Cruising around Sunderbans

I had heard a lot about the Sunderbans and even watched many videos and documentaries about the man eaters in Sunderbans, the place always fascinated me, I did want to make one visit there last year as well, however, it didnt work out and so when this year we learnt of a group taking a trip to the Sunderbans we latched onto it.

 

At the outset we knew that tiger spotting is quite difficult around here, that did not deter me, for I have seen quite a few tigers in the wild, I know its all dependent on luck and so you should never make plans based on tiger spotting. I was keen though to atleast see all sorts of birds and more importantly the bio-diversity and the dense jungles that no one inhabits.

 

We reached Sonakhali ferry station, which is about a 4 hour drive by bus from Kolkata, at around 4.30 pm and set in our ferry for the place where we were going to stay, the sunset was quite mellow and there was quiet excitement amongst everyone.

 

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We reached our base camp in pitch darkness and at the camp they told us not to venture outside the lighted areas of the camp as they had seen a tiger roaming around just two days back. Perhaps this was done to ignite excitement among us and also to ensure no one ventured outside the camp vicinity too much!

 

The next morning we were all up early for a safari, however, the organisers told us that we cannot go towards the core zone as the forest office opens only after 9 and so we waited. In normal cases tiger safari’s are always to begin early in the morning so this was a first. Whilst we were waiting we did walk around the Gosaba island where we were based to get a feel of the local village life. Interestingly on that island there was only one shop vendor, who stood with a stool selling, honey, cigarettes and mineral water! That was just about it. Most or almost all of the houses around here had a pond dug around their house and paddy also grew abundantly everywhere so the local staple food of rice and fish was clear for all of us to see. The people here were pretty much entrenched in their daily routines of finding fish from their ponds or looking after their chicken and goats. Some kids were busy playing Bengal’s favourite sport football!

 

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A lady busy catching fish in the morning!

 

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The kids busy playing football

 

We did wander about and spotted a few birds and the people on the island seemed quite gentle and kind and ready to smile.

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A Fulvous Breasted Woodpecker

 

Eventually after breakfast we set out on our ferry searching for the tiger and more importantly ventured towards the core zone! The whole area is a delta and thanks to this richly dense mangrove forest all the storms of the Bay of Bengal is not allowed to enter the mainland. The vegetaion here is dense, the area gets flooded thanks to the high tide and so the land is not really easy to walk on. We infact noticed that during the high tiger the water went up by almost 15 feet!

 

The thing about Sunderbans is that the islands here are not small, they are pretty huge, so whilst you are only allowed to visit the place on boat it means you cannot get to see anything apart from the outer sides of the islands, secondly when it is high tide all you can get to see is tree branches, not even the trunk of the tree as the water goes up that high on the banks of the river. The area is highly inaccessible, dense and so your chances of wild life spotting are few and majorly dependent on luck! We tired our eyes watching however on the first day we barely saw some 10 king fishers and maybe two or three deers on a full day safari! Not ideal for animal watching is this boat safari, also they do not have smaller boats for us tourists or else we could go inside the smaller creeks and see more of the inside of the islands.

 

We did see quite a few kingfishers and many more deer and wild boars the next day, the highlight being one amazingly huge salt water crocodile, the biggest I have ever seen. Apart from that though the wildlife watching here is really difficult. I really wished there would be some way to see the islands from the inside but we couldn’t find any way yet. They do have a few watch towers, however, it was during the holidays and way too many people had come around there, plus even there the sighting was quite poor.

 

Thankfully we were quite a few friends together and we kept ourselves amused whilst the two  and half days that we cruised around here. As far as sighting is concerned the place is quite difficult unless they improve accessibility, that too ensuring no disturbance of the local eco-system. All in all the secrets of the Sunderbans are not there for everyone to see, it would require a lot more sources or a lot more time to be spent around here to find ways to get around the Sunderbans!

 

Perhaps nature at some places doesn’t want everyone to come about and see everything and maybe some things are better off without any human presence. I ll leave you guys with some pictures.

 

Personally I wouldnt recommend people to go to the Sunderbans with high hopes of seeing too much wildlife, the eco-system though is picturesque, however, unless you have some means of getting more access I think I wouldnt spend time cruising around with a boat for so much time.

 

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This croc’s size was humongous, I dont know if the pic does justice! It was really huge!

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These folks probably know the most about these jungles than anyone else!

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The roots of the Sundari tree have this way of coming out of the soil, this is where Sunderbans gets its name from

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These fishermen do go inside these islands to collect honey and they I think are our way to seeing this place up close, perhaps when we venture alone here!

 

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A black capped kingfisher pops a crab for lunch!

 

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These dense mangroves have so many stories inside that they do not want to reveal!

 

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A common kingfisher watches us pass by!

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This is the kind of banks the islands had, no way you could walk without your legs going knee deep in the mud! The mudskippers though loved the place!

