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IT ALL STARTED WITH A VEG THALI

IT ALL STARTED WITH A VEG – THALI

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Sarfaraz took a gulp of water after finishing off the veg thali and he began with his Bengali accent “cholo na bhai kahin chalte hai....” Souvik was sitting diagonally opposite me licking his fingers which were full with pineapple chutney, suddenly got excited and said as usual “Haa be mazaa ayega....  chal na be kahin chalte hai”. Sarfaraz turned towards me , ”Pradipto  bhai kichu bolo kichu idea dao cholo na kothao jai.” Slowly and half heartedly my response was “hmm dekhi but yeh to batao jaaoge kahan.....”  (Too busy eating and thinking for the moment that it was a waste of time,energy and money)

Sarfaraz was quick to answer “Sunderban chalte hai, adventure hoga bohut mazaa ayega sher wer dekhenge” instantaneously Souvik also jumped up “Haa be chalte hai, waise bhi bohot din se kahin nahi gaye hai” and me too busy eating replied “thik hai fir chalo kabhi”, reply was “Kabhi nahi aaj hi chalo”. I was silent and looked towards Sarfaraz, his eyes glaring with excitement and swiftly replied that it was not possible to go there as it was already 2pm and no hotels were booked, even the know-how of the journey was unknown and I was the one who was good with routes and map, so they agreed...

Souvik paid off my and Sarfarz’s bill at Sanvi’s kitchen. We always went there for lunch not agreeing the opinion of some of my roommates who were very dissatisfied with the quantity of meal provided there, but I and Souvik liked to stick to it because I guess we are too lazy to go to somewhere else and get regular there, also we had no objections regarding the food served there.

The next thing was to negotiate with Ansar, another of my roommate who was like “Oh please let me lie down in the bed after lunch and please don’t request me to leave this bed till I die” but surprisingly he was ready to go after Sarfaraz told him that he was planning the tour the next day morning so the next thing that happened was I ran out of choices  and they won my opinion too and finally excitement got me...

 

The next thing I remember was searching Sunderbans at Google maps and wandering all around the area over the maps. Souvik and Ansar were quick enough to book up Prakrity Village Resort online for 1 day using goibibo.com with a nominal fee of Rs 400/- only. So my search became more specific and I finally figured out that we needed to board a train from Sealdah towards Canning that would serve half of the journey and the next half would be by bus or auto or any type of transport available there, may be a boat. It became very clear that my assumptions were right after Ansar made a few phone calls to his friends and we concluded to board a bus from Canning. I called up my dad and he was very afraid to learn about these developments and asked me “is it necessary” and gave me consent (seeing it would spoil my excitement) but with a warning not to show much adrenaline there. The bags got packed so fast as if we were refugees trying to relocate somewhere for the army was chasing us as generally we see every now and then in a bollywood movie. Sarfaraz left for his hostel after having roti and chicken with us at Saanvi’s saying he would wait for us at 6:30 at Chingrighata more...

That night, I had a tough time trying to sleep for the scenery, the beauty of the place and the fact there were tigers roaming wildly and I am going to watch them the other day and all the other information and pictures I browsed through the internet left me all excited, but I don’t know when I fell asleep amidst the thoughts that made me float from inside...

It was 4:55 in the morning and the train of Canning we expected to catch from Sealdah was at 6:45 am... Souvik was still talking to Alisha(do I need to explain who she is?) on the phone when I asked him, rather ordered him to hang up... He followed quite obediently, Sarfaraz and Ansar were still asleep but within 5 minutes our whole team was alive and full of activity and racing for the toilet and then there was Souvik, just taking half an hour anytime he entered the toilet. Ansar applied the promo code on UBER and cheered up everybody as it was a Rs250/- free ride which could easily take us to Sealdah free of cost but Ansar got sad thinking he would have travelled for free much far with the code but anyway that sadness didn’t last too long...  We boarded the UBER from Technopolis while Ansar requested driver bhaiya “Thora Chingrighata me rokiyega ek ladka aur uthega...” We three silently sat while watching big IT towers of Sector 5 pass by. It took hardly five minutes to reach Chingrighata, Ansar called up Sarfaraz and within minutes there he was smiling and approaching towards the car. He got up and started cheering “PARTY BHAILOG...”

