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Old 6th May 2015, 10:34   #1
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Default Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans

The Planning

It was mid of April, 2015. Our sixth marriage anniversary was around the corner. We went out on an anniversary trip only once in the past five occasions. Therefore, we were thinking of doing it again this time. We had the extended weekend of labour day just after our anniversary. It was already hot, so my preference was a trip to the hills. But my wife did not want to spend most part of the three days on the roads with the little one on board. Therefore, we started looking for a jungle retreat within 5-6 hours of Kolkata. So, we shortlisted the following options.
  1. Simlipal National Park - Our friends and fellow BHPians BlackPearl, himadrimondal and avrendu had been there recently and the place looked to be a great option. So, we kept it at the top of our list.
  2. The Sundarbans - Again, the place made it to our list following a wonderful trip by a group of fellow BHPians like Samba, avrendu, SouraC, et al and their families and friends.
  3. Bhitarkanika - It's been there on our wishlist for a long time. We heard so many good stories about this place from friends and relatives who had already been there. To top it all, Samba's travelogue http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ota-etios.html (Kolkata -> Kuldhia -> Bhitarkanika in a Toyota Etios) was a major inspiration. It was only because of the time of the year, we kept it at number 3 on our list.
One fine day, my friend Chiranjib Debbarma, aka CD, called up and asked me if we were in a mood for a short trip. That was like rain without even asking for clouds! We would have a great company of our good old college buddy CD and our little one, Srishti, will also have a friend to play with - CD's son Sohan. So, that's how we teamed up.

I started discussing with fellow BHPians like Samba, BlackPearl and avrendu regarding these options. They advised me against Simlipal because of recent outbreak of malaria in that region. So, scratched that. They told me that Sundarbans is a good option but they also cautioned that it was going to be very hot at this time of the year. We decided to give it a try because there was nothing going against the place except heat which all of us are used to. We did not even think of Bhitarkanika at this stage.

So, finally Sundarbans it was! The dates we decided were 1st, 2nd and 3rd of May 2015. Here go the destination and the team.

The gorgeous Sundarbans
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Chiranjib Debbarma, aka CD
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Sushmita, CD's wife
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Sohan, CD's son
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Bandana, my wife
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Srishti, my daughter
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Partha Surelia, me...
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The Preparations

CD took responsibility of the booking and did it well through http://www.travelchhutichhuti.com and it turned out to be a very good choice. The 3D/2N package is quoted Rs 4,500 per head if you opt to stay both the nights at the resort. We had to pay some extra money to convert the rooms to AC rooms and got some discounts because we traveled to the launch pick-up point (Sonakhali) in my car. Finally, the cost came around Rs 5,200 per head. There were no extra charges for Srishti. The operator quoted Rs 2,500 extra for Sohan, but CD negotiated it to Rs 1,000.

We carried lots of snacks (croissants, chips, biscuits, swiss rolls, etc.) especially for the kids and lots of beverages which turned out to be a wise decision. The beverages helped us greatly in fighting the heat.

The car was serviced about a month back and by now I have all the emergency tools in my car. So, I did not need any special preps for the car.

We finished packing our bags at 11:30 in the night of April 30th, 2015 after dinner. We were all very excited for the next morning...

Titbits

Duration - 3D/2N
Per Head Cost
- Rs 5,200 with additional charges for AC rooms and discount for reaching the boarding point in personal vehicle. Standard rate : Rs 4,500.
Tour Operator
- www.travelchhutichhuti.com
Accomodation - Royal Bengal Resort (included in package)
Distance - Science City Island to Sonakhali Ferry Ghat (boarding point) through Basanti Highway : 95 kms approx.
Drive Time - 2-2.5 hrs
Vehicle - Tata Safari Storme VX 4x4
Cameras - Cannon S5-IS, Phone Camera (Micromax Canvas Nitro A311)

Last edited by psurelia : 6th May 2015 at 18:30.
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Old 6th May 2015, 11:50   #2
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Default Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans - Day 1

Day 1 (May 1st, 2015)

This was going to be a log day. So, we got up at 5 in the morning, freshened up, took bath and started at 7:10 am from home. We had to pick up CD and his family from Science City bus stop at 7:30. We had a quick round of tea while we waited for them. We started from Science City bus stop around 7:45 am and took the 94 kms long Basanti Highway route to Sonakhali Ferry Ghat, the launch boarding point. For most part, the road surface is excellent barring a few kms of bad stretches. We decided on this route based on feedback from fellow BHPian Samba. You can find his very informative travelogue on Sundarbans at the following link.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ml#post3680329 (West Bengal - A treasure for tourists)

