Sushobhan Mukherjee

Trip to Sundarban – a forest journey in Bengal

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Preface

This story is of last December. Due to time constraints, work pressure and of course lazyness, I always get delayed to have a timely post. Never mind, better late than never. Interestingly, last few travels I was writing in Bengali and suddenly realized it has been long time I have not written something interesting in English. Off late, I have made a habit of having leisure twice a year – summer and winter aligned with kids school vacation. Last summer we went to Digha. The moment, Winter vacation was nearby, we were exploring a quick short trip.  Finally thought of exploring jungle and found Sundarban to be the nearest destination.

My parents visited way back to Sundarban through Wandervogel. The owner of that travel agency, Mr.Sumit Batabyal is a good friend of mine and we had taken many tour services through him. This time also we planned for a Two Nights and Three Days (28th December to 30th December, 2018) package through him in “Sundarban Tiger Camp“, Dayapur. We were super excited to explore this forest delta.

Introduction

Sundarban is world’s largest delta and named from the Sundari trees and abounded with deadly snakes, crocodiles, and Royal Bengal tiger.. This mangrove forest is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO and the same is formed by the confluence of the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghana rivers. Life here is governed by the low and high tides.

The amazing wonderland is sprawl over 10,000 Sq. Kms spread across India and Bangladesh. The Park gained the status National Park on 1984 and become the designated kingdom of the famous Royal Bengal Tigers.

It used to host maximum number of tigers (as per an unofficial record, 270 were counted in 2004).However present claim is only about 100-120 tigers to be available there.

These forests are home to a variety of wildlife including variety of chirping birds, reptiles, and numerous of invertebrate including crocodiles. Our visit was to learn about their habitat, prey base, and adaptations for survival in these mangrove forests.

The excursion was a perfect fusion of wildlife, deep forest, birds watching and most importantly learning about  the varied custom and culture of the local people.

DAY 1 (28th December, 2018)

·         Journey from Kolkata to Sundarban

Sundarban is not reachable directly by train or bus. Nature has protected this dense forest from human invasion by separating it by series of rivers and tributaries.

The last rail station is Canning to approach further to reach the magical land. There are plenty of buses from Kolkata to Gosaba. Boat services can be availed either from Gosaba or Gadkhali.

We had taken Uber ride from Birati early morning to reach Priya Cinema Hall, Deshapriya Park by 7am. By 7.30, many other groups, co-passengers, families got assembled to ride the scheduled Bus Ride towards Gadkhali, our boat riding point. It was an AC luxury coach with 40seats capacity and the journey kicked off by 8am. We had been served a packed breakfast (sandwich, khasta kochuri, sweets) with mineral water immediately after our ride started. The bus took Basanti highway and reached the destination by four hours. There was a midway break for 30mins due to nature’s call and tea refreshments. We took a brisk walk towards launch ghat while the luggage were transported by rikshwa van.

We boarded in a Boat from Gadkhali Jettey for a spectacular ride through the amazing forest, islands and narrow creeks of the river. The boat captain and the lovely ornithologist was continuously guiding about the journey, places, history, geography and ofcourse mythology to make the journey memorable. We cruise through rivers Gomor, Durgadhwani to enter river Pitchkhali on banks to reach Dayapur Island where Sunderban Tiger Camp was situated.

The overall boat ride was around 2 hours and was fun filled with mild winter waves and refreshments.

We landed to Dayapur Island at around 2pm and we were greeted with local rituals at the entrance of the resort before checking into our rooms.

There are many different categories of rooms and facilities in this resort starting from AC/Non-AC Cottage, Rooms upto huts. We were allocated executive AC Cottages 3&4 as per pre-booking and packages. We rushed for hot lunch after a quick shower. We had been told to report at Launch Ghat by 4pm to cruise for Sajnekhali.

·         Sajnekhali

We cruise through the creeks and canals of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve forest and endemic and migratory birds and wildlife to Sajnekhali watchtower and Mangrove Interpretation Centre. Our guide obtained pass for all members beforehand and in effect immediately, we could venture into the jungle. The famous Sajnekhali tourist lodge located here. No one lives on this island outside this protected area except wild beasts. Inside the forest office, we have seen Mangrove Interpretation center. Crocodile pond, Bonobibi temple, and wild lizard’s pond.

