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,     suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Pictures by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

103.ANDHRA PRADESH. (7) Kakinada & Kadiyapulanka

Yanam to Kakinada is a short distance but we have booked a room at the Haritha Beach Resort owned and operated by the AP Tourism Development Corporation which is located by the sea at the northernmost corner of the town or perhaps outside the town as the place is called Vakalpudi. As we are travelling from the southern side we cross the almost the entire town to reach the place.

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In the vicinity of the resort is the Lighthouse. It is known as Vakalpudi Lighthouse. We are allowed to climb the stairs up but decline as we are a bit tired after the long drive in the morning.

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Apart from being a seaport, Kakinada is also a major fishing harbour. Right in the centre of the town one can see a large number of fishing boats anchored in the creek which cuts across the town.

Kakinada also has a sizable fishing boat making industry. The location is right in the centre of the town along the creek. One can watch the various operations related to making wooden boats.

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It is a busy little place with boats at various stages of completion.

This one is almost complete and getting painted.

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There is a temple in the midst of the shipbuilding area. A small temple probably with the specific function of blessing the boats under construction.

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When you are visiting the boat building yard, you can’t fail to see the little market for dry fish in the vicinity. The eastern seaboard of India appears to be fond of dry fish much more than the inhabitants of the western part of the country. One can see dry fish sold in most of the coastal places.

 

Probably the only recreational place Kakinada offers to the visitors is the Hope Island. This island has formed during the last two hundred years (200) and is a tadpole shaped. The 16 Kms long island is more of a sandbar with vegetation. The slim southern end extends up to the Coringa wildlife sanctuary near Yanam. It is said that this island is responsible to make the  Kakinada port the safest harbour on the east coast of India.

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AP Tourism provides boat facility to travel from the Fishing Harbour to the island and back.

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The boat ride is a return trip with a very short stay at the island. The island by itself offers nothing. It is barren except for a lighthouse which you notice as you approach the island.

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The ride between the harbour and the island takes you through a busy shipping lane.

One can even watch midstream loading of ocean-going vessels.

People visiting the island in the boat seem to be doing so for the pleasure of the ride rather than actually doing something on the island. In our boat is a large family and as we approach the island we realize that they have come as a group to celebrate the first birthday of this little boy. We join the festivities and act as the unofficial photographers.

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Hope island is rich in seashells. We pick up several of them for our collection.

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The island seems to have a population of pretty squirrels. This one is nibbling at a coconut washed ashore, perhaps from the offerings made to some God.

KADIYAPULANKA is not exactly a coastal place but we decide to visit it for its famous nurseries and flower market. Located near Rajahmundry along one of the Godavari’s many water canals the place is worth visiting. From Kakinada one drives westwards through the green countryside and the maze of canals which support year-long agricultural and horticultural activities in the region.

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A large gathering of Openbilled Storks

 

The entire place is awash with plant nurseries. Countless. And they seem to be growing all kinds saplings, jut name what you want.

The main road divides the flower market into the Wholesale and the Retail parts. The Wholesale market building is under construction and is custom-designed for the products traded here.

We are a bit late for the early morning auctions but still can see the huge quantity of flowers traded, and the vast variety.

The smaller retail market is all the more interesting. It is here that one can see the garland-making and value-addition to the flowers sold on the opposite side, around a small temple.

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Temple in the flower market.

 

Garland making appears to be major activity here. The garlands are custm-made for various uses. Temples & Gods, Marriages, political functions etc. etc.

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The giant garland, made to order. for a temple.

 

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On the roadside near the retail flower market, this man sells home-made sweets unique to this region.

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The sugar and other ingredients are wrapped in a thin sheet of what looks like a paper but is in fact a film made with starch gleaned from the water in which rice is boiled. It is called Pootharekulu.

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Pootharekulu

 

To wind up this post here is a brief video of how they make Rs 5000/- per piece garland.

 

 

 

Text: Suryakiran Naik

Pictures : Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video : Veena Naik

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

87.TAMILNADU (2). Around Kanyakumari

Leaving behind the fort at Udaygiri, we move towards Kanyakumari via Suchindram and Kottaram, small but important places on the coast. The landscape of this area is quite interesting and beautiful. It is green all around and the granite boulders of the last hillocks of the western Ghats add a touch of glamour to the place.

Our night halt is at Kanyakumari but before we close the day we find time to look around the place. It is all too familiar. We have been here before. The place attracts a very large number of visitors. It is billed as the place where three seas meet. The Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It is not easy as that but let us concede a point to the tourist establishment of the place so that they can earn their living. We do not intend to spend a lot of time here. Just to take some pictures and move on.

The two memorials in the sea are now easily visible. The first and the older one is for Swami Vivekananda, and the taller and the recent one is for Thiruvalluvar. Going by the geography, Thiruvalluvar has a better claim to the rocks, being the son of the soil who did not go to Chicago, US, which Vivekananda did and called there everyone ‘Brothers and Sisters’ which is incorrect. Anyway, everyone in India loves Swami Vivekananda and nobody knows what he did or said except for what I have just said.Not many know Thiruvallavuvar.