All of us started feeling hungry soon. Suddenly my eyes got glued on a man frying fresh puri in a road side restaurant. I pulled over right away and everybody was happy to see the prospect! The person who was frying the puris told that the name of the place is Bangla Haat (though I could not find on Google Maps). The puri-sabji was simple and very close to home made ones in taste. We happily ate and headed to the public toilet a few hundred meters ahead. It was a nice 45 mins break. We started heading to Sonakhali again at 9 AM.

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We reached Sonakhali Ferry Ghat at 10:40 AM and parked the car in a paid parking for Rs 300 for the entire duration of the trip. The parking has a deadly approach road through the edge of the river and a very narrow entrance gate which was just enough for my Safari Storme to squeeze through after folding the ORVMs. The parking is in fact the huge garden of a well to do household.

The scheduled boarding time to the launch was 11AM and at that time we were sitting in the launch with the promised breakfast plate in our hands. The foods served by the operator throughout the trip was very very good and filling.

Waiting for second round of breakfast
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Menu for the entire trip!
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Shortly after we finished eating our second round of breakfast, the launch started sailing through the river (a branch of River Matla) towards Royal Bengal Resort. It was a three hour long lazy ride (9-10 kmph) to the resort. Here are some pictures of the rural life of the Sundarbans that I clicked during this charming but hot boat ride.

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The Happy Debbarmas!
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Lunch was served at 2:30PM. Ummm... Delicious!
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Reached Royal Bengal Resort at 4PM
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We reached the resort at 4 PM and were asked to be back on board by 5 PM for a short trip to "Pakhir Jongol" (The Jungle of The Birds). We took some rest after a refreshing bath in the resort. We were back on board the launch on time. It was a nice short trip to the Pakhir Jongol. We hardly saw any birds because it was already getting dark, but we did hear the chirping of thousands of them and saw some flying high in the evening sky.

Beautiful evening

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These were our rides into the "Pakhir Jongol". All the passengers of the launch were transferred into the two boats for going into the kingdom of the avians.

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Pakhir Jongol
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On the way back from Pakhir Jongol, the launch stopped for an hour at Pakhiralay for picking up supplies. It was great to catch up with an old friend in the cool evening breeze while having tea and chicken pakoras.

There was program of local folk dance, Jhumur, before the lunch at the resort. I and Srishti retired soon after dinner while CD, Sushmita and Bandana went on chatting and singing till midnight.

Local folk dance Jhumur
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The rooms were big and clean. The bathroom was also big. The resort does not have its own arrangements to serve food to its guests. Dinner was cooked in the launch and served in the dining area of the resort. They keep the ACs on only from 8PM to 5AM since there is no electricity in the area and the resorts have to depend solely on generators for power supply. The villages have solar cells installed for lighting the streets in the night. What amazed me on the very first day of the trip was how concerned are the people of this place about conservation of their natural environment in spite of all the hardships in their lives.

Last edited by psurelia : 6th May 2015 at 14:55.
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Old 6th May 2015, 15:09   #3
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Default Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans - Day 2 (Part 1)

Day 2 (May 2nd, 2015)

We were asked to board the launch at 9AM. So, I got up comfortably at 7AM and got ready by 7:30 and then woke up the two sleeping beauties. The little beauty was ready by 8:15 and so I went out on a short morning walk by the river with her while the mamma beauty was getting ready.

Morning walk with the baby beauty!
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Lawn of the resort
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People with amazing experiences
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The gentleman in the cowboy hat in the picture above (we used to call him uncle) has led a tremendous adventurous life. He has been to some of the toughest destinations in the country. He has lived in some really weird places for work. He celebrated his 65th birthday about a year back by taking a holy dip in the Mansarovar.

The elderly gentleman with a red camera in his hands, Mr Raymond, had come from San Francisco. He eats spicy India food with his hand just like we do. He has been coming to India since 1985. He loves Indian mountains and jungles. He probably knows India better than we do!

Hats off to these two extraordinary gentlemen!!!

