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Thursday, 21 November 2019

Sundarban Diary - Thrilling Lifetime Experience

Part I
Sreeja Ghosh



If I ask you about Sundarban,one of the world's largest mangrove forest, what will come to your mind first? Bengal Tiger. Yes the great Royal Bengal Tiger. But I must say Sundarbans means exquisite nature, the mystery and the music of jungle, rustling of leaves, shades of green and yellow, whistling of crickets, bird's chirping and serenity of the river. Sundarban is one of the world's largest estuarine forest criss crossed by hundreds of tributaries and creeks.





It was after a prolonged waiting I and my family managed to plan a short trip at Sundarban - the land of Bengal Tiger. On 11 October 2019.We headed towards this world heritage site located at the southern tip of west Bengal (A large part of Sundarban is included in Bangladesh too) and about 110 Km from Kolkata. 

https://youtu.be/emhQhudce9w





To reach Sundarbans you have to reach Gosaba block ghat at Godkhali first. We were supposed to meet at Godkhali with our tour operator. So we reached Canning via train from Jadavpur (one can also take train from Sealdah to reach canning). From there we reserved an auto to reach Godkhali. It took about an hour to reach there and from then we could feel the real thrill and were excited by anticipating the adventure.
while waiting to join the tour operator at Godkhali I had a conversation with few local inhabitants. They shared that how Bengal tigers has become part and parcel of daily life of Sundarbans. This is the land of Tiger, definitely man eater, crocodiles and King cobras.There are so many stories hidden in Sundarban that are undeniably gave us goosebumps. I was startled to learn from one of the ferry men (majhi) that in the last day itself the man-eater claimed a human prey from one of the village outskirts of the jungle!







Friday, 11 August 2017

An Unforgettable Experience in the Sunderbans Nocturnal Expedition

Sunderbans: A Memoir

Written By : Pratayay Sur


Moonlit Adventure  @ Sunderbans


As we set out on our midnight stroll, our local guide, Master da had us all engrossed in his light banter and we were completely at home in spite of our hesitations harbored in the myths and rumours of the strange land.

It was the day after full moon night and the lusty shrubs and bushes were all creating a perfect scenario where misconceptions could have built if we were singled out. As Master da also resounded our logical mind when he stated that most cases of spooky vision in the villages happened in the moonlit night. People were faked by their imaginations creating a moving figure out of a swaying banana leaf drenched in the moonbeams. Even the Sundari tree prop roots could resemble monstrous apparitions in the miry banks of the rivulets coupled with the shimmering waves conspiring to inject spirit into the naive branches.

We had been walking through a meandering path for quite a time which our conversation had stole us any record as well there was little significant landmarks to register apart from the boring bushes and sleeping huts and a series of coconut plantation and several misnomer trees straddling along. If were to trace back alone surely it would be a hefty task in spite of the the guiding moon which the villagers relied on more than the torch in this part of the fortnight.

Before we could be prepared for the spectacle we were completely taken aback by the dawning of the silvery expanse in front of us as if like a surreptitious python within hypnotic range. Suddenly Master da scurried few steps ahead and threw his arms wide open and then yelled out. It happened so abruptly that we first thought it to be his theatrical gesture at the natures abundance which has thoroughly spell bound us. Later we could notice him making some signals with his torch. Surely at this time of the night there was not a single dingy in the ferry ghat and we were startled to hear that Master da had already beckoned one of his childhood mates who was now in mid river with his fishing trolley completely obscured to naked eye. Before we could decide or react to Master da's proposal we all noticed a twinkling light appear in the horizon and slowly drawing closer making an engine rumble.

Rahamat, gleefully hugged his school friend and greeted us most cordially and then we were briefed of our nocturnal adventure plan. Mohitosh, Sanjib and me exchanged glances but at this time our emotions overcame any logical stand and like a commissioned soldier marched to the ghats following our leaders to board the trolley. There was a slippery plank adjusted to the trolley gate which tested us at the threshold of our secret expedition. We were teeming with suppressed excitement and now Master da gave us a speech which was no less than the directives of a commander on a special mission.

" My friends from Kolkata, you have been to Sunderbans but tonight you will get to know what Sunderban is and I would assure you that you can rely on the safety and my friend Rahamat is a licensed fisherman who has legitimate navigation permission as well as he is a trusted agent of the Patrolling guards informing any illegal activity in the night." We were confirmed seeing the Navy coast guard emblem in the walkie-talkie hanging beside engine room. " Ya, that walkie was gifted to Rahmat for his daring feat to nab a big pirate gang from Bangladesh 3 years back " We were dumbfound to learn that pirates that were only to be found in story books and hollywood films had their palpable presence, though few sporadic news were only to be found in district columns hardly fetching an alarm. 

Mohitosh quipped " We were thrilled of Sunderbans infested by Tigers and crocodiles but Pirates would now add spice to our adventure". Master da retorted " Sunderbans is a gateway of mystery and there are far more things than we know to challenge our logical limits". The cold humor almost silenced us when our pilot, Rahamat eased the situation," Dada... Master da is a storehouse of such experiences that will make you throw away your books to the sea....you may know he got a prize from our Government for his education but see now, he is doing some foreign research and even writing a book....." At once Master da intervened with his humble clarification.." Rahamat loves me very much since school since I used to help him during exams so now he repays me by eulogising me at every opportune moment" I and Sanjib both pressed him to tell us about his exploits to which he explained " Nothing that big, I was a Gold medalist in my Masters as well as in my PHD in history from C.U and now working on my research funded by National Geography....and my book rights are pre-sold to Govt. of India thats all " For us the dwarfish man in a shabby T-shirt and lungi, speaking in local accent at once mocked at our established notion of urbanized version of success. We were all now amused by the rustic version of swagger dipped in sublime humility. The reverberating engine announced our voyage and as if celebrated the little Master who could stoop to be a cook and then be a guide for some urban average beings.

