The sanskrit word Charaiveity - means "Keep Walking" in English.

Random musings on my wanderings and everything under the sun.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Majuli: Where time stands still

Majuli is one of the largest river islands in the world (it is not the largest). Created by the river Brahmaputra - in the state of Assam, Majuli is the centre of the ancient monastries or satras instituted by the disciples of Sankardeva the saint who united Assam and brought the culture of Vaishnavism.

The island is only reachable by boat and maybe this makes the place isolated and pristine.One has to reach Majuli by taking a boat / ferry from Nematighat about 15 Kilometers from the Tea city of Jorhat which is also the nearest airport. There are few ferries in the morning to Majuli which return in the afternoon and vice- versa.

Pic: Ferry crossing at Nematighat - embarking point for Majuli

Majuli's location on the Brahmaputra basin makes it highly fertile. The play of water and land also makes this land attractive to various water birds. This island is rich in paddy and various vegetables. Agriculture is the mainstay of the island.


While there a number of Satra's I shall give a brief on some of them below:

The most fascinating Satra is the Uttar Kamlabari Satra which traces its origins to 1643, started by a disciple of Sankardeva it is founded on the principles of ' Karam Dharam' i.e. all the needs of the satra are met by its own assets and labour and it would not depend on royal patronage of the Ahom kings. To this day the Satra makes good with its own farms and dairy which keep the satra afloat.

Pic: Entrance to the Shri Uttar Kamlabari Satra

The monks spend their time in prayers and debating the Srimad Bhagvatam an ancient text of the Vaishnava school of thought. The Satra is highly acclaimed in the fine arts particularly in singing and dance. All the monks of this satra are celibate and single. They live in the monastery quarters and are free to attend regular schools or colleges. But they actively take part in the cultural programs.

Pic: 'Gayon Bayon' performance at the Shri Uttar Kamlabari Satra

They follow the guru - shisya paramapara. The warmth and hospitality of the monks and their amazing trust will floor you completely. They will warmly take you around their quarters , show you their scrapbooks and memorabilia. The members of this satra have performed in many functions in India and abroad. The pride of place is their performances in various festivals in Paris.

Pic: 'Nach (dance)' performance at the Shri Uttar Kamlabari Satra - all artistes are men

The Semaguri Satra specialises in the art of mask making. The masks are used for several plays and performances. These masks generally feature the various characters of the Ramayana. One can see how the masks are made and also some of the students will show you how the masks are used in the plays. The students change their body language with the mask they wear and it is very absorbing to watch them get into the skin of their character within minutes.

Pic: Shoorpanaka from the Ramayana displays her charms (Semaguri Satra)

There are many other satras most notably Auniati and Garumur with their own philospohy and tradition.


 Majuli is also home to the Mising tribes common to Arunachal and Assam. Their unique thatched huts are very intresting and a visit to the Mising village is highly recommended. Their is a Mising shop where you can buy Mising handicrafts and garments.

Pic: A Mising family outside their home

Majuli is under severe threat of erosion. This one word Erosion is understood by everyone. Almost half of the island has been lost to the swirling waters of the Brahmaputra in the last few decades taking with it the land and its unique culture. No one seems to understand the fury of the river and why this is so. Theories range from the dam construction in Tibet to global warming but there are no definitive root causes.

Pic: All this was once land - Erosion in Majuli
Travel Tips

1. Accommodation: There are no large hotel chains here but some very interesting stay concepts:
a) Prashanti Lodge of Assam Tourism is a good option. Standard.
b) Mising Council has a series of Mising houses in a resort that can also be rented for an atmospheric experience. Though the accomodation is a liitle far off.
c) La Maison de Ananda: another Mising style built home stay type hotel
d) Uttar Kamlabari Satra: has some basis guest houses

2. Travel within the island is feasible by bicycle or bikes but the roads are pathetic. It would be best to hire a car and see the satras and other places. later one can always walk around and see the closer places.

3. Most tourists come for day trips but staying at least one night is highly recommended.

4. Satra performances happen during festivals like the Raas festival. On other days one should enquire at the Satra. If there are enough tourists the Satra organises programs. A nominal donation is expected. Personal experience is about 100 Rs per head seemed quite reasonable for a 30 minute demonstration though one can always pay more.

Overall this place has been untouched and is highly recommended for a unique cultural experience.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Lonar - Maharsahtra, India

It was more than 10 years back. I was flying Indian Airline (IC - now merged with Air India) from Mumbai to Calcutta. After about half an hour since take off the pilot asked passengers seated on the right had side to look out for the Lonar crater. He said this was formed by a meteorite hit and amongst a handful of such geological sites in the world. I could not see this as  I was on seated on the left hand side window. But this information created a deep interest in me to visit the Lonar crater.

Here is a report on the Lonar experience and some tips.

The Lonar lake and region is made of basaltic rock. The regular natural water reacts with the rocks and forms an alkaline water in the lake. In short this is a soda lake and not a fresh water lake. 

The lakeside is dotted with places of worship. Most have been abandoned and some still in worship. 

Pic: An old temple by the lake (pic copyright: authors)

The whole area is atmospheric. A part of the lake side is also under cultivation as there is sweet water available in that part.