The day long journey begins...
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This picture reminds me of the hindi movie "Swadesh"
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The map of the Sunderbans
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We stopped briefly at Sajnekhali forest office to get the permits and pick up the official guide of the forest department. This office is just across the river from the Royal Bengal Resort which is in Dayapur (please refer to the map above). The day's journey is, as per plan, to Dobanki watch tower and then to Pakhiralay market for local shopping on the return journey.

As explained by the guide, Sundarban National Park consists of 49 islands (as per Wikipedia the number is 54). Out of those 49 islands, tourists can go in and around only 7 of them. Rest of the islands are completely restricted to the outside world.

The guide informed the tour operator that the forest department at Sajnekhali has received a bad weather alert from the meteorological department. There is a confluence of seven rivers on the way to Dobanki which could be dangerous to venture into in this weather. The operator, after consulting with us, decided to go ahead and give it a try. If the captain of the boat feels it could be risky after reaching the spot, we would turn back.

So, we headed to Dobanki enjoying the beauty of the jungle that changes colour and form with every turn. We kept trying to beat the heat by keeping ourselves hydrated. The occasional cloudy sky and cool breeze also helped a lot. I went on clicking picture as we sailed through the kingdom of mangroves.

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The "ROOT" cause

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The "ROOT" cause explained

You can see the breathing roots (knife-like growths of the roots from the ground under the trees) and supporting roots (roots stemming out of the lower part of the trunk and low hanging branches) in the two pictures above. These are typical to trees growing in the mangrove forests. The breathing roots cause injury to the paws of the tigers when they chase wild animals like deer. Also, the muddy forest bed is not helpful to the tigers in their chase. Therefore, the tigers of the Sundarbans are man-eaters because we, the men, are the easiest of targets. They are very intelligent because they have to keep inventing innovative ways of hunting. The supporting roots actually help the mighty cats when they are on the prowl by helping them go in stealth easily. The poor honey collectors of the Sundarbans are the prime victims of the most powerful paws and jaws on earth. Every year the black stripes on golden yellow kill about 40 human on an average. There are 109 counted tigers in the Sundarbans at the moment. But every now and then some new faces show up crossing the international borders without passport and visa . This explanation and stats were provided by the guide.

It is a popular saying in the Sundarbans that he (the tiger) sees you even if you don't see him in the jungle and if you make an eye contact with him, he will keep following you in the stealth till he hunts you down

Some more random pictures taken en route Dobanki.

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It's not sea, it's the confluence of seven rivers! And we actually crossed the entire breadth of it.
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Because of the stormy weather, there were sea-like waves in the river-knot!
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It was a bumpy ride but the expert captain of the ultra low-tech boat safely navigated his machine across the vast confluence!
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A Lesser Adjutant Stork is about to touch down
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The Lesser Adjutant Stork in search of snacks I guess
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To be continued...

Last edited by psurelia : 7th May 2015 at 18:33.
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Old 7th May 2015, 15:54   #4
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Default Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans - Day 2 (Part 2)

...Day 2 continued

Finally reached Dobanki
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Banbibi Temple. You will find one, big or small, on each of the islands of Sundarban
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Posing in front of the famed Sundari tree from which the great Sundarban derived its name
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The direction sign showing way to the Canopy Walk. Really curious what that is!
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Saw some Lesser Whistling Ducks swimming in the pond from the watch tower
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The Canopy Walk, walkway into the realm of the Big Cat
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A Mud Skipper
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Some pictures on our way to Pakhiralay from Dobanki

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A Little Heron, could not manage to get a better shot
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Kids having great fun!
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Srishti's favourite "five little monkeys"
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"Five little monkeys" seem to be very busy with some serious business
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An age old catamaran parked in the yard of the Sajnekhali forest office as seen from the launch while passing by
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Heat can't beat the spirit
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The setting Sun
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The Twilight Adda (chat session)
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Reached Pakhiralay around 5PM
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Quick shopping run at Pakhiralay
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We reached the hotel around 6:30PM. We spent the evening chatting and singing in the beautiful garden lawn of the resort. We had our dinner around 9:30PM and went to bed early as we were instructed to check out of the Resort and board the launch at 7AM next morning.

Last edited by psurelia : 7th May 2015 at 16:08.
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Old 7th May 2015, 16:51   #5
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Default Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans - Day 3

Day 3 (May 3rd, 2015)

I got up at 5AM in the morning and got ready by 5:40AM. Then I woke up Bandana and knocked the door of CD's room to wake them up as per his instruction. Then I headed out to see the dawn break. But unfortunately, the river and the jungle is on the west of the resort. Therefore, this is the best I could capture.

