Sundarban Tour with SHER
Being an ardent nature lover there is always a special corner in my heart for Sundarban but never got a scope to be there. My inclination towards Sundarban is there since my childhood and specially for Great Royal Bengal Tigers. The attraction of Royal Bengal Tigers are their coat, which is yellow (Sometimes to light orange) with black stripes and the orange tail with black rings, this made them unique. It was in my dream to watch world’s biggest cats swim for hunting, although it was also in my knowledge that if you are not the luckiest person in the earth than it is impossible to managed a glimpse of the lord of the Sundarban.
Sundarban – The name Sundarban is a Bengali name and literal meaning of Sundarban is “Beautiful Forest” in Bengali language (Shundar or Sundor mean “Beautiful” and Bon mean “Forest”). There are many other opinions on the same but most common say is the name derived from Sundari trees, which is mangrove that are found in Sundarban in large numbers. The Sundarban is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It covers approximately 10,000 square kilometers of which 60 percent is in Bangladesh and remaining is in India. Sundarban is the largest mangrove forest in the world and forming a seaward fringe of the delta. The area is known for its wide range of flora and fauna. There are about 334 species of trees and 450 species of animals in this forest. There are 47 species of mammals, 270 species of birds, 45 species of reptiles and 200 species of fish.
SHER – My trip to Sundarban happened all of a sudden. Santanu Pyne, he is like my brother and I know him for a couple of years. He is a professional photographer and he covered some events of an NGO name SHER (Society For Heritages and Ecological Researches) as a photographer. One day he told me that he would go to Sundarban with SHER on a photo assignment and immediately I showed my interest to him. When I talked to Mr. Joydip Kundu for the first time over the phone, founder member of SHER, he gladly welcomed me for the trip with SHER. Not only I will accompany them on the trip to Sundarban but my entire expense for 2 days 1 Night tour will be sponsored by them, but they want me to judge a painting competition along with a panel of two judges. Actually, SHER organized a painting competition in Sundarban for the school children of ten various schools of Sundarban Region and five school children from each school would participate in the painting competition. Apart from conducting awareness programs on conservation, SHER’ is directly involved on various projects on conservation of wildlife, ecology and environment. This painting competition was also a part of their awareness program and the topic was “Our Tigers – Our Badabon (Sundarbon)”. Mr.Joydip Kundu and his wife Suchandra Kundu are the founder members of SHER and both of them are wildlife photographers. Apart from it Mr. Joydip Kundu is also an actor and acted in many films, as well as acted in television. Over the years, their brainchild SHER grows for their extraordinary works and hard work towards conservation. Now its takes a huge shape and many eminent personalities from different professions are associated with SHER. You can learn more about SHER, visit the official website of SHER – www.sherindia.com
Sundarban Day 1 Tour
Early morning on 14th September 2015 around 5 am I woke up. It took a little time for the preparation as my bag was packed prior to the day. I gave a wake-up call to Santanu and fixed our meeting time at 6:30 am because we have to reach Hatibagan, this was the meeting point with SHER team. We reached there around 7:05 am and without any conversation with SHER members we boarded the car. Initially, Me, Santanu Pyne, Joydip Kundu, Suchandra Kundu, Koustuv Bandyopadhyay aka Apu and Tapas Sardar (Big helping hand) started our journey but, later on, Kaushik Banerji and Subhamoy Sinha Roy joined us. I have been introduced to everybody by Joydip Kundu to others. Throughout the journey, each and everybody was pulling Apu’s leg but he was maintained his cool throughout and the main topic was Coffee House. I don’t want to get into its details. The car took its own way and chatting, leg pulling was in the full swing, took its own way. After, more than two hours of journey we reached to Canning and Joydip Kundu went to the local market for some shopping. I was sitting in a window seat (lucky enough to have a window seat) of the car and had immense pleasure to watch the real “Gram Bangla” (Villages of Bengal). It took another two hours of journey to reach Godkhali and this is the end of the road. Our car has been parked there and the driver would have to wait until we get back from the trip.
