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gearhead2 14th May 2017 11:20 AM

1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
35 Attachment(s)
The following is an attempt to capture the experience of a trip to the Sunderbans we made a couple of years ago.
Because, lurking somewhere inside is the hope that others, who may have a better record of their own travel experience to the place (but have not yet started a thread) maybe encouraged to start a thread of their own.

Though we have been touring by road for the better part of the past couple of decades, our trips have mostly been confined to specific cities/places – Mumbai>Goa, Mumbai>Lucknow, Mumbai>Madikeri, Lucknow > Naukuchiatal, Lucknow>Kolkata - and sadly we did not think of keeping good visual or written records of these trips. One reason was that during many of these trips (before 2001) digital photography had not yet become the rage that it is today.

The one region to which we have devoted time and leisure is Uttaranchal, and specifically, the region around Naukuchiatal in Kumaon (my travelogue thread “Naukuchiatal – Far from the madding crowd” has been submitted earlier). Sunderbans as a destination was always there at the back of our minds, but lack of information (& laziness too) about touring in Bengal was a subconscious deterrent. I became a part of the TBHP family only in Jan. 2014.

Around this time (early 2013) we attended our daughter’s wedding in Florida, USA, where she married one of her colleagues (both doctoral candidates) at the Univ. of Central Florida. The subsequent plan was that they would come to India during the coming winter and spend sometime here. And this is where the Sunderbans came into the picture.

Apart from our daughter Tisha & the two of us (my wife & I) there would be 5 newly added family members – our daughter's husband Christopher, her parents-in-law Lynne and Mike, her brother-in-law Brian and her sprightly 89 year old maternal grandmother-in-law, Mrs. Rhode! So we opted for safety - a package tour of 1 night and 2 days on a houseboat which would take us on a pre-determined itinerary around the Sunderbans estuary, with one night anchored in mid-stream - and also, hopefully, we would see something of this famed and protected animal habitat.

We booked the houseboat “Whispering Winds” for our group (for the 18th and 19th of Nov. 2013); a reasonably well appointed vessel, with cabin accommodation that had air-con and attached WC and bath. One major consideration for doing this was the well-known mosquito menace in the Sunderbans and our deep reluctance to having any of our guests succumbing to a mosquito-borne illness.

The trip commenced with us leaving, after an early breakfast, by the transport provided by the tour operators (SUNDARBAN HOUSEBOAT.com) - a Maruti Dezire and a Toyota Innova - both in passable condition, already waiting for us. These would be taking us to Godkhali jetty, where we would board the houseboat and start on our tour proper.

I won’t waste time on the drive to Godkhali Ferry Ghat via N.S.C. Bose Road, through Narendrapur to Baruipur and from there via SH3 to Canning and on to Godkhali. The journey was uneventful apart from the usual traffic holdups and delays that one comes to accept as normal on our roads. We arrived at the Godkhali Ferry Ghat around 12 noon and headed straight for “Whispering Winds” waiting for us.

What follows is a photologue of the tour and as is my normal habit I have tried to provide captions for each photograph so that a narrative is not seriously missed, though I have added my comments now and then - some, admittedly a bit off-topic, for which I request your indulgence! To be honest, our minds at the time were also pre-occupied with other more mundane matters, being the parents of the bride!

Well then, for better or for worse - bouquets or brickbats - here goes!

gearhead2 14th May 2017 12:56 PM

Re: 1 night / 2 days on a houseboat in the Sunderbans
 
12 Attachment(s)
Our first day's tour of the Sunderbans ended after casting off from the Sajnekhali complex and anchoring - mid stream - for the night.

gearhead2 14th May 2017 01:10 PM

Re: 1 night / 2 days on a houseboat in the Sunderbans
 
9 Attachment(s)
Inside Sajnekhali Eco-complex was a new experience for all of us. This was the first time that we found ourselves walking around within touching distance of the actual wildlife habitat – albeit separated by a heavy wire-net fencing!

It’s my belief – tacitly admitted by the accompanying guide - that the netting is more for the protection of the local fauna than for us humans! I admit to being a secret believer in the doctrine of Dr.Dolittle – that most animals (mammals certainly) have well developed communication channels and also that they have equal rights to live on this planet. I believe we are well on the way towards destroying the fragile bio-sphere that our planet supports. Alright - I can already see the hackles rising among some of the respected members of this forum (this happens often when this discussion ripens within my circle!) and I shall desist from taking my point further.

The new members of our family were happily, busily clicking away – Lynne & Mike admitting that this trip would be a conversation starter for some time after they returned to Florida. I did not ask whether it would reflect favourably or otherwise on their Sunderbans experience!

Alright, I shall now return to the photos for the remainder of our first day on board the ‘Whispering Winds’ and take the narrative again after we have weighed anchor the next morning.

Our trip comprised of two days - (an euphemism really, since the first day of our tour actually started after 12-noon at Godkhali jetty where we boarded ‘Whispering Winds’, and the 2nd day terminated well before 3pm on day 2) - and one night on board the houseboat, with the night spent at anchor in mid-stream. This was a novelty for our newly added family members since they had not spent a night at anchor on any vessel before. I must admit that it was not a novelty for either my wife, Ruma, or me. Having spent the better part of the past 40 years at sea (as a marine engineer) – a good part of it accompanied by Ruma - a night at anchor has lost some of its novelty for both of us. But I need to qualify that – a night at anchor on a large ocean going liner at some safe port of refuge is a bland experience compared to a night on the ‘Whispering Winds’, in the middle of the largest mangrove animal habitat in the world! – home to that noble creature, the Royal Bengal Tiger.

gearhead2 14th May 2017 01:18 PM

Re: 1 night / 2 days on a houseboat in the Sunderbans
 
5 Attachment(s)
That evening at anchor, after dinner, was spent sitting around on the open promenade deck in desultory and relaxed chatting, with the boat crew and our guide joining in the conversation. The talk was replete with stories (by our guide and other crew members) of tiger attacks on local fishermen and honey-collectors (many of whom wear rear-facing masks to fool the tiger that they were being observed) and the subsequent genesis of ghost stories tied to the site of the tragedy. Our boat was anchored too far away from the shore to catch any of the nocturnal jungle orchestra that one reads about in books. We called it an early night and for a good reason too – the mosquitoes were beginning their vampire activities and it was prudent to take cover in our cabins.

The next day started early with everyone trooping up to the promenade deck to catch a glimpse of day-break on the Sunderbans estuary and we were busy for a while trying to capture the ambience on camera. The morning tea encouraged our ablutions and after a quick shower all of us were ready for breakfast – standard fare of cereal, bread/toast, and eggs to order and/or the local fare of loochies (poories in Bengali) with a heavenly aloo rassa. All of us (including our guests) ignored the western fare and fell ravenously on the loochies. Breakfast over, we were set to face the rest of the day, including - aah! - a possible glimpse of his/her Royal Highness.

Much has been written about the food habits of this animal – with opinions varying from its supposed abnormally aggressive nature being due to the high salt content of its marine habitat (!), right across the spectrum to its being, supposedly, a natural man-eater, again apparently due to the high salt content (!) in human flesh, which they find irresistible! I thought it prudent to reserve judgement on this whole issue, other than to say that there is not a shred of evidence, based on sustained field research, to back up either belief. The Royal Bengal tiger is just that - a noble and regal representative of a species that is high on the endangered list and is unlikely to come out of it in the foreseeable future.

Slightly off topic, it is also depressing to note that the common grey mongoose (like the common house sparrow) is no longer such a common sight in the cities. I remember walking out as a teenager into the large unkempt backyard (which passed of as a garden) of our ancestral home in Allahabad, to try and hand feed a trio of mongoose pups which were cavorting in the long grass - and to be suddenly faced with the mother, springing up on her hind feet, with her teeth bared in a clear warning to back off. I lost one of my sneakers in my hurry to get away. Subsequently the mongoose family (mother and pups) became quite tame and would approach my grandmother for tidbits at all odd times of the day. This was deeply resented by our family pet (a blithe and hyperactive German Shepherd named Badshah for some odd reason) and we had to be constantly on guard to prevent a spat between the two parties!

On the second and final day of our tour, we halted at Dobanki Camp with its elevated canopy walk, for observing the local wild life from a safe distance and also without creating undue disturbance. During the boat ride from Sajnekhali to Dobanki we passed close to islands which were dedicated tiger habitats, with no human population at all, apart from the local fishing boats and honey-gatherers. And these local fishing boats go deep into the narrow winding rivulets – and this is where the majority of the tiger attacks occur. We sat glued to the rails of the promenade deck in the hope of a sighting – but our luck was out and so no tiger sighting for our guests.

So, once again back to the photo session of our 2nd (and last) day on board the ‘Whispering Winds’. It is a sore point with me that I have poor skills as a photographer and I have always secretly envied those blessed with a natural eye for composition and story-telling through their camera. We are blessed with several of them in our forum and I have become a serios admirer of their work in these columns.

Well, that's it then, and if you derive a fraction of the fun reading this that we had while on our trip, I'd consider it ample reward.

