Visit to Konark, Puri, Odisha

After a wonderful and memorable at Aradhana’s wedding held at Dolamundai, Cuttack, Odisha, we were planning to visit a few places viz. Sun Temple and Jagannath temple,Puri on December 9,2012. I had made up my mind about buying a Sambalpuri saree for my mom though I was unaware of the specialities of these sarees.

We had booked a A.C cab, an Indica, from the Shree Jagannath Hotel(where we stayed in Dolamundai) itself. It cost us INR 2100 excluding the driver’s food, parking and toll expenses. The estimated distance was 70(Dolamundai -> Konark) + 35(Konark -> Puri) = 110km(approx.). As advised by Aradhana’s mom-dad, we were to make a stay at the Hotel Paradise near the Puri temple. En route, we were to visit the Pipli Bazaar; also we were told that there were ample shopping options near the Puri temple(which only made me apprehensive:P ). I decided to buy some prasad for distribution at office and home.

We left Dolamundai at around 0730 hours. As per the practice, I reset the odometer and started the track recording. Dilip was the name of the cab driver who spoke nothing at all,probably due to language hindrance; he preferred to chew paan/guthka and focus on driving with incessant honking – a trait I saw in all the cab drivers there. We started to backtrack on the road same as the one we took on Friday night from Bhubaneshwar to Cuttack. I was viewing my GPS sporadically. I guess/recall that it was NH-5. While heading from Bhubaneshwar to Cuttack on Friday, the cab driver pointed at a bifurcation for Puri and I believe we were headed for the same. The road was quite uneventful and all I can recall is one Daya bridge. There weren’t any breakfast options but we were already feeling hungry. Finally, we took a pitstop and gulped on some deep fried Medu Vadas and had some really refreshing tea which had a sharp taste.Image As we proceeded, I noticed that Konark was farther than Puri, contrary to our assumptions. I conceived that we may come across a ‘V’ bifurcation with Konark on the left and Puri on the right which turned out to be right. We soon reached the Pipli bazaar and flipped through some shops selling appliqué handicrafts shandliers, scarfs and what not – bright, colourful place I must say!

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Fortunately, there was little or no rush. Anu exhibited the revered feminine bargaining skills which highly pleased me and Tawde – we had now set high hopes of cutting a fair deal during the saree shopping :D

We left Pipli and were now headed to the Konark temple. During our conversation, Anu told us that Aradhana’s mother had provided some scientific info about the Konark temple. It had some sort of device/structure fitted at its roof which harnessed the earth’s magnetic field to topple and wreck the invading ships. The Portuguese realized this technique, hence, they took another route on the flanks and later, destroyed the device – a sinister activity that the ‘great’empires always did(do?) dutifully !!!

The Konark temple was certainly impressive !

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The concept, the depiction and of course, the construction. But the ASI‘s way of functioning is something I have not been able to comprehend, till date ! They simply remove the crumbled structures(God knows what happens to them thereafter!). Here, they have erected stupid iron supports to prevent(?) further dilapidation which destroys the look-and-feel of the monument.

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Last but not the least is its unprofessional and pathetic practice of ‘restoring’(???) the monuments – applying today’s cheap cements, adhesives etc. directly on the monument without giving any thought and putting any efforts as to how it can be restored properly so that it can bear its original look !

After wandering about the temple, we left and within a drive of 5 min., I realized that the sea-shore was near – the mangroves had surfaced :) ! We took a brief halt at the Chandrabhaga beach.

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Tawde wetted his feet in the sea and then we gulped on some insipid chaat items. One of it was a small medu vada soaked in buttermilk and pepped up by aloo, sev etc. Then we started towards Puri. For few km, the road was along the coast and passed throught one Balmukund wildlife sanctuary. We spotted a few deers too.