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All of us got ready and was going to board the launch at 7:10AM when we got to know the trip was delayed. The reason being some irresponsible fellow travelers who assumed the boarding time to be 9AM and woke up at 7:30AM. Finally they made it on board at 8:45AM .

The Titanic family
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Chatting with fellow travelers
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A fisherman on his boat
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Srishti changed into more comfortable dress for the day long trip and the drive back home thereafter
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The itinerary for the day included a visit to the Sajnekhali forest camp, Sudhanyakhali watch tower and then a 3 hour cruise back to Sonakhali. The Sajnekhali forest camp has a handful of caged animals and an Information Centre which is pretty good. Other than that, nothing worth a mention except the one below.

The old catamaran parked in the yard of the Sajnekhali forest office - view from the front
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Sudhanyakhali is a short ride from Sajnekhali. We got the bad news on the way - there had been a tiger sighting from the Sudhanyakhali watch tower at 3PM the previous day. That meant, our chances were very slim.

On the way to Sudhanyakhali
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The following pictures are taken from ground level and first level of Sudhanyakhali watch tower.

Oh deer!
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You are such a tasty lunch...
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...that I thought the Mighty Cat would not be able to resist the temptation to jump on!
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On the other side of the watch tower, this Water Monitor Lizard swam across the pond and disappeared into the bushes.
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And this beautiful blue Kingfisher was repeatedly darting into the water from atop a tree by the pond and fly back up to the tree.
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After waiting for about an hour and half in vain for the King of the Swamps, we headed back to the launch. It was a 3 hour cruise to Sonakhali Ferry Ghat.

This huge vessel showed up on our way back to Sonakhali as if to bid us a grand farewell
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We had our lunch on the launch and reached Sonakhali at 4PM as planned. We transferred all the bags from the launch to the car and started off to Kolkata enjoying the AC after a scorching day. It was a 2.5 hours of relaxed drive with a 30 mins tea and snacks break at a place called Malancha.

We left the beautiful Sundarbans with the promise to ourselves to come back again in late winter!

Last edited by psurelia : 7th May 2015 at 18:23.
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Old 7th May 2015, 18:50   #6
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Default Re: Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans

Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 7th May 2015, 22:43   #7
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Default Re: Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans - Day 1

Quote:
Originally Posted by psurelia View Post
Menu for the entire trip!
This is the most interesting part
Very Crisp and details logging I must say . Loved the picture of the mud-skipper and monitor . Thanks for sharing Parthada .
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Old 7th May 2015, 23:30   #8
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Default Re: Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans

Lovely travelogue psurelia. And beautiful pictures as well. The Sundarbans seem to be a beautiful place to visit, I'd live to visit this place someday!
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Old 8th May 2015, 01:18   #9
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Default Re: Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans

As i visited the same place with more or less the same itinerary a month back, it was like watching the same movie at Inox for the second time! But few movies are so nice to watch that not only twice am ready to watch them even 10 times !

Sundarban is such a beautiful place and reading your travelogue on Sundarban was an icing on the cake. Thanks a lot for sharing. It was really refreshing reading the whole travelogue!

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Old 8th May 2015, 02:17   #10
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Very detailed review you've posted there Patha Da. The pics have come up very well. I don't know how big the mud skipper was but it was looking quite small in the pics(I've never seen one before, i guess). How did you manage to notice such a small thing within the mud? Provided both are of same colour. :P
The little one seems to have enjoyed the trip thoroughly.

Regards,
Swapnil
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Old 8th May 2015, 10:15   #11
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Default Re: Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans

Very nice and detailed write up. Looks like you had a nice trip. Did you manage to spot any big cats in the Sunderbans?
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Old 8th May 2015, 11:19   #12
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Thanks for the detailed description of your trip Partha da, the pictures put up have have given a good trailer. I have a new addition to the list of places to visit around Kolkata.

A short holiday like this is an excellent way to catch up with family and friends.

