Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sundabarans

Waiting for the train.
Mid October we had a break for Eid Ul-Azha and Durga Puja. An Eid is just a festival, this one in particular is when Muslims honor Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac by sacrificing a cow. For the second year in a row I wanted to miss out on the streets running red with blood (because where do you slaughter cows, but in the street, right?) and took a chance with some awesome strangers to go on a tour of the Sundabaran mangrove forest in southern Bangladesh.

We started out by riding a train from Dhaka to Khulna. Since it was Eid and everyone was headed home, we were lucky to get 7 tickets together in Shovan class. There are several classes on Bangladesh trains, as follows:

First Class-Closed, air-conditioned car with reclining seats (seats are somewhat comparable to airplane seats)
Second Class-similar to first, except that there are fans instead of air conditioning
Shovan-fans and bench seating with cushions (assigned seats)
Third Class -fans and hardwood bench seating (unassigned seats)
Roof-illegal roof sitting (I so wanted to join them, but, being white, blonde, overweight, and female is not really conducive to participating with such activities.

I do love riding a train.

Our seat neighbor. She spoke a little bit of English, but never
once asked where I was from.

We finally arrived in Khulna 11 hours later. Exhausted, dirty, hungry. A full stomach, a nice nap, and a short boat ride later, we collapsed into bed on our rescue boat.

The next morning we cruised down the river towards the bay of Bengal. It was a lovely day of relaxation, morning naps, afternoon naps, learning how to play Euchre, and delicious Bengali food (which, up until now, I thought was an oxymoron).

We stopped in Mongla, which is the second largest port of Bangladesh, after Chittagong. There is a small museum which features poorly cared for examples of Sundabaran wildlife.

That evening we went to a local village and were treated to four hours of Durga Puja celebrations. It was somewhat awkward being shepherded around like royalty, but the locals were friendly.
Photo taken by fellow traveller, Ian.
The next morning we cruised along for most of the morning. We stopped at the main forest station to pick up our armed guard. To help protect the forest, they charge outrageous rates to foreigners and they require them to have a security guard at all times.
Photo taken by fellow traveler, Ian
The gun wasn't loaded. He had a belt with bullets in it. They carefully counted out 10, because that would definitely stop an attacking tiger.

We even bought a crab from a local kid
We wandered through the town and were followed by a mass of small children, as usual.

After cruising through the afternoon, we landed at a forest station. We wandered through buildings that were ruined by a cyclone in 2007. Because the Sundabarans are essentially below sea level (they will be entirely eaten by the sea with the next 50 years), they are extremely susceptible to any large storms that sweep through the Bay of Bengal.

While at the forest station we swam in a rainwater pond. It was lovely and refreshing. We only got out because we were menaced by a Monitor lizard.
Photo taken by fellow traveler, Dana
That's our tour guide in the center.

That night, after dinner, we were cruising towards our nighttime resting place, playing a rousing game of Scum (which most people know as A-hole, but I grew up in Utah, so, you know) when we beached our boat.

Because the tide goes in and out so quickly and the difference in low and high is so vast, we were quickly left with an unusable boat. They tied some lines down to stabilize us and shored up the tilting boat with some poles. After a terrible night of not sleeping (I'm weird like that), the tide came in and we were able to get a boat to help us get un-stuck.
Photo taken by Ian

Photo taken by Ian
Unfortunately, during the melee, I lost my Chacos overboard. A sad farewell to a great pair of shoes. I bought them in the summer of 2009 and they've been with me ever since, even traveling all through southeast Asia. I also lost  a ring, we're guessing it rolled out of my purse, which was on my bed at the time of the beaching. This was a bigger loss, since it was more

While they prepared breakfast, we went on a trip up the canal.

I took a good 20 minute nap during the canal trip. It was peaceful, warm, and quiet. Afterwards, we walked through the forest station, which is where we were supposed to be docked the evening before (it was literally 5 minutes from where we were stuck). 
A pig!

Bees nest. They are rather large bees as well.
We then cruised to Tiger's Point, where we hiked about 20 minutes to swim in the Bay of Bengal. It was absolutely deserted. We ran around in the very low surf and threw mud at each other (like you do).
The mud was black and glistened like glitter, but it left our skin and hair beautiful.
Photo by Natalia
Photo by Dana
Photo by Ian
(actually, one of the local escorts took it on Ian's camera)
After hiking back to the boat, we showered off, and headed towards our final stop for the day.
There were little holes all over the beach,
with little balls of sand from the crabs.

The final morning, we visited a forest station. Swam in their drinking water pond (only because it was Eid and the guard was already in there). And cruised back to Mongla.

Did I mention I walked barefoot most of the time. Remember,
I lost my shoes. My one pair of shoes. It was awesome.

We stopped briefly in Mongla to drop off our small boat. They bought me a new pair of sandals (which were too small, so I didn't wear them all day anyway). Then, we booked it towards Khulna. Our bus home left at 9:30. A small boat transferred us (while still moving) from our boat to the dock, we sprinted to some baby taxis (tuk tuks), showing up at the bus station at exactly 9:30. The bus ride home, I slept for maybe 20 minutes. We arrived in Dhaka at 4 am, hazy from lack of sleep, needing to use the toilet, and overall, pretty dang happy.

An amazing time. A beautiful country. So glad I could visit it before it's too late.

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