It was already 6:20 and we were rushing through Beleghata and we finally reached up Sealdah at 6:30 just fifteen minutes before the train was to depart and I got rushing to the ticket counter of SEALDAH – SOUTH and as I put my hand to bring the money out of my pocket a thought striked me like a thunderstorm “Alas, my mobile is missing...” I had left it in the UBER. The first thing that came to my mind was “shit, why can’t I do a single job properly???” Immediately Ansar and Sarfaraz rushed out looking for the car, fortunately the driver’s number was with him and the driver was not far away, so they ran... 

(Later we came to know all such lost items were deposited in  the UBER Kolkata office and handed over if people came looking for them)

When both of them arrived, I and Souvik were still in the counter waiting for tickets but the train was departing, I got my turn after 5 minutes the train had departed and lazily said “4 tickets to Canning please” I left the counter after paying Rs40. Ansar, Souvik and Sarfaraz were smiling and said “First adventure of the day...” I also began smiling, the next train was at 7:42 so we had to wait an hour before the next train came. We were strolling the station seeing how busy and hardworking the Coolies and farmers were with their morning work, they were unloading and loading vegetables, fruits, goodies in the vendor compartments as local trains continued to enter and exit the station. Some beggars were sitting at the side of the corridor and there were numerous people getting off the MEMU’s which kept arriving and going to work with their office bags hanging on their right side as a flurry of announcements were going on. Amidst these we entered the IRCTC shop for some coffee and refreshments as it was still cold and winter had still not taken leave for the rest of the year.

After having a cup of coffee, everybody cheered up a little, the sleepy feeling that was with us till then went off and we began waiting for the train with numerous other people sitting beside us, some talking, some were reading newspapers and we were enjoying our presence at the station as this experience was very new to us and alien, we also occasionally kept staring at one or two girls passing by...  Finally we were boys and venturing out for fun!!! The train finally arrived at 7:35 and soon there was lots of activity and chaos as passengers were trying to get out of the train in a hurry and new people were eagerly waiting and pushing their way into the compartments to get seats... With all these events happening, we still managed to get up the compartment and achieve two window seats amongst the crowd (an achievement indeed!!!) and finally began waiting for the train to leave watching how passengers, farmers and working people were loading goods in the compartment. The train started moving after a few minutes and I loudly said "The adventure is on" and we began enjoying the journey as we were watching the stations of Kolkata pass by.... Finally we were off Kolkata as we passed by Garia station and adjoining metro railway station Kavi Subhas. There was greenery all around and it was growing while Souvik fell asleep being awake all night, Sarfaraz was quick to take out his latest iphone 6 and take funny pictures of Souvik. A man was sitting right beside me seeing us all this time and suddenly asked me "Sunderban jacho?" (Visiting Sunderbans?) I took a deep breath, while watching the man closely and replied... He then said "Bagh dekhte pawa khub muskil ami 7 nombor bare bagh dekhechilum" The man was wearing a dusted and rugged T-Shirt and a filthy pant which hadn’t been ironed anytime soon and spoke local tongue.. I noticed people were staring at us as we talked and some of them took interests telling us about stories of spotting tigers. One of the passengers even told us a story about how a tiger accidentally got to their village and how the wildlife people captured the tiger in a cage and were able to rescue the tiger.

Canning arrived, we got off the train and began to wonder which way to go, while Ansar suggested we moved with  the croud, it turns out he was right and later we asked an old man who very cooperatively and slowly told us to take the bus to Sajnekhali outside the station but the main confusion was to begin yet. Outside the station buses full with people were leaving and seeing how tightly they were all packed up we were literally heartbroken... Some buses were leaving for Sajnekhali, some for Goadkhali and then happened the confusion which way should we go? We boarded the bus towards Sajnekhali and I asked Souvik to open up Google maps but his mobile had only fiftten percent charge left and while Sarfaraz used iOS, I and Ansar used a phone of the medieveal times so his was the only phone we could rely on at that moment. When the map opened I realized we were going the wrong way and our resort was towards Goadkhali but I still managed to find out that the routes divided from Basanti so I informed them about the same and we agreed to leave the bus at Basanti... The bus was suffocating as hell as it was all packed up and we were occasionally swaying back and forth and sometimes jumping off as the bus negotiated the roads. While everything was very imperfect for the time being, I kept myself busy staring at the beautiful girl sitting in front of me... She had big eyes and soft pink cheeks, she was wearing a yellow dupatta and having fun with her friends and an hour passed out like a minute. We got down at Basanti after standing for an hour in the bus.