The menu really looked great. The breathing roots section reminded me of my geography class when in school. Sweet TL.
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Old 8th May 2015, 11:38   #13
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Lovely travelogue, Partha. Bundle of photographs does make the reading so pleasurable. Sundarban is actually a very difficult place to be in, but it seems the kids had a gala time. Sighting the deer and monitor lizard in their prime natural habitat must be an amazing experience.
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Old 8th May 2015, 16:07   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aritraray View Post
This is the most interesting part
Very Crisp and details logging I must say . Loved the picture of the mud-skipper and monitor . Thanks for sharing Parthada .
Aritra, The BHPians "Live to Drive" and the Bengalis "Live to Eat". So, definitely a Bengali BHPian like me "Lives to Dirve & Eat". Therefore, the travelogues would have been incomplete, at least to myself, without a picture of the "most interesting part"

I am glad that you liked it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by abhii176 View Post
Lovely travelogue psurelia. And beautiful pictures as well. The Sundarbans seem to be a beautiful place to visit, I'd live to visit this place someday!
abhii176, Sundarbans is a must visit destinations in India and for very good reasons. As, you will be traveling all the way from Bengaluru, I would suggest that you time your trip right to make the most out of it. The tour operator himself suggested early or late winter because the weather is pleasant at those times and the tourist rush of peak winter (Dec-Jan) is not there. Please let me know if I can be of any help when you plan.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samba View Post
As i visited the same place with more or less the same itinerary a month back, it was like watching the same movie at Inox for the second time! But few movies are so nice to watch that not only twice am ready to watch them even 10 times !

Sundarban is such a beautiful place and reading your travelogue on Sundarban was an icing on the cake. Thanks a lot for sharing. It was really refreshing reading the whole travelogue!
Samba, first of thank you for your patience and reading through the "whole travelogue". It had to be a repeat telecast for you since I got the idea and inspiration of my trip from yours.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Swapnil_Alto View Post
Very detailed review you've posted there Patha Da. The pics have come up very well. I don't know how big the mud skipper was but it was looking quite small in the pics(I've never seen one before, i guess). How did you manage to notice such a small thing within the mud? Provided both are of same colour. :P
The little one seems to have enjoyed the trip thoroughly.

Regards,
Swapnil
Thanks Swapnil! The mud skipper is actually very small, less than an inch in length. It was my wife who spotted it and took the picture. So, the moral of the story is "the wife has her eyes on very small things".

Quote:
Originally Posted by joe1980 View Post
Very nice and detailed write up. Looks like you had a nice trip. Did you manage to spot any big cats in the Sunderbans?
joe1980, We did have a great time even without a single sighting of the big cat. Sundarbans is only a couple hours drive and hence, I will keep going back there till I finally see the royal beast!

Quote:
Originally Posted by navsjab View Post
Thanks for the detailed description of your trip Partha da, the pictures put up have have given a good trailer. I have a new addition to the list of places to visit around Kolkata.

A short holiday like this is an excellent way to catch up with family and friends.

The menu really looked great. The breathing roots section reminded me of my geography class when in school. Sweet TL.
Navtej, Thanks for the encouraging comment. Sundarban indeed is a must see for everyone living in Kolkata.

Quote:
Originally Posted by himadrimondal View Post
Lovely travelogue, Partha. Bundle of photographs does make the reading so pleasurable. Sundarban is actually a very difficult place to be in, but it seems the kids had a gala time. Sighting the deer and monitor lizard in their prime natural habitat must be an amazing experience.
Himadri da, thanks for the kind words. It was really a wonderful experience to see the animals in their natural habitat. The kids had no problem at all even in this hot summer. We just had to ensure that they keep taking fluids so took a lot of beverages of their liking with us on the trip. We kept wiping the little one with wet towel 3-4 times and bathing twice a day to keep her comfortable. The little one could not spot a single animal though probably because her mind and vision is not steady enough yet to spot such camouflaged creatures from a long distance.

One thing that I realized is I need to develop basic photographic skills to do justice to the beauty of the nature. Therefore, I may need to take some classes from you.

Last edited by Eddy : 8th May 2015 at 21:27. Reason: Extra smiliey
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Old 8th May 2015, 16:23   #15
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Default Re: Into the Mangroves of the Sundarbans - Day 2 (Part 1)

Fantastic travelogue and superb pictures. The Sunderbans are a real wonder which I'd love to visit someday.
Quote:
Originally Posted by psurelia View Post
It is a popular saying in the Sundarbans that he (the tiger) sees you even if you don't see him in the jungle and if you make an eye contact with him, he will keep following you in the stealth till he hunts you down
I'm willing to take my chances.
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