The Sunderbans : A long cherished dream : Part 3

25TH January 2015

Morning :
We had the perfect sleep last night. I got up at after sunrise. Some of my friends already woke up. I wished them good morning and took out my camera. Like yesterday, I took snap of the rising sun from the window placed near to my head.

Dawn at Bonnie Camp

Dawn at Bonnie Camp

The day was sunny, entire surrounding was glittering with bright sunshine. Gradually, we assembled on the upper deck to have hot tea and snacks. The first question I asked, whether any tiger tried to embark into our launch. Our crew members confirmed that no untoward incident happened in the night. So the tension, which was running in the background of my mind, had gone. We moved to the gate of Bonnie Camp, which was near to the place where we anchored our vessel last night.

Bonnie camp :

Group Photo (me 2nd from left)

Group Photo (me 2nd from left)

The original name of the camp was Sundarikati Eco Conservation Camp. On 15th July 2003, Shri Budhhadeb Guha, a renowned Chartered Accountant cum famous novelist of Kolkata renamed the camp as Bonnie Camp.

Entrance of Bonnie Camp

Entrance of Bonnie Camp

This island was just like a picture. The encaged area consisted a Banbibi temple, ethnic cottage, round-shaped lodge, dormitory, park, artificial pool over a small pond, staff quarters, watchtower everything. I liked it very much because of its freshness. This may be because it was located far away from other easily accessible ones.

Lodge Inside Bonnie Camp

Lodge Inside Bonnie Camp

Added attraction of the park was a deer enclosure. The enclosure was actually an encaged area specially reserved for the deer. We saw plenty of deer moving within that area. When they saw us, they came nearer to us. Only the wire mesh wall stood between us. We took snaps to our fullest satisfaction.

Group of Deer Inside Bonnie Camp

Group of Deer Inside Bonnie Camp

Mriga of Bonnie Camp

Mriga of Bonnie Camp

In the meantime, Dy.Ranger sahib arrived to visit the island. We get introduced with each other. Then we decided to visit a nearby island, which was otherwise not meant for tourists. It was a deserted island, where an ISRO funded project was installed. Purpose of the project was to measure air pollution of the Sunderbans. Separate instruments were installed to measure methane and carbon dioxide content of the air and velocity of the air. All these instruments were fixed in a tower installed at a place apprx. one and a half km from the river bank inside the jungle.

Visit to the adjacent island :

Entering the Deserted Island

Entering the Deserted Island

Assistant of the Dy.Ranger unlocked gate of the island. We entered and saw no sign of regular visit of human beings. Afforestation of plants taken place throught the initial 200 metre area. There was a watch tower on the right side. After 200 metre, an encaged corridor started. It was narrow. There was small cement pedestal at every two feet. So that a person can place his/her foot at every pedestal. We headed towards the interior part.

Narrow Walkway Inside the Island

Narrow Walkway Inside the Island

The Dy.Ranger was leading the journey with his gun ready in hand and the last person was his agile assistant. The jungle just outside the wire caged corridor was dense. We felt something was there nearby. Dy.Ranger told that a tiger was following us from a distance. It was not appearing before us, as we were enough in number and there was a gun in the hand of Dy.Ranger. We saw fresh footprint of a tiger in the soft adjacent land outside the encaged area.

Footprint of Royal Bengal Tiger

Footprint of Royal Bengal Tiger

We started to talk aloud with an intention to keep the animal away. We crossed two weak wooden pools. Stream was underway.

Wooden Pool Inside the Island

Wooden Pool Inside the Island

Then we found the tower. It was just like a mobile tower. Various instruments were there as I written above. The encaged are ended there.

Pollution Monitoring Tower

Pollution Monitoring Tower

Outside the area, a camera was fixed in a tree for catching glimpses of movement of tiger. Previously tiger census was done considering footprint. But now a days, it is done based on camera recording, as explained by the Dy.Ranger. We stood consolidated at that place and looked at the adjacent jungle with an inquisitiveness of a little boy.

