Not far from Calcutta we find the largest mangrove forest in the world: The Sundarbans. One of the places on the planet where you can find the Bengal Tiger. So, as I promised you, I will speak today of this fantastic place that is in the Bay of Bengal separating India from Bangladesh.
For several areas in this national park, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, there are camps where you can stay for the night and from which you go out to explore the mangrove forest. As in any self-respecting camp, there was no lack of bonfires, songs, food and a good beer. But, from there, the best begins.
But do not think it's so easy to see a Bengal Tiger. In the Sundarbans it is a lottery and it is very difficult. I'm not going to say it's like going to Loch Ness and seeing Nessie. It is also true that you know it in advance and the expectation is low. Do not be fooled. There are better places to see the Bengal Tiger.
Arriving at the Sunderbans is already an adventure in itself, because from Calcutta we take a bus that leaves us in a town that we do not even know the name of. Another bus that goes by there takes us to Sonakhali. From there we take a boat to cross the river and get to Gosaba. In Gosaba we take a cyclerickshaw to Pakhirala. Finally we take another boat to Sajnekhali, but when we get there the only accommodation is full so we have to return by boat to Pakhirala and sleep there.
On the way we crossed rice fields and adobe villages, where people live as a hundred years ago in total balance with nature, and some town that serves as a market for the sale of vegetables, chickens and fish to the surrounding villages.
Here almost no independent traveler arrives, and that is only 4 hours from Calcutta, which is full of westerners. We intuit that it is the power of the wonderful Lonely Planet, which states that visiting it on your own is difficult and you have to take very complicated transport connections, which discourages backpackers from approaching here. Now we try to go to those sites that is discouraged by the Lonely Planet guide and not go to those that are recommended.
In the guesthouse there is a group who have left their wives in Calcutta to come here to enjoy. They invite us to beer and to go with them the next day on the boat they have hired. We accept both invitations.
With the first rays of the sun we wake up and after a chai we embark on the adventure with the people we met yesterday. Fear gives us to think how they are going to behave, because the previous night they were smoking and drinking till late at night.
The Ganges delta forms a labyrinth of mangroves and canals that flow into the Bay of Bengal making it the largest mangrove and river delta in the world and home to the largest population of Bengal tigers.
Of course we do not see the tigers but to get here is very worthwhile for the landscape formed by navigable channels, reaching almost to the open sea and being very close to Bangladesh. We are also rewarded by observing a crocodile and several species of birds including the colorful martin fisherman.
The group is great with us. They offer us lunch of rice with chicken and afternoon coffee. It is extremely hot, I start to get sunburn. I hide under my umbrella. Even with the speed of the boat no air breeze comes to refresh us. After two hours we moor on one of the mangrove shores. We sink in the forest. We meet thousands of crabs that run away every time we set foot on the ground. We go past three houses. I find it amazing that people can live here because of the conditions and the extremely remote place we are in.
We finally arrive at the tower, go up and discover the landscape. It is nothing particularly exceptional, except for a view of the forest. The tower is not high enough to be really interesting and considering the way to go we decide that it's not worth for tourists here. We finally find ourselves on the side of the houses that we crossed.
We then take the boat back to the crocodile project. This is a place where crocodiles are allowed to grow in good conditions. So we arrive at the scene but face a first problem: the water has slightly withdrawn and the level is not high enough to allow our boat to reach the pontoon. Finally throwing a rope on this side, surrounding it with a pillar and then using the strength of all the men on the boat we manage to hoist it close enough to another boat so that we can pass, borrowing one on the shore.
There are different enclosures depending on their age with the final destination of large canals where they can swim freely. Those who are there are really huge! I forgot to mention that at that time the sweltering heat was replaced by rain. In this country the umbrella is definitely an indispensable object ...
After going around, we sit around a tea before we decide to go to our boat. A new problem arises. The water is always at low tide. It is impossible to roll back the boat since it has no reverse. It will be necessary to wait until it is completely immersed to be able to leave. Night falls and I joke that at this rate we will spend the night with crocodiles.
Finally after a long wait, we leave, at night on our small boat. I lie down by leaning my head on my bag. In fact it's a simple boat, protected by my umbrella and I try to rest a little.
The excursion on the boat lasts all day and we arrive at Pakhirala at night.