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Apart from the Memorials on the Rocks, temples and the church continue to function from the shore. They are doing brisk business like the hotels and lodges around.

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The Lighthouse at Kanyakumari is easily accessible. It is on the roadside. If you are reading this blog, you would have noticed that we make special efforts to visit lighthouses on the coast. It is not that we are studying their functioning or the technicalities. They serve to make sure that we do not miss many places along the coast.

Fort.Vattakottai. Heard of this? Even if they did, most people will casually mention that this was a Dutch fort. No, sir. It was not. It was built by the Travancore kings with the assistance of their Dutch (or Belgium or Flemish) prize captive De Lannoy whom we met in the last post. The Travancore state’s emblem is very much at the entrance.

Vattakottai means ‘circular’ or round.The shape does not seems to be round. However, this fort ranks among the best of the seaside forts of India. One should walk around the fort which projects into the sea and has a good view of the waters all around.

The insides of the fort are well-maintained and clean. You can have very nice view of the seas around. I believe it is the Arabian sea or the Laccadives Sea, not the Indian Ocean and certainly not the Bay of Bengal.

Inside the fort you wil find this ‘windswept’ tree, as they call it in Bonsai. I am not sure if this shape is caused by the winds.

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‘Windswept’ Neem Tree.

When in Kanyakumari, please make it a point to visit this fort. Not many people do. Not even 5% of the tourists visiting Kanyakumari come here.

Having done with the Fort we move on to another place in the vicinity, driving through the beautiful landscape.

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Manakudy is a seaside place which is said to have been badly affected by the 1974 cyclone which destroyed Dhanushkodi.

Manakudy is on both sides of ‘lake Manakudy’ which actually is an estuary and on both sides of it you will find a number of pretty churches.

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St Thomas Church

Cross this bridge and a mangrove forest and you are into the western part of Manakudy.

The western part has a long beach and th St Andrew’s Church. By the time we are here, it is midday and it is very hot. You can see it in the pictures below. We decide not to proceed further up north or north-West and return back to Kanyakumari.

People going up to Kanyakumari please note something important. Most of the people go and see the rock and the memorials and move on. You are missing a land of exquisite natural beauty.

In this area around Kanyakumari you will find this interesting species of bird called Openbill or Openbilled Stork. The shape of his beak has been subject matter of study by many eminent biologists including the great Sir Julian Huxley.

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Openbill Stork

ThWe are almost dome with the places around Kanyakumari and our next stop is Thiruchendur which is in Thoothukudi diustrict. We drive through the district of Thirunelveli without a stopover. I said almost because we have decideed to drive upo north of Kannyakumari and two more places which have come to our attention at the last moment.

The first one is a market. Thovalai Flower Market is one of the biggest in Tamilnadu and a major supplier of flowers to consumers in Kerala. This little village is at the foot of a hill and is a very interesting place.

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Thovalai Flower Market.

We are delayed by an hour or so and miss the auctions. This could have been a bonus, although we would not have understood the language in which the auction takes place. The market deals with the loose flowers brought in by the farmers in early morning ( or perhaps the previous evening). Later on the other, related activities take place. Here are some of the lots already purchased and awaiting packing and despatch.

The packing material is fabricated on-site and is completely natural and enviornment-friendly, fully bio-degradable. Our enviornmentalists and the establishment should recognize, honour and encourage these traditional methods before plastic replaces them.

Apart from the loose flowers there is also a substantial ‘making’ activity on-site. Garlands of various sizes, types and colours.

Just outside of the markets are the retailers. Here you can buy one or two to felicitate the local politician on his son-in-law’s birthday.

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The type of flowers traded here amazed me. The flower below, you must have seen, grows wild all over India and is supposed to be the one to be offered to Maruti or Anjaneya. It is actually being commercially sold!!

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We now have to drive back towards the coast and move towards our next stopover which is Thiruchendur. We move accordingly. A few kilometers on the road, I see the signboard for a Christian shrine. As most things are written in Tamil and most people around do not speak any other language, I have to manage with the visuals.

We take the right turn as directed in the signs and end up at a place called Kottar and to the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier.

And here I come across the Dutch guy called De Lennoy once again. Eustachius De Lennoy was a Dutch East India Company army commander whose forces were defeated by the Travancore kings and he was taken a captive. Later on the Travancore kings appointed him the commander in chief of their army. You will find his grave in the Post No 86 of this blog. Now, this guy has another dimention to his personality. He was a devout Christian and converted the locals to his faith. One of those converted happened to be an official of the Royal Court by the name of Neelakanta Pillai. Records show that the Royal Court did not like this at all and Mr. Pillai was put to death for the crime of sedition. In course of time Mr. Pillai became the Blessed Devasahayam Pillai who is a step or two away from being St. Devasahayam Pillai of Kottar. I am sure I will benefit from this unplanned  visit in the remaining part of my life. Mr. Pillai has been credited with a number of miracles.

Before I close this post I would like to make a candid confession. When I saw the above picture I thought it was Jesus Christ of Nazareth. When I was driving back I started wondering if I had at anytime seen JC in chains. On Cross, yes but not in chains like this. That led to further reading. I must thank Mr. S C Kumar (9842184558) for the above catchy painting.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik