Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sundarbans, West Bengal, India

I visited the Sundarbans for an overnight 24 hours in December, 2015. It is the largest mangrove forest area in the world but, like Bangladeshi people, most of it is in Bangladesh so you only get to see a fraction of it on Indian territory.

Our starting point was a three hour drive from Kolkata over a road surface worthy of being cast as the before model close up in moisturiser advertisements. The multitude of potholes on a relatively quiet highway through rural India might also explain the lack of toilets. A pre-booked houseboat was waiting for our entire group at the port, which we could reach only by wading our way through the waves of people crashing against the shore.

The population density reduced significantly once we were in the water. In a happy coincidence, we spent most of the period between two lunches on the boat, hopping off only for a walk around a nearby village and going through an unusually informative museum. A part of me is now looking forward to a rise in sea levels.

You should consider going if your definition of a holiday includes playing indoor games or vacantly looking into space but you don't want to do it in your house because that sounds like any another weekend. Driven by that criteria, and armed with the knowledge that tiger sightings are extremely rare ( birds are abundant, though ) and that mangrove is not a portmanteau of mango and grove, your retreat should be most enjoyable.


I was with family and not being the Whistler sorts, I spared my relatives the ignominy of being the muse of my ongoing, self-taught photography training. The choices that remained then were the boats and the water. Water has its qualities, sustaining life, pH 7, etc., but the dirty-green, more or less standing sorts can only capture your interest for two (horizon, reflection of something), maybe three (stuff floating in it, which includes boats) kinds of pictures. You soon find yourself checking WhatsApp, temporarily suppressing the knowledge that all you receive are good morning messages. It's too late in the day for that, and all the senders are on the same boat as you anyway.

Ferry cattle class -
Long boarding queues.
Very little foot space. No arm rests.
Choice of hair in your mouth or armpits around your nose.
But then, on the bright side, no hidden charges or sea port development fees.

If they have cable, they must laugh at all those ads for high grip tyres, fancy SUVs, and Mahindra SUVs.
Hydroplaning, with a good soundtrack, is still cooler though.

I'm not that big on The Beatles. I am the Walrus is nice. And Come Together. Maybe a couple more but that's it.
For instance, in Yellow Submarine, the only other word that needs to rhyme with submarine is green.
You could rephrase that one line and the song could be transformed to be about anything else.
We could make a song called Yellow Houseboat. The line would go, 'Sky of blue, and staying afloat,' instead.
Or sore throat, Death Note, billy goat, fat stoat, antidote, asymptote, raincoat, misquote, TV remote.

You can sleep on the boat itself, in the middle of the water. Tigers don't have enough
strength in their forelimbs to hoist themselves up without the push from their hind limbs.
They are excellent swimmers though, so if one does board then don't jump into the water.
One must never underestimate the discomfort of wet clothes, even in the face of certain death.

Apart from some unattached body parts of tourists floating around, the mornings are quite serene.

One boat in the silence of the wee hours is serene. Maybe even three.
Thirty is most likely a military coup.

Every vacation spot has to have a couple that can't get enough of each other.

That time you had a little too much, were going too fast, and forgot that your boat wasn't a hovercraft.

The protocol for triumphant endings is to ride off into the sunset.
Have you ever wondered why nobody rides off into a sunrise?
Now that you have - people riding into sunrises would be risking
head on collisions with those riding into sunsets, an incident
which would lead to the revocation of the happy ending statuses.
Sucks for you, if your house is to the east of the site of battle.

This used to be the accommodation for the visiting officer.
You asked for the bathroom and the reply would be, "Down the hall, second door on starboard."
You'd nod and casually proceed down the hall, furiously trying to remember whether starboard was left or right.


We couldn't afford to reserve the entire Sundarbans for a day just to our group which is why we had to split costs with all the others who probably had a similar complaint. Then there are the locals who find the tourism income useful and wish the opposite. One of the villages we stopped at for some walking about even let us borrow some of the residents for an evening of their folk music and dance. I ended up taking some pictures of people after all.

If someone asks you to give your best look-to-infinity pose, this is what you should be doing.

The Sunderbans are vast, wet, wild and have access restrictions making it a great place to get rid of dead bodies.
Or, for that matter, alive ones.

Stages 2 and 5 of the depression stemming from the realisation that you aren't going to see any tigers.

Olukapenni, a traditional dance form.


Not People

The morning of day 2 was spent idling along the river, looking out for specimens of bright and beautiful things, and big and small creatures. We had to politely gag some of the more excitable members of the group lest they scare off all the types of birds and the occasional reptile that we managed to eventually spot.

The blue streak evolved because in the absence of street lights
the ones without the streak kept getting run over in the dark .

Michael Jackson got reincarnated as a bird.

Vishnu's couch is a snake, a creature that eats bird eggs.
His ride is a modified eagle, a bird that hunts other birds.
They killed Jatayu off in Ramayana, before any of the heroics.

If birds are into pagan worship, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

This one heard about Icarus and has been careful ever since.

A crrocodile can generate a lot of force when snapping its jaws
shut but can't open them if you put a rubber band around its snout.
You can distinguish the smart ones from the rest by looking for the ones
annoyed with the rubber band and the ones doing the Kylie Jenner challenge.

Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with my mouth in flowers,
I was born too late in the world to be a caterpillar for more than a few hours.

The BJP's push for learning yoga reaches far and wide.

I don't remember the name so I'm going to call it the Bukkake tree.
The accommodating soil bed is often flooded and probably indistinguishable
from Turkish coffee during those periods. That is why 
the roots stick out of
 the ground to acquire the necessary nutrients from
 the atmosphere instead.

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