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!

 

Breaking the break!

My beleaguered blog needs some revival, its been a while I even looked at the blog, forget writing a post, consciously I need to now get back to regular posting and note down my travel experiences before I start forgetting them! I guess writing down is a habit and it is safe to say this time I am out of habit. Life has been way to eventful at times to actually sit back and soak it all in and summarise and hence the absence from the writing scene. I guess it happens to almost all of us. So many times it feels like the blog is dead and then somehow something inside me tells me to never give up on this idea, somehow keep it alive and sustain it and keep writing, whatever gibberish it may be, just do not give up!

 

At the very least remember to post travel stories! Although pretty much in a phase of life where I am not travelling right now, I must though ensure I tell you I did travel in January to the city of joy and then went tiger spotting in Sunderbans! 😀 😀

 

Yes bitches! I did, ate many Rosogullas and Kolkata Rolls and Mishti Doi’s and even went gliding down the beautiful mangrove forests! So whilst I am not telling you everything about the entire trip right away. I am atleast breaking the break from the blog and am promising to myself more than anyone else that I will be here more often! 😀 😀

 

I’ll leave you with one photo taken during our gliding around the the delta of Sunderbans, on a misty day when the horizon disappeared this boat broke the illusion that had been created! 🙂

 

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Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary

So the last weekend of the year we travelled to Jamnagar for a road trip, I had spent 4 years of my life in that city and ever since I left it as a kid I had not returned there, with junior camping in the vicinity we thought spending two days in that city would be quite okay. Wife was drooling at the prospect of buying the famous Bandhani’s from Jamnagar and I was thinking of seeing my old school and eating typical Jamnagar food. Alongside we had decided to spend some time in Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary since it was winter and migratory birds would have surely come here.

 

I had heard a bit about it, however, I must confess we did not go with too many expectations, infact one gentleman told me that 20 days back he had met someone who had gone to Jamnagar that this year very few birds have come. That did not deter me as we wanted to check it out first hand but it did tone down all expectations. I had read somewhere that some 300+ species come there and infact when legendary Bird expert Dr Salim Ali had visited Khijadiya in one day he had recorded 104 species!! However, when you go with minimal expectations you always end up with much happier moments.

 

We left for the park at 6.15 from our hotel in pitch darkness to reach the Sanctuary by sunrise, its about 25mins drive from the city centre, we got our tickets from the counter. They charge Rs. 40 if a person is going to walk, if he is in a car then its 500 per vehicle, doesnt matter how many people in the vehicle. They also charge 200 for a camera. The ticketing was smooth and the guys were pretty courteous, you can also hire a guide if you like but we didn’t hire one and decided to have some own time.

 

It is pretty rare that they allow you inside a sanctuary alone, in your own vehicle and I quite liked the idea. I know many people misuse this freedom and break the limits however, I just wanted to be there on my own waiting for any bird or animal at my own patience and whim and at the same time have peace and not get into unwanted conversations that many times keep happening when you are on safari in National parks with a guide and a driver giving you information that many times you already have.

 

We drove about stopping and spotting birds, they had arrived in plenty, we even saw more than 1500 flamingos, over 30 cranes, heron, ibis, black ibis, spoonbill, mallard etc were so many and so scattered its difficult to put a count on it. The place is blessed with birds and its difficult to list them all here, over all I think we spotted more than 35 species in about 5 hours that we spent there.

 

The place is quite and serene, surprisingly no littering around was spotted by us, there was so much peace with few visitors and the park authorities have kept things simple, they have made roads near the water bodies and put benches under tree’s so that you can go sit there and quietly wait for the birds to slowly figure out that you are not a threat and come closer. I loved the whole concept, we were short on time other wise I thought spending a whole day in a park by just paying 700 from 6am to 6pm is a steal. There is no food or drinks available inside the park so when you do go, go prepared, carry loads of water and fruits and a picnic hamper there are so many places inside where you can sit and enjoy and bask in glorious winter weather.

To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”
Lynn Thomson

The more patient & silent people will probably get the birds more closer to them. I actually think that a trip simply to Jamnagar can be made with just visiting this park on the agenda. I found the place so good. The freedom, the silence, the whole place that was so full of nature kind of perked my spirits up. It seemed like a nice place to go on long walks and rejuvenate I say. People who love the peace, quiet and serene nature alongside bird watching are bound to fall in love with this place.

