Didas was aware of the horrific traffic we were going to take on the 170km linking Sivasagar to Babblers Inn, in the vicinity of Tinsukia and Maguri Bill.
It chooses, therefore, to take us along an alternative route, much more rural and picturesque, which crosses successive lands on the side of the road, elevated in the face of endless rice fields that the stampede of the monsoon, around the end of September, had left to dry out.
By the state of Assam above
Most of these villages and hamlets are Islamic. The Indian state of Assam alone is home to over thirty million people. Of these, a third are Muslims with a deep historical origin, who resisted the flows of the Partition of India of 1947 and forced migration to the country. Bangladesh or Pakistan.
Didas is Hindu. It tells us that several of the state's thirty-three districts even have Islamic majorities. And it guarantees that the increase of their populations due to the high birth rate but, even more, due to the undocumented fixation of Bangladeshi from across the border has intensified.
To the point where the Delhi government considers it one of its priority problems.
As we watched it through the car windows, the abundance of bearded men in jilabes and white turbans and the succession of small local mosques confirmed the phenomenon.
Comparable to the reality of Kashmir but where, contrary to what happens in Assam, the independence resistance remains very active.
Three and a half hours after departure, we passed through Tinsukia. We didn't take long to find the Babblers Inn. Partha Sarathi Das, the owner, welcomes us with silky welcome handkerchiefs and sets us up. We had lunch without haste. Around three, the three of us left together.
Maguri Bill or Maguri Beel: a Stunning Assamesa Lagoon
A lover of photography and animal life, Partha wanted to show us the wonders of the Maguri Bill, a long, jagged pond, fed by the Doom Dooma River that the relative dryness of the North Indian winter, then kept shallow, dotted with islands and islets of vegetation.
Maguri Bill was dammed short of the flow of the Dibru and Brahmaputra rivers and of one of its largest island languages, that of Dibru Saikhowa, by the way, a reputed national park in India and one of its largest and richest reserves in the Biosphere.
Also close was still the great island of Majuli, that we would visit.
After spreading out in this vast lacustrine, the Doom Dooma resumes its meandering fluvial profile and flows into the Dibru. We didn't get to witness this union.
Partha stops for a moment in a Kohuwa Eco Camp that served as a base for the excursions into the lagoon. From there, we walked to a large, military-looking iron bridge over the Dibru.
Partha introduces us to a local boatman. This one makes us board. He barely sees us leaning against the current.
At this time of year, the pond is not as shallow as it can get. Even so, the boatmen who live there propel the wooden boats with long poles.
They use them as levers whenever they run aground on sandbars or in the dense jungle of water hyacinths.
Fishermen in these parts called the scenery Beel. At one time, it proliferated in Beel that we continued to raise the magur, a highly sought after catfish species.
Accordingly, the full name of the pond became Maguri Beel (pond full of Magurs). Over the years and over fishing, catfish will have declined. Several other species continue to inhabit there, with a predominance of birds.
A Remote Ornithologist Paradise
As the boat slides, successive flocks of ducks, geese, herons, storks, cormorants and the like, all with curious nomenclatures react to our incursion. Some swim to the limit of mistrust. Only after they start to fly.
Others, more intolerant, take off when we are still a few tens of meters away.
We limit ourselves to following and photographing the movements of the flocks that keep within reach of our lenses, often with White-Open Beaks, a type of stork smaller than the common one in Portugal, with a beak that, as the name suggests, never closes completely.
Both the Maguri Beel and neighboring Dibru Saikhowa attract a horde of ornithological tourists obsessed with spotting the species and specimens of their dreams.
It so happens, however, that some of them arrive enthusiastic about the size and supreme fame of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, but quickly become discouraged by the logistical difficulties and patience imposed there.
In these cases, they end up surrendering to the ease and immediacy of the Maguri Beel where, in a simple morning aboard a wooden boat, they detect a good part of the species they thought were exclusive to the Biological Reserve.
This was, in fact, the reason why the Bird Life International – a Global Network of Organizations dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats and diversity – declared an IBA (Important Birding Site).
The Fishermen and Collectors Inhabitants of Maguri Beel
Underneath the mat of water hyacinths and water lilies, the Maguri Beel is also home to a myriad of fish and amphibian creatures.
Warned of this availability of food, the natives keep fishing nets installed in strategic places.
They improvise them from mosquito nets or from large bags used by the neighboring plantations of the famous Assam tea. They also use barriers made of reeds, which are much more ecological as they allow the passage of younger fish.
And we also see them resorting to throw models, with weights on the tips and which allow them to catch casual catches. Some fishermen stay in basic tents that they pitch over sections of dry land.
These makeshift tents allow them to extend their fishing trips and increase incomes. A small minority usually (but not always) own wooden houses, safe from the floods brought by the monsoons.
