Boosting tourism opportunity in Majuli, a spiritual abode

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

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Boosting tourism opportunity in Majuli, a spiritual abode

Dr Navanil Barua | January 27, 2018 19:20 hrs


While in Majuli, what do tourists do? It’s mostly Satra hopping, watching mask making at Samaguri satra and feasting on traditional food and beverages. 

As the spiritual and religious hub of Assam, Majuli had 65 satras. The tourists need to be apprised of the great vision of Srimanta Sankardeva ably followed by Shri Madhabdeb. While the origin, history, glory, achievements of each satra should be highlighted, the essence of Gurujona also needs to be adhered to at all times. Raas enactment should be a big highpoint of Majuli for it transcends language barrier. 

For revenue generation, copies of Xaasipaator Puthi should be made for sale to tourists instead of handling it by the satra inmates everyday for photography. The museums could be modernized with grants from Central government agencies and its upkeep could be from gate revenue. The satras must be more vibrant all the time and tourists should be able to view prasanga everyday. This is possible if satras have different schedules for prasangas and tours to satras are coordinated accordingly. Entry to satras should be by a ticket to augment upkeep. Mats and handicrafts like cane fans need to be made and sold to fill the coffers of the satra or its inmates (bhakts & aaldharas). Small sized khols, cymbals or even doba (drum) can be items for sale. 

The most irritating aspect of satra visit is the insistence to enter barefoot. The satras are dirty and dusty with the sandy soil of Majuli. Walking around barefoot thoroughly soils the feet. While tradition is sacrosanct, the tourist’s interest is also important. A marriage of convenience can be achieved by renting wooden footwear (khoroms) at the gate of the satra which again enhances revenue, curiosity value and also gives bhakts a new skill to work on. Alternatively, disposable shoe covers could be used too. Inside the satra, regular hands-on workshop of simple maati akhara, satriya dances or mask-making can be tourist attractions.

Amongst the satra hopping, the mask-making of Samaguri Satra is undoubtedly the biggest draw of Majuli. Alas, it is far from being professional, woefully short of its potential. ATDC has realized the potential of mask-making and is even incurring a huge cost to make a mask centre. Majuli can, if worked upon properly, match the Venetian or Chinese mask industry. 

At present, an average tourist doesn't get enough of the Vaishnavite or Satriya traditions of Majuli. All the satras can get together and work out a schedule so that there is an ankiya bhaona or any abridged form of it is enacted every evening in one satra or the other. With that, a tourist will be able to see it on any given day and satras shall have additional earnings. 

It is worthwhile remembering that Satriya isn't the only attraction of Majuli. Tribal living heritage and culture can be equal, if not a bigger draw. Trips to Mishing areas with heritage villages, food, traditional dances and the quintessential varieties of Sai Mod (rice beer) can be arranged. A traditional meal in stilt houses of Mishings or Deories can make a tourist very happy. The sale of tribal handicrafts can change the economy of these backward, rural, flood damaged areas. For the Christian tourist, the small cathedrals and churches of Majuli could be a great attraction.

Accommodation in the form of typical hotels is not necessary but stilt bamboo and wooden cottage type resorts with all ultra modern facilities should continue. The “Deka chang’’ at Majuli is a very good example of what is needed. It needs to add value with a raised and covered swimming pool and a bar. Alcohol is a sensitive issue in Majuli. Being promoted as a centre of Shankari culture, free and rampant alcohol would be inappropriate. What could be done is to allow bar sales only in resorts and promote local rice brews packaged nicely. Additionally, the satra guest houses with traditional vegetarian food could be another form of accommodation if maintained professionally. It will also be a major revenue earner for the satras. 

Further, for a new dimension, there are innumerable small islands in and around Majuli, traditionally known as Sapori. These could be hubs for dirt biking, quad-biking, aero sports etc. Daytime picnics and night camping can also be arranged for.

Temporary heritage parks can be made and tourists could travel by boats. House boat stay can be added around these small islands. 

Majuli is incomplete without mentioning Jadav Payeng's forest although it’s not in mainland Majuli. One has to go there from Nemati. Yet, overnight stay out there could be very attractive for the tourists. 

Beyond these inputs of mine, which are by no means exhaustive, I hope some fresh minds try these out, add more to them and change the economy of Majuli. 

The author offers his ideas and suggestions towards making Majuli more tourist-friendly in this second and concluding part of the artice.

(Dr Navanil Barua is a neurosurgeon by profession and a socio-political activist by choice; he is a resident of Guwahati.)

 

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