I was feeling great to cruise the roads at a speed of 70-80 km in the mild winter morning of the first week of December. After leaving Ghatakpukur, the green carpets on both sides of the road started running against the my car at lightning speed. For a long time I had a temptation to drive on this Basanti Highway. I finally got the chance on 10th December 2016 on mu Jharkhali Tour. I will reach Jharkhali by driving 97 km.
Its about 3 hours journey so I left home early at 7.30 am in the morning. I parked the car at a place near Bodra and had tea. Some brick factories were visible in the distance. An old man in the tea shop said that I would get a lot of brick factories on this road. So I decided to visit those factories once in my return journey. I started driving again. The surrounding scenarios have started to change. Mile after mile there exists fish culture ponds one after another. There are several brick fields in between those fish ponds.
About 4 km stretch of road on Basanti Highway is getting renovated and that’s why it took huge time to reach Sonakhali ferry terminal for the bad conditions of the road. Anyway, I reached the Hogol Bridge, over the Hogol River. From here launch service is available for various parts of Sundarbans. I still have to go 25 km from Sonakhali and decided to stop nowhere. After taking Basanti-Jharkhali Road, the road through the village is very beautiful.The last 5-6 km stretch of road to reach Jharkhali is quite thrilling. The road narrowed down and had lots of hair pin bends.
Finally I reached Ma Lakshmi Lodge ( which I booked from Kolkata) at Jharhali at around 10.30 am.The owner Mr. Mohan himself was present to welcome me. He is an ex army man and very gentle in his behaviors. Although the rooms are small in size, they are very clean and hospitable.
While taking lunch I heard several stories of the place from Mr.Mohan. Some of his information came in handy later. Fifteen days ago, a tiger was spotted in a creek very close to the Herobhanga river. Let me say here, Jharkhali can be called an entry point of the Sundarbans. As soon as you enter Jharkhali the mangrove forest welcomes you. The Herobhangha river surrounds Jharkhali at one side.Launch on rentals are available for various parts of the Sundarbans from the ferry ghats of Herobhanga River. Hiring a big launch you can easily go to Netidhopani Ghat, Bonnie Camp, Kolas Camp, Sudhannakhali and Sajanekhali. Although December, the heat of the sun is intense enough in this area. So I rested a bit for sometime in the afternoon and then headed for Herobhangha ghat.
It is not possible to approach the riverbank by car, you have to park the car in the field near a bend about 2 km before. So I preferred to leave my car at the lodge in the custody of Mr.Mohan. Motor vans (these are called vano in local dialect) goes nearer to the river bank. So I took one og the vanos and reached the ferry ghat. As per the advice of Mr.Mohan I went to the first tea stall on the other side and found Alok Mistry (9564130865/9564722798). They have their own boats and launches as tour operating is their main business.
Talking to Alok Babu, I understood that they no longer run the share system. If you want to take a boat/launch you have to rent the whole boat or launch. Dozens of people are accommodated on the boat and 25 to 30 on the launch. It is financially not viable for me to rent a full boat alone. After requesting a lot and taking Mr.Mohan’s reference, he finally agreed to give me a small boat. I finalized the deal that I shall cruise for 1 hour and I shall pay 500 rupees. However, the boat is on tour now and it will take half an hour to reach the wharf.
There is a Tiger Rehabilitation Center on the left hand side of the Herobhanga Ferry Ghat. I entered this center to spend half an hour. From the ghat to the gate of the Rescue Center, there are colorful shops on both sides. Some of them are dolls, some of them are house decorating tools. But one thing I noticed honey is the thing which is available in almost all shops. Honey is being sold in plastic or glass bottles.
The color of the honey is not same everywhere. I remembered Alok Babu’s words. The flowers from which honey comes blooms in different seasons and honey made each season’s flower has bears a different taste . As soon as I entered through the gate of Tiger Rehabilitation Center, I saw fencing all over the place. Injured tigers for nursing are brought here. After nursing, they are released deep into the forests of Sundarban again.
Although there is fencing, it is not like a zoo and have adequate facilities for keeping tigers. Even at the back there is a lot of original jungle spread out, although there is also a fencing. There is a big house inside the fencing and 10-12 wide stairs lead to that room. After standing at the fencing for a while, I saw that he came out of the room in a slow and steady steps and climbed down the stairs. At the very first glance, the meaning of the name Royal Bengal Tiger was clear to me.
Indeed what a royal movement! There is no way to understand that the tiger is sick. One more thing I observed… it has nothing in common with the tiger captured in the zoo. It is as if energy is coming out of the whole body. Although kept at the rescue center, his royalty did not diminish a single drop. As is her beauty, so is her roar. After visiting the tiger, I came back to that Alok Babu’s tea shop. Even then my boat did not come so I started hearing some more stories from Alok Babu. In the middle of the story, the roar of the tiger came to my ears… not from the forest, but from the rescue center.
