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    Monday, October 27, 2008

    TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, Satkhira, October 2008

    Mangroves in Rain: TTL Safari to The Sundarbans
    Satkhira, Bangladesh

    23-25 October 2008

    Its been a while since I've visited the Sundarbans. And I hadn't actually taken the camera in my hand at that time. So, suffice it to say that I have far less documentation from that tour. Last time it was a family tour, but this time I was with photographers. The tour was organised by none other than Shudipto of the "Through the Lens: Bangladesh" group in Flickr. He gets all the credit, even though for life's great uncertainty, he missed the tour because of a last minute call for office duty. The idea came up when we were discussing Michael Reichmann's safari tour to Botswana. We thought why can't have our own safari? Shudipto is active enough to turn it into a reality. The tour missed three people including Shudipto, but the start. Arif (nicknamed BioHazard) missed out right before the start, and Saif Bhai had to leave the bus at Gabtoli after he got news of his child's sickness. We were 17 people making the whole trip. Everyone had the equipment with them to leave nothing unremembered!

    The trip was supposed to start at 8:45PM on the 23rd of October from Shyamoli in Dhaka. But delays from several of our friends because of heavy traffic postponed the start by more than half and hour. Taufique Bhai came right from Chittagong and joined us after an already hectic journey. Tushar Bhai was the last one to board to bus, and at last we had a go! It was around 9:35PM when the wheels finally roared.

    We were lucky to get the ferry at Paturia right after we arrived there. It was around 11PM when we boarded the ferry. Our half-a-sleep broke and we concentrated on enjoying the activities on the ferry. The ferry journey wasn't too dull though, but before we could realise, we were already on the other bank. Most of us came to the bus stand after a huge rush; so, the availability of some foodstuff on the ferry was precious.

    Anyway, the journey started once more and everyone tried to catch some sleep. It wasn't too long though before we realised that we had reached a pretty thorny area on the road. Our spines were massaged in a pretty harsh way and the light sleep went out through the window! The pain stopped abruptly right in the middle of the night. It was around 3:45AM when we found ourselves out of the bus and waiting for our 'connecting flight'. This was Satkhira. But our journey called for boarding another bus which would take us to Shyamnagar. Shyamnagar is the southernmost genuine built-up area in Satkhira; after which traces of the Sundarbans start to appear.

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    The unique rickshaw van of Shyamnagar....... 4/5 people can travel on board...... its made locally.......


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Evolution of wheels.........


    It took us an hour to reach Shyamnagar. It wasn't dawn yet and the small stores there were yet to open when we reached. We waited there for our next level of transport to appear. Our main contact person there was Mr. Salahuddin Bappy. He's a local journalist working for the Purbanchal, a local daily. He's known for his exploits in the Sundarbans and thus he has made a separate career as a tour organiser. With his vast experience exploring the deepest of forest areas, we were depending on him to guide us through. In fact, Shudipto made contact with him after the first ideas of a Sundarbans Safari was being discussed in TTL. We relaxed until Bappy Bhai appeared with two micro-buses. We had our breakfast at a local restaurant with "khichuri". There was too much oil in it, yet we liked it. We were hungry to say the least. We packed up, as we knew that this was going to be our last real stoppage in terms of provisioning.

    Our next destination was Burigoalini. That would be our last road journey before we boarded a boat. The only way to have a look at the mangrove forest is on a boat. Burigoalini would be the checkpoint before we enter the forest proper. It has a forest range office, which controls traffic in and out of the forest. The journey to Burigoalini was by a narrow paved road through a picturesque rural setting. We were itching to stop to take some shots. We were blinded by the amazing greenery and the extraordinary setting. Just for the sake of saving time, we were satisfied with just watching through the window. The weather was gloomy from the morning and some drops of rain also appeared on our windshield. From the start we were a little worried about the condition of weather. Bad weather is can easily cancel our entry into the forest. This was the middle of cyclone season; so, cloudy skies kept us worried.

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Greater Egrets (Boro Bok) in large groups dominated the settings......


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Greater Egrets (Boro Bok) and Grey Herons (Dhushor Bok).......


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Barn Swallow (Metho Ababil) skimming the waterline.......


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Wingtip to wingtip...... Barn Swallows (Metho Ababil) flying in pairs.....


    But when we reached a place where we could see some big birds swarming on a wet land, Zamir Bhai stopped us. He is one avid birdwatcher; and we were not surprised, considering the things we could see from our car. The beauty of Nature simply can't pass right in front of our eyes! We got down and started shooting. It was around 8:00AM. We proceeded as quietly as we could, but the birds started to move farther and farther away from us. We could see some Greater Egrets (Boro Bok) and some Grey Herons (Dhushor Bok) in the distance. Some Barn Swallows (Metho Ababil) were deceiving us as much as they could. The light was poor because of overcast condition, and soon enough, some drizzles also started appear on our lenses. We boarded once more and there would be no more stoppage before we reached Burigoalini.

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    The start of our journey....... the start of the mangroves........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Portrait of the Sundarbans...........01


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Portrait of the Sundarbans...........02


    We reached Burigoalini by around 8:50AM. This is a forest range office. By the look and feel of the place, we straightaway understood that we were in Tiger country! We spent little time there and boarded our boat. We were having our first glance towards that mysterious green skyline. The mangroves were all around us. Saline water was kissing the feet of their unique roots. Fishing boats were roaming around the great expanses of water. But as said before, the sky was dull and drizzles were becoming an annoying factor. Our boat was a single deck wooden country boat; neither too modern, nor too ancient in design. There was a makeshift cover made of coloured clothes that gave shaded us from sunlight; well if there was any sun at all!

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Lonely among the vastness of Nature.........


    Our boat started by around 9:25AM. The expected noise of the boat engine became a part of our lives for the next two days. You either love it, or hate this; but this is the way to see Nature here. Bappy Bhai told us that we would be on the boat for around one hour. We were given a couple of security people by the forest office. They were armed with rifles. The main reason for this armed escort was obvious; Tigers!

    Our destination this time would be Kalagachia Forest Station. Thats where we were supposed to stay the night. We clicked on as we sailed. The mangroves looked ever so interesting, yet, they looked the same almost everywhere. Every river, every canal looked the same to us. We asked Bappy Bhai and the security guys the names of those rivers and canals. Honestly, those were not names that I can remember in an instant. I somehow think now that I should've recorded their voice when they uttered those names.

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Kalagachia Forest Station......... a house on the green......


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Staring towards the east....... the jetty at Kalagachia Station.........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Gracefully holding ground....... Eurasian Wryneck (Euroasio Gharbetha).........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Time to relax..........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Colourful twins........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Daily struggle........ local people looking for fries.........


    We reached Kalagachia Station on the River Kholpetua by around 9:50AM. The tide was low and the mangrove roots were in the open, breathing air. Mangrove roots pierced the mud that was teeming with life. Green leaves of the trees shaded the narrow canals through the deep stretches of the forest. One needs a small boat during high tide to go through those canals. Anyway, Kalagachia Station seemed like a nice place. There were 3/4 houses there; two of which were brick-made and were specifically made for visitors. The better cottage went to Bappy Bhai and we had the bigger cottage, where we had find our own ways. There was a nice piece of advice written in front of our cottage, which said, "Beware of Tigers! Move in groups!" That again reminded us of the place we were about to stay the night. Kalagachia had two jetties facing the east. The jetty pillars were regularly shaken by the force of the tide, but it was relatively quieter during the low tide we found in those morning hours.


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Man-made contrasts........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    A typical narrow canal in low tide........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Complexities of Nature....... mangrove roots........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......01


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......02


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......03


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......04


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......05


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......06


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......07


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......08


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......09 (Mud skipper, the unique "fish" of mangrove)


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......10


    Our next plan was to have a look around on the boat and land at a place where we could interact with Nature. Thus we freshened up and started once more. It was around 11:20AM. We reached Dobeki Forest Station by around 12:45PM. This was a great place to shoot mangroves. It also had a concrete watch-tower, from where it was possible to get a panoramic view. We spent quite a while exploring that place with our camera. Things were going pretty smoothly until we saw Faisal Bhai slipping and dropping in the water, barely saving his precious camera. He was also unhurt, which was the main thing. Others had a nice time shooting life in the mud. Mangroves are home to a great number of creatures. Crabs, shell-fish, mud-skippers, and various other creatures make this seemingly ordinary-looking sticky thing into something unique and special. This whole forest is based on the tide of salty water. Life here depends on this tide. If someone misses the mud here, he/she will miss a big part of mangrove forest.


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Giving that cold look........ a wild hog........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Resting after a delicious meal......... Brown Shrike (Khoira Latora).........


    We also found some birds and a single wild hog. Deers were nowhere to be seen. The wet weather really betrayed us. Most of the birds were also in their shells. The whole forest went quieter. We were in contact with Dhaka. And we came to know that this rain was because of a low pressure system developing in the Bay of Bengal. The weather office issued "Distant Cautionary Signal Number Three" for the sea ports. But lucky for us, the river seemed pretty quiet, even though the drizzles continued with some breaks.


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Rusty, but reliable........


