fight for more autonomy for their region and/or tribe. These movements are especially active on Republic Day and Independence Day to show the Indian government that they do not want to be part of the republic. For this reason we decided to spend Republic Day on quiet Majuli. After all, Republic Day was a quiet day in the whole north-eastern part of India, and no major incidents took place.

By now we left the state of Assam and entered the neighbouring state of Meghalaya. This green and hilly state has one place that interests us in a special way. The town is called Cherrapunjee and it is officially the wettest place in the world. We are lucky that the majority of the rain falls in the monsoon (start in April) and that it is most of the time dry in January. Besides being the wettest place on earth, Cherrapunjee is also famous for its root-bridges. These bridges are constructed using the living roots of the Ficus Elasticus. It is the only place in the world where they constructed the bridges in this way. Two good reasons to go to Cherrapunjee!


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