Monday, 13 February 2012

Sunday 12th - Back to civilisation.

A better night's sleep and we wake just as the bed tea is delivered. We have been exhorted to be on the launch at 0700 IST so we are. Indian time is running at IST + 23 minutes today. Getting on board involves crossing a rather feeble looking plank while two of the crew hold a bamboo pole as a handrail. We cast off and set sail into hazy sunshine and spot various kingfishers, cormorants and egrets before it is breakfast time.

They have listened to R's complaints about baked beans for breakfast (she is such a princess) and have changed the menu. Today we have potato curry and some rather doughy pancake things. The green bananas are nice though. This morning's cruise is less productive in terms of sightings - no reptiles, just a few monkeys and some birds. Because the area is so saline the only trees that grow are mangroves - 84 varieties. These have adapted to salt water and some even produce huge globe like fruit. Apparently these are so disgusting that no known creature will eat them. All of the birds either eat fish or scavenge in the mud for crabs etc.

Our objective today is a watchtower where we are promised excellent views over the mangrove forest. There are at least half a dozen boats jostling for position at the tiny jetty and disembarking is pretty chaotic. We walk up to the watchtower which is in the process of being demolished. If one wishes there is no impediment to one standing below the remains of the tower admist the falling rubble but we opt out and head back to the boat.

The boat next to us has a row of children on the seats facing. We take their photos and show them the results on the screen. They think that this is great sport and start taking photos of us. On the way back to camp we see Brahminy Kites for the first time on this trip.

Back at camp we have an hour to pack, settle our bill and watch the birds at the feeding
station next to the dining hall. Lunch is served at 11 a.m. and is all the usual favourites although the tureen marked Fish Curry turns out to contain chicken.

Then we are back on the boat for the hour trip to Hicksphur, West Bengal where we rejoin the coach. The driver has either had an industrial warning or has found his valium as this trip is much more sedate. These things are all relative. At one point our guide insisted that we stop at some kind of roadside shrine where he stood in the open bus door and threw a handful of Bombay Mix towards the deity.

When we got back to Kolkata all of our new Indian friends wished us well then grabbed all the cabs. We only had to wait a couple of minutes at the roadside for one to stop. A very helpful driver loaded our ton of luggage and then took us by an interesting but pretty direct route to the Fairlawn Hotel, a much celebrated Kolkata institution. The public rooms look like they have been transplanted from an English country house and deposited in a pukka Raj Colonial mansion.

Pictures of various celebrities who have visited in the past adorn the walls. The room would seem luxurious to anybody who has served a term in prison or in HM forces but it does have a hot shower if you remember to switch on the immersion heater 10 minutes earlier. We sort ourselves out and descend to the dining room. The menu is fairly restricted but seems well priced. We order a few dishes and a couple of K's. When the food arrives the portions are huge. We fail to clear our plates despite a valiant effort. Time for bed - we are pretty exhausted.

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