We reached reached Puri at around 1400 hours and immediately checked-in the Hotel Paradise. The odometer read a distance of 151km since morning. We got fresh and left on foot for the temple which was around 1km. Though quite manageable and bearable, there was quite a rush of devotees and we had the darshan in a haste. But since I approached the temple, I was fuming and bogged down by desolation – the place had been turned into an exploitative, money-minting business venture by the ‘priests’, by the ‘trust’, by everyone ! While I don’t belong to the clan of neo-idiots who don’t shell out a single rupee for charity but spend 1000s in malls, I was exasperated by the entire system of the temple. ‘Priests’ pursuing for darshan packages, prasad being sold at astronomical prices – barely 400gm of Payasam for INR800 ! I preferred giving alms to the beggars and bought a ladoo to donate in case someone appears hungry. What I had been reading and listening about the Kaliyug manifested again. We left the temple quickly and had our lunch. To be frank, I was depressed for quite few hours. Though I’m not a priest, I”m a Brahmin who understands basically what knowledge, service to the society, self-sustenance is about and how these things fit-in together ! But there I was, helplessly watching the core purpose of religion and religious places being defeated !!!

We came back to the Hotel Paradise and left for the Swargadwar beach at around 1645 hours in the cab.

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We passed by the V.I.P road where all the banks and government offices were located, hell, even a Domino’s/Pizza Hut :P This area bore a metro look. We left the cab and just strolled on the beach, wetting our feet, taking snaps and sipping on some tea. Then we just relaxed on the chairs for about 2hr which was a calming experience – one I had after quite a long time ! It was dark at 1730 itself !

Then we commenced the most arduous task – SHOPPING ! After visiting a few shops, we entered a bit big and posh shop where the sarees were costlier but there was a hell/heaven lot of variety. Saree selection was a matter of few minutes for me and Anu, too, gave her consent! Here, there was a flat 20% off on the MRP, hence, no room for bargaining. The deal was, thus, sealed quickly :) I got my doubt clarified about the term ‘Sambalpuri saree’ – I asked whether it was about the material, the work on the saree or both or neither ! I was told that these sarees are alike normal cotton/silk sarees but are hand-woven(skeptical!) and bear the name of the place. Anu, too, purchased a saree for her experiments, a kurta for her dad and bro. Meanwhile, Tawde’s patience tank flashed the ‘below-reserve’ threshold sign :P

Now, it was the BIG TIME – street junk food ! Since Tawde was the only non-veg and heavyweight chap in the trio, we decided that he will be the vanguard of the attack :D He savoured some fish.

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Then we explored veg. options(meanwhile, Anu had bought a kurtee and a diamond chain for herself!). We realized there aren’t great veg. options, hence, we switched to the eggitarian mode :D – ‘Chinese’ food zindabad ! We gulped two full plates of egg noodles. The taste was far better than the ones I have in Navi Mumbai + damn cheap rate INR25/plate !!!

We then marched off to the beach again. I was planning to give a tip of INR10 to the vendor for his spectacular performance but I just couldn’t do it ! After some time, Tawde quoted the same feeling and Anu added her voice that we often fail to appreciate openly the good work done by someone :| Tawde purchased a set of bangles for his neice and our Anu madam was struck with an idea of buying a kurta for her special one ! After visiting 2-3 shops, we visited the same shop where I had purchased the saree. There, while Anu was figuring which one to buy, Tawde was hit by a bout of buying a saree for his mother. I and Anu fully supported, help and thrust him :)

It was almost 2145 when we started heading back towards the hotel. It was a long walk but we enjoyed it ! I halted and tracked back my steps to a sweetshop just by the aroma of Rasgullas. We ate 1-2 and proceeded towards the hotel. During this walk and chit-chatting, we summarized :

  1. We must attend as many weddings in different Indian states as possible
  2. Before/after these weddings, exploring the nearby places

The triad :) :

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Visit to Degree of Confluence Project Points

Degree of Confluence Project was something that we knew since 2010 and we even often talked to visit a few Degree of Confluence Points(DCP). But as it always happens, more one talks about a plan, less is the probability of its execution !

It was July 2012 when we decided to visit a few DCP in August. Accordingly, I went through the list of the DCP in Maharashtra and zeroed in on 6 points which were in Northern Maharashtra and, more or less, on the same route. Due to a gradual loss of enthusiasm, it took me days to create high-level plan, incrementally. Even the leaves that I applied got approved 2 days before we were supposed to leave and the preceding day, I came up with a somewhat detailed itinerary; it was decided to visit only three DCP – 21°N 75°E ,21°N 76°E and 21°N 77°E. In addition, I listed few places like Laling, Songir, Bahadurpur, Parola(all forts) and swinging towers of Farkande.

Respecting my suggestion, it was decided that Vishal and I will be riding on our respective bikes while Antik and Sourabh aka Golu will travel in Antik’s car

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This approach has multiple advantages :
1.The riders get to ride
2.The drivers get to drive
3.Riders can get some rest in the car, if required
4.The baggage can be dumped in the card, which is desirable in monsoon and the riders can freely ride

As per my original plan, August 11 – August 14 were allocated for the expedition and August 15 for complete rest. As it always happens, my day before the expedition, mostly a Friday, was hectic. To add to my problems, the Bajaj Servicing guys dutifully did a lax servicing and the snags I had reported in my bag surfaced when I took my bike to office on Thursday – all I could do was express my dissatisfaction and carry on with my expedition with worries and irritation about the bike’s performance !!!

August 11,2012(Saturday) :
I and Vishy started from Kalyan on bikes around 0715 hours. We took NH-3 and proceeded towards Nashik. Near Shahapur, we halted at Kamath’s restaurant where Antik and Golu joined us(in Antik’s car). After having breakfast, we left for Dhule – our objective for the day was Laling fort which was above 280km from Kalyan. After crossing Nashik and before Chandwad, I saw bifurcations for Saptashringigad
and Vani, a famous religious place. Though I don’t recall the names, there were several ‘Vani’s preceded by proper nouns -  I was left wondering about the meaning and origin of the word ‘Vani’. Before Malegaon,Vishy’s bike stalled and we had to push it get it started. After crossing Malegaon but before Dhule, we came across a very few restaurants for lunch. Once, we entered one but the waiter was quite arrogant and didn’t allow us to sit in the family room, instead wanted us to sit in a place where flies were freely flying. We moved ahead and found a decent one ahead. I had decided that till the 3rd DCP visit, I won’t eat anything spicy – my stomach was already out of order ! The boy working at the restaurant told us that Laling is quite near and we felt heartened. Just 5-6 km before Dhule, we took a left and entered the Laling village(actually, too small and dingy to be called a typical Maharashtrian village). We parked our vehicles here and headed for the fort

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Antik’s shoe sole came out and he returned to the car while I, Golu and Vishy went ahead. After wandering for some time, we managed to reach the fort by a path that went up through a fallen fortification wall. Except a small temple and a some caves, there wasn’t any structure on the fort. The walls appeared to be partially reconstructed using bricks and some ‘modern’ stones. From the northern end of the fort, NH-3 and Dhule city were visible. We soon left for Dhule and took a left on NH-211 and headed for the city. Passing by Tilak Hospital, we took a left U-turn at a crossroad for Ganpati Palace – a nice hotel.

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EOD odometer reading : 208 miles

August 12,2012(Sunday) :

We woke up and got ready at leisure. We headed for the Songir fort which is around 22km from Dhule on NH6.Image.

Again, the Songir village was a dingy one ! The fort had steps to the top and we reached the summit in no time, around 1000 hours. Except for a deep cistern, there were no remnants atop ! The rock was quite reddish – I found this in contrast to the forts situated in Western Ghats. This fort, too, appeared to be heavily ‘reconstructed’ ! We then started for DCP1. After some initial confusion, we came back to Dhule, had lunch. One thing I liked was in almost all the restaurants we visited, wheat ‘chapati’s were served!

We now started towards Jalgaon, at 1345 hours, via NH-6. I had given the tracker(Garmin eTrex Vista HCX)to Golu so that he can navigate and I and Vishy can follow on bike. We took the first left after the Faangne village. This road headed to Chopda, Amalner and Yawal. After a few km, the Jalgaon jurisdiction begun. There were fields on either side of roads – something common for the entire journey in Dhule, Jalgaon and Akola ! Soon, the tracker notified the proximity and we alighted from our vehicles. The point was on the right side of the road and we entered the fields. I had a word with curious farmers and told them briefly about our ‘mission’. They told that the prime cultivation is of (hybrid)Jowar and Paddy but pulses like Tur are also grown.

