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In the shadow of the Royal Bengal – the Sundarbans

Despite it being a weekend, Dhaka was jam packed as ever while I was on my way to the Sayedabaad Bus Terminal. Fortunately, I set out with some time in hand. Somewhere around 8 PM, the bus arrived. Destination? The biggest mangrove forest by the ocean, Sundarbans. At 8:30PM, my bus from Sundarban Paribahan started for the second biggest sea port in Bangladesh, Mongla. The distance from Dhaka to Mongla is about 320 kilometres, but in order to get past the waves of Padma, one has to wait for a transport at the Feri Ghaat for hours. The buses aren’t world class, or even in the upper percentile of Bangladeshi transport in terms of quality, but they get the job done.

The bus stopped at the Mawa Feri Ghaat around 15 minutes to 11PM. Mawa Feri Ghaat is popular for its food, thanks to its proximity to the river and the access to the freshest fish. A lot of people show up from Dhaka to experience a diverse catalog of fish best enjoyed with rice. One of the most popular items here are the fried Hilsha, made from fish taken straight from the ocean. I got off the bus and entered a restaurant. With two pieces of hilsha fry and a piece of medium sized shrimp, I finished my dinner. With a platter of rice, fish, daal and vegetables, my bill was around 260 taka.

After dinner, I got into the Feri Ghaat and sat there to watch the waves of Padma playfully rise and break under the mesmerizing full moon. Some time around 3 AM at night my bus got on the ferry, and soon enough we were on our way. Watching the Padma play with the silver moonlight in the ferry as it raged ahead on the mighty river, I eventually reached Kathalbaari Ghaat. The bus quickly got off and got on it’s way.

The bus reached the Mongla Bus Terminal around 6:30 AM. I got off and got aboard the engine-powered troller boat. It was already ready to help me reach the launch boat. Before starting for Sundarbans, I managed to chat up with a few of the fellow tourists over some tea. From Friday morning to Sunday noon, I’ll be with some friends of mine. The whole experience would cost me around BDT 7500.

As soon as I got on the launch, a staff boy showed me my room. It was a neat and tidy bunk bed with accommodation for four people inside the room.. I put my bag in the room, freshened up and went to the roof of the launch. The roof has a dining space with seating arrangements. The launch can hold upto 45 people at once. As soon as the passengers got in, the launch started.

The breakfast was served around 8:00AM in the morning, the menu consisting of hotchpotch, roasted eggplants, poached eggs and pickles. As soon as I was done with the breakfast, I started with Labonnyomoy Ladakh – Part 1, written by the eccentric Bivas Das. Books and nature are my  only two companions for the next two days. One of the best things about a trip in Sunderbans is the unavailable mobile network. Some locations within the vicinity provide a little network, but one can only enjoy some conversations with it, no hopes of internet.

The boat raged on with the waves of the river. It was sunny, but the cool breeze of the river took away the heat. A few fishing boats caught the eye sometimes. And other times, the launch slowly huddled past massive ships, and small cottages made of palm leaves look tiny from so far away.

Going up in front of the launch, the deep green of the forest catches one’s eye; this is where the Sundarban start. Although the river was quite wide a few years ago, it has narrowed down in recent years. Massive freight ships enter through this river. The ships carrying consumer products to India enter through this route.

After a few moments, our launch crossed the tourist center of the East Forest division. The Launch Master revealed that the launch will get off at Harbaria at first. As the launch tore through the river, I enjoyed the beautiful forest growing beside the water.

Around 1:00 PM, the launch reached Harbaria. Tolaharbaria, an eco-tourism center, which was built by the forest department of Chaadpai Range of the Sundarban. Our launch set its anchors right in the middle of a massive lake. We disembarked as soon as it reached land, we got off and started walking in a row. We were protected by a gunman up front and one in the back. I sparked up a conversation with the gunman in the back and kept walking.

We kept walking through the forest in quite a massive bridge made out of wood. There’s a feeling of foreboding walking through the desolate forest, a feeling of something eyeing you through the trees. You could see monkeys, occasionally swinging and playing on the branches, sometimes you’d hear birds. Under my feet the tide followed us slowly. On salty waters, in soft soil stood many respirators of mangrove trees ready to sprout soon. The trail ends after around 20 minutes. A massive pond appears after a few minutes, filled with lotuses. A round cottage made of wood stands in the middle, serving the purpose of relaxation for the tourists. There are some places for the tourists to sit here, as well. The Royal Bengal Tiger occasionally comes to visit at times as well, to drink the water from the pond.

After around 40 minutes in this place, we boarded the launch. The launch got in it’s way, with the destination now being Dubla’r Char in the Bay of Bengal. The sun slowly nodded to the west as the launch nudged with it too. Slowly, day rolled into dusk and we finally reached Dubla’r chor.

Tunes of unknown songs, drum rolls, fireworks or echoes of fishermen slowly came pouring in as we got closer. Hundreds of boats float in the Char, as we slowly kept moving. The crowd is because of it being a religious site for Hindu believers.

All of us got onto the launch-boat and got off to see the festive mood of Dubla’r Char. Fighting with the wind and the tide of the ocean, we reached the festival. We also got lost within the millions of people in the festival. We wandered around and discovered a different culture in here. Hundreds of stalls filled up with things of different needs, some buying these according to their needs and tastes. For the festival, thousands of people gathered at the temple. We got to see Ghazi Kalu, Bon Bibi and Radha Krishna’s sculptures within the temple, with everyone frantically praying. we explored the vicinity for almost two hours and got on our way to the launch; finishing our dinner with a plan to wake up at dawn.

Around 4 o’ clock in the dawn, we got on our way to watch the holy bath in the Dubla’r Char. As soon as we got to the Char, we saw thousands of people sitting near the ocean, all finishing their Puja and getting into the ocean. These people came climbing on hundreds of trawlers. The place was filled with national and international tourists at the moment, some taking pictures or some getting into the ocean themselves.

Sometimes one notices some kind of religious songs in groups, singing and dancing together while some other comes up to the sun and warms their body up. Enjoying quite the festive mood, we got on our way to the Katka beach side aboard our launch. After finishing breakfast, we got on our way to enjoy the Sundarbans. The morning slowly turned into noon and we got to the Katka beach side. With the forest in one side and infinite waves on the other, this beach-side looks beautiful. This beach being by the side of the Sundarbans, one could easily see the damage of the forest done by tsunamis and tornadoes. After wandering around for a few hours, we got to our launch to finish our lunch as afternoon crept in. We finished our lunch and got on the trawler to watch the sunset in the ocean.

Sunsets by the ocean are an indescribable experience. Afterwards he were on our way to Mongla, with a big fat moon sitting on top of the sky. It was a full moon too. Laying on the roof of the launch, we watched the moonlight playing with the waves of the river. We went to sleep around 11 PM in the night.

We woke up at dawn, discovering that we were at Karamjal. On the trawler, we got to the Karamjal Forest Range, which is a crocodile and deer reproduction facility too. A lot of deer, crocodiles and monkeys live in this place. It also has a massive map of Sundarbans, the skeleton of a tiger and an illustrative guide to the  “swatch of no ground “. After exploring Karamjal, we got to our launch in our trolley and the launch brought us to Mongla for breakfast. From there, the friendly staff escorted us to the Mongla bus stop, from where we got on our way to Dhaka.

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