 

Here I have a few pictures I took there, hope you like them! 😀

 

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The park has two parts walking about would be for the supremely fit as it is a pretty huge area, taking a bicycle would be the best bet, infact the next time I go, I am taking a cycle on this park’s visit!

Common Cranes flying about

Common Cranes flying about

 

A crested lark struts about royally

A crested lark struts about royally, in its own tiny world this tiny bird is a king! 

Godwits are here in loads and loads of numbers!

Godwits are here in loads and loads of numbers!

Then at this far off place we saw so many flamingos

Then at this far off place we saw so many flamingos

This bunch was a little more nearer and more accessible, like me they didnt care for photo's they just kept their heads down and kept eating!

This bunch was a little more nearer and more accessible, like me they didnt care for photo’s they just kept their heads down and kept eating!

Even these folks are here in plenty and they come nearer and pose!

Even these folks are here in plenty and they come nearer and pose!

Although I have seen the Hoopoe many times before this, this is the first time I have got a proper shot of one!

Although I have seen the Hoopoe many times before this, this is the first time I have got a proper shot of one!

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Painted Storks were there as well to perk up the surroundings!

Hundreds and hundreds of Rosy Starling, Many many White breasted Kingfishers and Black Drongos were also to be seen everywhere!

Hundreds and hundreds of Rosy Starling, Many many White breasted Kingfishers and Black Drongos were also to be seen everywhere!

We even managed to spot one male and 6 female Nilgai's (bluebull) grazing about

We even managed to spot one male and 6 female Nilgai’s (bluebull) grazing about

Bird watchers are a lovely bunch, I like them, quite and unobtrusive, immersed in nature and always fancying their binoculars they all revel in places like these!

Bird watchers are a lovely bunch, I like them, quite and unobtrusive, immersed in nature and always fancying their binoculars they all revel in places like these!

This is just one spot, the park has many many spots like this, where in you can decide to sit and become a part of the surroundings, sleep, take a picnic lunch and spend time letting the birds come nearer and soak in nature

This is just one spot, the park has many many spots like this, where in you can decide to sit and become a part of the surroundings, sleep, take a picnic lunch and spend time letting the birds come nearer and soak in nature

Keep moving

That has to be the mantra of life for me, I just cannot stay put in the same routine at all. Ever since I took up an office, I have kind of become monotonous atleast from Monday to Friday and whilst when I started first up I was pretty enthused but now that the newness of it is all out of the way I just cant stay steady. The urge to go away from all routines is really starting to kick up more and more with each passing day.

The other thing is that to advance plan your breaks means the whole excitement bit is gone, you know its done and you have to just wait and whilst you wait you must work coz that is where the money comes to travel, sigh. Every time I read that cliched quote, “If travel were more you’d never see me again” the more I can connect to it.

I end up browsing old photos from trips done and the more I see them the more I want to wander again. Alas this growing into a responsible man bit is boring I tell you and a pretty hard task as well.

Whenever I rant, everyone I know comes back at me and tells me you have just been on a holiday two months back and I am like!? So what? Didnt you eat roti in lunch yesterday? Why do you need it today!?

Anyways this rant will keep on going, thankfully I have managed to convince all who are concerned to sneak away atleast for a small weekend away from work and routine and I am glad! 😀

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Old Magazine House

I have been planning to go to the Western Ghats for a birding trip since long, many articles, pictures and stories have been coming my way since a long time about how the bio-diversity here is amazing. Eventually this Diwali we managed to go and finally made a road trip down to North Karnataka.

The first destination on the list was The Old Magazine House a jungle camp that is run and managed by The Jungle Lodges and Resorts. As it turned out this place is a heaven for bird watchers!

Tucked slightly away from the highway, a 2 kms off-road drive brings you to this small camp. Amidst tall trees and very little sun peeping through the camp gives you a feel of calm and peace and tranquility about it. They have a small area that has been cleared of the trees where they have put some bird baths and on days when there is no rain around these very bird baths are an absolute favourite of the birds. The birds come here in throngs and they have put some green nets with small gaps made for the camera so that the birds are not disturbed by the bird watchers and photographers.

