The Sundarbans : A long cherished dream

This travelogue is about my tour to the Sunderbans. Myself with some of my friends visited the Sunderban National Park in January 2015. Since I live in Kolkata, it is easy for us go places around south Bengal. Twice I went to the Sagardwip, the largest island in the Sunderban (once to attend Sagarmela and another on a general tour). But never I had been to the core of the Sunderbans. To fulfil that long cherished dream we went out in January last week this year.

SUNDERBAN means beautiful (sunder) forest (ban) in Bengali. The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. After division of country, apprx 60% area went into Bangladesh, balance 40% lies in India. It was inscribed as world heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. So we decided to visit this area placed so near to Kolkata.

23rd January 2015 – From Kolkata to Canning :
Since the last weekend of January offered some holidays, we preferred to have a 2 night 3 day tour starting from 23-01-2015 and contacted a very private and homely tour operator. We took a local EMU, namely Canning local, to get down at terminal Canning station at around 10.50 in the morning. It normally takes 2 hr journey from Sealdah south station. At Canning, other tourists of our group assembled, counted to be 20 in total, and got introduced to each other while having a nice pack of snacks.
But my friendly advice to all to avoid rail journey, rather take SUV or jeep type of car from Kolkata, or can make the entire journey by launch itself starting from river Hooghly at Kolkata. There are govt package tour, as well as AC launch tour operated by renowned private companies.

From Canning to Sonakhali :
From Canning railway station we went straight to Sonakhali ghat. A four cylinder launch “MB Maa Chandi” was waiting for us. It was a small but comfortable double decker launch with inbuilt toilets. The upper deck was equipped with seating facility in the front side and kitchen, dining space and a toilet in the back side. The lower deck was housed with many double beds in a dormitory system with two toilets in the front side. The motor room was inside a separate chamber in the back side. All the tourists taken their respective beds and placed all baggage there. Then we sat in the upper deck and the journey from Sonakhali started just before 12 noon.

Group Photo

Group Photo

River Journey

River Journey

Rivers in the Sunderbans are totally different from the ones we used to see in other parts of India. There are numerous rivers with continuous flow towards the south in case of low tide (bhata). The flow is reverse in case of high tide (jwar). Rivers are wide and inter-connected with each other with so many water channels. All are natural. The banks are glossy muddy and do sparkle when direct sun fall on them. Small red crabs are commonly seen everywhere. There are crocodiles also, but not so common in densely populated banks. But one should be vigil enough not to fall prey to them.

Aerial Root

Aerial Root

Dead Wood Art

Dead Wood Art

Journey started to the interior of Sunderbans :

To Gosaba:
We continued our journey through the river. There were human habitations on both the river banks. Gradually, presence of human beings and domestication started decreasing. River got wider. Mangrove forest still not started to be seen. First we stopped at Gosaba. It took almost 50 minutes to reach there. Just in front of the ghat, there was local police station. On turning to the right, we visited the bungalow, where Shri Rabindra Nath Tagore stayed on 30th and 31st December 1932 on an invitation of Sir Daniel Hamilton. The bungalow is surrounded by a nice garden, where a full size statue of Tagore is placed. The old bungalow could survive the devastating hurricane Aila that pulverised entire south Bengal on 25-May-2009. We came back to launch and had freshly cooked hot and smoky lunch. From Gosaba, we proceeded to our next venue Sajnekhali tiger reserve.

Bungalow at Gosaba

Bungalow at Gosaba

Tagore Statue at Gosaba

Tagore Statue at Gosaba

To Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve:
In this part of the journey we could see the famous mangrove forest, since we entered into a totally different world. The bushy forest was not tall enough, but was very dense, so that any animal can easily hide behind it. Apart from Sundari tree, there was Hetal, which is very favourite of the royal Bengal tigers. In this area, rivers are very wide. Somewhere it is so wide that you cannot see the opposite bank. Our launch pilot continued to drive the vessel close to the river bank, keeping a safe distance of 30 feet and allowed us to have a close view of the natural forest. We were simply speechless. The surrounding was absolutely calm and quite. Only sound was that of the engine of our launch. We saw lot of wild monkeys and many species of birds. But no tiger could be seen.