The river at Basanti provided much refreshment to the eyes and the wind blowing got us romantic as we all began to sing after boarding a van towards Goadkhali. The road was nice and we could see small huts and house built alongside the road. There was a freshness in the air and it was windy, the sun was playing hide and seek as there were clouds on the sky and it was very unlike Kolkata, no rush, everything was so quite. Only the motor of the van was to be heard and the wind blowing and the trees dancing in the air, long farms with lots of rice cultivated in them. It was all green as if someone had forgot to put other colours in the nature other than the vivid blue sky and the greenery all around. Finally the road ended and the driver of the van instructed us to take the Jetty and go to Gosaba from where we can go to Dayapur where our Resort was located. The river was wide and we could see a small town on the opposite side of the river. Long boats were sailing in the river and we could hear the engines roaring. We got up on the boat that arrived and to our surprise that boat was being boarded by many people. Nearly 50 people got on the boat. It was scary as the boat began to swing to and fro in the river. I closed my eyes in fear while I felt Souvik clinching my arms. The captain of the boat finally started the boat and slowly it began moving. At first it was scary but as a few moments passed I found out all of us were enjoying the boat ride, then afterwards I started stretching a bit and was touching the water. We landed at Gosaba after fifteen minutes and we paid only Rs1 per head for the ride... (Incredible India!!!)

 

 

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(US ENJOYING THE BOAT RIDE)

 

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(THE RIVER AT GOADKHALI AND THE BOATS)

 

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(US - SOUVIK IS ON THE LEFT FOLLOWED BY SARFARAZ, FOLLOWED BY ANSAR  AND TO I M ON THE RIGHT SIDE)  

From Gosaba we took another van towrads Dayapur and we took another boat ride to finally reach the place our resort was located at. Souvik's battery was dead so we asked some locals about the resort, they showed us the way saying it was a 10 min walk. The thing that was strange to us that we were trying to call the resort since morning but their phone couldn't be reached. Moreover there was no communication from the resort's part which made us question... We walked through the river side and farms and along small ponds to finally reach the resort after one hour. We were completely exhausted , the weather was humid and we were sweating and we all needed a bath also all the food that we bought while travelling in the train was also used up so we were hungry as hell.

 

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( PHOTO SHOOT AT THE RESORT)

The resort was small, looking from outside it looked pretty oridinary as even Rs400 was more for the place. Ansar was angry as we all had to walk for an hour to reach the place and when we entered the hotel, the staff looked like as if we made them surprised arriving there. We got angry as well as frustrated to know that the Owner of the hotel hadn't informed the staff about us and so there was no food cooked for us, but the staff were very cooperative and they made us comfortable, alloted us the room and assured us that the lunch would be ready within half an hour. We all bathed and refreshed ourselves and were very joyous to find out that a packet of cream biscuits have been discovered in Ansar's bag. The biscuit tasted like the best meal in the world and within a few minutes lunch was ready. I remember how I was eating the lunch as if I hadn't eaten for days and it tasted so good. The menu was rice, daal and cabbage sabzi. After we finished the lunch and we went to take some rest we were amazed that it was 4pm. That evening, one of the staffs of the resort took us to the local tour to the village. We learned that there was no electricity in the area and the resort produces electricity from solar cells only and after 10pm all the lights will be shut down so everybody should charge up their cell phones by then. We continued to listen about the lifestyle of people there and how every year people die going out in the jungle fishing and catching crabs. We were walking along the riverside but what was amazing as well as scary was that the other side of the river had nets all over so that tigers do not cross up the river during low tides and come to the villages. Uncle also told us about how crocodiles and tigers attack...  people go in groups of eight to ten and wear masks on their backside so that the tigers get confused that which side of the person they attack. He also told us that crocodiles love to attack people and eat them after keeping their bodies in their nest and decomposing the bodies. Then he showed us the BANBIBI temple of the village where people pray for their well being before going out in the jungle. The riverside was so full of mangrove trees and it was well clear that these mangrove trees hold the soil of the river tightly. Two stray dogs were roaming with us all this while as if they have known us for many days occasionally disappearing in the bushes but coming back after a while. It was very disheartening to know that the economy of this place was raped after Aila (the cyclone that hit Sunderbans on May 2009 in which most families were homeless, the fertile soil was blown away and the farm animals died, people were jobless and the economy of the place in turmoil). He also showed us the widow of the man who was recently killed by a tiger, there was a certain silence among us as we were walking across the people who were living in the boundaries of poverty while we were carrying selfie sticks and touring the place. The education also did not reach out because we couldn’t notice any schools nearby; college was a distant dream for these inhabitants.