Water color divide as seen when entering the backwaters

In the dead of the night our vessel sailed along smoothly with the engine sound somewhat dying out or may be our ears getting used to its drone. My wrist watch confirmed Rahmat's nature reading as it was exactly 15 mintues to 12 and Master da informed " The Old villagers even without having any chronometer could read the exact time just by the habit of reading the Sun, Moon and the shadows....it is in the modern times we have left the basics for the machines to record while we can be busy with something that we have manufactured and call work...." We all shared a hearty laugh at the simple logic and now in front of us was the Sunderban backwaters approaching, and to our amazement we could see even in the moonlight what Master da put " Friends look, we are now going to enter the backwaters and you can easily tell the color of the water distinct as if demarcated by an invisible line..."

 To be continued ....

1st Part ( Click If you have missed )






Monday, 15 May 2017

WHY SUNDARBANS IS STILL A MUST VISIT DESTINATION FOR ADVENTURE LOVERS

Sunderbans: A Memoir

Written By : Pratayay Sur
Sunderbans had always been a nostalgic haunt for me though I had never visited as a tourist, yet each sojourn had something which is worth sharing with you. The Sunderbans the largest mangrove forest in the world ( Shared by West Bengal, India and mostly Bangladesh), known for its Royal Bengal Tiger reserve, biodiversity, mudflats and estuary infested by crocodiles has always been a special reservation in my childhood imagination. Bengali literature teeming with mystery tales and adventures moored in the swamps of Sunderban is enough to harbor an uncanny aura.



If we dig into not so remote history, we are told that the Sunderban mangroves in the early 19th century could be traced from the vicinity of the city of Kolkata till it shifted farther due to ecological impact and human habitation. My grandfather used to narrate how the infamous tigers and crocodiles would frequent the outskirts of Kolkata, even crossing the Ganges. The fishing cats, wild boars and leopards were a common inhabitant of the village jungles of South Bengal.  Those days just like the common crow now, Kolkata was scavenged by a wild bird,called  Hargila ( Bone Swallowers )  which are now extinct. These creatures even had the ill reputation of snatching toddlers, and even the Calcutta Municipal Corporation used them in their logo. Let me not digress, to recall the first time I had my chance to visit Sunderbans, I had already been made aware of the do's and don'ts which fanned the belief that not all stories and reports were mere concoctions.


Pathar Pratima Bongjournalese

First Visit to Pathar Pratima ( South Sunderbans )
It was in the year 2007 I had an assignment for an NGO in Pathar Pratima ( Southern Part of Sunderban) and in the early June morning a Tata Sumo picked me up from Howrah station and one by one my fellow travelers boarded. Our car took the Diamond Harbour highway, seated beside our driver, a local resident of Sunderbans I could enquire about the facts and misconstrued conceptions. It sounded that the villages of Sunderbans were no distinct from the rest of Bengal,apart from the inclement weather ( being exposed to the Bay of Bengal ) and the few incidents of human encroaching on wildlife has to face the consequence. It was a long ride with few halts for snacks break and lunch at kakdip, we reached our destination in the afternoon. Pathar Pratima being an island we had to cross the ferry and finally rode a motor driven cycle van ( a common conveyance in the Sunderbans ) till we reached a High School in the middle of a village ( Lets call the village as Bhagabanpur, real name altered ) where we had to stay for 3 days and as our project demanded were to conduct our survey and social campaign in the surrounding villages. The hospitality of the villagers were really discernible, as they treated us almost as a divine messenger and ensured that we had no less comfort than home. Settling few formalities for the next day the evening greeted us with the steaming tea and oil cakes with puffed rice, the local snacks. The school building had solar light panels as an alternative power source as load sheddings were very common. As a makeshift arrangement during the vacation we were accommodated in three classrooms.
After a wholesome wild fowl roast and local prawn curry for dinner that night we proposed to walk some distance in the moonlight to ease off the overload. Our kolkata NGO team comprised of  five members who were colleagues, whereas I met them that morning but by then we had become a team. As we decided to take a stroll, a local member warned us of snakes as snake bite was a major causality concern in these parts. To our respite he was equipped with a mammoth five cell torch and we got some comfort when the cook offered to be a local guide in our nocturnal walk.

MASTER DA
He was an instant hit with us with his typical parochial accent and knack of telling anecdotes at every opportune instance. Master da as he was called, we were startled to learn that he had completed Masters Degree from Calcutta university in Bengali but chose to be the rustic private tutor in Pathar Pratima, after willingly leaving the kolkata lectureship job just because he missed his village folks and his freedom. We were told that his exploits were a popular lore of the villages in the delta, as Master Da seemed to nonchalantly flaunt such celebrity status with his greasy humble exhibition of teeth. One thing we were certain that his cooking exploits alone was enough to steal our hearts and we were humbled that he volunteered to take the role only for the pride of his village.
Our guide led from the front as we were heading towards the Pathar Pratima Ghat and the ambience was ripe for a moonlit night adventure. (to be contd...)



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