ImageThey were apprehensive about the dependence on the rainwater – no canals, no rivers(since morning, I came across only one, dried river viz. Kanheri, towards DCP1 and low groundwater levels ! But in spite of the less rainfall this year, the fields were full of crops. It started raining and we ran for cover. The red soil soon started sticking on the shoes and in no time, we had to exert some force even to lift our feet.

ImageAvoiding stamping the crops, we headed as per the compass directions and reached the point which was amidst a field of hybrid Jowar. A farmer told me the village name as Londhave(लोंढवे).I took the pics of different directions and asked Antik to take off his blue t-shirt and put it as a marker for the DCP1.

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I then stepped out of the field and took a pic from around 40metres. We left the village around 1630 hours and backtracked to NH6 and left for Jalgaon which was 84km. We came across Parola but since there was quite some distance to be covered, we dropped the idea of visiting the fort ! Crossing Erandol, we reached Jalgaon. We halted at a hotel near Jalgaon railway station. The auto-rickshaw drivers whom I asked directions, the hotel staff – all were awed by our riding/driving enthusiasm for places not known for tourism; this experience repeated all the way :P

August 13,2012(Monday) :

The day was important – two DCP, separated by a distance of 150km, were to be covered and halt was to be made in Shegaon. But we still started at leisure and hit NH-6 again. Soon we crossed Bhusawal and halted for breakfast. From here, the Bhusawal Thermal Power Project was visible.

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We then crossed Warangaon, where I saw an ordnance factory which probably wasn’t directly related to DoD, and continued. We made a mistake – the car was left behind and we rode way ahead. Later, we got confused after seeing the compass which was pointing in the South-West direction for DCP2 and we were heading North-East. After an exercise of traversing towards, we decided to fallback till Warangaon and begin search afresh. But well before Warangaon(around 11km), the pointer turned perpendicular to the road and we decided to stop. We parked our vehicles at a dhaba.

ImageAntik and Vishy decided to stay back while I and Golu set on the search.

We were carrying jackets, camera, tracker, notepad, pen and 1litre water. Traversing fields of Paddy and Jowar and occasional wastelands, we were heading towards DCP2. Due to little or no rains the previous and that day, the soil in the fields was not sticky.The humidity must have been above 60% – we were sweating a lot. We had to cross 2 hillocks which had many shrubs and thorny trees. Again, we came across curious and surprised farmers, some thought we were students, some believed we had come for inspection for setting cell phone towers :P One thing I noticed was the language had a very little Marathi flavour and the diction was quite harsh. After a walking for a distance of almost 4km(at least, we felt so), we reached the point DCP2.

ImageThis was on a wasteland and not a cultivated farm.As told by a villager, the village is Hartaala(Hartaale?)(हरताळे) and probably is under the Muktainagar police station’s jurisdiction. We quickly erected a stick on the point, took the necessary photos and headed back to the highway. We reached at the parking at around 1430 hours. We again set towards Shegaon, after some delay due to Vishy’s bike stalling. After we crossed Malkapur, the bike gave up again and we had to stop at a ‘dhaba’. I and Antik hurried in the car to Malkapur and brought a mechanic along who asked us to change the plug in the next town of Nandura. We obliged . DCP3 visit was pushed to the next day as it was getting dark.After passing Khamgaon, we  left NH6 and reached Shegaon, got a comfortable accommodation and went for Gajanan Maharaj’s samaadhisthan visit.

EOD odometer reading : 476 miles

August 14,2012(Tuesday) :

We set out early as compared to the earlier days. We took SH-24 towards Akot(55km) in Akola district. The road was in bad condition and our speed was slow. But the weather was pleasant and cool. I came across a river named Purna which had some noticeable water levels. Milestones for Rondale, Devre, Akola etc. were visible. Since the morning, I knew we will have to trample mud trails as it rained the previous day and even in the morning.The 3rd DCP was situated in the fields, again. The soil was pitch black. This time, all four of us set to find the DCP3 alike DCP1. In the fields, apart from Jowar and Paddy, ‘Rai’

Image, ‘Moong,’ Soyabean were also cultivated. Since it had rained in this area, the soil in the fields was wet and at some places, the water had clogged.