Journey Thru Channel

Journey Thru Channel

Sajnekhali Gate

Sajnekhali Gate

We reached Sajnekhali tiger reserve at around 3 pm. Here you have to get the permit issued by Sunderban Tiger Conservation Foundation Trust. The permit is essential to visit Sunderbans. It would be better to mention here that, in all tiger reserve islands, the area, where govt. employees, tourists make movement, are safeguarded with thick wire mesh high boundaries. Right from start of river ghat, upto the inner most area, you will find high wall of iron grid. In this island also, the office area, permit counter, handicraft selling centre, watch tower – all are surrounded by wire mesh boundary for protection from tiger. Useful notice board mentioning entry fee, fee for camera, guides etc. is placed at prime position.

Sajnekhali Park

Sajnekhali Park

Sajnekhali Rate List

Sajnekhali Rate List

A govt owned tourist lodge is available at Sajnekhali for accommodation, which has non-AC suite, non-AC double bedded room and dormitory. The surrounding is very natural and calm, far from city noise.

Sajnekhali Room Booking

Sajnekhali Room Booking

There is a Banbibi temple nearer office area. Let us have a brief idea about Banbibi. Since time immortal, human beings kept safe distance from tigers. In many places in India, tiger is worshipped for safety. In north Bengal, tiger god is named “Sonaroy”. In south Bengal, his name is “Dakshinroy”. Simultaneously, a goddess is also there named “Banbibi”. This goddess is religion independent. It means, both hindus and muslims do worship Banbibi. Before entering into core area, woodcutters, honey collectors, fishermen etc. worship Banbibi or Dakshinroy for protection.

Now let us come back to Sajnekhali. In this island, there is a beautiful museum with top corporate look. Plantations and living beings at Sunderbans have been very well depicted in this museum. There are some clay models of tiger and fishermen, who just look like real ones. Our visit to this island was enjoyable. Then we moved on to our next venue at Sudhanyakhali tiger reserve.

Sajnekhali Museum

Sajnekhali Museum

To Sudhanyakhali Tiger Resevre:
We reached Sudhanyakhali at 4.30 pm. Here also we visited the Banbibi temple first. Then we went up to the top of watch tower. The sun was tilting towards the west. The golden glow made the surrounding very mysterious and romantic. From high above we kept on looking at the fresh water pond created for animals. They come here to drink water and allow tourists to have a glance at them. Fortunately we saw so many deers roaming around the pond. A little one was running here and there fearlessly just like our own kids behave in a park. Some were drinking water and some went away towards the surrounding forest. We stood atop the tower and enjoyed the pure air. Adjoining forest and river could easily be seen. Then the security personnel requested us to vacate the place to go back to our launch. As because tigers can come out in the evening, our priority should be to remain safe with all ladies and kids. We boarded our launch at 5 pm safely.

Pond for Deers

Pond for Deers

Pond for Wildlife

Pond for Wildlife

We decided to anchor near Pakhirala island and spend the night inside the launch. I already written earlier that the lower deck housed so many double beds kept in a typical dormitory pattern. Everybody got into their beds and lied down for taking rest. The day was very hectic for us. We took rest for half an hour and take a quick decision to go to the nearby Pakhirala island.

Pakhirala Island:
As we anchored very near to the Pakhirala island, it took only few minutes to reach the river ghat. The island was a densely populated one. It was a typical village with many hotels and so many local shops displaying gift items for the tourists. The items are not made over there, but mostly brought from Kolkata. We visited tea shops and fish market. Fish was more costly than Kolkata, we could not understand why, but were really fresh. Even prawns were live and moving. We tried to buy white honey, as white honey of Sunderban is famous. But the quality was poor, as it was contaminated with high proportion of water. Our launch pilot advised us to buy in the months of Chaitra and Baishakh, as honey collectors collect fresh honey in those months. After having local snacks and tea, we came back to launch.

We had our dinner prepared at launch. No room left by our tour operator for any complaint. Food was good. We sat on the upper deck and gossiped endlessly. As preceding 20th was Amavasya, the night was starry without moon. After so many years I could see nearly horizon to horizon night sky, which is absolutely impossible in metro cities. We tried to identify stars. Somebody was singing in local tune from not very far away. The night was God given gift. As midnight was approaching, we got down to the lower deck to have sleep. Next day would also be hectic again. My body was tired. Right from the morning we were in movement and covered a huge distance so far. Sleep took no time to engulf me with its motherly touch.