After a little walk we reached the jetty where the motor boat of SHER was waiting for us and the motor boat is the main transportation or lifeline of Sundarban. Its hard to express this journey with words, to understand one needs to witness the raw nature of Sundarban himself. Over my head was deep blue sky and clouds, under my feet were deep water, on the both hand side was a jungle.
Nothing impedes my wanderlust,
I spread my wings to the chimes of my song,in my imagination.
Beyond the wilderness of all fairy tales
Getting lost I reach a far away place,where silence rules.
— Rabindranath Tagore
It was really adventurous, as well as romantic and I will cherish this throughout my life. In my imagination I said Thanks so many times to SHER during the journey, Specially Joydip Kundu for adding me to his squad and Big Thanks to you once again. During this journey, Suchandra Kundu shared me about their working experience with various jungles of India and talked about wildlife photography. It was really an exuberant experience for me and I learn so many things about tigers and tiger conservation.
Everybody helped me so much to understand the place, specially Suchandra Kundu. I saw Sajnekhali, Pakhiraloy and the core area of tiger reservation forest from a little distance. Sajnekhali is the nearer to the core area and for that reason, Hotels are also costly in comparison to Pakhiraloy. When we were crossing the core area alongside, everybody was ready with their cameras. Don’t be get excited, we didn’t saw even the tail of a big Cat. What I saw the entire core area is covered with net alongside the banks. Sometimes I noticed some marks with red cloths in core area, it indicates tigers have been seen on those places and same has been confirmed by SHER team. 1 hour 45 minutes of journey by motor boat we reached a village, name Doyapur and it is in Goshaba, 24 Parganas South. Here, another member of SHER from Sundarban, Sarbaranjan Mondol joined us. After few minutes of a walk carrying required all the heavy stuff for the event, we reached our destination “Doyapur P.C Sen High School, the venue for the painting competition.
We finally reached, at first, Sarba Da and the school authorities showed us newly made two ladies toilet. I was not aware of it but when I read the marble tablet fixed above the toilets, then the entire picture was cleared to me. There was no ladies toilet in the school and newly made toilets have been sponsored by Soroptimist Internation of Calcutta in association with SHER. Honestly speaking after witnessed this I was really felt so happy and learned about the human face of SHER.
Later on, they decorated the ground floor with banners of SHER and this event was jointly organized by TITAN Company and SHER. I have also helped them little in decoration but was little busy to watch the surrounding areas. I stroll here and there with my camera, also interacted with villagers and learned about their life. Life is really hard over there, to what extent that is hard to understand for city denizens. Here Subhamoy was my companion and sometimes Santanu also joined us.
The clock was approaching to 4 pm so everybody was so hungry, actually, rat was rumbling in my stomach. We went to the boat to have our lunch and served food was so yummy. Just imagine, I am having my lunch in the middle of a river !! just Wow. Again we get back to the school for pending jobs of decoration and planning.
After a while again we get back to the motor boat and it was time to roam on the river, 2hours on the river we reached Bali Island. It was earlier decided that we would stay at the boat at night but finally, we stayed at a beautiful cottage in Bali Island. When we have reached to Bali Island it was dark and we had to walk with our head torch. It was really an amazing experience. After a quick bath, we went for high tea to their huge dining hall and found there, enchanting of Bonbibi, it’s called “Bonbibi-r Pala”. We enjoyed the entire show thoroughly with Alur Chop/Potato Fritters and tea. I have captured a little portion of Bonbibi-r Pala with my phone camera, just to make you understand.
