Life by the Maguri Beel

Two rivers – the Dibru and the Lohit - flow along together and meet a third - the Brahmaputra. This vast patch of land they give birth to is a treasure trove for wildlife and the Dibru Saikhowa National Park is located right there. To its south, exists a vast expanse of swamps and marshes interspersed with sandy islands.

The fishermen who live around this place have a name for it. They call it a beel. A long time ago, this beel had plenty of Magur, a kind of catfish. This gave birth to the name the Maguri beel. But that is not all; the Maguri beel gives life to many others.

  

The Maguri Beel's location.  It is to the southeast of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia district of Upper Assam

 

 

 

 

A huge fishing net standing in the middle of the beel with houses and trees in the background

The Maguri beel is unique. It opens itself to the river Dibru at one point, which makes it a combination of both still and moving waters.

 

A fisherman throws his net in the water to catch fish

Both riverine and wetland kinds of fish are found here.

 

A white lotus in the beel

Plants, insects and fish; the beel has a place for all.

 

A native woman picking snails from the beel

Snails, which are found in plenty are considered a delicacy. Picking them from the lake is a part of the daily routine of the women that live here. 

 

Two women with their heads covered with 'Gamucha' the traditional Assamese towel picking up snails

The beel has been the main source of food and sustenance for the people who live around it. It nourishes, sustains and protects life in myriad ways.

 

Men cooking at a patch of land that has appeared out from the beel

After the monsoons, the receding waters give rise to patches of swampy land. Fishermen live in these temporary spaces even using them to sort their day’s catch until the rains inundate the place again next season- nature’s own hide and seek.

 

Rare migratory birds picking up insects and small fish from the beel

In winters, the beel gets visitors from far-away lands. These migratory birds keep the beel’s water flowing preventing it from becoming another mosquito breeding ground.

 

A common wagtail flies over a mosquito net lying on a country boat

Common wagtail or Balimahi as it is locally called, is among the first birds to make its way to the beel. Its arrival announces the end of the floods and the impending arrival of the other migratory birds around September and October. Like many other birds, it feeds on small fish and insects- a natural vector protection for the people who live around here. The mosquito nets find another use though.

 

A huge blue mosquito net spread out in the beel with the help of bamboo sticks to stock fish

The mosquito nets are cheaper than the fishing nets and easier to find. The fishermen get hold of these from the nearby tea gardens that use these as bags for the tea leaves. Unlike the fishing nets designed for the purpose, the mosquito nets are destructive. Nothing can escape this fine web of plastic that takes away fish eggs and other aquatic life.

 

Traditional fishing barriers made of cane or bamboo

Traditionally, fish are caught using cane barriers. These allow the small fry to slip through, thus ensuring the future of the species.

 

Country boats halting at the bank of the beel to take passengers

Today, the lake is threatened by the very factors that contribute to its beauty. Excessive fishing using fine-mesh mosquito nets and increased tourism are upsetting this area’s delicate balance.

 

People walking on the other bank of the beel

Silt brought in after the floods, blocks parts of the river channel, thereby creating semi-dry patches of land. People have started filling this with sand or garbage. They get a piece of land while the beel loses a part of its body.

 

Timber being transported through the beel

Illegal timber cutting adds to the beel’s woes.

 

A father son duo sorting out their fish catch

The lives of the people are so closely woven together with life in the beel; survival skills are an essential part of a child's education. As the legacy is passed down from one generation to the next, questions on the survival of beel linger unanswered.