23 Comments

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Shantanu

    A brilliant post with good pictures. It is good to read the details of this journey in your free-flowing style.

    Welcome to Ghumakkar.

    Keep travelling and sharing..

    Regards

  • Anjan Nandy says:

    Hi

    Santanu, its a big effort, I am very happy but not full. If it write in Bengali I think it will be more catchy to me or us.

  • Welcome aboard, Santanu! Well written post equally supported by nice pictures. In the year 1991-92 I visited Sundarban, it was a crocodile project and we made our journey through boat for an hour or two to reach there. We passed through channels and saw mangroves. But in many Sundarban travelogue that I read recently, I did not find any mention of that. Do you have any idea of that?

    Thanks for sharing. Hope to read more of your travel stories at Ghumakkar in futue.

  • Akash says:

    Well done friend and keep sharing the highlight of various tours travelled by you in future.

  • Santanu Pathak says:

    Dear Uday, Anupam, Anjan and Akash – thanks to all of you for your valuable comment and support. Your feedback will surely help me to upgrade my style and presentation further. 2nd part and 3rd part (last part) of this series are forthcoming, where journey to many islands and reserves has been narrated.

    Anupam, during our 3 day journey, I talked to many local people and crew of other vessels. But unfortunately I did not come across any crocodile project. I will keep your feedback in mind when I would go for next visit to other parts of Sundarban.

  • Venkat says:

    Santanu ji, smashing Ghumakkar debut ! Sundarbans is one of the areas of which very little has been written about in travel sites. Thanks for a wonderfully informative post. Can you share with us the details of the fares the Ferry Cos. charge and which is the better option to choose if one is travelling from Kolkata-The Govt. ferries or the Private ones?

  • Santanu Pathak says:

    Dear Venkat ji,
    Thanks for your feedback. While writing the travelogue I adhered to the guidelines of this forum by refraining myself from exhibiting any information, which may purport to mean business promotion. So please send me test mail at “bubudada65@gmai.com”, where names, mobile numbers etc. of pilot of the launch (4 cylinder vessel) can be provided. At the same time, please visit website of Govt. of WB, who operate regular tour to the Sundarbans under various packages. Try to stay for a night at Pakhirala (which is congested, but full of warmth) and another night at Bonnie camp (which is though deserted, but totally safe). Take help of both wikimapia and google map to get acclamatised with the entire locality before the journey starts. It is better to keep away from un-reputed and un-reliable private tour operators. Hope I have clarified your query.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Ashim Bhaumik says:

    Hi Santanu:

    Really enjoyed reading the travelogue. It felt like I was traveling with you. Lovely pictures too. Keep it up!

    Regards,
    A.

    • Santanu says:

      Dear Ashim,
      Many thanks for having gone thru my travelogue while sitting far far away in Seattle. I enjoy your appreciation which confirms your virtual travel in the Sundarban while reading my article. Please keep your eye on 29-5-2015 and 02-5-2015 for next parts of this travelogue. Also enjoy articles available in this site well written by so many experienced travellers.
      Regards
      Santanu

  • Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya says:

    Dear Santanu

    Nice and wonderful travelling experience. Also thrilling in some of the areas. By any chance could you find any tigers from a far flung distance ?

    One more request, please write this in Bengali with some more attractive photographs and sceneries.

    Very good write up.

    Thanks for sharing

    Jyoti

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Jyoti,
    Thanks for your appraisal. Please watch out next parts of my travelogue, wherein I have narrated tiger sighting incident. So far as writing in Bengali is concerned, I am yet not very much aware of any site where travel posts in Bengali can be posted. Typing is another problem. However, I will look towards satisfaction of your requirement and advise. Thanks again for your support dear.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Jitendra says:

    Dear Santanu Da,

    This was very informative, very simply put…..and that you enjoyed the trip very much was very evident in the manner in which you have been able to recollect all the details and pen them down.

    Just the one thing……accumulated from my association of five years with you are memories of your style of speaking……detailed descriptions punctuated with witty comments….which always made me listen to everything that you said with rapt attention. I think that element would come through more naturally if you wrote in Bangla…….and would make the place you write about just so much more “alive”!!!