Pic: Exquisite stone carvings at the entrance of a ruined temple by the Lonar lake (copyright: authors)

We hired a local boy as our guide who seemed quite knowledgeable about the place. It is a  2-3 hour hike/trek along the lake bed. WIth some interesting flora and fauna thrown in. We spotted the ibis, flycatchers, malabar hornbill, black collared dove etc. and of course the ever present langurs.

       Pic: Langurs scamper by the trekking path along the lake bed in Lonar (copyright: authors)

Lonar is frequented by geologists from across India. We shared our guide with an interesting set of people - very senior geologists from the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM). They explained to us how the rocks were formed and also offered some clues as to which direction the meteor could have come and hit the ground. 

The crater area falls under the jurisdiction of the Dept of Forests and we saw some interesting birds and also langurs.

No visit to Lonar is complete without visiting the Daityasudan temple which is in the center of Lonar town. This is a beautiful structure built in Hoysala style. This is a Vishnu temple and under protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Extraordinary stone sculpting in minute details.

Pic: The Daityasudan temple- Lonar town (pic copyright: authors)

Reaching there:

The nearest rail head is Malkapur on the Mumbai - Howrah line. However more trains stop at Jalgaon. We hired a car from Malkapur. It is a good 2 hour drive to Lonar. You can also do this as a rushed day trip from Aurangabad.


The only place to stay is the MTDC resort that overlooks the lake. This is your best bet. The restaurant at MTDC is really the only option here. You have to make do with what you get.

Pic: Lonar lake (pic copyright: authors)

Hire a guide. The MTDC can also arrange for one. Some self appointed guides will approach you anyway. It costed us 200-300Rs for a half day guiding of Lonar lake and nearby attractions. A small guide book by a local professor is also available at the MTDC resort.


1. Children throwing stones at the langurs is common. 

2. Come evening and the youth of Lonar run up and down the crater as a fitness test. I was told that they were preparing for police recruitment examinations. It seemed that everyone was keen to join the police in this town.
I have great respect for the fitness regime but would have preferred more peace and quite in a forest area.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Bush Camp in Tanzania - Tips for planning your trip

We did a 10 day bush camp in Tanzania. Camping trips come with 4 Wheel Drives, Driver cum Guide and Cook. Provisions and camping equipment is carried along with you.

Here are a few tips:


Campsites are of various types some with special and others with basic facilities. Generally campsites within the forest reserve are more basic but also the most atmospheric. You can hear the animals at night and you are closer to the game drive locations. Campsites again are categorized as special or public. Special is slightly more expensive and hence is less crowded and has more privacy. Special doesn't necessarily mean more facilities.

When you deal with your safari provider you should carefully check the location of your campsite and facilities. In some places you may even get a hot shower...whereas others are basic. You should be able to negotiate upgrades e.g. for the same price ask for a better camp site (say within the reserve).

Pic: Serengeti public camp site at Serenora. (picture copyright: authors)

There are also luxury campsites which are permanent campsites with all the creature comforts. Generally these are pitched close to migration routes and the experience can be extraordinary. In case you opt for this mode of accommodation camping equipment is not required as you would check in to the luxury tents.

There is also another option for accommodation called ie- Hotels & Lodges as the name suggests these are Hotels / Lodges & Resorts within the forest. They all have restaurants / bars etc. Usually they are located at prime locations and depending on what facilities they offer the prices would vary. Obviously this is not camping.

Even if you choose this alternative I would certainly recommend at least 1 night in the bush camp as this would be unforgettable.


Check with your operator what vehicle he has. Generally they are of a reasonably good standard though luxury options (extra cushions / ACs etc) can also be included. Most vehicles come with attached radios for communication though mobile signals worked fine in most parts of Northern Tanzania. Our 4WD did not have did not impact our experience.

You can also hire your own 4WD and drive on your own. Unless you have been in the park frequently to know the approaches / roads etc. this is not advisable. Flat tyres and break downs are not unknown. We had a flat tyre with soon after we saw a lioness and would have been stranded if we were on our own.

Pic: We had a flat tyre moments after spotting the lioness below. (pic copyright: authors)


Generally your guide will know most of the animals / birds etc. But if you wish to understand better it is good to have a few books with you. Check with your operator as to what books he will provide. We are avid bird watchers and the books initially provided were not that good. Luckily we had another group on tour from the same company who were not that much into birding and we were able to borrow their books for the rest of the journey.


This is the most complicated. You need to have a discussion with your tour operator and customize your itinerary e.g we customized our itinerary to include a visit to the bushmen tribes as well as spent an extra day in the Serengeti. If you are staying longer in a reserve a good idea would be move to different camp get you a feel for the various places in the forest.


Tipping is expected at the end of the trip. Depending on your level of satisfaction the thumb rule is that the driver gets a tip of 10-15$ a day and the cook 8-10$ a day. Tipping should never be based on whether you have seen many animals or big 5 etc. This puts pressure on the guide to take extra risks. You will see animals for sure.

Pic: A lioness rests under a bush by the road tracks. She was less than 10 feet from our vehicle. (picture copyright - authors)

Generally all guides & cooks are focused on giving you a memorable experience so pushing them is not good. If you have specific interests you should discuss with your guide as you begin the tour. Also much depends on what you seek and the rapport you are able build with your guide.

We hope this is useful.