Antik lost his sandles – its strap gave up and his further marching was barefoot. I had a brief chat with an elderly farmer who told me that now if it doesn’t rain sufficiently in few days, all the grown crops will be destroyed and they will be in a peril(so will be their fellow countrymen, I thought!). They can’t grow the kharif crops alike the heavy rainfall areas but they dare undertake ‘chana’(grams) in Winter. We proceeded further as per the compass. Suddenly, I spotted two deers, merrily chasing each other ! Soon, we spotted an entire group of deers and a few antelopes.

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It really felt nice to see these animals behave so carefreely ! Of course, I was unhappy about the damage they cause – trampling and gulping up the nascent crops. Nevertheless, the farmers bear with them !

After dissecting some more fields, we reached DCP3.

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This was is in a non-cultivated field and we had no difficulty in taking photographs. By this time, drizzles had started. On enquiry, a farmer told me that it was a village named Aalewadi. We hurried up with the proceedings and returned quickly to the vehicles. It was 1215 hours. I cleaned my shoes as much as possible and we headed back to Shegaon.

Just before entering Shegaon, we had some spicy lunch and it was concluded that Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary can’t be covered the same day and we must fall back till Nashik. We galloped accordingly – Dhule was 247km, Nashik 414km. But later, it was decided we will halt at Dhule, in Ganpati Palace again, owing to the fatigue.At 0030 hours, a policeman dressed in civil clothes came and asked for identity proofs and some questions. We were half asleep and murmured the answers. He left in few minutes bidding ‘good night’. It was probably a farce of ‘vigilance’ given the impending Independence Day celebrations.

EOD odometer reading : 667 miles

August 15,2012(Wednesday) :

We left Dhule at 0730 hours and it was decided that next stop, for breakfast,  would be at Nashik which was at 154km. Owing to my slow riding speed, I took point. Lost in my thoughts and in a zeal to ride, I halted only twice in that ride – once to fill petrol and once to take a leak ! From outskirts of Nashik, I called up the guys and was told that Vishy’s bike tyre went flat and they were still 92km from Nashik. Hence, it was decided that we would rendezvous at some place ahead of Nashik. But since I expected to wait for above an hour for the others, I wanted a restaurant that was spacious, away from city’s hustle-bustle and commanded some good views of mountains; I rode all the way to Igatpuri and halted at Hotel Greenland opposite the Maharashtra ITI. These guys arrived after around 70 min, at around 1230 hours. We had lunch and I reclaimed my luggage so that I don’t have to wait again later. We completed the goodbye formalities at Kalyan Phata and I reached Panvel at around 1600 hours.

3 DCP visited

Updated : The DCP visits have been approved by the Confluence project, cheers guys !!!

Photo courtesy : Sourabh Porwal/Vishal Desai

DCP Team

DCP Team

 

Sundarban – an enchanting experience

I have deliberately excluded the preface part and started directly from the beginning of our Sundarban excursion.

The Sundarban tour package was offered to us at rupees 4500 per head for 2  nights,3 days. When our plan was confirmed in the last week of April, I had transferred half of the amount to the account no. provided by Mr. Rajesh ShawImageof ‘Backpackers’ via email.

May 12,2012 :

We three arrived at the ‘Backpackers’ office at Sudder Street, Kolkata around 0815 hours. We paid the other half of the package fare. Rajesh is an amicable guy, always eager to talk and listen. He said we get rupees 1500 back if we return on Sunday evening(May 20,2012). We agreed readily as it would give us an entire day to explore Kolkata and the same was going to be arranged by Backpackers Kolkata Bike Tour.

