114. WEST BENGAL. (3) SUNDARBANS & KOLKATA.

We have returned to Diamond Harbour from Bakkhali and want to explore the Sundarbans in the last leg of this coastal journey which started in Kutch in Gujarat more six months back.

As we explore the options for visiting the Sundarbans we realize that driving into the Sundarbans would not be possible using a car. TheBlueDrive has been a journey by car but for this last part of it we need to change tracks. One can drive up to a place called Godkhali which has parking facilities. From there travel would be mostly by boats. Of course, the purely local transport is taken care of by the three-wheeled vehicles even in the remotest villages.

We also decide not to experiment our travelling skills in this treacherous terrain and engage the services of a tour operator for transport and a two-night stay at a place called Sajnekhali inside the Sundarbans National Park.

We are picked up at the Science City at Kolkata for the road journey to Godkhali. On the way we pass through places called Canning, Sonakhali and Basanti and get a good view of life in the areas surrounding the Sundarbans.

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Canning has an interesting history. It is named after Lord Canning, the British Governor General and later Viceroy (1856 to 1862). The town was established in the year 1864 to be developed as a port. The intention was to create a port on Matla river as an ‘alternative to Kolkata and rival to Singapore’. The planners however did not take into the consideration the unreliability of the terrain of the place. The places of this delta are at the mercy of the mighty rivers draining into the sea. They can make entire villages disappear in a flash flood and bring others into existence at another place.

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Eventually the plan to ‘reclaim’ the Sundarbans failed and caused loss to many investors.

Canning continues to a busy small town, if not a grand port city appears to have considerable trade in Timber.

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Sonakhali and Basanti are the other towns before reaching the ferry point at Godkhali. The only bridge in the area is between Sonakhali and Basanti on river Matla, a distributary of the mighty Ganga.

The crossing of river Bidyadhari from Godkhali to Gosaba in a country craft is an experience one should not miss. We are in early April dry season. Things should be pretty worse in the monsoons. The boat takes many bicycles, a few motorcycles and an unlimited number of human beings.

Food is available even here:

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We land at Gosaba on the other side of Bidyadhari and drag our bags through a long marketplace to reach a auto rickshaw stand to take a three-wheeler ride to another ferry crossing point which will take us into the parts of Sundarbans demarcated as National park. Indian tour operators excel in making life difficult to their customers. Whilst at the market, the guide informs us that this point is the end of civilization. Hereafter your cell phones will not work. (what a relief!!). You will not find any beer or wine shops (what a disappointment!!) and many other things. Buy all that you need for the next two days.

If you want to learn the difference between one zero and two, this is the place.

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The auto ride is fantastic on the narrow mud roads. It is difficult to describe how the drivers avoid collision with the oncoming vehicles. It is here that one gets to view some village life in the Sundarbans:

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This rise is longer and gives us some more views of the life in the Sundarbans. Most of the people visiting the Sundarbans do so with the intention and hope of sighting a Royal Bengal Tiger who inhabits these mangrove forests. The mangroves are also the habitat for a number of other species of mammals and birds. The chances of your sighting tiger are extremely good when you book a tour. Yes, of course you can see him. Why not? Why do you think people come here? By the time you reach Gosaba and engage people in conversation you come to know that sighting a tiger was never easy. By the time you are in Sanjelkhali you are told that only one in ten boat riders are blessed with a tiger sighting. By the time you are on the boat the guide looks askance at you:  tiger? who?.  For most part, the tiger is nocturnal. Yes, he does kill people when he is hungry and cannot find better meat.Of course we are not among the luckiest people on the earth to beat such heavy odds. We don’t get to see the RBT. As a consolation, we get to see the Lesser Adjutant Stork and the King Cobra swimming in the river.

 

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The bird life in the Sundarbans can be better viewed from the land. Boating is not suitable for this purpose. The next day morning we get to see these beauties around the resort we stayed:

The village life in the Sundarbans is not touched with modernity. People live quite a few decades behind their compatriots in the cities. Electricity is solar.

People are dependent on the muddy rivers for their livelihood. One can see people struggling in the mud on the banks of the river for catching fish or collecting the prawns hatch-lings:

Even for tourists the life in the Sundarbans is not easy. One has to approach a boat with great difficulty at low tide.

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The man-eating tigers inspire fear among the inhabitants of this land. The tiger is a strong swimmer and uses the rivers to dominate the territory.

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The deity worshiped in the region is the Banbibi and is supposed to protect the people from calamities.

Flower decorations in water pots is a part of the tradition:

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Here is a religious ceremony in progress on the bank of the river:

In the evening we are treated to some local music by the resort, created by two artists:

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Among the instruments used by the duo is a small drum which can double up as a string instrument:

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The next day we leave the Sundarbans and return to Kolkata,ending a 192 days of travel on the coast of India, covering all the districts of 9 states and 2 Union Territories (split into 5 different units).

Kolkota is not a coastal place but we make a halt for the rest before we drive 2100 kilometers to Pune.  Among the places we see at the great city of Kolkata is the Mullick Ghat flower market on the Hoogli under the Howrah Bridge.

The great flower bazaar brings together a wide variety of flowers for the trade as well as the retail buyers. It offers  flowers in bulk as well as the garlands, bouquets, wreathes etc.

Flowers put together for a possible wedding:

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and being made for a certain death:

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

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