    Do think about it….and write some more. You are too talented to restrict your writing to comments written in microscopic hand-writing on those green note-sheets!!

    Loved this!! Thank you!!

  • Santanu says:

    OK dear Jitendra,
    I will keep your suggestion in mind while writing future travelogues. I also believe that decent humour, which is a part of our daily life, also adds spice and life to a written article. Thanks for your support.
    Regards
    Santanu

    • Bhaskar Sengupta says:

      Dear Santanu,
      What a wonderful narration!
      It’s simply great.I had never been to that part,but after reading your travelogue I think I had.
      The pictures were equally good.
      Eagerly waiting to read the next part.
      Please keep going…

      Regards,

      Bhaskar

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Bhaskar,
    Many thanks for your appreciation and support. Instead of writing an official type of report, I tried to follow a totally different approach, in which a reader would feel to have a virtual travel alongwith me. Please keep your watch on 29-4-2015 and 02-5-2015 at this forum for next part of the travelogue.
    Thanks again with warm regards
    Santanu

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Welcome aboard Santanu Dada.

    Your first story is prompting me to pack my bags and head for that star-decked night or the local village to have tea/maanch-jhol or for those mangroves. As Venkat has noted that not a lot has been written on Sundarbans so it is really heartening to see this story. And at Ghumakkar, we do have a lot of people from the East but still only a few articles.

    At Ghumakkar, it is perfectly fine to mention the ferry company which you took, including prices, mobile numbers, website addresses. The editors at Ghumakkar read every single posting (all stories, all comments) and if we suspect any thing which looks like promotional then we actively work with the Author and resolve it. I guess if you are satisfied with your tour-operator then he should benefit from it. Having info like cost, rating would help fellow traveling to plan better. Of course, you should decide on how you want to share that info.

    And about writing it in Bengali, we have not yet published in any other language apart from Hindi and English. But we can always try. If you choose to write sometime then do send me and I would test on whether the site can handle it or not (in terms of readability and any technical issues).

    Let me now move to Part 2.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Nandan,

    Thank you for your spontaneous, out of heart and well communicated appreciation and comments. I am glad that my post has won your heart, while providing some useful information through text or photos.

    Though we have availed services of a ‘single person owned homely private tour operator’ named RAJA (Mobile no.8902655644, 9874652045), but the pilot cum ferry owner Sh.SANTOSH MANDAL (Mobile No.9732509755) requested us to contact him directly, in case of future requirement, so that some amount of cost can be saved by the tourists. Reduction in cost payable to intermediary means equivalent amount can be invested to cover some additional points. Our package cost amounted to Rs.4000/- per person (inclusive of all kind of refreshment, foods etc.). Journey started from Canning Rly Station and ended at the same place – cost to operator.

    I recommend you to visit website of Tourism dept., Govt of WB. for a standard professional service.
    My suggestion is, stay one night at Pakhirala island (there are some standard hotels). At this place, you can roam around the local market in the evening. It is full of life. Dont buy honey (honey of Sundarban is famous), except in the months of Chaitra and Baishakh. Alternately, you can stay at Sajnekhali tourist lodge in the first night.

    Stay another night at Bonnie camp, where Govt lodge is available. This is remotely placed, but you will surely enjoy the tranquility and environment.

    Try to go to “KALAS” island (we have not covered this island), which is placed further south, virtually floating on Bay of Bengal. This would take another day. It means, the entire tour would be a 3 night 4 day trip.

    If you are not taking a package tour, rather willing to book the vessel directly, then talk to the vessel owner well in advance about safety aspect at various places, which is very essential.

    About writing in Bangla, I am thinking it seriously to make it happen shortly. Thanks for your so much of encouragement and support.

    Regards
    Santanu

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Dada!
    A fabulous narration. Informative & straight. Enjoyed the virtual tour & tickling to do the trip asap. I guess, govt settings are always safe & should be preferred to support the touristy advancements.

    @ Nandan: Publishing multi-lingual is a good idea!

    Keep travelling
    Ajay

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Ajay,
    Thanks for your kind comments. I observed that in recent years, the state Govt. has initiated a new professional effort to attract tourists in various parts of Bengal. Their website gives a lot of information. Let people avail the facilities offered and assess.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Bishnu Ghosh says:

    Hi,

    I am very much attracted with your detail information. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *