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FROM COVER PAGE

Keeping the kids busy and away from the ship controls
Landing lights for UFOs,
Story and Photographs by Adnan M. S. Fakir

SWALLOWING THE SUN

The idea of tourism in Bangladesh is very crooked, inclined excessively to simply leisure traveling. Here's how most trips to almost anywhere nowadays plan out - hop into a Mercedes Benz, book an AC room in an expensive hotel, get to a dhishting disco party with disco lights and shake your booties, be extra careful to not go anywhere dirty and pretend to be posh spoiled brats. Sad, isn't it? However, if you are more of the adventure tourism type, have I got good news for you! Saddle up your excitement, get a cup of hot green tea and wear some weather proof extra durable shorts because in trips such as these you tend to rip them apart; and I say that from experience.

 
 
These ARE painful, as tested by the writer
 
 
Madness, that's madness.

Meet “Shurjo Uthshab,” aka the Sun Festival! Organized yearly by a group of lively, fun loving and brilliant people from the Bangladesh Astronomical Association (BAA) with one goal: To celebrate the dawn of a new year, somewhere new, somewhere exciting, somewhere remote, wrapped within the natures of our beloved Bangladesh. This year the destination was Chor Kukri-Mukri, a small island beside Bhola in Barisal. One can thank the British for the odd name “Kukri-Mukri.” According to the Bengal Gazetteers, apparently when the British arrived here they found rats lots of them humongous rats that were the size of dogs and cats. Locally, dogs and cats were then known as kukuri and mukuri and hence the name of the land. Complete bonkers if you ask me. I like it.

The Dawn of the Voyage

Keeping to the Bengali tradition of being late, at noon of the 30th we headed out from Sadarghat at ground-breaking water-shaking 18 kms/hr past Muktarpur's brick makers and Gojaria's dredgers and sand sellers as we moved from the black stinky Buriganga River to Dhaleshwari to Charpur's confluence where we finally met the great Meghna. There were 87 of us, young, old and infants, and each of us were craving for an adventure much like the famous one in 2010 where we got lost in the Sundarbans and were stranded on an unknown Chor, that we had conveniently named Pankhar Chor after Momtaz's song Pankha. Why? don't ask.

The launch itself was more like a refugee camp with all men stationed on the deck, equipped with tents and blanket as our artillery against the biting cold. The females got the cabins chivalry or sexism? You decide. Honestly however, with the entire launch booked for the trip, it was fun experience! Oh, and did I mention all cooking took place in the launch? And the warm sizzling food, which often was khichuri, against the wintry chill was absolutely brilliant! After devouring our lunch and an introductory session of all the travellers on-board, we had a small quiz competition (on which year did the first man land on the moon?), watched the movie “Guerilla” on a projector on the deck and started preparing lanterns for the 31st!

The Stories of the Sky

Soon enough the night pulled over its blanket. The crescent moon hung low beneath the star infested sky and thus began what was to me the best part of the entire excursion; and this happened every night! Story telling sessions of the amazing sagas and mythologies of the stars stories of Cassiopeia, Perseus, Pegasus, Andromeda, Orion, Jupiter, Venus, Aldabran, Suraiya, the dusts of the Milky Way and many more! And while we talked about the stars from the roof of the launch, we pointed out each of the constellations the worlds of the skies and basked in its magnificence.

Most of us are aware about the Greek and Roman constellations and its stories but what I really liked was that we also talked about Arabian and Chinese constellations and mythologies which were equally if not more fascinating! It gave me another prime example of how much history and brilliance we have of our own.

As the night made its appearance, fear of “jolodosshu” or pirates started looming. It may sound a bit odd to the less frequent traveller, but the southern waters are often raided by pirates. To avoid any such pirate-y adventure, we decided to dock at Dhuliya launch ghat for the night. Of course getting to bed was accompanied by ghost stories as the chilly vibe kept on creeping onto the launch as the night deepened, until we fell asleep and all was silent.

Reaching the Grassknoll

We woke up from our constantly vibrating message bed quite early in the morning, immediately followed by warm khichuri and a small kite fest atop the launch. How many of you have flown kites from the roof of a launch? Hah! Anyway, we reached Chor Kukri-Mukri around 2:00 pm and we were all ready to get on land! Using small boats we made our way from the launch to the muddy and mossy grass knoll. The moss itself was wrapped in small packets weaved like Spiderman's web covering the slippery mud by the shores of the land. Roots of the trees were penetrating the surface of the land much like the Sundarbans. It was a subtle sight to behold.

Sadly however, many of the trees were dying and there were illegal tree cutters destroying portions of the forest, bit by bit, for timber. While strolling down, the shore was sandier and we randomly came across writings on the sand that said “Khoka keno kadai?” and “Rohina & Joshim” surrounded by a heart clearly we were not alone. We ventured around the forest a bit and after some dips and splashes along with the occasional slippery falls resulting in some swallowed murkiness, we passed the evening and much of the night by a bonfire by the shore singing songs and drying our clothes.

Welcoming 2012!

Welcoming the end of the world? I don't think so. Zombies maybe, but not the end of the world. We went back to the boat to start preparing for the night! As midnight approached we all circled on the deck around a 100 candles that lit up writings on the deck-floor that said “Amar Shonar Bangla.” We sang songs welcoming 2012 and I never felt this patriotic in a New Year celebration much better than being in a disco party drunk and wasted if you ask me. Soon after we floated 110 lanterns that we had prepared down the river as they floated away lighting up the dark horizon. Thus, from underneath a sky teeming with bright stars, 110 lanterns floating downstream and a chilly breeze biting down hard, we welcomed 2012.

Early morning on the 01st of 2012 we made our way back to Chor Kukri-Mukri from where we bathed in the first sunrise of the year. We made some art-installations on the shore which represented a rising sun, mingled with the locals until finally starting our journey back home at noon.

The journey back was not even a little less exciting as the start. With games, programs, lotteries (which some amazing prizes), auctions of beautiful paintings and more star gazing we made our way back. The whole trip made strong bonds between the many people and what I believe makes this journey so amazing are the people who organize it and the people who become a part it. The brilliant people of Bangladesh Astronomical Association certainly deserve applause for arranging such unique and exhilarating trips every year.

Shurjo Utshab takes place every year from 30th December to the 02nd of January. If you have the stamina, a few strong bones and are ready to waste a few comfortable nights for an adventure, please do come along. You will love it!

 

 

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