Sundarban Chalo


“In our legends it is said that the goddess Ganga’s descent from the heavens would have split the earth had Lord Shiva not tamed her torrent by tying it into his ash-smeared locks. To hear this story is to see the river in a certain way: as a heavenly braid, for instance, an immense rope of water, unfurling through a wide and thirsty plain. That there is a further twist to the tale becomes apparent only in the final stages of the river’s journey- and this part of the story always comes as a surprise, because it is never told and thus never imagined. It is this: there is a point at which the braid comes undone; where Lord Shiva’s matted hair is washed apart into a vast, knotted tangle. Once past this point the river throws off its bindings and separates into hundreds, maybe thousands, of tangled strands.

Until you behold it for yourself, it is impossible to believe that here, interposed between the sea and plains of Bengal, lies an immense archipelago of islands………”

Author Amitava Ghosh in ‘The Hungry tides’

This is the Sundarban, the beautiful forest. Also home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.

great-swimmers

The Royal Bengal tiger is one of the most majestic creations of Mother Nature. Known for its grace, beauty and ferocity, it can grow up to twelve feet in length and weigh as much as 190 Kgs. Possessing the longest canine amongst meat eating mammals, the Royal Bengal is a solitary animal and marks large territories for itself extending up to two hundred square miles. It has adapted itself to the Bengal mangrove ecosystem of the Sundarban by being an ardent swimmer; anything that moves in this habitat is food! One forceful attack and the prey has nowhere to run; the Royal Bengal possesses such power as to snap the spinal cord of the victim in one jerk. A less known fact is that in one to one combat with a lion, the king of the forest, the Royal Bengal tiger has almost always won. And like the erstwhile Royal families of India, the Royal Bengal Tiger is well on its way to extinction.

( Facts from Internet )

Our trip to Sundarban starts with a car ride to Godkhali ferry ghat which lies at the end of the Bengal peninsula. The road ends at a decrepit sign announcing, ‘Gateway to Sundarban’ next to the worn steps of the ghat. A short boat ride to the island of Gosaba and we step into a Bazaar, its by-lanes, its teeming humanity and the filth and squalor which today’s plastic, paper and throwaways create. Alas! Quite a contrast to the vision I had held about Bengal’s villages in my mind’s eye.

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Forty five minutes of bone rattling auto-rickshaw ride through grain fields, ponds, and hutments later we are finally at our Eco-resort. With the promise of Sundarban just beyond the flowing waters.

Sundarban. A UNESCO World Heritage site. The name itself conjures up exotic images for me. Of narrow waterways hemmed in by overgrown foliage on the banks. Of boats navigating the waterways in stealth with the rowers in search of the wood of Sundari trees, the much sought after Bagda Chingri ( Tiger prawn) and madhu (honey). Of crocodiles waiting on the banks in ambush for their prey.Of giant pythons coiled around tree branches. And of course of the Royal Bengal tiger swimming out in the darkness to climb onto the boats.

As we journey on our river cruise away from inhabited islands to the uninhabited ones, the stark beauty of arguably the largest mangrove forest land in the world begins to unfold. The kaleidoscopic flora seamlessly embracing the silted land and the silt laden waters. The fascinating adaptation of the different mangrove species to the tides and the saline water with the stilt and the breathing roots. The latter manifesting as countless hard spikes sprouting out of the ground. As if warning that you enter these lands at your own peril. As we get to  the widest water expanse created by the confluence of five rivers, the boat engine is shut. The sudden stillness and silence is enigmatic. Of time standing still, as if waiting for the Sundar Ban to reveal its mysteries.

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Which brings me back to that star attraction of Sundarban, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Well we fail to spot the guy even though we do the rounds of the three main watch towers in the Tiger reserve- the Sajnekhali, Dobanki and the  Sudhnyakhali. But in the bargain, we do get vantage views of the magnificent Sundarban forests as the guide points us to the Goshap     (Water monitor lizard), Horeen ( spotted deer), Kumeer ( crocodile) and different bird species.