Immediately, we started for Sundarban in a Santro, driven by MowgliImage who is Rajesh’s nephew and the field-guy of Backpackers. The journey was said to be of around 100km and would take 3 hours.There were two routes – a longer but sparsely populated and having bad road conditions and a shorter having better roads but thickly populated.We took the longer one which was always Mowgli’s preference. We passed along Science Centre and after a few km, villages were visible. The weather was hot and humid, as I had heard about West Bengal and particularly about Kolkata. The road wasn’t very wide and Mowgli often used to leverage the power steering’s capabilities :P. For our breakfast, we halted at a ‘dhaba’(I dunno the Bengali name) around 30km from Sudder Street, South East. A tasty daal of some pulse I couldn’t recognize and chapaati satiated me.The water was hard and a bit acidic in taste. Soon we started off. Buses – not sure whether private or run by WB govt. Followed by shabby motorised rickshawsImage were the only visible modes of transport – people and goods till we reached Gothakali. All the way, there was a stinking, polluted backwater passage to our left which was said to carry sewage water out of Kolkata city. The only landmarks I remember are Basanti village(town?) and some bridge over Matla river. I was apprehensive as the village economy there didn’t manifest any signs of robustness – the cultivable lands surfaced only near Basanti and most of the areas on both sides of the road was filled with saline water beds – apparently used for fishing. Surprisingly, I didn’t find any salt extraction beds anywhere  ! The worrisome brick-manufacturing was on it’s prowl which left me quite restless. I noticed a tree with bright orange-coloured fruits which was the ‘Khajoor‘ tree.

We reached Gothakali around 1215 hours. Mowgli supplied me with the information that the Indian side of Sundarban has over 100 islands – 54 open for human habitation and 47 reserved for wild life. From Gothakali, the prominent entry point to Sundarban, we took a boatImage to Gosaba island which, as per Mowgli, is biggest and most important island of the rest 53. I could notice it had a lot of constructions and also had a hospital. With over 50 people stuffed, the boat reached Gosaba side in 15 min. Then we had a walk which took us through the Gosaba bajaar, a typical village/small town bajaar which was quite crowded. We picked up some glucose powder and batteries and then set rolling on a man-driven rickshawImage. As per Mowgli, this is the only mode of transport from Gosaba bajaar to rest of the villages is this rickshaw. Since my childhood when I heard this from my mother who often used to visit WB’s remote villages, I felt rueful for it – a man acting like a beast of burden just to meet his end needs ! All the time till I was on that rickshaw, I was restless – whenever a gradient came and the driver had to labour his way upwards, I felt bad ! Of course, at this ‘mature’ age, one can’t afford to speak about this !!! I wondered if the EMI(Electro-Magnetic Induction) could be of any help to these rickshaw drivers – charging some battery when in motion and utilising the stored charge on a gradient or at random intervals, in a controlled manner !!!

After a ride of about 4km through small villages like Rangbelia , we reached Pakherali(A distortion of Bengali word Pakheraalay; ‘Pakher(belonging to birds)-Aalay(House/Residence)’ ). Here, I first removed my shoes and socks :D Then we had our lunch at a family living there(Mowgli’s contact). The sharp taste of mustard oil with Karela(Bitter Gourd) was pleasing. I also saw the very same Khajoor tree in the backyard of the houseImage.  I insisted Mowgli to enquire about it – I was desperate to drink something, if they extracted from those ripe fruits ! The man there told that in Winter, the stem develops sharper spikes from which juice is extracted and in summer, the tree develops fruits which has a thick shell and isn’t quite edible.Then we set for a small-boat ride in the Matla creek. I and Anupam had decided to go bare feet. Mowgli and I chatted a while. He told me that the there was a tiger attack on cattle in Pakherali a week back. I was constantly wondering that how the tiger swims at least 2km wide creek, hunt and swim back to his lair ! Most of the mangrove varieties visible here were longer in height Imagebut sparse in density as compared to the mangroves of Kokan.Also the mangroves here have a diversity. In my opinion, this would be because of  the low salinity of water due to regular flux of fresh water from Ganga and other Himalayan rivers.

