Sunday in the Sundarbans

This past week, Lalita came to West Bengal. (You might remember Lalita from my post on Mumbai—we’re good friends back from Oxford). Due to the protests up in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, we had to scrap our original plans of going up into the hills and focused on areas around Kolkata instead: we spent a couple days in Santiniketan, did some intense sightseeing in Kolkata, and then decided to visit the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world.

During my senior year of college, I spent a week kayaking and camping in the Everglades, the second-largest mangrove forest in the world, and was excited to compare my experience there with the atmosphere and sights of the Sundarbans. Despite it being the height of monsoon season, we braved the weather and set out on a day trip down to Jharkali, one of the entry points of the Sundarbans and the home of India’s first tiger rescue center.

The Sundarbans are very accessible via public transit: you catch a local train down to Canning, and then transfer to a local bus to either Jharkali or Godkhali. From there you catch a shared auto to the nearest jetty where you can hire a launch for an afternoon.

We left Ballygunge local station around 6:30 AM and when we told fellow passengers about our plans, they asked “tumi ki pagol?” “Na na, amra pagol na” we told them but when we disembarked in Canning into the pouring rain and began wading through the submerged lanes on the way to the bus stop, we second guessed ourselves—“are we crazy?” Rachna, Lalita, and I agreed that we had committed to this journey and continued on, boarding the local bus and admiring the flooded fields and lush greenery along the way.

Once we got to Jharkali, we took a shared auto down to the jetty where we were promptly told that no boats would be going out into the jungle due to the inclement weather. Monsoon season is apparently the worst time to visit the Sundarbans because the rains create choppy waves that make it impossible for boating. (For those of you who want to visit, apparently wintertime, from about November to February, is best). We ate our sandwiches on the dock and looked across to the mangroves before going to the adjacent tiger reserve.

Despite being flooded, the reserve was open so we managed to see a couple of the majestic creatures—though from a distance. The Bengal Tiger is endangered due to deforestation and as of now, the Indian portion of the Sundarbans is home to about 70 tigers. The other animals present diverted our attention—some aggressive monkeys and a bloody fight between some street dogs and demure goats meant that we departed quickly, truly aghast at the violence present in the circle of life.

Once we got back to Kolkata, almost four hours later, we crashed for the afternoon and went to the movies in the evening. Rachna’s mom seemed surprised at our quick return (she warned us against traveling during heavy rainfall) but we assured her that we had a lovely time and had finished all possible sightseeing before commencing the journey back.

Some advice, though I’m sure you’ve already caught on: don’t visit the Sundarbans during Monsoon. Really, don’t visit anywhere—sightseeing while soaked can be rather miserable. If you have good friends though, you’ll have a memorable time anyway and a getaway from the city, no matter the circumstances, is almost always worth it.

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Victoria Memorial

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