They call this the Sunderbans, and yet, 'sundar' (pretty) is a mere understatement when you're thinking of the majesty of the dwelling place of the famous man-eating Royal Bengal Tiger who lives in the midst of all those other not so terrifying animals. My journey to the Sundarbans started from Khulna. Like all cities in Bangladesh, it glitters from a distance, but the hustle and bustle within its walls has inured its residents to the charm of just being alive.
The first hassle was trying to attain a launch, and then procuring permission from the Forest Department for a pair of security guards. The outcome of anticipation and tryst was a couple of lethargic guards who couldn't protect themselves, let alone us!
The launch commenced its journey from River Rupsha heading for the Forest of dreams where I'm told all questions have an answer. We started off from Khulna to Mongla. The port is like any other port; a variety of vessels were moored in every corner. Some were large enough to take on board the launch we were traveling in. The vessels looked as bored as their surroundings, as they floated sleepily on the water. Yet we were told that these vessels have seen their fair share of rough tides. I guessed that this time of the year left them with little to do but remain docked.
Our first stop was a place called Chadpie where we spent the night. This place was awfully quiet with no trace of human habitation in sight. This in no way put our guards on alert; in fact the thought of being away from the world was the highlight of this place. If one ever has the need to be alone take a trip to Chadpie.
Day two took us towards Kotka. During our journey, we were hit with bad weather. Dark clouds surrounded our view. Suddenly we felt droplets of water on our faces. The feeling of being cleansed by a force so powerful makes one feel a sense of purification. We had no option but to stay in the launch, but there were no complaints on my part, what with the portable 'Songbird' (Our Baul friend). His songs had a haunting quality that filled your heart with a cathartic sadness that bled all the negativity out of you, leaving you fresh, and ready to face the new day.
On day three we stayed overnight in a place called Kachikhali. Kachikhali has left a mark in my memories. The journey was a turbulent one but upon arriving there, it dawned on me that every bit of torture was worth it. We stopped by a beach, the length of which was unending. On the other side of the beach far away on the big expanse of sea before us was a small, forested island called Deemer Char. Literally meaning 'egg shaped island', an egg is what it looks like when viewed from a distance. What this inlet, where we docked, led to, was left to the viewer's imagination; yet another mystery. The night was a beautiful black like nothing I had seen before. The darkness was complemented further by the sparkling eyes of spotted deers hidden between the tall trees of the forest. Here the term 'sound of silence' really means something.
Our last and final stop was in a place called Meherali where we finally saw some signs of humanity when we encountered fishermen. The simple harmony of their idyllic lifestyle charmed the soul, and humbled the stilted urban ego. Their needs are few, and their eyes reflect a sense of contentment. They crave for little and sometimes achieve less. Their lives are not graded on the basis of achievements but true understanding of their inner soul. The looks on their faces portray tranquility, serendipity and true bliss.
While our launch was docked at Meherali we took a short boat trip to Alor Kolay. Alor Kolay literally means 'in the lap of light'. The word is so meaningful, deep and contemplating its depth is truly an achievement. The boat ride was soothing to a point where it has a spiritually cleansing effect. So profound was the feeling that I silently thanked my husband for bringing me to this place, and impulsively reached into my bag for the Holy book to pray. I somehow felt that in this serenity, Allah could never miss my prayers and it would not go unnoticed or get lost amongst the millions of other prayers. Within an hour we reached Alor Kolay and stayed there a while to explore, within and without.
My greatest fear was not being engulfed whole by a man-eater, but rather of losing myself in this abysmal forest. The forest invites all to be a part of it, to lie prey to its treacherous beauty. You enter in a trance, like being in a spell of euphoria yet euphoria is not all that it appears to be. The hazards here are many and varied but the attraction to explore the forest overrules the very feeling of fear.
Our return from The Sundarbans was one of sheer depression and despair at having to return to the cruel and complex world where I am but a puppet amongst many puppets. The sun-drenched sou,l after a trip to the forest still seeks answers to the events and occurrences in life because even a lifetime in the forest would seem like only a few days of surreal adventure.
By Sharmin Hossain
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain
With everyone being so busy these days Eid is probably the one time that a working family can collaborate their holidays. So it is often the case that they choose this time of the year to take that well earned holiday even though Eid is probably a time that most people choose to spend at home.
For those who want to spread their wings and fly abroad or for us lesser folks take that trip to our hometown here are some tips:
Make sure that your bookings are made on time and your tickets booked early; confirmed and reconfirmed well before the day of your departure.
If you are fasting (that is if you leave while the Ramadan is still here when you choose to travel) be prepared to open/break your fast while on the move. Keep snacks in handy and most importantly water.
Be careful with any valuables, which you are carrying. Keep them on yourself at all times and distribute cash and traveller cheques amongst your baggage or those travelling with you.
If you are travelling long distance, exercise your hands and feet as often as you can to avoid cramps.
Pack enough activities to keep your children entertained and occupied in order to avoid boredom and tantrum
Try to avoid packing too many clothes and overloading yourself with excesses. But make sure you pack essentials such as toothbrush, razor, business cards, razors and the telephone book.
If you are travelling by car ensure that your vehicle is in tip top working order with enough fuel or gas and spare tires.
Wherever it is that you are going make sure to take lip balm and sunscreen lotion. It is very handy.
It's a good idea to carry your passport even if you are travelling within the country because it can serve as identification if you wallet gets lost.
Finally make sure that even if you are travelling within the country carry your medication with you. You don't want to be stuck in a foreign country with no idea what your medication is called in that country. Neither do you want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no idea where to buy your medicine from!
Hope these tips come in handy!
how to get there
Getting to Sundarban can be a little tiring, but it is worth all the trouble. The magnificence of the mangrove forest will remind you of that.
First phase of the journey is towards Khulna. You have to take a bus to get there. You can either take an AC or non-AC bus. There are several services plying everyday. AC bus of Shohag paribahan, Eagle, Green Line, and Hanif will cost around Tk370 to 475. Non-AC will cost around Tk280.
To enter the forest you have to obtain permission from the Forest Department in Khulna. You have to pay Tk100 to FD per-head for per-day. Usually it takes a day to get the permission but here is a little pointer that there is backdoor system everywhere. The work will be done in an hour if you go through that door.
Then you must get a security guard. Guards are provided by the Dengmari FD range office. For each boat, they appoint two guards. It will cost you Tk200 per-guard. This price is for a two to three day trip.
Boats can be hired from Mongla or Khulna port. Lodging and food will be available on the boat or launch. Popular route in a two-day trip is to Karamjal then to Katka followed by Kachikhali. If you stay one more day then you will get a chance to visit Dublar char and Heron point locally known as Nil Kamal.
Various package tour companies are there to help you out with the trip. If you wish to use their services, check out the following list of tour companies.
Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation---phone No-8117855 to 9, Guide Tours Limited---9886983, South Asian Tourism---9004096, Bengal Tours---8820716, Journey Plus---9660234, River and Green Tours---8826759. Local tourism companies in Khulna also operate. Phone no of Rupantar Tourism of Khulna is 041-731876 and Sundarban tourism---041-813452.