    Anyway, we were supposed to have our lunch on board the boat. Bappy Bhai called us on board and we gave goodbye to Dobeki. It was around 2:25PM. We had our lunch on the way. And even though we were disappointed enough with the weather, the meal got us jumping. We were hungry like anything and we ate like anything. It was a lunch to remember! Until that time, we agreed that the best thing we could enjoy was the meal!

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Life in the mud.......11........ Common Sandpiper, Juvenile (Pati Batan)


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Scary Nature........


    We reached Kalagachia once more by around 4:45PM. We already gave up the idea of watching sunset. There was no sun all day, let alone getting a sunset! Lack of sunlight played havoc with our clicking. We struggled with our cameras all throughout the tour because of the gloomy weather. But the sun was gone now (well, if it was ever up during our visit there!). We spent the evening gossiping under a small open shed near the jetties. The overcast day had its effect on the wind, and it began to chill us as much as it could. We tried to grab whatever we could to warm us up. We had a nice laugh. By that time, we had already grown intimacy among us and that gossip took that intimacy one level up. The laugh actually continued during the dinner. We had our dinner on the boat. Our buddy Shafqat gave us all the entertainment of the evening by receiving and absorbing all those shells from others, led by Mishuk, our Ansel Adams.

    That laugh prepared us for the bed. We were dead tired. Some of us actually last more than others and went to bed quite late. Another thing which we wouldn’t forget was the way we went to the rest rooms. There was a narrow causeway between our living quarters and the rest rooms. that causeway was open on both sides, with a shade protecting from the elements. But as we had learned, it wasn't actually safe going to the rest rooms alone! So, while one went to the rest rooms, the others waited on the causeway with torchlight. This was the only way Tigers could be warned. We were told to use the torchlight when we would be out of our cottages, and of course, not alone. The practice itself scares the visitor and gives an idea of the place where some people live day in day out.


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Sunrise at Kalagachia Forest Station on the Kholpetua River......01


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Sunrise at Kalagachia Forest Station on the Kholpetua River......02


    We were planning to see sunrise by waking up early. But we knew it well that it all depended on the weather. We were supposed to see the sun right from the edge of the piers facing the east. We woke up by around 6:00AM and waited with our gears at the edge of the water. The sun actually showed up for a while, but quickly shied away, giving us more disappointment.

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    A typical narrow canal in high tide......


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Langurs shaken by the chilly rain.....


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Lesser Adjutant (Choto Modontak)......


    We had our breakfast quickly; again, on the boat. The makeshift shade above was gone some time back. Rain ruled over the sun and we had to retreat under the roof. Rain intensified throughout the day and became more consistent. The day before now seemed more precious. We now had an even harder time shooting during the day. Rain was accompanied by some wind, which somehow targeted our camera lenses. But we were stubborn like anything and continued with the shooting. We had a few sightings of some Langurs and some occasional Kingfishers, Egrets, Sandpipers and other birds; but no deers yet!!

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Dependency.........


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Portrait of the Sundarbans...........03

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Portrait of the Sundarbans...........04

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    A white spot on green Nature........... a Greater Egret...........

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Portrait of the Sundarbans...........05

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Portrait of the Sundarbans...........06


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Flying with the meal......... Osprey (Machmura)


    We started by around 9:00AM. Our destination was a canal named Kholshebunia. A pretty wide canal. We reached there in around 45 minutes. We were supposed to set our feet on the mangrove mud. The raining continued unabated, but the enthusiasm to get a touch from the soil of the Sundarbans was irresistible. I somehow decided to stay on the boat along with Arif (nicknamed Landscape Lover) and burly Mushfiq. This time another incident. The boat neared a tree, where everyone was setting their feet before they could reach the ground. The tree branch where everyone was setting their first feet, had a weak point. Bappy Bhai issued his warning, but somehow Milton (Azad Hossain) stepped on the weak link and dropped on the shallow waters with all his photography gears! He was able to hold one of this cameras up for others to collect it on board the boat; but another camera was also inside the bag. The bag got soaked, but the camera inside was OK. On the other hand, the camera that was in his hand, was going to the doctor! He was unhurt, but definitely shocked. Milton went with others to see the forest on foot, but he had to leave his gears back at the boat.

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Colours; man-made and natural.......... Collared Kingfisher (Dholaghar Machranga)

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    The rain got them......... a family of Langurs......

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Common Hoopoe (Pati hoodhood).......

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Mangrove roots..........01


    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Mangrove roots..........02

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Mangrove roots..........03

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Mangrove roots..........04

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Mangrove roots..........05

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Wooden snake!!