The first evening itself after around 5 till around 7 we counted 32 different species of birds at one spot, all you had to do was keep your note and pen ready, we would sit around sipping tea or reading a book and the birds would come! I mean I have gone to a lot of places to spot birds and yes there is a lot of fun and a sense of achievement in walking on trails and identifying birds but this was a first!

 

Here you just wait and all the birds from the surrounding woods come and give their attendance! How cool is that!? We counted 48 species in 24 hours and that I think is an amazing number! So many firsts that I cannot even tell you! This place is an absolute paradise for bird watchers who are lazy to go on trails I tell you!

 

The staff in the place is also very well equipped in terms of bird, plant, reptile identification and can have a conversation with us quelling all our curiousness. They not only are efficient that ways but are extremely caring and hospitable, never imagined govt tourist houses to have such a courteous and caring staff. They made some awesome meals as well and also took us out on trails in the woods.

 

The boarding facilities are basic, whilst the cottages are under repair the dormitory that they have are quite simple and good and adequate. Very neatly run this place has to be up on your list if you are looking to go birding in the Western Ghats. Here are some of the birds that we spotted here!

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Flame Throated Bulbul

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White Bellied Flycatcher

 

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Spider Hunter playing hide and seek with us

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Orange Headed Thrush & Fulvetta

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Emerald Dove, the state bird of Tamil Nadu

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Asian Paradise Flycatcher (female)

 

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Hump Nosed Pit Viper. Apart from the birds there are many other things to spot too 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Mangrove

So we went on a river safari on Madu Ganga, as many mangroves as we have and as many failed attempts I made to visit the Sunderbans, this was my first visit to the mangroves, excitement was palpable between the two of us. A journey into something unknown, something new always is looked at eagerly with a lot of nervous energy at most times.

 

To beat the crowd our host suggested we go as early as 6 am so that we would not have a lot of crowd which usually pours in after 9am. The early morning trip meant a lot of quiet, peace, easy to grab a boat as the boatmen were eager and free and offered a discount. All that done we hopped onto a boat and we went on our way onto the beautiful Madu river. Our boat guide constantly talking to us and keeping us engaged and informed about the surroundings and from time to time making sure he yelled for us to keep our heads lower as we passed under some bridges that criss crossed the river.

 

The river is pretty huge which did not seem like when we started, but as we went on we discovered many small islands, some with temples, some with small settlements of people in the river. Some of the islands are connected by bridges and some are only connected by boats and yes they have people living there. There are some cinnamon plantations inside, apparently some of the best cinnamon in the world comes from here.

 

We spotted a lot of water monitors, monkeys, kingfishers, brahminy kites in just 10 mins on the safari. It being so early in the morning meant poor light and that meant poor pictures, however, the whole experience was wonderful, a lot of nervous energy gave way to elation of spotting so many creatures going about their life early in the morning. With no visitors apart from us meant we would keep things quieter and wait patiently and slowly glide closer to the animals as they lay about or fished or ate some fruits.

 

We even visited one Buddhist temple on the river that is some 200 years old and I saw the largest squirrel I have ever seen there!

 

The high point though was this picture below, entering into this darkness, the branches and the leaves that don’t allow the sun to enter, the being so close to the branches so little space to run if something were to come onto you, no it was not spooky but for the first few minutes we were nervous and excited both at the same time, apparently I have learnt that this is still a pretty small version of what you could see in the Sunderbans and hence my goal to visit it for sure and soon. The feeling inside the mangroves was something I have not experience, a part of this planet that is so different from others that I have seen, a thriving eco-system to boot. We absolutely loved the little time we were inside.

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This in particular is a part of travel, discovering something new, experiencing things you have not experienced before seeing new things is what keeps us all going ain’t it?

 

Here are a few more pictures!

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At day break we were off on our journey into experiencing something new! 🙂

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Probably the smallest island on the river!

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A water monitor lazing on a tree, he didn’t even blink an eyelid on seeing us! He was almost saying Go away… the tourist time is after 9!!

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There are many foot massage parlours and the labour involved in the massage literally eat your dead skin! 😀

The secluded beach and the sunset

Call me snooty but I generally prefer places with less people, the more quiet, the more I can hear the sounds of nature, my thoughts and just be with my thoughts without any distraction. I love trekking in the Himalayas precisely for that reason, for the only way you can go away from people to the real places is when you walk away from the road and take up a trail up the slopes!