 

Pench National Park

I am sure most of you are aware that The Jungle Book is being remade and being released in April by Disney. Rudyard Kipling‘s imaginations about Mowgli, Bhageera, Sherkhan and Baloo is what most of us Indians have grown up on. I doubt there maybe any people of my generation that wouldn’t be aware of this story. What fuelled the imagination of Kipling were the jungles of Pench. Even the most famous documentary Tiger : The spy in the Jungle by BBC was shot here, which again I am sure most of us would have seen on TV.

 

Pench National Park derives its name from the river Pench, it can be best accesed via the Madhya Pradesh Side of Seoni and Chhindwara districts. The forest is a dry dedicious forest and sheds all leaves by March making it an excellent time for viewing during summers. We have made a pact as a family to spend atleast 2-4 days looking for a tiger in march every year and so this year it was the turn of Pench after we had visited Ranthambore, Kanha, Bandhavgarh & Melghat. The jungles of central India which many decades ago were all one are pretty diverse, whilst Bandhavgarh and Kanha side are sal forests which are evergreen, Melghat and Pench are dry deciduous forests with loads of teak trees.

 

The jungle was pretty dry when we went, there was a carpet of dry leaves all around the forest as the trees had shed them and were not yet ready with new growth. This is a great advantage if you want to spot birds, less leaves, less foliage always aid in great viewing of animals and birds.

 

Pench has its own charm, at the outset you might even feel the jungle can’t hold enough life as it seems so dry, however, only a small matter of about 35000 spotted deer, over 8000 sambar survive, making it a perfect place for Tigers to live and thrive. We did most of our safari’s via the Turia gate and the area in which we were searching for the tiger some 4 tigress’ lived and all of them were with cubs. This news brought us all great happiness, for we are yet to witness a full family of tiger in one frame. I have always seen tigers who are alone, it would be great to watch a group of them, playing with each other.

 

Anticipation was ripe as we started our first morning safari at the crack of dawn, the weather was cold and a nip in the air, we needed a pull over for the first two hours of the safari. The bird life viewing was excellent, within an hour into the park we had spotted a Pied Malabar Hornbill, Mottled wood owl, spotted owlet, jungle owlet, racket-tailed drongo, Indian Roller, Wooly necked Stork, Rudy Shelduck, Painted Storks, Great Teat, Flameback woodpecker, Vultures of two species to name a few!

 

Bare(bear) necessities was the song on my mind all the time, the jungle seemed just enough for the wildlife to thrive without being lush in greenery or water. The waterholes were all full of activity, after about two hours of driving and no calls or any clue about the Tiger’s movement we decided it was better to sit at a waterhole and wait. We selected a waterhole that the guide told us was the Baigan Nala Tigress’ favourite spot. She had 3 cubs and that sounded like music to my ears.

 

We spent about an hour and half at that waterhole, during which we got an inkling of life in the jungle, as we reached the waterhole we saw an egret and a wild boar drinking water, whilst an Indian Roller dived around for insects that only it could see, there was a white breasted kingfisher who stood transfixed in its spot, two cormorants were drying their wings in the sun after a dip in the pool and a bee eater hunting about as well. As we waited we saw the Boar disappear after a while and a group of langur’s came to drink water, after they departed a group of spotted deer came to quench their thirst, they drunk water in a peculiar manner, the fawns and females all drank leaving space in the middle where the antler came and took position and drank to its hearts content, Rhesus macaque followed the deer and then it was the turn of the sambar to take a dip.

 

Life around a waterhole was so busy, I had once read a book whose name I forget, written by an english lady who spent about a month in Dudhwa National Park, she would go to a waterhole everyday morning where her Mahaout would drop her and she would sit all day like a wood log observing and soaking in the jungle till sunset when her elephant would come to pick her up. I had loved reading her experience back then and it was good to have a slight insight into that this day.

 

The calmness, the activity, the sounds of nature, the way life moves about sitting and watching, talking less and just soaking does it for me. It gives me a kick that I doubt anything else would. The jungle is there to soak and I tried my best to soak as much of it in as I could.

 

We didn’t get to see the tiger this time around, however, the jungle was still pretty hustling with a lot of life and that kept us busy. I was fortunate enough to witness a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a far off branch and then taking off leisurely. For those who might not know, it is the fastest diving bird and one of the fastest members in the animal world. When it makes it scoop to hunt it can reach a speed of 350 kmph. Go tell that to Ferrari folks, now thats a standard to match up to! Just imagine it for a second, the bird hunts parrots in mid air, parrots are pretty swift flyers themselves!

 

Our luck with the Tigers was overwhelming in Bandhavgarh last year and so this time around we were not lucky enough to spot one however, I still have fallen for this jungle as it makes for excellent viewing of animals, the dry trees and low foliage are an advantage which many green forests at times though far more beautiful do not offer.

 

I will leave you with a few pictures of the sights of Pench NP. Hope you like them!

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A Grey Hornbill

A Grey Hornbill

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A family of wild boar run about

A family of wild boar run about

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A shikra keenly keeps an eye on proceedings

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The head of the herd takes the prime position for a drink!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

A mottled wood owl didn't seem to amused at spotting us in their territory!

A mottled wood owl didn’t seem too amused at spotting us in their territory!

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!