24TH January 2015
We had sound sleep last night. No disturbance was there. All co-tourists slept with peace. Just during the sunrise we woke up at around 6 am. A window was placed just near to my head. The sliding window pane moved vertically. After putting it down, I saw the rising orange coloured sun and started taking snap. That was the first snap of the day. Slowly we came out of the lower deck and gathered on the upper deck. Hot tea was served with snacks. After some time we started our journey for the day.
Journey to Sajnekhali and to Dobanki :
First we went straight to Sajnekhali to get permit for our onward journey. It was early morning. Air was fresh. The office counter at Sajnekhali was full of local guides. As per govt rule, while getting your permit, you have to take a certified local guide to be allotted by them. This system somehow is ok. It is creating local employment in a systematic manner at govt authorised rate. Guides are trained by govt for this purpose. During the entire journey, they go on narrating local geography, ancient history, eco system and so on. So ultimately, both tourists and the guide, enjoy a win-win situation.
The journey to Dobanki was southbound along Bidyadhari river and it was a longer one. It took almost 2 hours. However, the pilot of the launch took an alternative and very elaborative route through so many water channels and rivers. While crossing narrow channels we continued to keep vigilant eyes on both sides of the water way. The banks were very near. We were afraid that if any tiger would jump from the adjoining bush, then only goddess Banabibi could save us. However, contrary to our anxiety, nothing happened. Our pilot was responsible and experienced enough in considering our safety.
As the channels were narrow, we were fortunate to watch typical aerial root of mangrove plantation, which were un-common to us. Since we were passing through low tide (bhata), muddy banks were reflecting sharp sun rays. We had to wear sun glasses.
We saw flora and fauna abundant. Unknown birds were flying just above us. They were fearless. We met some other launches passing through inter connected water ways.
Suddenly we saw a crocodile was enjoying winter sun on the bank. Our pilot checked speed of the launch. He turned reverse, made a round and then went nearer to the animal without making much noise. We whispered amongst ourselves to ensure that nobody should speak aloud. Mostly all of us continued to take snap after snap of the crocodile. It was so natural that can never be compared with the ones available in the zoo. Then we started again towards Dobanki.
After taking a turn, the water way turned into a big river. It was Bidyadhari. Water was muddy all through. After passing some distance, we met the confluence of Matla river and Bidyadhari river. Colour of one was grey (muddy), but of the other was blue – because it was very deep. The scene was outstanding.
While coming to Sunderbans I thought that we would see only water everywhere and the trip would be boring. But scenery and surrounding were ever changing. Nobody felt monotonous. While crossing the confluence we did not feel any turbulence. During rainy season, these areas become dangerous. For safety purpose, it is better to avoid Sunderbans during rainy season. Best season is winter, or upto early Baishak, before the norwester starts.
We noticed that a police launch crossed us coming from the opposite direction. Two local boats were tied with it. Our pilot explained that those local boats were un-authorised. So police arrested them. We also crossed some ships carrying goods and provisions.
We continued to head southwards towards Bay of Bengal and reached Dobanki tiger reserve at 10.50 am.
Dobanki Tiger Reserve :
Here also there was a Banbibi temple. The encaged D-shaped walk way was very long and high above the gound, rest upon concrete pillars.
We went atop the watch tower and enjoyed the surrounding. Cool air was kissing our face and we spent some tranquil time. Then went back to the launch. We left Dobanki at around 11.10 am towards our next place of visit Netidhopani tiger reserve.
Journey from Dobanki to Netidhopani :
This part of journey was again southbound. It took almost one and half hour. We crossed the confluence of another sub-branch of Matla river with Bidyadhari river. Rivers in this area were very wide, as we were heading towards Bay of Bengal. In some part, you could not see the opposite bank. Launch personnel were telling that royal Bengal tigers are so powerful that they do swim across such huge width easily. While swimming, only a part of their upper face remains above the level of water. Entire balance portion of the body remains under water.
Since the journey was longer, we decided to bath with river water. Though sufficient stock of fresh water was with us, some of us collected river water from the fast flowing stream with the help of a bucket tied with long rope. By last week of January, water was chilled and salty too. One by one, we entered bathroom and took bath with river water. This type of bathing was a whole new experience to me.
We reached Netidhopani at 12.40 noon. Geographically, this island is placed very south, as compared to other islands which we visited so far. The place was crowd free and isolated. Here also there was a Banbibi temple, a watch tower and a big pond for human use within the entire encaged area. We went atop the watch tower and took snaps.
This island is linked with ancient history. Ruins of 400 years Netidhopani temple was there. The Bengali folk epic Manasamangal mentions Netidhopani and has some passages set in the Sunderbans during the heroine Behula’s quest to bring her husband Lakhindar back to life. So the place had historic importance.
The tiger sighting record board displayed that tiger was last seen in this island on 22nd January 2015. We left Netidhopani island around 1.10 noon for onward journey to Jharkhali island.
