Tarini was waiting for us at Godkhali ferry ghat and it won my heart at the very first sight. Tarini, the white launch with well decorated cabin and an open terrace like top with comfortable chairs and tables ,was all set for our two days trip to Sundarbans. Tarini started with a warm smile from its crew members, the smell of the salty water welcomes us to its heart of wilderness.
The beginning of January has its share of coldness on this part of the world prominently, but the sun was kind enough to keep our enthusiasm high. Lunch was served with the river fresh Bekti and Crab; crowing of country hen from the kitchen below ensured our gastronomical delight and we did not look back anymore.
A view from the launch
Pakhiralaya was one and half hour journey from Godkhali and we reached here at 5 pm. We planned to view the famous BANBIBI PALA that evening at our hotel premises. It was short, with minimum stage craft but was entertaining and helped us to know the life and belief of the inhabitants of Sundarban. The honey collectors (Mouli), wood cutters, fishermen and others who have to ride the fierce rivers and dangerous forests of Sunderban to earn their living, worship the goddess Banbibi, a deity whom both the Hindus and the Muslims abide by.
Next morning our helmsman took our launch to Sajnekhali to get the permission from the forest departpartment. Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve has a good museum on the flora and fauna of the Sundarban. The eco-park hosts crocodile, tortoise, deer and various types of birds. In a hurry to see more wonders, we hastily started for Burir Dabri which was a 4-hour journey from Sajnekhali on a high tide stream. It is in the Basirhat Range i,e in the North 24 paraganas. Of course, our trip was to meet the King of Sunderban. We ride on river Gomdi (called as Gomar by locals), crossed Korankhali, Jhila and touched Raimangal to reach Burir Dabri. From Basirhaat Beat office we had to take a guide, our guide Harshit was a nice fellow. As this range of the forest is almost near the border of Bangladesh, river Kalindi was visible from a distance and the confluence of Raimangal, Kalindi and Jhila was turbulent and was no less vast than a sea. On our right was the infamous island of Marichjhapi where no one lives anymore.
A four-hour journey on a high tide might have become boring as no animal can be seen on a high tide, but the boats of the fishermen, the lonely fisherman with his net, the women crab collectors and the changing colour of the water engrossed my attention to a different world of difficult living. “After the cyclone Ayla, most of the people have gone away from this area to states like Kerala, Karnataka.” Said our helper on the boat.
--- Many of the islands have been vanished under water forever and many has lost their everything …so in search of a living they went away.
--- After a few years there will be probably no honey collector or fishermen here, isn’t it?
--- No ma’am, many find it economically helpful to be in these professions because the amount of fish they collect from these rivers are enormous.
--- But strenuous and dangerous, too
--- Unquestionably so.
I could realise the roots of the mangrove forest have a firm grip on its children, an attachment which cannot be ignored.
Different types of crabs are seen here
No, we could not see any animal on our first day trip leave alone a tiger at Burir Dabri though it is famous for tiger but the trees we saw, the modification of mangrove trees made my day. Trees like Garan, Garjan, Kankra, and shrubs like Horgoja, Hetal, Hodo were abundant here. My son collected the sample leaves for his scrap book, a hobby I encourage. Stilt root, Pneumatophores, Uterine germination all became alive here. It is true that there is no great teacher than nature itself.
Next morning, we started early on a low tide river. Today we would cover three points – Sudhanyakhali, Do Banki and Jharkhali.
Sudhanyakhali Tiger Reserve is full of monkeys. We marched through their daily chores towards the watch-tower. The view of the forest from the watch-tower is wonderful; channels are cut through the forest to have a better view of the animals. Two wild boars were grunting in the muddy side of the sweet water pond. Click-click-click –all were attentive. Suddenly two stags came lavishly to drink water and the wild deer in a wild forest is really a wild beauty.
Wild Boars and Deer . Picture Courtesy : Debopam Chakraborty
On our way to Do Banki some beautiful birds we saw but Do Banki did not fulfil the hope that Sudhanyakhali initiated.The canopy walk at Do Banki over the bank of river and mangrove forest is enjoyable in winter mornings. However, we started for our last destination Jharkhali.
The narrow creek of BONBIBIR KHARI and the dense jungle of Garan trees, silent bushes of Hodo and Hetal gave me a shudder while I took away my eyes from the lens of camera and noticed our surroundings. The wet banks were full of the footprints of Maharaja but I did not wish to see him at this point. Gradually we crossed the creek and reached Matla river and I could hear sound of sighs from the corners of our launch.
Picture Courtesy : Debopam Chakraborty
“Hey, look there, stop the engine”, Dipankar, our Colleague cum Manager attracted our attention to an almost 6/7-ft long crocodile busking in the lazy winter sun on the left bank, then another one on the right bank. But both were very cautious about our presence and did not stay longer on the river bank.
Jharkhali is important as the rehabilitation centre of tiger. Even the roar of a sick tiger was no less frightening, its appearance was no less royal – Royal Bengal Tiger is always royal.
Some of us bought honey and molasses (made from the juice collected from Date trees, a winter delicacy) from the Jharkhali Bazar.
On my left is Shyamda, our cook who made our journey tasty and on my right is Dipankar ,my colleague who planned the basics of our trip
Sunset on Matla
Now it was our time to go back to our life of urban civilization, but the call of the saline water was moaning in my senses, in my blood. I know I must come here again just to smell the salty oxygen, to see another gorgeous sunset, to enliven my claustrophobic soul through the simple smile of the people here.
(I am thankful to my friend Debopam Chakraborty for the pictures he allowed me to use. The thumbnail pic was taken by him at the Jharkhali Rehab Camp.)
A few things to remember:
· Sundarban is a plastic-free zone. Don’t use thermocol or plastic plates or throw such things in river.
· Low-tide is the best time to see animals and birds near river banks.
· Don’t play music in launch, it disturbs the animals and spoils the silence that nature blesses with.
· Always carry a photo ID proof, it is necessary for permission to enter the forest region.
How to Go
- By car to Godkhali or to Jharkhali, (good car parking facility available), then to the destination by Launch.
- By train to Canning, then to Godkhali or Jharkhali by autorickshaw.
- Launch should be booked earlier. A launch has the capacity of carrying more than 20 persons. Charge for two nights Rs. 14000/- (approx.).
- Entry Fees: - Permission charge for per person (Indian)
For Sajnekhali /Jhingekhali – Rs.30/- (per day)
For Sajnekhali, Sudhnyakhali, Do Banki – Rs.60/- (per day)
For Neti Dhopani – Rs.120/- (per day)
Permission charge for foreigners
For Sajnekhali /Jhingekhali – Rs.200/- (per day)
For Sajnekhali, Sudhnyakhali, Do Banki – Rs.200/- (per day)
For Neti Dhopani – Rs.200/- (per day)
(charge for guide is extra)
Where to stay at Pakhiralaya:
--- Apanjan Hotel& Resorts. Contact no. – 9733823110, 9734377188 (We stayed here, good one)
---- Avinandan Cottage (Madhuban Hotel). Contact no. – 9733591798, 9734856050,
Hotels here do not have TV, Geyser or A.C.