Saturday, October 09, 2010

The other side of Sunderbans

It was my first term-break at IIM Lucknow and I was desperate to maximize the opportunity. So when mom informed me that we were going on a short trip to the Sunderbans, I was excited. Would I be able to see tigers? Will they be in their guarded cages or swimming in the water (tigers are great swimmers by the way)?
So after 6 days of exams, one Loyola 12D - IIM L meet and one day of customary visits to relatives, I was off to the beautiful world of the sunderbans. It was the middle of September and the monsoons were in full swing. We equipped ourselves with enough food and clothing for the trip and at 9am on a beautiful morning, we were off. The route map told us that we had to first visit the beautiful Ramakrishna Mission Ashram at Nimpith which we duly reached within 3 hours.
Now I had been to several Ramakrishna Mission Ashrams before this. But this one really struck me. The way they welcomed us was amazingly heart-warming. Quickly we were allotted a room and asked to freshen up. After about half an hour when the call for lunch came, we were taken to a nearby building. Supposedly, they had a marriage hall on the side and there the lunch was non-veg. Now after 3 months of aloo and baigan and donno what not at the legendary IIM Lucknow mess, I can't tell you how desperate I was to have a proper bengali lunch - the world famous macher jhol bhaath. And boy, was it great! The manager of the Nimpith RK Mission, a friend of my youngest uncle, was telling us some trivia. It turned out that the fish we had were local catch and not imported from the main city, which in this case is Kolkata. The chicken we tasted later was a hybrid of an Indian and an Israeli chicken. Turns out, these chicken grow three times faster and bigger than the ordinary Indian chicken thus providing more yield.
After a sumptuous lunch and a short afternoon nap, we set out to our final destination - Kaikhali, on the banks of river Matla. By the time we reached the Kaikhali Paryatan Abash, it was already dusk. Nimpith Ashram Maharaj had granted us permission to stay there which meant we were allotted rooms immediately. The river bank and some cool weather provided the perfect setting for a relaxed evening walk. But unfortunately, for reasons obvious we were not allowed. So we went off to sleep pretty early in anticipation of an exciting trip to the Sunderban islands the next morning.
7 am and I hear a thumping on my door. The mess boy had brought me my morning tea. It was 7 am and we were supposed to get ready in an hour. The boats were ready. I went over to my parents' room and learnt that they had already had a morning walk around the area. Apparently, it wasn't crowded and the place was beautiful. So we got ready and reached the river bank by 8:30. A motorboat was waiting for us with breakfast packets inside. Within minutes, we were off. The boat cut across the barrage of submerged trees and you could well make out what carnage Aila had done to these areas. The banks of the rivers, which supposedly had a lot of buildings, were devastated by the cyclone last year. As we moved to the island of Jharkhali, I kept looking at the water in anticipation of some tigers. But our guide told us that due to the rains most of the tigers had retreated to the inner forests of Sunderbans. Some kind of relief. As we reached Jharkhali, we headed to the jungle area. Now there were various boards which told us that there was a jungle reserve and a park ahead. So we headed the way of the reserve. The next one hour went about exploring the area. The way a forest was encircled by islands was truly amazing. There were some parks and some villages. But a lot of it was devastated by Cyclone Aila last year. Pity, 'cos what could have been a wonderful tourist destination, was affected so badly by nature's fury.
After about 2 hours of roaming around, we took our boat back to Kaikhali. Our guide told us that in winter we could go to the inner islands as well. Right now, those areas were inaccessible due to monsoons. Also we should never stay in boats in the nights. Tigers are known to have swam and killed locals during the night. No worries for us 'cos we got back to shore just in time for lunch. Meanwhile, I had a short walk round the area. The RK Mission had done an a tremendous job in turning around the area. Locals were employed in bakery, fishing, cattle rearing and other businesses all under the RK Mission banner. Upon return to Nimpith, we saw a biotechnology college, a school and a hospital all run by locals under them. The sheer amount of employment generated was remarkable and truly worth applause.
With some lovely memories, we headed back to Kolkata. Our two day trip was over. Jamshedpur was the next destination and I just couldn't wait to go to meet my mates at XLRI.

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Abhishek Saha
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
A NRB (Non Resident Bengali) or rather a 'Probashi Bangali'; born in Kolkata, brought up in Jamshedpur and now trying to make his mark at IIM Lucknow.
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