In the low areas of the Maguri Beel, where the water is barely above the knees, we can still see men and women collecting and filtering large swamped tufts of vegetation.
Partha finds us intrigued and clarifies: “They are catching water snails that cling to the roots. People here love us.
They sell them easily in the markets.”
Back to the Bank and Babblers Inn
After an hour and a half of walking on board, we noticed that the environment was turning pink, as the sun rested on the horizon, hidden behind a dense mantle of clouds.
Simultaneously, the reflection of the great star slowly landed on the Maguri Beel and dyed it with shades of magenta consistent with those of the many water lilies that remained open. We reverse course.
In favor of the current, we return at a glance to the wharf of the Kohuwa Eco Camp. Partha installs us at an outdoor table.
Serve us a small snack that includes milk teas very hot. At that late hour, with so much water around, a frigid winter pit had taken over our bodies. Sugary teas immediately mask the discomfort and renew our mood.
We return to the Babblers Inn. Partha invites us to join him and his best man around a fire. "And would you join us for some booze?” they question us without ceremony, with the greatest desire for us to integrate.
We drank what they were drinking. We spent a lot of time chatting. Until the heat of the fire and alcohol combine with the fatigue of the morning journey and the successive awakenings in the early hours.
Partha had set the next dawn at five. An early sleep, lulled by the caress of the fire and conviviality, came in handy.
A New Morning Incursion
We awoke at that cruel but essential hour. The three of us left again towards the Maguri Beel. A thick fog covers the lagoon in mystery, with no signs of giving way.
Partha suggests that we walk instead of boarding at yesterday's wharf. We cross the bridge to the other side of Doom Dooma, a riverside community of Purani Motapung inland.
We continued along the dirt road that ran along it, along a sodden green bush crowned by strange peacock feathers that stood out against the mist.
Partha takes us to the rope and bamboo house of one of the resident families. They had just woken up. They were getting ready to go out to do their chores.
Partha greets them, introduces us and asks them about news of the lagoon's fauna; he wanted to know, in particular, if they knew if the buffaloes that used to roam its banks were around.
They tell him that they still hadn't noticed them that morning but that it was still early, and that it was possible that they were deeper inside the Maguri Beel.
Partha decides to look for them. He instructs the boatman who was accompanying us to rescue a vessel as we proceeded up the road to a shallower part of the lagoon where – so it seemed – we would be able to get onto the boat without getting bogged down.
Face to Face with an Armada of Asian Buffaloes
We return to the free navigation of the previous evening, among suspended fishing nets, species of lacustrine veils that the sun still diffused but increasingly insinuating transformed into enigmatic silhouettes and reflections.
The dispute between the mist and the big star flooded the swamp with a strong morning mysticism. The guide and boatman take us further into the lagoon. We keep an eye out for birds camouflaged by the floating whiteness. Equipped with binoculars, Partha sees ahead.
"Pull over there!" he says excitedly to the boatman. We disembarked again and made a slight illusory detour. When we point a telephoto lens in the direction it indicated, we understand the reason for its start.
A large herd of Asian buffalo shared a wetland between a verdant meadow and new high-grass forest.
"Let's get closer but very, very slowly." communicates to us. “As a rule, they just don't tolerate sudden movements towards them or too close. If we move forward little by little, if we stay a good distance, we don't get into trouble.”
Truth be told, the formation of several dozen of those hyperbolic bovines, owners of long, sharp horns made us uneasy. Even because their reflection in the still water of the mud flat gave the idea of being double.
We knew that, wherever they exist, wild buffaloes claim a considerable number of victims among humans. These would be of the same species or similar to those that were shipwrecked off the Brazilian island of Marajó and there they continue to proliferate.
We were also aware that Partha exploited the Maguri Bill and confronted them frequently.
Okay, we follow him.
Return to Base
We aim the lenses. We rejoice as much as possible when the great male leaders of the herd turn to us and try to intuit our intentions.
We get a little closer. One of the alpha males raises its muzzle, probing what the breeze was carrying, and scrapes one of its paws on the ground.
The repetition of his signal for one or two more specimens is enough to conclude that we were there for too long and that we had enough images. We reboard.
We reversed course oriented towards the channel where the Maguri Bill funneled into the channel that led to the great Dibru, on this side of the majestic and mythical Bramaputra
We return to the Babblers Inn. It is half past ten in the morning when we say goodbye to Partha and the family.
The next ten hours we spent them traveling back to Guwahati, the city itself on the banks of the Brahmaputra, in which we had inaugurated that already long journey through Assam.
Got2Globe would like to thank the following entities for supporting this article: Embassy of India in Lisbon; Ministry of Tourism, Government of India; Assam Development Corporation and Babblers Inn, Tinsukia.