The boat ride wasn’t a new experience for me at all so I was quite calm and unexcited but Anupam and Rakhi seemed to be enthralled. I noticed some big steamers and enquired to Mowgli about them. He told me they ply between India and Bangladesh and bear both the flagsImage

Though I have been in creeks numerous times before, I never got a chance to sail within the mangrove cover and halt there; I got it this timeImage! As with typical creeks, the water levels rise and fall here drastically during high and low tides. The time we visited was when the low tide had just begun. As I am quite naive and less interested in flora-and-fauna stuff, except for some crabs and small but rampant Mudglider(???) amphibian species, didn’t notice much. Then we headed a bit more eastward and alighted at the Dayapur island. Here, a week back or so, the Backpackers bought some land which they are planning to turn into an eco-resort. When I enquired for reasons, Mowgli said that electricity will be available in Pakherali and most of the villages within a month and then it will be soon disturbed a lot. Here, suddenly, Rakhi started feeling dizzy ! We halted for some time and then set again towards Pakherali in the same boat. I napped for some minutes on the way as our mission for the day was accomplished :P We had decided to stay on the boat itself, hence, Mowgli boarded us on Elmar(Spanish word for ‘Ocean’). ImageThis boat, they bought some two years back for 1lakh or so and invested an equal amount to retrofit stuff necessary for making it comfortable for the tourists.While I had slept near the coast, in a windy atmosphere at night without electricity before, sleeping on a boat’s deck was a new experience. I had a quick shower and then we all rested on the deck. Mowgli had arranged for some local musicians who enthusiastically played some songs in the local dialectImage. I understood and liked the first song – the beginning was like Aandhariniyon paar karibiyo(See me through/salvage this darkness). It appeared like a rueful prayer and it indeed was one ! Second song was about Lord Krishna and Radha whose only a line or two I could figure out. Another song talked about changing times in love and relations – first, letters were used by lovers to communicate, now phones are used. First it used to take a long time for lovers to meet, know and accept each other but now it happens quite quickly. First, the relations never used to break and even if they broke, they did over a long time; today they are gone in no time ! Mowgli sent the performers and the dinner guys back hurriedly as there was some lightning and he saw possibility of rains. We soon had our dinner and dozed off ! I was awakened only twice the whole night – once when Mowgli stumbled against me and my hand instinctively went for my specks and the second when the boat started off for some destination with a jerk.

Sunday, May 13,2012 :

