We spend Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the Sundarbans, and getting to and from. We fly about an hour to Jessore (20 feet above sea level) and then are driven to Mongola (about three hours). The airline provides hand-written boarding passes. The road features rice paddy after rice paddy. It appears as though if there is a piece of suitable land available, one grows rice on it. We see women drying the grain by walking through it on mats outside their homes. So many homes appear to be no more than cane lattice work, with a roof of palm leaves. A short distance from the road we can see brick kilns, too. And of the small villages we pass through, about every fourth one has wood and timber galore. But it is genuinely difficult to know where the trees are logged. Some parts of the road are better than others, and some parts don’t exist at all. Lea thinks her internal organs are being rearranged, whilst Kerry thinks she is part of a test series for Berlei.
We reach Mongola for a speed boat trip to catch up to our cruising vessel. Reader, this is not the speedboat you waterski behind on the Murray. This is a fiberglass tinny, with a wooden floor, with an outboard motor at the back. Sitting in the harbor with we four, and our limited luggage on board, water laps at the beam of the boat, but somehow none spills in. Off we speed for some twenty minutes to get to the cruising vessel. Once on board we have an offer of lunch, which we accept. The guides for the trip also introduce themselves.
We spend the afternoon admiring the forest from the water, and the life on and adjacent to the river. Life includes a crocodile. And the forest is more than mangrove. There are all manner of palms, and a variety of other trees that are beyond my botany to name.
There are around forty other passengers on board, including a Brit, one Kiwi from Melbourne, and a man from Adelaide. Of the domestic tourists there is one extended family group of about sixteen.
The cabins have bunk beds much like our overnight train journey. Whilst the bunks are longer, my feet don’t hang over the end and they are not walked into every five minutes, the bunks are narrower.
On Wednesday there are three activities planned. A short walk on one of the islands, a trip to a beach, and a trip along one of the reaches of the river in a small boat.
We take the morning walk, although the boat crew appear to be operating in a different time zone, as we are all awake an hour early. The walking group has an armed guard at either end, although we think this is rather more for the potential human enemy than for shooting any tiger about to attack. We do the walk with the extended family group, and the handful of children under five don’t understand the need for quiet on a nature walk. Nor do some of their accompanying adults.
On the walk we are taken to three “tiger’s dining table”. These are relatively flat pieces of ground, slightly higher than the surrounding area which remain above the water in monsoon season and where the tigers will bring their prey to eat. Our guide points out many spotted deer, but otherwise we don’t see much wildlife. The trail takes us through a dense section of jungle, where it is especially hot and humid.
We arrive at a large clearing where there is a beach (reader, I use the term beach in the loosest possible way). Another tourist group arrives, from another direction. This second group comprises locals only. Over two weeks in India, we have been aware of the surreptitious photography of these two foreigners. On this occasion however there is no disguising the photography. Kerry and Lea are especially popular, and young children are posed with the four foreigners for the family album.
We return to the jetty to climb aboard the boat which will return us to the cruising vessel. We decline the option of the beach trip – it sounds like there is a fifty minute walk both sides of twenty minutes at the beach, and we find no appeal in that prospect.
Kerry opts out of our late afternoon cruise along a river reach. She has exercised her sea legs more than she thought possible, and isn’t prepared to do any more. On this trip our guide, who has the eyes of a hawk, spots many birds. These include a large white heron, who we suspect is on the payroll for he seems to be at every bend in the river, several kingfishers (a really beautiful bird), a hunting bird which we don’t understand the name of; and another which is very rare. We also see a green tree snake.
On the return leg we have pointed out to us some fresh tiger marks. The cynical westerners are not necessarily buying it, but the guide and the boatman are definitely claiming it. We have a bonus leg on this trip. We motor around around our cruising vessel to land on the other side where we can see spotted deer, monkeys, and a very large crane. After this, we motor past our boat again, and head into the protected waters of the Bay of Bengal. We think the guide is hoping to spot dolphins, but there is no luck on that score. We do get however, a great photo opportunity for sunset on the bay. Another minor detour for another look at a crane, maybe the same one as before and we finally return to the cruising vessel.
Another evening on board, and in the morning the boat begins its return journey. We reverse our arrival; leave our ship for the speed boat to Mongola, and then a car to Jessore for the flight home. There are more passengers in the speed boat this time.
At the airport, after check-in I take look at a small group of shops just outside the car park. I attract barely any interest. The same beggars, an old man and woman, who had done their best with Neville and Ian on Tuesday morning, are still working the car park. It must pay off, but not from us.
Lots of photos with this post, but it is accounting for several days.