Sunday, 12 February 2012

Friday 10th - The Mysterious Sunderbans

Up at the crack of dawn to finish packing. Our friendly concierge had advised that we should allow 30-40 minutes to get to the RV for the Sunderbans coach. We wolfed a quick breakfast and were on the road by 7.30 for a trip that took almost 15 minutes. Various other people were getting out of taxis so we assumed we were in the right place. Within a couple of minutes a Sunderbans Tiger Camp coach arrived. R bagged the extra legroom seats behind the driver while D checked in the luggage. There are three other Europeans in the group and about 25 Indians in various family groups and a couple of solo travellers.
After a certain amount of faffing about and the call up of a back-up vehicle for extra bodies we were on our way. Our driver clearly has his sights set on a place in the Force India Grand Prix team. The ride was like taking part in the French Connection car chase but lasted nearly 4 hours. A still photo does not really do it justice but wait till you see the edited highlights video.

We eventually arrived at a riverside shanty town where we boarded the SS Jungle King for an hour long cruise to the Tiger Camp. The journey was enlivened by a commentary tape and the serving of green coconuts all round. As we set sail we were told that we were leaving the last outpost of human habitation but we were not the only boat full of intrepid adventure seekers by any means.

Our guide told us about the various animals and birds that we might be able to see during our visit. As well as tigers and crocodiles we were told that there were seven different types of Kingfisher to be seen. D got a photo of three kinds on the boat.

On arrival we were shown to our "Executive Cottage" which fully met R's exacting standards. We barely had time to unpack before the lunch bell rang. Meals are served in a wall free dining room surrounded by a veg garden and all sorts of exotic looking birds. R was in her element.

Lunch had all the favourites such as rice, daal and roti as well as fish curry, quite tasty but full of bones. we were under strict orders to get on with lunch so that the next stage could happen promptly. This involved a 15 minute boat ride across the river to the main Forest Department centre.

Here we visited The Mangrove Interpretation Centre and failed to see crocodiles. Apparently the noise frightens them. We did see an Adjutant Stork and a Brown Kingfisher as well as a very well fed looking mongoose which posed for photos.

As the sun began to fade we were chivvied back onto the boat for the trip back to camp. No rest for the wicked as the bell rang for tea and snack at 5.45. The black tea wasn't sweetened (hooray) and was very welcome as were the veg bhajis.

We were then forced to sit through an interminable documentary that played up the danger of the Sunderbans man-eating Royal Bengal tigers. Pretty dull stuff but it whiled away an hour or so until the bar opened. Many of our co-tourists were finding the Bengal winter rather chilly and huddled round a bonfire wrapped in blankets and woolly hats. D rolled his sleeves down but that was to ward off insects.
Dinner was a convivial affair with another excellent buffet. We have been promised bed tea at 6 a.m tomorrow so an early night is in order.

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