I was up quite early at around 0545 hours. I freshned myself and found that we were at some place where the boatmen get all the ration and fuel for the whole day or more. From there, we left for SajnekhaliImage where the permission for the Sundarban trip needs to be taken. We reached Sajnekhali around 0700 hours. I realised one thing here – tiger reserves here(Sajnekhali, Dobanki and Sudhanyakhali) are quite purist in nature – a demarcated area, usage of nets is reserved for tigers where one can’t go for a safari. The reserve’s opening face is the only place where tourists can go and get some information and take pics. Though this may be a dismay for the most people, I laud it as it doesn’t disturb and intrude the natural habitat beyond a certain extent. At Sajnekhali, there is the residence of an IFS officer. Till date, I’m skeptical about the fieldwork capabilities of the IFS clan. Nevertheless, they enjoy royal treatment in the natural habitat of animals ! Mowgli introduced us to Mr. Mandal(referred to as Dada henceforth)Image, who was to be our guide for the rest of the tour. I was happy and I’m sure, Mowgli would have breathed a sigh of relief as I was pestering him with varied queries for the past entire day :D Dada took us to the nearby towers from where we could see one large River Terrapin(turtle). There was only one crocodile in a nearby pond, that too, didn’t surface ! I saw a young one of some lizard resembling the Comodo Dragon. Dada told me it’s scientific name, which obviously, I forgot within seconds ! Dada explained that to the north of Sundarban lie the 24 paraganas. This isn’t quite correct as paraganas are spread across the WB state(now includes even Assam etc.). To my dismay, there weren’t any fresh water reservoirs or spots where fresh water existed within the saline water ! Dada told me it is present only in the Bangladesh part of the Sundarban. The entire Sundarban area is divided into three areas – Buffered, Censored(Human entry allowed) and Core(No- entry for humans). Every March(15-30th), however, the honey collection is allowed in all the areas. But per head, a 40kg of honey@rs32/kg needs to be deposited with the government. Dada mentioned some prominent IFS officer and tranquilizer specialist, Gopal Tant during our conversation. The fishing is allowed for 9 months but only in the buffered area.There was a small temple of Bon Bibi(Bon-forest/jungle,Bibi – seniormost authoritative lady of a house,institution etc.), the deity of Sundarban. Her idol was accompanied by a few more characters like Gajhi Saheb, Dakkhini Rai, Dukhi and Shah Junglee.Image(courtesy : Anupam) All are Muslim deities but are worshipped equally by Hindus and people from other religions too. Bon Bibi is believed to be the Protector of human beings from the Nature’s wrath. There is a local play of 3-3.5 hours that depicts Bon Bibi and her miracles. Dada often referred to an English book about Sundarban written by one Biswadeep Roy Chowdhury(?). Around 0815, we left Sajnekhali and headed towards Dobanki tiger reserve. It was a lande creek ride with a T-junction arriving at an interval of 20-25 min. and we kept on our right. Elmar’s speed was around 5-6 mph.There was quite a variety of mangroves on the left part of the creek; I didn’t pay much heed to the right part as the chances of something ‘wild’ surfacing was only on the left part. Except for a few deers, we didn’t notice anything. The mangrove variety was quite evenly distributed. The ‘Goran’ were stunted but formed a majority followed by ‘Baen’ which had an average height of 25 feet. Lesser in numbers were ‘Pissur’ which had spiked/nail – like breathing roots and ‘Dhundul’ which had large, inedible fruits; both are used to create durable furniture( I was pissed :X ). I didn’t notice any ‘Sundari’ trees as they grow in areas of low salinity i.e Bangladesh side. The most incredible scene was formed by the ‘Hental’ trees –  they form a really impenetrable green cover over miles, making it an ideal hide-out and vantage point for the wild catImage. Mowgli napped all this time owing to his exertion and fatigue the previous day. Dada told me that Bhagbatpur was quite distant from our route and we can’t cover it :( After about 1.5 hr from Sajnekhali, we reached a point where water bed suddenly enlarged; on my enquiry, dada told me that it was a tri-junction of rivers – Gomati(the one that took us to Dobanki, South-West), Gomar(to Bangladesh, East) and Pinchkhaali(?). ImageLater, Dada also later pointed at a bed of Gajhikhali. We reached Dobanki around 1130 hoursImage. It had turned quite hot and humid by this time and we had started sweating. Dobanki just has an elevated alley covered with long wireframes on both the sides. Below, one can see the mangroves and sand on the left and on the right, at some distance, is the netted boundary from where the tiger reserve begins. Again, there wasn’t even a faint sign of the wild cat, as expected. Soon, we left Dobanki within 1/2 hr, we were at ‘Panchmukhani’ – the meeting point of 5 riversImage – Matla, Bidya, Gomati, Herobhangi and Khanokhali(our return path). It was almost 1230 and we started our return journey. We had our lunch in few time and again rested aimlessly. I spotted a spotted deer again, watching us innocently.At around 1430, we reached another watch-tower at Sudhanyakhali. The concrete tower here was uprooted during the last Aila strike and was being reconstructed. Then Mowgli asked us whether we should take a ‘right’ – a long way back(1hr 30 min.) or a ‘left’ – a short one(20 min.). Of course, we opted for the shorter one as we wanted to reach Kolkata ASAP. Elmar was anchored around 1530 hours from where we could see a resort just along the land. Pultu, the teenage captain of Elmar displayed some diving skills which left me envious ! We then set on the good old rickshaw towards Gosaba bajaar. On our way back, we visited the Hamilton school and residence – Hamilton was a (said)benevolent, pro-Communist Briton who wanted to transform the village into a self-sustaining economy(I wonder what it was then at that time !). We again crossed the creek in a boat, again overflowing with people, and reached Gothakali. This time, we travelled in a 13-seater Tempo Traveller, driven by a manoeuvre-master named Jehangir. While returning, he took the shorter route from Gothakali to Kolkata, opposed to Mowgli’s taste. We paid a price for it – frequent traffic jams prolonged our journey. The only village I remember is Baruipur. We reached Kolkata at around 2130 hours.

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As I always learn, this tour too taught/revised a few lessons :

  1. Culture,economy etc. In India is about it’s villages – cities are just peripheral dummies. In other words, true India is in it’s villages !
  2. It is important to be at a place at the right time – summer isn’t the time to visit Sundarban(or any other place rich in wild life)
  3. It is desirable to get in touch with the men-at-field – the people who actually tread jungles, deserts, sea etc.To experience the real nature