For the first time in my life I spent more than 2 nights in a row at Calcutta. The initial plan was to attend Papai’s wedding reception and travel to some where around like Digha and back to Bangalore. We got our Bangalore – Calcutta ticket booked. Going was by train to save money and return was on flight so that we save time & energy before getting back to our daily routine.
Now people suggested against Digha and we settled for Sunderban. According to guide the place has not changed a lot - land where past lives in present and is not yet well connected well to Kolkata. We went through travel guide book and settled with Kali Travels. This travel company is run by two Australians out of Calcutta – David and Martyn.
We chose for 2 night 3 days package with them. So on the day Martyn showed up on time with a Innova. On our way out of Calcutta he briefed the plan for next 2 days.
As soon as we took the road out from Science City junction of EM bypass the landscape changed drastically. I felt as if I was on time machine. The small villages and rural bazaar on way reminded me of remote North Eastern part of India from my childhood which sounds surreal but true. Looks like in last 40 years of left-front government there is hardly any progress on their so called strongholds. The car dropped us at Sonakhali (approx 60 KM from Calcutta).
We had to wait there as was no immediate boat for Gosoba our destination. It was 26th Jan(Republic day) and there was not much happening at the river front. This allowed us to explore the adjacent village market. Found cobbler who are still selling stripes for rubber Hawaii sandals, reminded that uncommon in urban India where people probably changes their sandals if the strips is broken.
The boat was almost empty it was us and few passengers and the journey took almost an hour. As motor boat begins to sail towards its destination the scenery gradually changed from rural village evoking feelings of excitement, adventure and anticipation of unknown. We reached Gosoba - peak of afternoon had lunch and walked through the market. We got into the man pulled cycle-van rickshaw with flat bed to sit and put our luggage too. As it was our first time 6 KM long journey seemed never ending. Gosoba is one of the big island in Sunderban. There is no real electricity here, every machine that needs electricity runs on generator. There is no car or auto(Tuktuk) only few motorcycles which run on bio-fuel. Life seems less complicated in one sense but I was getting full EDGE signal on my Blackberry.
We stayed at Apanjan Hotel at Pakhiralya which is just opposite to Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve. One can see the tiger reserve entrance from this side of bank. At dusk went for village walk. Here most of houses are made of mattir ghor- house of mud which keeps it cool and walking through those winded narrow lanes we realized that we have become center of attraction. The attraction was two fold for the locals as we brown skin who shares a common mother tongue of the local along with tall blond fair skin Australian as their guide. But looked like Martyn is quite well known as “Uncle” to the local people. And they will converse in broken Bengali-English and lots of sign languages and catch up on their whereabouts.
Aarush was very busy chasing the stray dogs which were hanging around the hotel. And he went to sleep as soon as he finished his dinner. We had a simple Bengali dinner and chatted with Martyn on lots of subjects.As night begins to slip in the lullaby of mother nature, the music of blowing wind, distant call of restless wild life and rustling of branches gently put you to sleep as even generators are switched off by 10.00PM. Life in noisy city will drift away becoming a distant memory.
Next day woke up around 7ish and after breakfast got into boat and went to Sajnekhali Forest depertment to register ourselves. They assigned us one (compulsory) guide to show us around and enjoy a day cruise by boat through the creeks and canals of the dense forest. This hunting land is ruled by forest goddess Bonobibi to whom prayers are offered in order to maintain communal harmony between man & animal. So we too offered our prayers before starting our journey.
We saw lots of birds to start with displaying riots of colors and sounds and must admit few times we could not locate the camouflaged birds unless our guide with eagle eye pointed it. Egret, kingfisher, red vented bulbul, eagle, brahmini kite,brown winged kingfisher, indian roller, pond heron etc were spotted. There was baby crocodile who was basking in the winter sun as our boat approached he swam along the boat for a while before sinking altogether. While cruising we sighted water monitor lizard other than wild boars.
On spotting wild boar we realized suddenly our camera failed and was not responding to any button we pressed. Here the majestic king royal bengal tiger are endowed with good swimming power as told by our guide and are man eaters. We traced tiger paws while cruising along the mangrove covered banks.Well there are only few hundreds left in Sunderban and new census was going on while we were there. We heard fire-shots from Forest Officials who were in one of unmanned island collecting tiger poo(shit) to identify unique tigers. Earlier they used to get the claw molded in Plaster of Paris – as each tiger has unique claw just like our finger prints.
Our boat journey ended around 13:00 hrs. All along it was low tide which means you have better chance of spotting any wild life as more surface areas gets exposed.Actually both high and low tide has their own pros-cons. During high tide boat enters various creeks weaving in and out allowing to explore most forbidden areas of sunderbans. We stopped at watch towers where one can disembark and experience nature at its purest.While leaving from that point we saw some spotted deer and tried to capture it with Blackberry’s camera – what a luck!!!
After a day of adventure, had lunch thereafter Pamela & Aarush took siesta. I sat back and relaxed while discussing with Martyn his experience in China as a visiting Professor of English. Well his side of story is quite shocking as I never heard first hand experience on that matter.
In the evening we went for walk but it was dark. Lucky us as of full moon moon-light was enough to show us the way and we did not needed the torch most of the time. While walking we heard soundtracks from Hindi movies of 86/87’s played in distance causing havoc to the beautiful silence. It was surprising how much distance a noise can travel in a silent land.
The devastation from Aila (cyclone of 2009) can be still seeen; ground water is salty; when you wash your face for the first time you get real shock. The locals are yet trying to get back to their lives. But looks like there is hardly any or no-help help from government on that front. Lots of those broken dams needs quick fix before another floods hits this area.Potrait of words done by Amitabh Gosh on his famous novel " hungry tide” looks so real, people are really with big heart. The poorest one lives in the mud house next to dam where relatively well off stay inland. But as whole they are still backward in many terms.
As Aarush had a nap he refused to go to sleep early. There were only one couple from (Sweden) other then us in the hotel with a young noisy Nepali Guide. The guide arranged for a bonfire for them once the generator was put off at 10 PM. The tourist retired early while we enjoyed both the bonfire and moon-light from our balcony.
Somehow I felt bad as we started to pack our bags as I knew we were heading back to crowded madness of the city life soon. The boat was packed already when we reached Gosoba and it left immediately after we boarded. Me and Aarush took a privilege seat on the top of toilet but under shade. Aarush was not much happy with this arrangement – he was hungry as he refused to have his breakfast at hotel. So had some cheese and orange with me. But after 30 minutes or so I had to reunite with Pamela who was seating on the boat roof exposed to Sun. It was quite hot if you have to seat for long in Sun. So reached Sonakhali after almost 48 hours. Now had to wait for a while as we reached before expected time for our car to arrive.
The car came within 20 minutes or so and Aarush fall asleep after he finished a quick lunch.
Well if you like to travel and open to the ideas of exploring must suggest you to try Sunderban. On the economic front I am sure you can save a lot if you go by yourself. But we enjoyed going with Kali Travels and suggest you do the same if you have extra cash to spare. Binocular, sun-cap, umbrella, mosquito repellent and torch are must to be taken in this trip.