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As we prepare to leave Sundarban, I sense its allure beckoning me to come back again.Inviting me to explore more of the complex network of tributaries and tidal waterways between the islands and atolls. Inviting me to marvel at the creation of new islands as the old ones submerge under cyclones and tides. Inviting me to immerse in the mythology of Goddess Bonbibi, that ultimate saviour of the forest and all who venture within. Inviting me to once again savour the ethereal sunset and enveloping darkness on the Vidya Dhori river. And of course inviting me to set up one more rendezvous with the elusive Royal Bengal tiger.

As I once again undertake the bone rattling auto rickshaw ride on my return journey, I see the beauty and tranquility of  an agrarian lifestyle jostling to retain its place amongst the ugliness and discomfort imposed by so-called ‘development’- once concretised roads lying dilapidated and broken,  haphazard and unfinished infrastructure and the filth of plastic and other wastes. Just like the Sundarban tiger and other wildlife having jostled for space with the ever expanding humanity through decades……….

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Sitting in the ferry moving towards the mainland, I think of the socio-political leadership needed for inclusive development of the simple and friendly people of Sundarban. Leadership which would hold the ability to listen to and align with the concerns of all on the ground. But beyond such Leadership, the question that comes to my mind is , “What could each one of us do to support and sustain the rare and fragile ecosystem that is Sunderban?”

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In Learning….

Shakti Ghosal

Travel Recommendation :  We travelled using the services of Sundarban Chalo Tours   Contact No. 9748278990, sundarbanchalo@gmail.com

We had booked the 2 nights 3 days  Tour package. I believe we need this kind of a  period to  savour and appreciate the sights and sounds of Sundarban.

While we had opted to join the tour from  Chowringhee Lane,  Sundarban Chalo Tours  in fact had  several  convenient pick up points in Kolkata for  guests. We found the vehicle quality and driver to be excellent.

 The company owns its own boat and crew and so we felt  we were on our own private cruise while sailing in the Sundarban river network and estuaries!  The  tour coordinator and the guide went out of their way to make the trip memorable  with piping hot breakfast and lunch cooked and served on-board.

The Eco-resort we stayed in was clean and the employees extremely friendly and customer oriented. All the meals served was freshly cooked with a surprise evening entertainment program of folk music, dances and barbecue under the stars!

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10 thoughts on “Sundarban Chalo

  1. But now sundarban chalo tourism is no more good guide operator.. They have lack of management and also they even sent drunken driver. Even when we told mr vivek about the fact he seems not to bother. The trip started fine but the real picture came on the next day. Boat was changed on the next day. Very bad

  2. A delightful article, Shakti, for which many thanks, and you inspired me to go and read the extensive Wiki page on the region, it being – I’m ashamed to say – completely unknown to me previously. With all best wishes, Hariod.

    • Dear Hariod,

      Thank you.

      I had been off blogging for a while. Several reasons…. and there is no point in getting into all that. But it feels great to be back and touch base again with dear “Blog-friends’ like you.

      I do trust you found the greater descriptions of Sunderban in Wikipedia fascinating. Sadly, we humans, as the dominant species on this planet, are slowly but surely killing the many fascinating and sensitive eco-systems that exist alongside us. Sunderban is one such place; a reason why the visit brought more sadness than pleasure for me.