Hidden Camera Inside Jungle

Hidden Camera Inside Jungle

After a few more moments, we returned to the river bank through the same route maintaining full alertness. We thanked Dy.Ranger for allowing us to have this rare trip, which was unplanned, beyond our schedule. We got into our launch.

Deputy Ranger

Deputy Ranger

Return journey to Sonakhali :

We started our return journey to go back to Sonkhali ghat, the place from where we started our Sunderban trip two days ago. We were silent, travelling within our own minds and remembering what a beautiful trip we made with sincere and full support of our tour operator and vessel crew.

The return journey was the longest one. As we were at the south most point, we had to cover a very long route from Bonnie Camp to Sonakhali, which took almost four hour and fifteen minutes.

Myself in the Centre With Friends

Myself in the Centre With Friends

We started around 10.40 am. While returning, the pilot of the launch made a small stopover at his own village. He made a call from his mobile to his family. So his wife, daughter in law, grandsons etc. came to the river bank to meet us. The gesture was so simple and homely that it touched our heart. We got down from the launch and walked a few steps inside the village while gossiping with them. The pilot started to chase us up, because we had to go back to Sonakhali. We bid goodbye to the family members of the pilot and again started.

Halt at a Riverside Village

Halt at a Riverside Village

We reached Sonakhali ghat at 2.50 pm. We took our luggage and thanked the pilot and his team for their splendid support. They left no room for any kind of complaint. From Sonakhali, we went to Canning station for catching the return train to Kolkata.

Sunderban : Favourite place of novelists, film makers, researchers, photographers

Before concluding, I must mention that, from time immemorial, Sunderban attracted attention of various writers and novelists of several languages. “Mansa Mangal Kavya” has been the most ancient one. “Life in Sundarbans : A Participatory Rural Appraisal” by Samares Kumar Das gives a picture of inner life of this area. Part of the plot of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel “Midnight’s Children” was also set in the Sundarbans. Most of the plot of prize-winning anthropologist Amitav Ghosh’s 2004 novel “The Hungry Tide” was set in the Sundarbans. The Sunderbans have been the subject of numerous non-fiction books, including “The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans” by Sy Montgomery for a young audience, which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. Similarly, “Tigerland : A Journey Through The Mangrove Forest of Bengal” by Caroline Alexander and “Forest of Tigers : People, Politics and Environment in the Sundarbans” by Annu Jalais give a detail picture of this famous area. Apart from literature, a photographic journey was published by noted photographer Intisham Kabir under the title “Sundarban”. Some famous films were also made on the Sunderbans. In 1960, a film named “Ganga” was made in Bengali, where Ms Ruma Guha Thakurta (1st wife of Kishore Kumar, mother of singer Amit Kumar) acted. “Padma Nadir Majhi” was made into a movie by noted director Sh.Goutam Ghose, based on a novel of Sh.Manik Bandyopadhyay. In 2014, a Hindi film named “Roar : Tigers of the Sunderbans” was released, directed by Sh.Kamal Sadanath. A BBC documentary named “The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans” was made, directed by Ingrid Kvale. The area provides the setting for several novels by Emilio Salgari, (e.g. The Mystery of the Black Jungle). Thus, Sunderban has always been point of attraction of writers, film makers, anthropologists, apart from millions of tourists.

If we touch major viewpoints of the experienced authors, film makers, photographers etc. before going to the Sunderbans, our outlook will be much different. At the end I conclude that, I enjoyed every moment of the tour, which will be cherished by me throught my life.

its me

its me

17 Comments

  • Archana Ravichander says:

    Shantanuji,

    Well written post. Like you have mentioned in the concluding part of the story, Sunderbans is really a great topic discussed by several wildlife conservationists, anthropologists, environmentalists and ofcourse the many travelers.
    The tiger reserve is something that immediately occurs to our mind as soon as we hear the word Sunderbans. Mangroves being the next thing that strikes our mind!

    Overall, a nice capture of content and experience.. Thank you !

    Best.

    • Santanu says:

      Dear Archana,
      Thank you very much for your elaborate analysis. I am glad to know that the writing has pleased you.
      Regards
      Santanu

  • A great experience of yours nicely written and well supported by beautiful pics. Thanks Shantanu.

    Keep travelling and keep sharing.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Anupam,
    Many thanks for your continuous support and appreciation.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Santanu

    Long ago, I was posted at Kolkata for more than two years, but could never go to Sunderbans myself. On some pretext or the other, it always eluded me.

    I enjoyed your entire series and the pictures. The picture of the dawn was classic.

    But, can you describe in particular the best feeling that the trip generated in your mind? One thing is certain that it made you write. Anything else that you would like to share?

    Regards

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Thanks a ton Santanu for sharing this wonderful tale. We are planning to go to Kolkata during this DurgaPuja celebrations and may be God-willing, I am able to do some part of this trip. It must have been a soulful experience , being on a boat, away from the glitzy/modern systems, soaking all the simplicity abound.

    Thanks again.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Nandan,

    I like your plan during end Oct or in the winter. It will be enjoyable and tension free. Feel the solitude of Sundarban and fresh fish from the river (if you prefer). A trip to any nearby village will also be wonderful.

    Just imagine, you are just laid flat on the upper deck, looking towards the night sky, glittering with the moon. Somebody is singing an SD Burman type bhatiali song from not far away. Only sound of the flowing river is doing sangat with the song. Rest is upto you.

    Regards

    Santanu

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Uday,

    When we entered the deserted island in the last day of our journey, I felt the pulse of having a true adventure, which was risky and full of uncertainty. There was no guarantee that we would return unhurt. We were inside the encaged area, but the tiger was following us from nearby bushes. But seeing our strength and gun carried by the Dy.Ranger, it did not attack. The feeling we did have by then, was unique.

    Since the world of the Sundarbans is still a mystery to all, even today, I thought that I must start to write my travelogue with this tour. Sundarban is a place of many rivers, intermingled with each other. People over there are subjected to fight day and night with tigers and crocodiles. Survival is extremely challenging. After division of country (Bangladesh and India), a handsome population was dumped into that region (also in Marichjhapi). That is another story (history).

    This prompted me to share my experience with you all.

    Regards

    Santanu

  • nithya says:

    Among many Indian heritages sunderban is one of them. I liked the way u expressed your experience.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Nithya,
    Thank you for your appreciation. I have visited Sundarbans for not only the reason of its being declared as heritage place, but also of the fact that mangrove area is fast decreasing. Govt data supports this fact. We dont know, how much area will be left to our next generation. It has also been alarmed that water level is on the increasing trend. Many small islands have already been submerged in water. Better to visit the place fast in our lifetime.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Bhaskar Sengupta says:

    Dear Santanu,
    Can’t wait to complete reading the remaining part of the wonderfully described Sundarbans.
    It’s really amazing,specially the little bit of information,mentioned in the last paragraph.
    Keep writing.

    Regards,

    Bhaskar

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Bhaskar,
    Many thanks for your continuous support.
    1st part of my travelogue on Kashmir visit has also been published in Ghumakkar. I hope you will like it also. 2nd part is coming up shortly. Please keep a watch.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Gaurab says:

    Very nicely written and detailed description is provided.
    Thanks

  • Soumya says:

    Hii, loved the write-up and the pics!!! Could you please tell me whom to contact in order to book accommodation for Bonnie Camp? Thank you.

  • SANTANU PATHAK says:

    Dear Soumya,
    Please surf WB Govt tourism dept. website. You will get many details to your satisfaction. Wish you a nice trip to the Sunderban.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Snig Bhaumik says:

    Santanu, you have revived a long lost memory of myself.
    I was fortunate to spend a couple of weeks over the backwaters of Sundarbans with my friends.
    Thanks so much for reigniting those memoir.

  • SANTANU says:

    Thanks Snig for your nice comments. Felt fortunate to help you revisit your olden memories.

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