 

There always is an effort going on whenever I travel to go find such spots, sometimes its great to be just by yourself in nature, watching a sunrise or a wave crashing on a rock or a squirrel making merry with some nuts.

 

Recently we stayed in a place called Balapitiya, kinda in between the more famous Bentota and Hikkaduwa on the west to southwest sea coast of Srilanka, whilst Hikkaduwa and Bentota both are pretty nice beaches, there is a lot of activity there too, we did immerse in those, however, in the evenings after a couple of Mojito’s we preferred to walk on the beach across the road from the villa we rented. Barely 50 meters away is this beautiful beach, the best part was very very few people were about and so it was great fun to have this all to ourself.

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The beautiful Balapitya Beach!

 

We took long walks whilst watching the waves, collecting shells, getting our legs wet, spotting snails stuck on stones, and when tired we sat down to see an ethereal sunset! A very quiet, peaceful evening on this wonderful beach that was also where we took our first dips in the morning, albeit in the morning there were a few joggers around!

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The waves crashing on the rocks

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Soon enough the sun started going westwards!

 

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continually showing different hues as it went on its way!

 

There always are hideouts everywhere, remember that! If you are one of those who likes finding them, this is one nice beach tucked away in Srilanka that is not “developed” and at times I am thankful of that! 🙂

Off the grid in Kandy

Loads of people go to Kandy in Sri Lanka, one of the major buddhist destinations in the country & a pretty regular place to visit in your Sri Lanka itinerary, situated in the central province and a shining jewel in Sri Lanka’s hill country. However, I am a bit of a loather of doing things that are popular or visit places that are frequented by too many tourists.

 

Thanks to the fact that we were living with locals as I mentioned in my earlier post here we were fortunate enough to discover a few slightly more quieter and lesser explored spots. Our host said that instead of spending time on the Kandy lake which is in the middle of the city near the Temple of Tooth, we try out Sembuwatte Lake along with a picnic lunch. We gladly accepted his suggestion and packed some wholesome food made by our host and headed for Sembuwatte Lake, about 20 kms from Kandy, this lake is in a Tea Estate and is amazingly beautiful, located at a much higher altitude than Kandy it had wonderful weather and was very serene, peaceful and sparsely crowded. The weather in that part also kept on changing very fast from sunny to a shower to showing us a total white out!

 

Tuktuk’s ply to this lake, which somehow the Arabs believe is facing Mecca, I don’t know how religious people come out with such notions. On the way there are a few restaurants serving Arabic Food, a few people had come there for picnic all prepared with a gas stove and all to cook their food. Its a very pretty place as you can see from these pictures!

 

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Thats the place!

 

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There are some small shelters made around for you to sit about when it rains or to make your lunch. Best thing is they are all spaced out enough to offer privacy to everyone visiting there.

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Thats the scene when clouds take over, this was shot at 1 in the noon!

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The place is lively with colours, various shades of green, Kingfishers that keep hopping in and out of the water and loads of Brahminy Kite’s hovering around

 

On the way back from Sembuwatta we also stopped at Hunas Waterfalls which were a very pretty sight as well. The whole ride from Kandy to Sembuwatta Lake and back is scenic, many sections look like a scene out of Congo really!

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Hunas Water fall, seemed so much like a place that would be in Congo!

 

We spent a day just lazing, sighing and soaking in the views whilst munching on our food that was packed. Whilst there is a 5 star hotel near Hunas Waterfall, when you go to Sembuwatta lake remember to carry your own food. There is no food shop there and trust me you will want to spend more time there. A spoiler is that the lake is controlled by a tea estate and they charge 1000 LKR for foreigner entry inside their estate. Bathing is not allowed in the lake, however, they have made a pool of the same natural flowing water so that you can bath in the water at the same time not spoil the serenity of the lake. Amazingly clean and well kept lake surrounded by tea gardens is a lovely place for a picnic.

 

Hunas waterfall is an entry fee of 300 LKR, slightly commercialised however the place is breathtakingly beautiful, you can anyways see the waterfall without paying the 300 LKR. Tuktuk from Kandy would cost around 1500-1800 for a day trip along with waiting charges.