As the sun sets in the distant horizon we returned to the resort to refresh and join for Hi-Tea with Snacks. Mouthwatering momo along with hot tea and coffee were served and the same was followed by bonfire and Tribal Dance to make our evening more memorable. The folklore depicted their century old cultural in its true native form. They showcased happiness and hardships in their lives through dance and recitals of their folklore.

A warm dinner cooked with farm fresh vegetables and was served at the Fishermans Wharf dining hall . The Dinner had soup, chowmin, fried rice, prawn, chilli-chicken along with desserts.

DAY 2 (29TH December, 2018)

·         Dobanki Camp

We woke up early to the chirping of birds and morning wake up bell. A hot cup of tea alongwith biscuits were served in our balcony. We refreshed quickly and boarded by 7am for a thrilling cruise towards Dobanke Watch Tower through creeks and dense forest and numerous rivers.

Breakfast was served on the deck with Idly, egg scramble, bread toast, butter, jam, fruits along with hot coffee and tea. We continued to search for wild animals both sides of the river while cruising through river creeks. Different birds, dear, crocodile and tiger pug marks were evidenced with great charm and enthusiasm.

Once we boarded at the jetty at Dobanki, the major excitement was the canopy walk to experience live animals from Dobanke Watch Tower with a 360-degree view the forest. The canopy walk was through a 20 feet elevated path (covered with iron mesh) through the deep mangroves forests.

On the return path our boat took more narrow path of a tributary and our exploration continued for the search of beasts on the river bank. This forest area was really dreadful dense and uncanny silence.

In sunderban, there is a popular saying, you might not find tiger while searching in the river bank or in jungle, but the tiger is surely watching you from deep jungle.

On the both sides, we found various types of mangroves sharing the riverbank and water was covering the base of dense mangroves forests.

We cruise back through Matla Sea Face (the point from where Bay of Bengal can be seen) to Sunderban Tiger Camp for lunch.

The Tiger Camp hosts various kind of trees alongwith different kind of Birds. Visitors can easily go to the watchtower to observe the birdlife. There are approx. 64 species of birds at the Tiger Camp.

In the afternoon we went for a village walk of Dayapur. The walk was to learn about the lifestyle, local crafts, cuisines, and way of life of the local villagers. We observed their indigenous farming methods and how their houses are completely mud made with small entrances.

On return to  the resort there was a wildlife movie along with tea, coffee and pakoda. The same was followed by banabibi pala.

The folklore of Bono Bibi is known to the people of Sundarbans like every Christian knowing about Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bono Bibi puja celebrated every year during January, when the text of the Bonobibir Jahurnana, composed in 1877 by the Muslim Poet Munsi Byanuddin Saheb is sung, narrating the life and mirades of Bonobibir and other related characters Dakshin Rai, Sha Jungli and Gazi Saheb.

The miracles of Bonobibir and her brother Sha Jungli had a tremendous influence upon the people of Sundarbans because both of them perform miracles to come to the rescue of the people of Sundarbans when in distress.

In distant past, there was one Dhana Mouli (Mouli Class of people collect Honey i.e Madhu) who was suffering from terrible financial problems. One day tired and distressed Dhona Mouli was asleep when he had a vision from Dakshin Rai, son of the king of Jungle, Dandakashya a Hermit by nature. Dakshin Rai, in fact was a sorcerer and incarnation of Tiger.

Dakshin Rai advised Shona (in his sleep) to sail towards Sundarban for collection of Honey.While sailing for Sundarbans, he should take along with him a little bay named Dhuki 8 years of age. Dhona sailed for Sundarban accordingly with his village boatmen and Dhukhi.