Chandranath 17th June 2017 09:40 AM

Re: 1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
Lovely pictures and good narration

gearhead2 17th June 2017 07:47 PM

Re: 1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Chandranath (Post 541019)
Lovely pictures and good narration

Thank you Chandranath, and I hope you make a trip to the Sunderbans too, if you haven't done so already. I'm saying this because I know your travelogue/photologue will be as gripping & interesting as always!

VR Shenoy 18th June 2017 09:03 AM

Re: 1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
Oh, I felt like reading a Novel on Sunderbans. Reminds me of our trip to Nisagadhama on the way to Madikeri. I had been to Kolkatta ( Calcutta) many times in my younger days but never knew anything about sunderbans then. The Pictures captured by you are very nice.

gearhead2 18th June 2017 09:30 AM

Re: 1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by VR Shenoy (Post 541076)
Oh, I felt like reading a Novel on Sunderbans. Reminds me of our trip to Nisagadhama on the way to Madikeri. I had been to Kolkatta ( Calcutta) many times in my younger days but never knew anything about sunderbans then. The Pictures captured by you are very nice.

Thank you VR Shenoy,
I am really glad that you liked the thread. For me too, the Sunderbans were just a fabled land, accessed only in books & stories told by my grand mom to us children! It is only relatively recently, after regular contact with Kolkata was established, that we realised that it was quite close by & a trip was feasible.

We had made a trip to Madikeri way back in 1998 from Mumbai, and it was our first trip with our pet (our boxer Darth). It proved to be a splendid memory for us since we found the hotel Raj Darshan (near Raja's Seat) to be the first pet-friendly establishment we game across! On the way to Madikeri we had stopped for the night at Panjim in Goa, where I spent the night in the car with Darth, while the ladies had a good night's sleep on hotel beds!

Highway Ranger 18th June 2017 12:15 PM

Re: 1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
Nice informative travelogue! Sunderbans is a place we would like too visit one day.
I just have one suggestion to make. Will it be difficult for you to type the info and place the image below rather than typing the info inside the image?

gearhead2 18th June 2017 05:44 PM

Re: 1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Highway Ranger (Post 541089)
Nice informative travelogue! Sunderbans is a place we would like too visit one day.
I just have one suggestion to make. Will it be difficult for you to type the info and place the image below rather than typing the info inside the image?

Thank you, Highway Ranger! Regarding placing the image & text separately I must confess that I have tried this - but I found that often the text & its accompanying photo got scrambled, with the wrong text over the wrong photo. I berated myself for this & realised that I am not really blessed with the skills needed for this. But say no more, I'll try to separate text & photo in future!

VR Shenoy 18th June 2017 06:29 PM

Re: 1 Night / 2 Days on Houseboat in Sunderbans
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by gearhead2 (Post 541077)
Thank you VR Shenoy,
I am really glad that you liked the thread. For me too, the Sunderbans were just a fabled land, accessed only in books & stories told by my grand mom to us children! It is only relatively recently, after regular contact with Kolkata was established, that we realised that it was quite close by & a trip was feasible.

We had made a trip to Madikeri way back in 1998 from Mumbai, and it was our first trip with our pet (our boxer Darth). It proved to be a splendid memory for us since we found the hotel Raj Darshan (near Raja's Seat) to be the first pet-friendly establishment we game across! On the way to Madikeri we had stopped for the night at Panjim in Goa, where I spent the night in the car with Darth, while the ladies had a good night's sleep on hotel beds!

When we did visit Madikeri for the 1st time in 2008, we did stay in Hotel West East because the Veg food was really excellent over there. when we visited for the 2nd Time in 2010, we stayed in Kushalnagar at Buddist Temple's Hotel which was very clean and neat and close to the Buddha vihar. The Abbey Falls in Madikeri is a lovely experience.

For us it is just 5 hrs drive from Mangalore to Madikeri. So also about 7 hrs drive to Goa and to enjoy nice scenery view on the way to Goa. Both these places are memorable visits.

gearhead2 23rd June 2017 06:38 AM

Re: 1 night / 2 days on a houseboat in the Sunderbans
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by gearhead2 (Post 538243)
That evening at anchor, after dinner................... on our trip, I'd consider it ample reward.

Mods, I'd like to offer an apology regarding this thread. The photos I have submitted here are unfortunately carrying the logo of the other forum. The original photos (unmarked) were in a CD which has perished due to the unhealthy chewing habits of Kluso, our boxer - along with several other family treasures. I'd like to thank you for allowing this bad on my part.
Best regards,
Shashanka


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