I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles
And I shall have some peace there,
–W. B Yeats (1865-1939)
Kaushik Nath, an entrepreneur from Guwahati in Assam runs an exquisite chain of resorts in rural areas of the state. Named Dekasang, meaning sang of the youths in Assamese (sang means raised or stilted platforms/houses), his one resort in river island in Majuli attracts tourists from across the globe and everywhere from India.
The main reason for so much visitors checking in his Dekasang resort in Majuli is its organic set up. The resort, consisting of sang ghars (raised houses) facing the river Luit, a stream of the Brahmaputra in Garmur area of Majuli is just like the world of Innisfree, cherished by Nobel laureate poet Y B Yeats in 1888. Like Yeats, tourists come to Dekasang in Majuli to live in peace in sang ghars made of eco-friendly and locally available heat resistant sustainable materials like wattles.
The cooling reed:
The Ravenna grass or Elephant grass locally called Eikora (Saccharum ravennae), a reed of Plantae kingdom of Poaceae family has been traditionally used in Assam Type houses mostly for ceilings and walls. It is a kind of reed that grows wild in marshy land, river beaches, and loamy soils.
Eikora shoot is hollow with nodes at an interval of 150 to 300 mm. Skin of Eikora shoot is thin but fairly strong and body of the shoot is covered between internodes by a heavy and siliceous sheath. The usual diameter of the Eikora shoot is about 6 to 16 mm. It grows up to 3 meters to 4.5 meters.
According to Hemant Kaushik of IIT Guwahati and K. S. Ravindra Babu of IIT-Hyderabad, the serviceable height of Eikora is about 2.5 to 3.65 m. Matured Eikora shoot (when the plant has flowered; it usually takes about 2 years for full maturity) is best suited for walling or roofing. Seasoning of Eikora shoot is done by sun drying for 12 weeks or by soaking it in water for 3 days and then sun drying. Eikora shoot has excellent bond with mud mortar, lime mortar or cement mortar (Kaushik and Babu).
Two types of Eikora walls are generally constructed in Assam Type housing—simple- and fine-type. In simple-type, Eikora reeds are placed in vertical orientation outside horizontal battens of walls and a single Kami lining (Kami is a long strip split out of bamboo).
It is usually 15 to 40 mm wide and is nailed to the battens at 300 mm intervals to confine the Eikora reeds. In between the battens, Eikora reeds are strengthened by alternate tiers of single and double Kami at 300 mm spacing vertically.
A cane rope or binding wire is used to tie the Eikora reed with Kami at a spacing of 300 mm. To impart better bond, Kamis are tied with polished ends towards Eikora reed and the split white portion exposed to receive plaster. Eikora reeds are not compactly placed in the walls but a gap of 6 to 15 mm is maintained between each shoot.
In fine-type walls, grooves are made longitudinally at the centre of wooden battens and then Eikora reeds are slipped into these grooves after cutting them to a proper uniform size. Kamis are fitted into vertical recess made in the battens. Stiffening and tying with Kami is similar as explained in the simple-type.
The main constituents of Eikora reed are starch and cellulose. It is less susceptible to insect attack, unlike bamboo. Most importantly the air content in the hollow inner core of the reed makes it heat resistant, and therefore, Eikora houses have good thermal insulation. Another important property of Eikora reed is that it does not shrink or flatten during the drying process.
It is this thermal insulation of the Eikora that made traditional Assam Type houses heat resilient.
The Dekasang Model:
In the last three decades, Eikora reeds have been replaced by bamboo matting as the former became scarce. The mud plastering of this later bamboo matting walls also served the same purpose of thermal insulation in the houses until it was further replaced by cement plaster and totally replaced by brick and cement.
Similarly in ceilings too, Eikora was first replaced by bamboo matting and then by jute sheets, plywood and finally by asbestos boards. This too contributed, though less than that of Eikora reeds, in reducing indoor heat from galvanized roofs.
In Dekasang Majuli, what Kaushik Nath has been doing is to reviving these locally available materials for sustainable housing with a view to providing a green solution to rising temperatures and comfortable living.
He extensively uses bamboo and Eikoras with locally available wood and fusions with modern materials like window glass panels and door panels to make a perfect housing solution in the time of environmental challenges and rising temperatures.
The sang ghars of Dekasang Majuli has walls made of flattened bamboos and floors with wood and meshed bamboo.
Kausahik Nath also makes use of both hay and galvanized sheets for the roofing. However, the possible heat radiated from the galvanized sheets in the roofs is well controlled by the ceilings made of Eikora.
The high rise ceilings made of Eikora reeds without any plaster has made the rooms of the resort very cool, cozy and aesthetically great. Thus the Dekasang in Majuli can be models for heat resilient housing solutions with traditional materials like Eikora and bamboo.
The story is being published as part of CMS-BEEP Media Fellowship Programme.