Jharkhali island :
Again we passed one and a half hour journey to reach Jharkhali. In the meantime, we had our lunch on board. We gossiped relentlessly till we reached Jharkhali island at around 2.40 pm. It may be mentioned that WB govt. constructed bridges at many places. So now vehicles from Kolkata can come straight to Jharkhali.
This place was congested. Apart from the thick population base, plenty of local shops, simcard recharge counters etc. were available. Jharkhali has tourist lodge. But principal point of attraction was a small zoo, which housed two tigers. Some years ago, two injured tigers were caught by forest dept. They were put into long medical treatment and got cured. Inside the island, two semi-open zoo were made for them. We went inside the zoo to see the tigers. They were walking continuously inside the very long iron cage. Then we went atop the watch tower. This tower is the highest in the Sunderbans. We noticed many launches were crossing the adjacent river. We took many snaps from high above. Then we came back to our launch and started at 3.10 pm apprx. for next part of the journey towards Bonnie camp.
Journey from Jharkhali to Bonnie Camp :
This part of the journey was memorable. It was a long journey towards further south. As one approaches towards more and more south, rivers get wider. You can see only one bank at a time. I was afraid whether we were taking the correct course towards destination. The pilot was confident enough, supported by his vast experience. He did not have any compass or other instrument for identification of direction. But we had to depend on him and his group for everything. It proved to be worthwhile and we had not been befooled.
During this two and a half hour journey, we saw changing colours of the sun. As it was tilting towards west, the surrounding changed from golden yellow to pale yellow to orange ultimately, when dusk started to set in. Different types of duck and water birds were playing on water and also flying low. Fishermen accompanied by lady members were spreading nets and catching fish. Woodcutters were working inside muddy channels, the most we could see from our moving launch.
Around 5 pm, we crossed a small island keeping it on our right. From far away, it looked like a small piece of land. As we got closer, we realised that its width was less, but it was long enough to give us company for 10 minutes. We saw the sun got lost behind top of the trees. I took seat on the right side of the launch alongwith my friends. The surrounding already got dark and bushes of the nearby bank became less visible. Suddenly my friend Sujit shouted “Tiger, tiger”. The pilot immediately slowed down. All of us who sat on the right side of the launch turned further right to look straight towards nearby bushy jungle. Yes, it was there. The famous royal Bengal tiger, with its trademark black stripe on yellow base just came out of the jungle. Its body was partly covered with mud. Perhaps, it swam across a water channel, so it got dirty. People from the left side of the launch rushed to our side, giving the pilot a hard task to maintain balance of the vessel. People exclaimed with surprising shouting. The big cat majestically saw us from that far. It looked straight to us with a sign of annoyance. Feeling disturbed, it immediately entered into the forest. We were awestricken. What a large body with huge circular face. Entire episode took just a few seconds. We were not given any opportunity to take out our camera for taking snap. After it went inside the jungle, we activated our mobile and camera and took snaps of the spot, which already got very dark. I heard earlier that tigers come out in the evening for making prey, before it becomes total dark. And it happened in that way only, without giving us any opportunity to get prepared. That particular moment went straight into our longterm memory, which we will never forget. Our pilot again gained momentum and proceeded towards Bonnie camp island.
Bonnie camp island was only 5 minutes waterway from that spot. We reached the island at around 5.45 pm but found the gate already locked. We decided to spend the night in the launch itself like previous night. As we had reached extreme south, Bay of Bengal was not far enough. River was very wide there, as I already written earlier. Actually you can not identify any single river here. Many rivers got joined with each other to make a conglomeration heading towards sea. Water was fast flowing towards sea. The location was totally lonely. We noticed only two other vessels anchored nearby. We got nearer to them and anchored within their vicinity. Safety was uncertain, as we heard that dacoits of Sunderban attack lonely vessels placed at remote locations. I was also afraid of tigers, as the point where we saw the tiger was nearby. But our crew members assured about our security and told us not to make tension. They told that tigers can get into local boats, but can not board these type of vessels. It was already 7 pm in the evening. Stars came out in the sky. Cool breeze was talking to us.
We took our dinner early and laid flat on the upper deck. The fast flowing water was making a typical sound of friction with the outer surface of the vessel. We were gossiping without topic. Suddenly we heard a splashing sound from far away. I pointed my LED torch but could not locate anything. Immediately, within 10 seconds, we heard similar sound coming from another direction 200 metre away. Again I pointed my torch, but did not find anything. One of our crew member told that since the area was nearer to sea, there might be dolphins swimming around. They do not show themselves but like to remain away from human beings. The incident remained mystery to us. We decided to go down to our beds at lower deck. All the doors were locked properly and we took bed. We passed the day with mixed experience. I was remembering daylong water way journey, beautiful islands, nice view from so many watch towers and above all, the tiger sighting incident – which we were fortunate enough to witness. It was also cool inside the lower deck. We were tired and fell fast asleep.