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Old 28th May 2015, 08:01   #1
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Default A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

1 night / 2 days on a houseboat in the Sunderbans

With the recent addition of new travelogue threads centering around the Sunderbans, submitting one more might seem a glut. If I am tempted to add my own ten cents worth to the brew, it is because, like many of us, I enjoy seeing my words in print! And also because, lurking somewhere inside, is the hope that others, who may have a better record of their own travel experience maybe encouraged to start a thread of their own.

Though we have been touring by road for the better part of the past couple of decades, our trips have mostly been confined to specific cities – Mumbai>Goa, Mumbai>Lucknow, Mumbai>Madikeri, Lucknow>Kolkata. And sadly we did not think of keeping good visual or written records of these trips.

The one region to which we have devoted time and leisure is Uttaranchal, and specifically, the region around Naukuchiatal in Kumaon (my travelogue thread “Naukuchiatal – Far from the madding crowd” has been submitted earlier). Sunderbans as a destination was always there at the back of our minds, but lack of information (& laziness too!) about touring in Bengal was a subconscious deterrent. I became a part of the TBHP family only in Jan. 2014.

Around this time (early 2013) we attended our daughter’s wedding in Florida, USA, where she married one of her colleagues (both doctoral candidates) at the Univ. of Central Florida. The subsequent plan was that they would come to India during the coming winter and spend sometime here. And this is where the Sunderbans came into the picture.

Apart from our daughter Tisha & the two of us (my wife & I) there would be 5 new family members – our daughter's husband Christopher, her parents-in-law Lynne and Mike, her brother-in-law Brian and her sprightly 89 year old maternal grandmother-in-law, Mrs. Rhode! So we opted for safety - a package tour of 1 night and 2 days on a houseboat which would take us on a pre-determined itinerary around the Sunderbans estuary, with one night anchored in mid-stream - and hopefully we would see something of this famed and protected animal habitat.

We booked the houseboat “Whispering Winds” for our group (for the 18th and 19th of Nov. 2013); a reasonably well appointed vessel, with cabin accommodation that had aircon and attached WC and bath. One major consideration for doing this was the well-known mosquito menace in the Sunderbans and our deep reluctance to having any of our guests succumbing to a mosquito-borne illness.

The trip commenced with us leaving, after an early breakfast, by the transport provided by the tour operators (SUNDARBAN HOUSEBOAT.com) - a Maruti Dezire and a Toyota Innova - both in passable condition, already waiting for us. These would be taking us to Godkhali jetty, where we would board the houseboat and start on our tour proper.

I won’t waste time on the drive to Godkhali Ferry Ghat via N.S.C. Bose Road, through Narendrapur to Baruipur and from there via SH3 to Canning and on to Godkhali. The journey was uneventful apart from the usual traffic holdups and delays that one comes to accept as normal on our roads. We arrived at the Godkhali Ferry Ghat around 12 noon and headed straight for “Whispering Winds” waiting for us.

What follows is a photologue of the tour and as is my normal practice I have tried to provide captions for each photograph so that a narrative is not seriously missed, though I have added my comments now and then - some, admittedly a bit off-topic, for which I request your indulgence! To be honest, our minds at the time were also pre-occupied with other, more mundane matters !

Well then, for better or for worse - bouquets or brickbats - here goes!

Last edited by ampere : 29th May 2015 at 12:16. Reason: punctuation, grammar; minor formatting
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Old 28th May 2015, 08:26   #2
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Default re: A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

This was the first day of our trip to the Sunder-bans. The day started with our boarding the 'Whispering Winds' at Ghodkhali Ferry Ghat and starting our tour.

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Last edited by Rehaan : 1st June 2015 at 17:12. Reason: Inserting pics inline, as it shows differently in some browsers.
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Old 28th May 2015, 09:40   #3
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Default re: A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

Inside Sajnekhali Eco-complex was a new experience for all of us. This was the first time that we found ourselves walking around within touching distance of the actual wildlife habitat – albeit separated by a heavy wire-net fencing!

It’s my belief – tacitly admitted by the accompanying guide - that the netting is more for the protection of the local wildlife than for us humans! I admit to being a secret believer in the doctrine of Dr.Dolittle – that most animals (mammals certainly) have well developed communication channels and also that they have equal rights to live on this planet. I believe we are well on the way towards destroying the fragile bio-sphere that our planet supports. Alright - I can already see the hackles rising among some of the respected readers of this forum (this happens often when this discussion ripens within my circle!) and I shall desist from taking my point further.

The new members of our family were happily, busily clicking away – Lynne & Mike admitting that this trip would be a conversation starter for some time after they returned to Florida. I did not ask whether it would reflect favourably or otherwise on their Sunderbans experience!

Alright, I shall now return to the photos for the remainder of our first day on board the ‘Whispering Winds’ and take it up again after we weighed anchor the next morning.

