St Martin's an island incomparable
Light reflected from the tranquil waters as she walked along the beach. The high tide touched softly on her feet and uttered words of an unsung song. She turned back, spread her right hand towards me and spoke softly words that drifted away with the wind. But the wind did speak to me, and offered an open invitation to explore her mysterious realm.
I finally strode forward, touched her hand, and walked beside her.
The journey began over three cups of tea at the dilapidated, tea stall on the paved footpath of Mirpur Road -- our evening rendezvous. Our hearts sought tranquility, something different from our previous tour to the Banderbans. St Martin's was the obvious choice, primarily because this could very well be our last chance to spend a night at the coral island, what with the government order prohibiting overnight stay beginning next year.
On 19 October, we started for Chittagong aboard Turna Nishitha, first class. While many of us fear for our vanishing traditions, Bangladesh Railway is keen on maintaining them especially when it comes to running late. The train was just forty-eight minutes late. And the journey began for the eight of us -- no pain, frustration; neither any workload nor any tension of missing deadlines. It was just a countdown to the blissful walk on the wet coral of St Martin's Island.
Reaching Chittagong, with nothing left to do, we decided to pay a visit to the zoological parks. Where would we be without our zoos! Each cage bore a nametag of the animal along with due credit to the sponsors. Interesting form of advertisement! Spending the day there, we headed towards Cox's Bazaar but missed the beautiful sunset, the hallmark of the beach.
Next stop: Teknaf. We hired a microbus for Tk 1500 and headed South. The weather seemed to be at her notorious best and we sought the help of specialists. A call was made to a friend residing in Teknaf and we were informed that a “sea vessel warning signal number 3” had been issued. Could it be that our plan to visit the island would meet its fate even before it had began? We shuddered at the thought.
While having breakfast at the Parjatan Restaurant, we decided on an immediate plan of action. One of us went online to get the weather forecast. No rain before 4:30 pm.
We still had 4 hours. A friend serving in the Bangladesh Navy was contacted and she spoke words of assurance. Gaining confidence, we decided to hire a trawler for Tk 3500 and started for Saint Martin at around 2:30 pm.
The journey was amazing! But the waves were disappointing; Naaf River was as cool as a pond. We were navigating through waters traversing the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Fluffy, white clouds against the deep blue sky overhung the sleepy hills of Mayanmar and followed us. We sang songs, paying no attention to the tune and rhythm; soaked our feet in the cool water from the railing of the trawler and felt the force of the water on our skin.
We reached Saint Martin's late that afternoon. There were several places both cosy and perfect for an overnight stay. Abakash, Neel Digonto and Simana Periye, each inviting with their reasonable rents and attractive lodging facilities. We even got a discount as the tourist season had not yet begun.
After being witness to a magical sunset on the most dramatic sky I have ever seen, we waited for the moonrise on the beach. It was a spellbinding times! We got back to our hotel at night and had a marvelous dinner of fried pomfret. Staples at Saint Martin's Island are seafood -- rupchanda, koral, lobster and varieties of shutki. We relished the spicy, mouth-watering dishes.
Next morning, we started exploring the island. The circumference of the island is 16 km so if you start walking on the beach from one point, within about eight hours you can return to where you started.
The whole island rests on coral. Looking at large corals lying on the beach, one can mistakenly think of them as giant, old turtles basking in the sunshine. The beach is dotted with multi-coloured shells. Local teenagers collect them and make necklaces for tourists.
We decided to go to Chhera Deep. We knew cyclone -- Giri -- would hit the shore by evening, so we had to head back by then. Chhera Deep is the thin slice of land that is the last landmark of Bangladesh. We had five hours to spare till the next tide, so we enjoyed the walk through the sandy beach often dotted with sharp-edged, rocky coral.
We lost track of time, having carried no watches or cell phones with us. We reached Chhera Deep within four hours and were greeted by millions of crabs. They all raised their claws, moved and cleared our way.
The water in Chhera Deep is crystal clear, in a heavenly shade of blue. If you have a knack for snorkeling, this is the ultimate place to be. In front of us, there were waves like thousands of chariots in a battlefield. We sat for a while but it was soon time to return.
The stormy wind had already begun yet we were three hours away from our shelter. The tempestuous sea roared. We almost ran the entire distance and made it to shelter in less than one and a half hours.
The next day we were cut off from the rest of the world and having nothing to do, we decided to rest. The last four days were full of excitement and we felt fully recharged to slip back into our boring, everyday jobs.
In the evening we circled on the jetty and sang till midnight. She and I segregated ourselves from the group and looking back at the island left behind, we promised that we would come again.
By Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed