Two friends, a bamboo raft, and an unforgettable 400-km journey

Rishan Doley, 30, and Shekhar Bordoloi, 26, speak of the 400 kilometre expedition that changed their lives

A bag of rice, dal, few potatoes and onions, a small bottle of oil, some green chillies, a portable cylinder-cum burner, a safety kit, few kitchen tools, torch lights and a change of clothes. Not to forget, a good stock of fresh, wild elephant apples. These were the things Rishan Doley, 30, and Shekhar Bordoloi, 26, packed and loaded onto their handmade raft, and set sail on a unique journey.

The two friends and adventure sports enthusiasts travelled from Majuli in Assam, the world’s biggest river island (880 square kilometres) to the smallest inhabited river islet in Brahmaputra-Umananda, Guwahati. It is also home to the endangered primate species the Golden Langur.

The journey — a distance of 400 kilometres took them eight days and gave them innumerable visuals and unforgettable experiences.

Imagine wild elephants, water buffaloes and deer giving a lazy stare as you raft on a swelling river. They also encountered innumerable river Dolphins. Rishan who is a mountaineer, a travel guide with Incredible India and Nature camp guide in Majuli says, “Words fall short to express the beauty and the experience we had. When we set sail we didn’t know what to expect. A few hours into the journey our excitement was unbound.”

Two friends, a bamboo raft, and an unforgettable 400-km journey

Shekhar, also a mountaineering and adventure coach, is from Nagaon and now settled in Guwahati. The duo met some years back at a mountaineering camp and hit it off immediately. With Shekhar’s knowledge of river and rafting (he grew up on the river banks of Majuli) the duo had decided on this journey many years back but were not able to execute it due to their busy professional lives. Shekhar says, “So when the lockdown hit us and all our regular work came to a standstill, we revived our Majuli-Umananda plan. The first step was to look for sponsors and start the paperwork and permissions from Inland Waterways Authority of India.”

Soaking up sights

Then, they concentrated on building a raft. They selected local species of bamboo called jati and mukal. The raft was mostly built by Rishan with the help of a craftsman in Jorhat, says Shekhar. The raft has a little hut for the two to take shelter while the rest of it is open. “We had a makeshift roof for the open space when it rained. We didn’t mind the rain as it made the mighty Brahmaputra look even more handsome. Once we crossed the Dipholu river (a rivulet that originates from Assam’s Karbi Anglong hills and flows through Kaziranga) we decided to touch land as we couldn’t bear to move along without stopping to experience its exquisite beauty. Virgin lands with just wild animals grazing. It was no less than paradise. No film or photo can make up for what we saw in reality,” says Rishan.

Two friends, a bamboo raft, and an unforgettable 400-km journey

Rishan is also an expert in fishing. “I don’t use a net, I catch fish with my hand, I am quite good at it. So when we stopped for our breaks to cook, I would hunt for fish that live on the holes on the banks (gorh in Assamese) or nest on wild debris from fallen logs and twigs near the banks (jeng in Assamese). We gorged on fresh fish like xingora, borali, misa puthi and a lot more. We never had a dull day at lunch or dinner,” laughs Rishan.

They also drank from the river and were are surprised at the taste and purity of the water. This however, started to deteriorate as they approached Guwahati city. “As we entered Panikhati (10 kilometres from Guwahati), closer to OIL India, we experienced itchiness on our skin. Since we were closer to our destination we avoided drinking or eating.”

On their entire journey, they were greeted by people on the banks who offered food and water in the signature Assamese style of calling out to know about one’s well being and purpose.

“It made us extremely happy. They had no idea about our journey but cheered and offered fruits and water or whatever they had on them,” adds Shekhar.

Back in Guwahati the duo are in talks with Inland Waterways Authority of India to ferry their raft back to Majuli or Jorhat.

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