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Last edited by Rehaan : 1st June 2015 at 17:13. Reason: Inserting images in-line as it shows better one some browsers. Thanks!
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Old 28th May 2015, 13:52   #4
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Default re: A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

Our trip comprised of two days (a euphemism really, since the first day of our tour actually started after 12-noon at Godkhali jetty where we boarded ‘Whispering Winds’, and the 2nd day terminated well before 3pm on day 2) and one night on board the houseboat, with the night spent at anchor in mid-stream. This was a novelty for our newly added family members since they had not spent a night at anchor on any vessel before. I must admit – sheepishly – that it was not a novelty for either Ruma or me. Having spent the better part of the past 40 years at sea (as a marine engineer) – a good part of it accompanied by my wife Ruma - a night at anchor has lost some of its novelty for both of us. But I need to qualify that – a night at anchor on a large ocean going liner at some safe port of refuge round the world is a bland experience compared to a night on the ‘Whispering Winds’, in the middle of the largest mangrove animal habitat in the world! – home to that peerless creature, the Royal Bengal Tiger.

That evening at anchor – after dinner - was spent sitting around on the open promenade deck in desultory and relaxed chatting, with the boat crew and our guide joining in the conversation. The talk was replete with stories (by our guide and crew members) of tiger attacks on local fishermen and honey-collectors (many of whom wear rear-facing masks to fool the tiger that they were being observed) and the subsequent genesis of ghost stories tied to the site of the tragedy. Our boat was anchored too far away from the shore to catch any of the nocturnal jungle orchestra that one reads about in books. We called it an early night and for a good reason too – the mosquitoes were beginning their vampire activities and it was prudent to take cover in our cabins.

The next day started early with everyone trooping up to the promenade deck to catch a glimpse of day-break on the Sunderbans estuary and we were busy for a while trying to capture the ambience on camera. The morning tea encouraged our ablutions and after a quick shower all of us were ready for breakfast – standard fare of cereal, bread/toast, and eggs to order and/or the local fare of loochies (poories in Bengali) with a heavenly aloo rassa. All of us (including our guests) ignored the western fare and fell ravenously on the loochies. Breakfast over, we were set to face whatever the fates dealt us, including - aaah! - a possible glimpse of his/her Royal Highness.

Much has been written about the food habits of this animal – with opinions varying from its supposed abnormally aggressive nature being due to the high salt content of its marine habitat (!), right across the spectrum to its being, supposedly, a natural man-eater, again apparently due to the high salt content (!) in human flesh, which they find irresistible! I reserve judgement on this whole issue other than to say that there is not a shred of evidence, based on sustained field research, to back up either belief. The Royal Bengal tiger is just that - a noble and regal representative of a species that is high on the endangered list and is unlikely to come out of it in the foreseeable future.

Slightly off topic, it is also depressing to note that the common grey mongoose (like the common house sparrow) is no longer such a common sight in the cities. I remember walking out as a teenager into the large unkempt backyard (which passed of as a garden) of our house in Allahabad, to try and hand feed a trio of mongoose pups which were cavorting in the long grass - and to be suddenly faced with the mother, springing up on her hind feet, with her teeth bared in a clear warning to back off. I lost one of my sneakers in my hurry to get away. Subsequently the mongoose family (mother and pups) became quite tame and would approach my grandmother for tidbits at all odd times of the day. This was deeply resented by our family pet (a blithe and hyperactive German Shepherd named Badshah for some odd reason) and we had to be constantly on guard to prevent a spat between the two parties!

On the second and final day of our tour, we halted at Dobanki Camp with its elevated canopy walk, for observing the local wild life from a safe distance and also without creating undue disturbance. During the boat ride from Sajnekhali to Dobanki we passed close to islands which were dedicated tiger habitats, with no human population at all, apart from the local fishing boats and honey-gatherers. And these local fishing boats go deep into the narrow winding rivulets – and this is where the majority of the tiger attacks occur. We sat glued to the rails of the promenade deck in the hope of a sighting – but our luck was out and so no tiger sighting for our guests.

So, once again back to the photos of our 2nd (and last) day on board the ‘Whispering Winds’. It is a sore point with me that I have poor skills as a photographer and I have always secretly envied those blessed with a natural eye for composition and story-telling through their camera. There is a plethora of them in our TBHP forum and I have become a die-hard admirer of their work in these columns.

Well, that's it then, and if you derive a fraction of the fun reading this that we had while on our trip, I'd consider it ample reward.

Last edited by Aditya : 1st June 2015 at 16:58. Reason: punctuation correction, grammar, spacing
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Old 29th May 2015, 12:12   #5
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Default re: A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!

That is one comprehensive log there about this place. The more we get to hear the better it gets!

Last edited by ampere : 5th June 2015 at 18:44.
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Old 29th May 2015, 17:39   #6
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Default re: A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

Originally Posted by ampere View Post
Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!

That is one comprehensive log there about this place. The more we get to hear the better it gets!
Thanks ampere - I was unable to upload (due to slow & erratic connection since I am on board an OSV again, in the middle of the bay of Bengal) the 2nd day's photos of our tour - I shall upload them at the earliest.
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Old 29th May 2015, 18:16   #7
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Default re: A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

At present I am on an OSV in the middle of the Bay of Bengal with poor internet connectivity. I am trying to upload the remainder of the photos of our travelogue "One night and two days on a Sunderbans houseboat".
I hope the results are worth the efforts !

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Last edited by Rehaan : 1st June 2015 at 17:14. Reason: Inserting images in-line as it shows better one some browsers. Thanks!
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Old 1st June 2015, 16:58   #8
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Default Re: A night & two days on a Sundarbans Houseboat

Wonderful pictures shashanka. Nice narration too. Made me feel like I was there. Unfortunately, no tiger sightings, but, I guess that's the way it goes in most tiger reserves these days. At least you captured some other creatures on camera.
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