 

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(ANSAR POSING IN FRONT OF THE RIVER, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BANK IS BARRICADED BY BIG NETS AND THE RIVER IS FULL OF CROCODILES)

 

 

 

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(SARFARAZ POSING WITH THE WILD BUSHES AND SHRUBS DURING OUR EVENING WALK THROUGH THE SURROUNDING VILLAGE OF OUR RESORT)

When we came back we met our resort manager’s friend who rides a boat and offered us to take to the watch towers with his boat and that would be a full day trip but the trip cost was Rs 4000 and nobody bought that money nor was an ATM available with themselves so I called up my girlfriend to check if she can provide and yes everything turned out successfully and she transferred the money to the boatman’s account. We were to go out the following day at morning 5am. The resort had a fountain and some chemicals were added in it so it had a lot’s of foam in it and we played with it, the hotel staff also joined us in the game. That night we watched the One day International match of India Vs Bangladesh where India defeated Bangladesh. That night we had Chicken and Roti for dinner and it was so good in taste though very little spice was used in it...  After the dinner the lights were switched off and then we realized it was only 9pm in the night but seemed like midnight and there was no other sound other than crickets chirping and dogs howling far away, the only visible light was from a resort far away it was like time has gone hundred years back here. That night we all thought we may listen up a distant growl of a hungry tiger waiting to hunt, maybe it’s a human being he may hunt up and thinking and talking about tigers and ghosts I find it hard to remember when we fell asleep.

 

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(SOUVIK AND ANSAR ENJOYING THE FOUNTAIN FOAM, HAVING A GREAT TIME ON THE BACKSIDE IS THE UNCLE WHO TOOK US TO THE VILLAGE TOUR THAT EVENING)

I woke up at 4am in the morning and removed the curtains on the window to find out a dense fog outside while a few earthly voices were shouting at a distance and heard of a boat pass by the river. Engineering students are lazy, till the time we got ready it was already 6am and the boatman was waiting for us. We started going towards the river and found out that it was low tide because the previous day the water in the river was up to the bank of the river and boats were floating but now the boats were standing in mud waiting for the water to again rise so they can float again. We got up on the boat and our wild Sunderban journey started as the engine began to push the water behind and take the boat forward. The boat was a double Decker boat more like a steamer and we were on the top floor enjoying the river and watching the wildness on one side whereas civilization on the other side of the river. First we went to Dayapur for marketing where we bought chicken, rice, mustard oil and muri (puff rice) and chanachur (bhujiya). The boat then was taken to the office where permission was taken for the boat and it cost us around 750 bucks for obtaining it. We saw crocodiles there while Sarfaraz shot beautiful video of a crocodile in water and a deer using his mobile. Hats off to apple for the camera they provide. Then we roamed about the place, it was more of an information place with lots of details about flora and fauna present at Sunderbans.

 

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(CROCODILE THAT WE SPOTTED AT THE PERMISSION OFFICE)

 

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(WE WERE SERIOUSLY ENJOYING HIS COMPANY)

The boat would take us to two watch towers inside the jungle so there was a fair choice of spotting a tiger or a deer from there... When we started off we saw some boats ahead and behind us going out for the jungle... In the way we encountered Bangladeshi ships coming to India and there were depth markings all over the river for the ships. The boat sailed for an hour through the jungle crisscrossing many rivers on the way, it was so complicated I lost the track of which way our boat came from and which direction it was heading but the boatman was firm in his position and steered the boat occasionally from the floating twigs and broken branches of the Mangrove and Sundari trees otherwise they would stick to the rotating blade of the boat and slow it down... The boat moved slowly in the wilderness while we were busy taking photos out in the wild and enjoying each and every moment out there, after all its once in a lifetime opportunity and who knows maybe we come back or not, but there was no sign of a tiger but the uncle who was accompanying us the other day warned us that the boat would not be taken towards the shore because tigers hide behind bushes and may jump off from a bank to the boat. The Royal Bengal tigers are considered as one of the most dangerous animals in the world, as we reached the first watch tower we were amazed to see a giant komodo dragon and while we were waiting we got company of some foreigners of our age and they cracked jokes and constantly said Babaji ka thullu (popular word in hindi used by Kapil, a host on a renowned TV Show) and BHALO NUNU (good dick) making us and themselves laugh. Ansar’s interest in the blonde Australian girl was notable for he was staring at her from the moment he saw her, we started leg – pulling him for the rest of the day. Our wait ended in the watch tower as nothing came forward so again we got up on the boat and were headed to the second watch tower. The boatman told us that the second watch tower was far away and it will take at least two to three hours to reach there so we again started enjoying the trip while Ansar amazingly looked up at the boat carrying the foreigners  probably thinking of the Australian beauty he had encountered a while ago. (notable to say Ansar has a good skill of talking to girls and making friends with them)