    The walk was short, but under full security. Others told me how the feeling of the mud made the walk worthwhile. Anyway, we started once more for Kalagachia Station. On the way we paused a bit and had our lunch. This lunch wasn't as enjoyable as the earlier one; may be because of the disappointing weather. We proceed towards Kalagachia after that; and need not to say that we continued shooting whatever came our way. We reached Kalagachia in the fading afternoon lights; by around 3:25PM. The idea was to get freshened up and get going. But a single sighting changed everything. A family of Langurs presented themselves in front of us in the backyard of the station. We clicked and cliked. Another bird also lured us there, a Common Hoopoe, which was grazing in front of the Langurs. We followed the Hoopoe with our gears and automatically found ourselves in the middle of a great mangrove forest! The mangroves here were simply amazing! The roots were eye-catching and the patterns they formed on the ground, took our eyes, along with our cameras completely by surprise! The lush greenery above the mangrove roots created a natural contrast, hardly matched by anything else. This seemed like a gold mine we almost missed. Some of our friends had already taken the opportunity to take a walk over there. But for others it was a surprise indeed. The light was extremely low in that area; so, shooting wasn't too easy. The makeshift muddy road was extremely difficult to cross, as the rain played havoc with it. We had to keep a close eye on the ground. This short tour through a small part of the forest was an amazing experience, which alone can invite someone to come here again; at least it encouraged me to go there once more!

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Rain......... it ruled over the whole tour........


    We hurried after that actually. Bappy Bhai because impatient as the light was dropping and we had a bus to catch. We boarded the boat by around 4:30PM. Yet another journey later, we reached a new place. This is not the Burigoalini Forest Range Office. We came to a normal "ghat", named Neeldumur Kheyaghat, and touched the ground. This is surely goodbye to the Sundarbans; until next time!

    From TTL Safari: The Sundarbans, October 2008

    Free me.........


    After coming ashore, we had received a shocking news that only one micro bus reached the place, while the other one was yet to reach us. Time was not in our favour. But we had to wait. We rather spent the available time shooting the surroundings.

    The journey once again started when lights had faded away. Destination was Shyamnagar, where we had arrived on Friday before dawn. It was around 6:00PM. But another shock! One of the tires on our car got punctured. We had a head start; so, we had to wait for the other car to come and fix the problem. We started once more by around 6:35PM. Then another shocker came in after a while. The vehicle in the back got stopped! The road was dark and the whole area almost went to sleep pretty early in the evening. It seemed like a scary prospect. On the other hand, our bus transport got us on the phone. They began to know us by around 6:45PM. We held them off until our first car reached the bus station. The car behind us eventually started after some toiling, giving us much relief.

    The bus that we were supposed to board at Satkhira was sent by the service providers to pick us from Shyamnagar. This was a privilege indeed! We were 17 people, which gave us the bargaining power. And that power helped us keep the bus at Shyamnagar until around 7:30PM. We couldn't have any decent meal in the evening hours. The journey back was well on its way. Except from some short stopovers, we speeded away. But that didn't mean we wouldn't have to cross the bone-crushing part of the road after Satkhira!

    We reached the ferry at Daulatdia by around 12:45AM. And we bumped into a dead stop! There was a huge queue before the ferry "ghat", which seemed virtually endless. It was a tenuous 4 hours' effort, which took us to a ferry by around 4:45AM. This long wait made us tired like hell! We reached Dhaka by around 7:35AM. The tiresome journey was at last over! For Taufique Bhai, who lives at Chittagong, it would be stop-over and he would have to start for yet another journey to see his home!

    It was a disappointment to see the weather betray us like that. But still, the very sight of that place got us excited. The main reason behind that is "uniqueness". If one word had to describe the Sundarbans, it would be "unique". We all had been aroused enough to look for yet another tour over there. This unique place can't possibly make anyone feel tired or bored. At least, I am already keeping my fingers crossed for another opportunity.

    P.S. Please take your time to have a look at the whole album. This blog page contains a small portion of the images in the album.

    Special thanks to Zamiruddin Faisal Bhai for identification of the birds.

    7 comments:

    1. ami chinta korsi kono chobi post korbo na ... :(

      kibhabe je eishob tulsen ... !! you are just too good

      ReplyDelete
    2. awesome documentation of the trip - just amazing

      ReplyDelete
    3. Sharif Bhai...this is a complete stuff...both the pictures and the documents. Thanks for sharing..

      ReplyDelete
    4. thank you all so much!!..... I just try not to make a lot of mistakes..... :)

      ReplyDelete
    5. Reminds me of my first and last visit to Sundarban in 1979. I was dishearted not to see any tiger not even a deer.

      Quite vivid description of the journey.

      Shaheen

      ReplyDelete
    6. Hi,
      Great report! Would you mind sharing the
      contact info (e-mail and phone) of your guide (Mr. Salahuddin Bappy)?

      I would like to check with him to see if he can be my guide when I visit Sundarban later this year.

      Thank you so much.

      ReplyDelete