The Sundarbans are home to an estimated 400 Bengal tigers, and most tourists who come to the area are in search of these tigers (and other exotic animals). Unfortunately, we didn’t see any tigers, but we did have a lot of fun along the way! Check out some picture from my first 3 days (of 5) in the Sundarbans.
On September 23, I got to sleep in (woo-hoo)! I packed my bags and headed down to Gulshan (the diplomatic/down-town area). There was absolutely no traffic (everyone leaves the city during Eid), so I got there super early. I decided to check out a cafe for a few hours… iced tea, pistachio/caramel ice cream, the Lonely Planet Bangladesh book, and a plug to charge my electronics = heaven! At around 3:40, I made my way to the meeting point, where I saw a whole bunch of white people (so I knew I was in the right place!). We made our way to the bus (which was air conditioned, with space for about 30 – if you fold down the aisle seats). Thankfully there was only 12 or so of us on the bus, so we had lots of room to spread out and were able to put all of our luggage in the back. There were going to be 25 people on the tour, so the other 13 people waited for the second bus.
We stopped once to use a bathroom (squat toilets make me wish I was a man…) which made me want to stop drinking water even though I was pretty thirsty. We drove for about 3 hours until we got to the ferry. It took some time to load, and then we waited another hour before the boat actually started moving. It was pretty crammed (standing room only) but it was nice to get some fresh air. Unfortunately, two of the girls were sick… but they made it through! I thought it was just a ferry across the river, but it was actually 2 hours. Eventually we got the other side, where people in a hurry actually jumped off the boat before it had even docked. We continued driving in the dark.
Unfortunately, we had some problems with our bus… so we had to wait until the other bus caught up with us. We all loaded into the second bus with our bags (it was a bit tight), and continued the journey. The other bus had to go be repaired in a nearby town. It wasn’t until almost 2 am that we reached our destination. We unpacked all the bags, took out some flashlights, and shuffled our way along a wooden path that apparently led to a boat! We all boarded the small boat in the dark and the other boat was filled with luggage. The motor let off lots of sparks, but we made it to our real (big) boat in about 10 minutes. It was super dark, and I’m glad the motor didn’t give out or nobody would have found us until morning! 😛 Once on the boat we had breakfast at about 3am and went over the plan for the day. Then we found our cabins and passed out right away… a very long day!
A few hours later I woke up to see many deer on the bank just outside of my window. It was cool to just watch them hang out under the trees. After lunch we had the option of either going on a hike or a boat ride, so most of chose the hike since the weather was nice. We were told not to wear flip-flops, and they recommended these army boots. I found the smallest pair of boots they had (which were about 3 sizes too big!), and put on three pairs of socks underneath just so I would be able to walk. They mentioned there would be mud… but I had no idea what was in store for me!
We got in our small boat and headed over to the main land. We walked up some stairs and across a wooden pathway. Due to the humidity, the path was covered in some sort of moss that was extremely slippery! I thought this walk was going to be a bit tricky, but I had no idea what was coming up! Eventually we exited the walkway, into about a foot of mud. This was no ordinary mud… this mud is super intense, and will steal your shoes if you let it! One girl lost the soles of both her shoes, as the mud literally tore the outer soles off of her shoes. Some people decided to go barefoot, but I was afraid of all the sticks. They definitely had an easier time walking barefoot though, because they wouldn’t get stuck as much (or as dirty from the splashing).
We saw a bunch of cool creatures on the walk. Some wild boars, a tons of tiny little crabs, mud skippers, and families of deer. It was also really cool to see the different types of plants growing there. Most of the trees in this area are part of the mangrove family. This means that instead of having huge roots that go very deep under ground, they actually have tons of small roots that stick up above the land. Some are round and wide, others are tiny sharp sticks. It made for a very interesting landscape…. mud as far as the eye can see, but with millions of short sticks poking up all over the place.
Mud photo by Marielle Pettersson. Group photo by Arham Chowdhury.
The going was tough, and some people struggled where the mud was particularly deep. Guess who was the only person who actually fell completely in the mud? (No I am not wearing long pants in that pictures, that is my capris and my legs, and my arms… covered with mud!). Thankfully my camera still works (though it’s a bit dirtier than it once was), and the guys on the boat helped me to get all the mud out of my clothes after our little adventure. It was quite strenuous walking through the mud, but some parts were a bit higher and drier so that was a good break. The trick is to walk as fast as possible and keep moving so the mud doesn’t suction around your foot. Originally I thought we had to go back the way we came, and I was not looking forward to it. But after about 2 hours of walking we were back at the dock where our boat had dropped us off – I was ready for a shower!
That evening we had dinner and some people broke out their stash of alcohol (most people in Bangladesh are Muslim and don’t drink… but since most of the boat was foreigners it wasn’t a problem). We had quite the selection of vodka, scotch, and even boxed wine! We all went up on top of the boat and lay around chatting about our travels, drinking cheap wine, and enjoying the breeze off the water. It was the prefect way to end a day.
On the third day we had to get up super early for a sunrise boat tour. I’m not sure why it had to be so early since we didn’t see many animals… but at least it was a bit cooler at that hour. We all piled onto the small motorized boat and made our way through various small rivers and streams. At some points it was quite narrow, and we had to duck and dodge the various branches that were sticking into the boat. It was very relaxing to just drift down the river, especially since many of us were still half-asleep.
After we returned, we had breakfast. At around 9:30, we had the choice between a hike (with a boat ride back), or take the boat to the beach (with a hike back), We all decided to hike on the way there while the sun was less high in the sky, and to chill on the way back. This hike was far less grueling than the previous day. We went over many different types of terrain, including grassy meadows, bridge over creeks, through the woods, and finally onto the beach (where the sand was actually quite hard). We walked for about 2 hours in total, and finally found a nice spot on the beach in the shade where we could have a snack and jump in the water. The water is quite murky… not due to pollution but because of the mud that’s mixed around in the waves. It was a great way to cool off, and we had fun splashing around and enjoying the water. After some time we decided to head back. It was a bit tricky to jump in the small boat from the water (especially because one lady had a cast on one arm), but we all made it back in the boat.
We thought the boat ride back would be short, but they took us all around various streams looking for animals. We saw some deer, large lizards, monkeys, and various birds. It was a bit longer than expected, and we were all super hot, tired and hungry. It rained a few times, but we had umbrellas. When we arrived back at the boat they presented us with coconuts for drinking, which was a nice surprise. We were all sun burnt and tired from the sun, so after lunch we spent the rest of the day recuperating. Some people stayed up late on the top of the boat again, but I went to bed early and got a fantastic sleep.
If you want to hear more about my trip to the Sundarbans, take a look at the other 2 blogs in this series:
Check out Part 3: Cruising down the Meghna River