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(US AT THE BOAT)

 

 

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(BANGLADESHI SHIPS CARRYING CARGO TO INDIA)

 

 

 

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(THE VIEW FROM WATCH TOWER NUMBER 1 - THE LAKE HERE IS THE FRESHWATER LAKE WHERE DEER AND TIGER COME TO DRINK WATER)

CLEARANCES HAVE BEEN MADE SO THAT TOURISTS MAY HAVE A GOOD VIEW OF THE WILDLIFE

 

 

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(SELFIE AT WATCH TOWER NUMBER 1 WITH OUR WHOLE CREW)

 

 

 

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(OFF TO WATCH TOWER NUMBER 2)

 

 

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(THE RIDE TO REMEMBER)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(I WAS ENJOYING EACH AND EVERY MOMENT OF MY EXISTENCE THERE AS THE SUNDARI TREES SEEMED TO WELCOME ME TO THEIR HABITAT)

 

 

 

 

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(AT WATCH TOWER NUMBER 2 ALSO CALLED DOBANKI)

 

 

 

 

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(WALKING THROUGH ELEVATED CORRIDOR OF WATCH TOWER 2 -  DOBANKI)

 

 

After a few hours there came a time when the river got narrow and the forest on two sides were visible up to a distance and then Ansar shouted out “TIGER” in bewilderment. The boatman instantly tried to stop the boat but oops it went and hit a tree solidly in the bank alongside the river but the creature was not a tiger rather two deer’s were sitting silently, watching the boat hit the banks they got up and were staring at us and after sometime they hid in the bushes of the jungle. The boat again started but soon we had another encounter with a baby deer sitting right in the bank of the river. Sarfaraz took the pictures and again we were off, but this time with a little good mood that at - least not a tiger but we have spotted some deer. Even many tourists do not see this much also, we kept telling ourselves. The lunch was awesome, the chicken was cooked perfectly and we were having lunch in the boat eating rice and chicken something people only think of but never do. Finally we reached the second watch tower and the time was nearly 2:30pm by then and our expectations grew thin of seeing a tiger because too many tourists were in that place and a tiger would never come to a place so full of crowd so nevertheless we took a lots of selfies there. There was an uplifted corridor through the jungle through which we walked seeing numerous crabs all along as we walked. There was a freshwater lake but no sign of tiger or deer there as usual. So we left the tower and boarded the boat and again met the Australians on our way back, and again Ansar got carried away by the beautiful Australian girl. The boatman now said us that we had come through the jungle in the morning so it took much time to go there but now he will take the big river and go back to Dayapur straight where he will drop us. It took him only two hours to reach Dayapur

 

Everybody had this dull look on their faces when getting off the boat, the Sunderban journey had come to an end and it was time for us to return.But it could actually be a blessing in disguise that we couldn't spot a tiger in this sunderban visit coz for sure it would tempt all 4 of us to return to this beautiful place once again. We wished the boatman for the wonderful ride and again set off for Gosaba from where we took a jetty to Goadkhali, to Canning by bus and then eventually to Sealdah. It was 10 pm in the night so we boarded the S12 bus from Howrah to New Town and got off at Technopolis, everything was as it is and nothing had changed except us who had nothing but experiences and memories to keep with us for the lifetime. Sarfaraz had already dropped at Chingrighata from the bus and after finishing our dinner when we came to our room, turned off the lights and everybody was falling asleep I lay down in my bed thinking how fast the two days passed and there we were lying in our room and silently muttered....

 “THUG LIFE”