After a while a young boy came. At the hint of Alok Babu I understood that this boy is the boatman of my boat. Alok Babu explained to the boy which creeks to go through so that there is a possibility of seeing wildlife. He told me a few things before and I realized that my chances of seeing wildlife at that time were very slim. Tides have a big role to play. Crocodiles are more likely to be seen when the river is slow stream, just after the tide has receded. Generally after the high tides when river waters settle down, the crocodiles dry their bodies in the mangroves on the side of the creek. By the time I got on the boat, the tide had receded long time back. So the chances of sighting crocodile is slim.
Anyway, I moved with the boy towards the ghat. The jetty is right at the mouth of the ghat. Several boats scattered up on either side of the jetty. Looking to the right from the mouth of the jetty, I saw a small temple made of bamboo and tarmac. I went closer and saw that it was the temple of Banabibi. Everyone in the whole Sundarbans is very fond of Banabibi. Going to collect honey… going fishing… or just traveling by river with a tourist, everyone must take the blessings of the forest goddess once before leaving.
I went to the jetty with respect in my mind. I saw the boy standing in the boat waiting for me. My boat is not very small. A lot of excitement is ripening in my mind. It’s time to nourish those excitements and move on. I got on the boat. Let me say one thing about me here. Jungle to me is not just for sighting wildlife. Any forest has its own language. It has its own smell, own air, own shades of green, own lights and its own darkness. And above all, there is a mystery in every step. These properties of the forests attracts me a lot.
So seeing or not seeing wildlife is not so important to me. My boat moved forward in the middle of the river. Some launches and some boats caught my eye. Most of them are coming back then. Seeing all the noises and dancing on those boats its hard to believe they came to see the Sundarbans. Rather it seemed they are on a picnic at Sundargram !! I felt luckily that I started my cruise late and will have lesser such disturbances. Otherwise, if I came at the peak time came, leave apart the wildlife would…I would have lost the chance of sighting even a single bird also! After a while my boat sailed into a creek.
Each creek is strangely beautiful. They are completely different from the huge body of water of Herobhanga !! The sun is now on the horizon. The sky is dominated by red.Till now from the ghat to the middle of the river we kept motor of the boat on. But before we entered the creek, I turned off the motor. At one end of the boat is my boatman brother and at the end myself with my eyes on my camera’s view finder.
God knows what I am trying to spot…but of course the activity is like an addiction! We are surrounded by deep mangroves on either side of our boat. The sharp and hard root peaks of the mangroves can be seen anywhere as the water recedes. There is immense chance of injuring your foot if you decide walk over these roots. The light is getting dimmer.
I sighted common kingfisher, blue throated kingfisher, pied kingfisher etc. Watching the return of some more unnamed birds to their nests, I floated from one creek to another with great awe. The shadow of the mangroves on both sides of the creek has fallen into the murky water. It is as if an artist is painting the image of this forest on the chest of the river with his skillful hand.
Our beautiful Sundarbans. The enchanting Sundarbans. In the light of twilight she is like a heavenly serene beauty. I didn’t want to go back at all. But we have to keep the words givent to Alok Babu. So I slowly moved towards the wharf. When I got down to the dock, it was already dark. In the language of photography it is called the blue hour.
I found some boats and launches are floating in the waters of Herobhanga. Of course they are anchored. At one or two launches, I saw the lights flashing in groups. Although I did not bring a tripod, I could not resist the urge to try for one or two long exposures to capture Herobhanga in the lens in that magical light.
I went back to the lodge and spent the evening with Mr.Mohan telling him my today’s cruise experiences. I fell in love with Jharkhali and Herobhanga. The attraction of penetrating deep into the Sundarbans seems to have increased. Might be I have not spotted a single crocodile or a single deer or a tiger but what I saw increased my attraction towards this entrance of the Sundarbans.
Carrying that primitive wild temptation of the Sundarbans in my heart, I set off on the way back the next day through canning. On the way I stopped at a brick-field. I entered there and took some pictures.
I observed that with utmost dedication the labors here and even their families are joining hands to build the smallest blocks for building the country ( read it “brick” ).
Hi! I am from Kolkata, India. Travelling and photography is my passion. As I love landscape photography most, travelling goes hand in hand with it. Since my matriculation days I started travelling. I have also penned down a book on my travelling which is available in Amazon in the name of Ghuranchandi – Part 1. Whatever travel experiences I have, I have shared those in my blog in the form of travel stories.