Bonbibi-r Pala some words – Bonbibi aka Bandurga, Bandevi is the Goddess of Sundarban. A theatrical representation of those who works in the dense forest of Sundarban, she protects them from Dakshina Rai and Dakshina Rai is daemon tiger. Very interestingly Goddess Bonbibi venerated by both the Hindu and Muslims of Sundarban. It’s a believed that Bonbibi is the daughter of Ibrahim from Mecca and his first wife was Phoolbibi, again he married to Golalbibi with the full consent of Phoolbibi, as she couldn’t bear him a child. Golalbibi gave birth of two children, girl child was Bonbibi and boy child was Shah Jangali. Unfortunately, Phoolbibi adopted Shah Jangali but abandoned Bonbibi in the jungle and she grew up in the jungle. Ibrahim was aware of everything but after seven years when he realized his mistake that he did not do justice to them, then he brought Bonbibi, Shah Jangali, and Golalbibi to Mecca. One fine day, during a prayer at mosque Bonbibi and Shah Jangali received two magical hats. With the help of magical hats, they flew to the country of “Atharo Bhatir Desh” (Country of Eighteen Tides) to serve Allah and during that time the king of Eighteen Tides was Daemon Dakshina Rai. After reaching there Shah Jangali offered Adhan (Prayer) to Allah and sound of Adhan reached to Dakshina Rai. Sanatan Roy was a close friend of Dakshina Rai and he immediately sent Sanatan Roy to investigate the cause of the sound. When Dakshina Rai came to know about Bonbibi, he was immediately prepared for the war against Bonbibi. But the mother of Dakshina Rai, Narayani prevented him and sent her army of ghost to the battle. After a long battle, Bonbibi defeated Narayani and they become friends. Mutually they came to a conclusion that Dakshina Rai would be the ruler of the jungle and inhabited part of Atharo Bhati would be under Bonbibi.
Even till today common man of Sundarban believed that ruler of the jungle are the tigers and inhabited part of Sundarban is protected by Bonbibi. In the theatrical representation of Bonbibi-r pala, what I noticed, very simple designing of the stage. There was no pomp and show, what we actually notice in city based theaters. There are many stories about Bonbibi and they perform on collections of stories. The Bonobibi-r Pala what I saw, it was organized in the dining hall of the cottage. After the show was over, I have talked to artists and talked about their lives apart from staging Bonbibi-r pala. It was a lifetime experience for me and I will cherish this rest of my life.
After the show, we vacated dining hall and the hall transformed into a full-fledged dining hall and we had our dinner there, went off to sleep.
Sundarban Day 2 Tour
When I am traveling, my habit is to wake up early but at home, I can’t manage myself to wake up early. I admit my lord and to my wife, I have this bad habit. Similarly on 15th September, I woke up very early and went for a walk with my camera. I think the best way to explore a place by foot and in Sundarban one needs to be on foot. I have clicked some nature and some I kept in my mind. Around 7 am we had our breakfast and left Bali Island to rush for Doyapur.
We board the motor boat to reach Doyapur and here I came to know that Minister of Forests, Government of West Bengal Mr. Binoy Krishna Burman and many eminent guests would attend this event. As time grows, students from different schools along with their teachers came down to Doyapur and the event turned into grand event all of sudden when Hon’ble Minister of Forests attended the program with two other Members of Legislative Assembly of West Bengal. Although they reached there after the painting competition but not after the deceleration of the winners.
Apart from Minister of Forests, Government of West Bengal Mr Binoy Krishna Burman, all senior forest officers were there, Dr Pradeep Vyas IFS – Additional PCCF & Director of Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, Mr Nilanjan Mullick IFS – CCF & Field Director of Sundarban Tiger Reserve, Mr Kishore Mankar IFS the Dy Field Director and Mr Gopal Halder, P.S to the MIC-Forests. By the way, I was present there as a judge and along with other two judges, we decided the winner of the painting competition.
Everything was over successfully and I said goodbye to Sundarban.
How to reach
There are six gateway to reach Sundarban from Kolkata and from west Sonakhali, Canning, Jamtala, Raidhighi, and Namkhana and from west Dhamakhali. Most popular and easiest is Canning. Buses are available directly from Kolkata to Canning, with journey time 3 – 3 ½ hours for 55 km. Private Car is also available from Kolkata but during your stay the car will stay back in Godkhali for your return journey to Kolkata and as it is the end of the road.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata is the nearest airport to Sundarban. Sundarban is around 70 KM by road from airport
One can get down at Canning railway station and then take a boat.
1. Information about SHER has been collected from their official website
2. Information about Bonbibi collected from Hath Nis Pis’s Article “Atharo Bhatir Deshe” by Debayan Mitra.
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