In the meantime, the cruel sorcerer, Dakshin Rai sucked all the honey in Sundarban in his custody. naturally worried Dhona since he could not find honey had gone to fast sleep. Dakshin Rai finally appeared in his original tiger form and asked Dhona to handover Dhulhi to him and in lieu Dakshin Rai promised boatful of Wax and Honey to Dhona. Realising the evil intention of Dakshin Rai, Dhona requested in vain to spare the life of little innocent Dukhi. However, Dakshin Rai was not moved. Dhona had no other option but to have a little Dukhi in the hand of Dakshin Rai. Dhona on arriving his native village informed Dukhi’s mother losing the life of Dukhi by a tiger.

As soon as Dhona left, Dakshin Rai lost no time in attempting to devour little Dukhi.The helpless boy in utter distress facing certain death, appealed to Bono Bibi, the saviour oof Jungle and her brother. Sha Jungli to come to his rescue.A fierce battle took place between Shah Jungli and the wily Dakshin Rai. Shah Jungli was the ultimate winner and dukhi was rescued from the clutch of Dakshin Rai and was sent back to his mother by riding on the back of a crocodile, who happened to be a career of Godess Bono Bibi.

Dukhi, introduced the Puja of Bono Bibi by collecting alms from village to village. since then, Bono Bibi is worshipped by the people of Sundarban irrespective of Caste, Creed and Religion.

Bono Bibi Temple always hosts Bono Bibi, Dakhin Rai, Dhona, Ghazi  sahib manily and these are the perfect example of harmony beyond religion.

This was the last night at the resort the dinner was served at open air garden with kebabs and off course bonfire.

DAY 3 (30th December, 2018)

·         Sudhanyakhali


Day 3 was also scheduled for early morning waking up with bed tea. We had to get ready by 7am as usual to report at the boat. Today’s plan was to visit Sudhanyakhali Watchtower. Breakfast was served at the boat as usual.

We could see different types of mangroves on the left bank. We now can see many infamous creeks entering into the deep forest. Entry paths of those creeks are covered with nets so that fishing boats cannot enter into deep jungle for crabs and honeys. If lucks favors, we can see the glimpse of tigers at the swampy river bank.

Breakfast was served on the deck with Sandwich, Boiled egg, Rajma Curry, Bread toast, butter, jam, fruits along with hot coffee and tea.

We could see many types of mangroves both side. Notably golapata, sundhari, Goran all covered both river banks. We observed many big fruits are hanging from trees. We had to walk through the caged walkways after disembarking towards the watchtower, searching for the wild animals. We could see lizard in the pond as well as monkeys surrounded.

·         Return

We returned resort by 11am from Sudhanyakhali. After having lunch at the resort , we checked out and boarded for returning to kolkata via Gadkhali. By this all fellow trvellers had become like a team or an extended family. We kept of enjoying by “Antakshari” for around 2 hours for celebration of this wonderful tour.

Important Places left out

Pakhiralaya, Jharkhali , Netidhopani, Buni Camp, Kalas Watch Tower etc was not covered during this short trip. Look forward exploring these areas while visiting through some other route.

Sunderban travel tips:

Sundarban tour guide: Some important information for travelers:

  • Best time to visit Sundarban: From September to March every year. In winter, there are greater chance of seeing tiger, crocodile and other animal on river bank.
  • How to reach Sundarban ?

Sunderban can be reached through various routes. We have reached Sunderban via Godkhali. Dhamakhali. But, it is better to reach core jungle via launch thorough Gosaba or Dhamakhali as well.

  • Where to stay in Sunderban ?

There are many places in different ilands starting from resorts to budget hotels. We had chosen for Sunderban Tiger Camp in Dayapur through pre-defined packages. However, if you are looking at choosing hotels directly on reaching the spot in order to have better negotiations instead of pre-booking, then pakhiralaya will be the best place to have night halt. There are about 35+ different budget hotels in that location.

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Author: Sushobhan Mukherjee

Co-founder and CEO of Prime Infoserv LLP, one of the leading System Integrator and IT-space consulting ecosystem of Eastern India working with top pan-Indian and global brands. 18 years of experience in the domain and is a key industry voice with memberships in Indian premier IT trade bodies like NASSCOM and TiE. A bootstrapping enterprise-builder with a high flair for teaching and mentoring.

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