<%-- Page Title--%> Travel <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 139 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 23, 2004

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“Nijhum Dwip"

Sanjida Gafur

"Surjo Utsab" has become a ritual of sorts for Dhakaites. The English New Year becomes an occasion to celebrate BAA style. BAA -- Bangladesh Astronomical Association organises a sojourn every year in areas that the people living in Dhaka and trapped in day to day routine often crave to venture. The motto of the association is exploration of nature. The first time a vacation of this sort was arranged was in St. Martins, the next destination was Sundarban, then it was time to conquer Keo Karadong, the highest peak in Bangladesh. At the end of the trail, following the course, this year, the destination was "Nijhum Dwip".

The name 'Nijhum Dwip' itself contains a romantic connotation about the place; it gives one a sense of silence and natural splendour unsullied by human exploration. Which it really is. The island is situated between Noakhali and Bhola. It is the southern most island of Bangladesh that lies in the precarious mouth of the river Padma.

A team of 124 explorers, nature enthusiasts to be precise, started from Sadar Ghat on December 30, 2003. "Moyur 1", an aeroplane-like launch was the vehicle. We were all set to start at 3pm, but at last we began our journey at 5:30pm, as crews of a private channel took time to organise their equipment.

Anchor away, we started to sail to the west on a sinuous river cruise. Paid to be on board, we were joined with a few media people who were our guests. The deck was bustling with people. There were people who were already known to each other and there were many who got aquatinted to one another for the first time.

The most horrifying knowledge was that the sarang did not know the route well. It so happened that in the middle of the night, we were stuck in a char, and were only happy to find another oil vessel there. Who in the world does not get pleasure in finding others in the same predicament that one could not avoid.

Next morning, when the tidal wave raised the water, the launch started to sail again following the trail of the oil vessel that was heading towards Nijhum Dwip. On 31st December, 3:30pm, we reached our coveted Dwip. Though we did not have much time to roam about as night fall was imminent.

The launch had to halt approximately half a kilometre away from Nijhum Dwip. The water level near the island does lets the big launch go near the shore. We rented trawlers to get there. In the mean time, we had finished three meals and had a wonderful experience in community living. As for using the toilet, you cannot avoid being used to using the same loo if you plan a nexus with nature.

Enam Al Haque, M Hamid, Falguni Hamid, Latifa Akand, Kalidas Karmakar, Alokesh Gosh, were among the heavyweights from disparate fields who joined us. We had 77 year old Latifa Akand and also a 14 month old child with us. Imagine the combo that we had in the making.

We were divided into small teams consisting of ten members. Then we went to Nijhum Dwip by trawler. One side of Nijhum Dwip was brought under aforestation programme which has now developed into a deep forest. Four pairs of deer were brought in to generate and the deer population now stands at eight thousand. They are not the only inhabitants of this beautiful mangrove forest, but they certainly are a major species. A small human habitat of 10,000 also exists on the other side of the island.

When we reached the island, only a few courageous teams entered into the forest to watch deer. The sun was disappearing, the faint light kept our faint hope alive. The knowledge that there were no tigers in the forest boosted our courage. We moved deeper. When the light went dim, we reversed our journey and set off towards the trawlers. In the mangrove forest land is studded with spiky roots, so walking becomes an effort. We came out of the forest, but were not lucky enough to reach the trwalers. We found ourselves in another side of the island, far away from our trawlers. We started walking towards them, but we found one canal, 12 feet or so wide and nearly 6 feet deep. To cross it was impossible. The sun had already set and stars were blinking in the sky. To avoid the canal crossing, we had to enter the forest again in the dark. We were sixteen people with two kids and four torches to give us light. Fortunately it was a moonlit night and our predicament turned into an adventure of sorts.

The next day was spent preparing different types of things -- torches, paper sunflowers. The night came, 12 o'clock December 31 and our troop welcomed 2004 by floating "Mongol Dwip" in the Bay of Bengal. The dwips (floating lamps) took the shape of a string and floated away with the waves. Next morning was the New Year. To welcome the sun, we reached the island. There the teams installed a large replica of the sun and created an aisle flanked by paper sunflowers.

On the first night of the New Year, there was a big feast with kachchi biriyani smouldering in the big dekchis. A six member team of cooks was always busy providing us with fabulous food like khichuri, vorta, porota, daal. Organiser Benu Bhai always knew what the stomachs craved for and served us aplenty.

Sky watch was a programme that gave us the opportunity to fix our gaze on the universe above through the telescope. There were entertaining events and activities too -- film shows, cultural programmes, art competition. All the fun we had, had to end. Time came to set sail towards home. We reached Dhaka on January 2, 2004, 8:30pm. The trip to Nijhum Dwip is worth taking a second time.


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