      Shakti

  3. Shakti, great to hear from you again. And I think there is a mighty need to stop eradicating wild places on this earth; to stop eroding the agrarian lifestyle that balances the city life so many seem to crave. My husband and I have always chosen to live in the most serene of country settings, even unto choosing the end of the road on Hawaii Island’s north shore. Driving back from the movies last night ‘in town,’ something we rarely do, as ‘town’ is 1-1/2 hours’ drive from here, I mentioned, as we drove through the darkness of night, the wide open Alenuihaha Channel on on side of us and the Kohala Mountain range on the other, how uncomfortable such vast stretches of ‘nothingness’ must make those who have never lived as we do, and once again we expressed our deep gratitude in being able to support ourselves in our chosen lifestyle. Being 3000 miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean suits us just fine 😉

    I hope you get a chance to return to Sunderban. As for what we all can do to support its fragile ecosystem, I think each of us must answer nature’s call and follow our hearts to the causes the planet draws us to, and there are many. There are countless species of creatures going extinct, and too little caring, in my opinion. I have little else to offer except I’m pretty sure our own species has a shorter shelf life than many are aware of. All things must pass, and we would do well to remember that – then perhaps we can attend more humanely to the miracles we witness every single day on this precious Earth. Aloha, dear one, and hoping you are well.

    • Dear Bela,

      The pleasure is all mine to hear from you again. I had been off blogging for many months. and so it feels lovely to touch base and see you here . Feels like catching up with a long lost friend!

      As always, you have brought in so much of wisdom in your comment. I am particularly fascinated by your thoughts about Homo Sapiens’ ‘shelf life’ on this planet. Though unsure what made you say that, I have a theory which makes me reach that very same conclusion! Which is that intelligent species like us are prone to disturb the natural balance of the Universe and thus cannot be sustainable in the overall scheme of things !!

      Methinks you and I could share a blog thread on our respective hypothesis about the shelf-life of our species. ( Just kidding !)

      The fact that you with your husband have chosen to live in the country and abjure the glitz of city life is because of a heightened consciousness that you possess which sadly most folks do not.

      Cheers and God bless.

      Shakti

  4. First and foremost Shakti, welcome back!!! I was wondering if you would return to share your enlightening thoughts. What an amazing place Sunderban is. Talk about wild and the land of the survival of the fittest…Anyone can be anyone’s meal. You venture to the most incredible places! How majestic the Bengal tiger is. Whomever took that photo of him/her swimming must have had an extended telephoto lens, I hope. That is far closer than I would want to get.
    One of my sweet and placid kitties I share life with is called the Bengal breed of house cat. She has amazing stripes and designs on her head and sides and on her stomach are spots. She is my most favorite kitty ever and thankfully does not have the characteristics of the Tiger! Just a fun fact 🙂
    Blessings to you my friend and may you and your family share a meaningful and loving holiday ahead! By the way Shakti, the times we often hoped for and wrote about way back when are unfolding right now and it is amazing! It kicked into full gear with Brexit and then with the shocking results in the American Presidential race. The ‘dark’ was slammed and stripped of it’s powers to continue on with their evil agenda. The light has stepped forward and taken over and hope once again beats in many hearts. It is a wonderful thing to behold. I think the world will begin to see a very different America soon and life will blossom outward from this new beginning. Stay strong and be well and know life is changing for the better. It has been well worth the journey we have all been on.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you Shakti. Don’t get too close to those Bengals now! VK ❤

    • Hi VK,

      Such a pleasure to see your comment first as soon as I posted. And thank you for your kind and gracious welcome. I truly appreciate! Indeed I had been off my blog-site for a while. But it feels great to be back thanks to dear friends like you!

      Yes, Sunderban is an amazing place. Amazing not only because of its complex and fragile ecosystem which is constantly adapting to changes. But amazing because it helps one to see one’s own place in this fragile universe and the great responsibilities that we carry.

      Well that picture of the Royal Bengal is not by me but taken from Google’s archives. The other ones are shot by me using my phone camera.

      Loved that story of your kitten. Now of course you understand the significance of the ‘Bengal breed’ ! ( Just kidding) And yes, the times, they are a changing. Not only in the US but also here in India with our own political forces going through deep realignment.

      God bless.

      Shakti

      • Glad you are back Shakti….The whole world is in major flux right now. The people are rising up to take back what is rightfully theirs. Quite a journey. Have a wonderful Christmas filled with love and caring. Sending you and your family love and best wishes…VK

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