A day on a boat.. with plenty of time to sit and stare

Sundarban… The name entered my brain during a book club reading of The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh… and stayed there doing in some dark corner, doing nothing, waiting to be forgotten.

Then, with all the Kolkata planning, I thought, why not use the opportunity to travel a little further – Darjeeling? Sikkim? Agartala? Thanks to the internet, the mind can travel without any constraints. As it turned out, all my potential travel partners had to leave right after the wedding, and I only managed to convince my parents to stay on a couple of days longer, then frantically tried to find some places near Kolkata to visit.

That’s when (aided by Google and some other sites) Sundarban jumped right out from that cold storage of my brain right to the forefront. It made perfect sense to fit it in our West Bengal travel – Baba likes his art and architecture, so we had Shantiniketan – and Mummy likes nature and wildlife – Sundarban made just the right balance. There is only one good place to stay if you want any chance of spotting the Royal Bengal Tiger; that is the Sunderban Tiger Camp, situated inside the protected area of the forest. But, good luck with trying to get them to respond over a simple email from overseas. I had none.

Quick facts: Sundarban is a protected area of dense mangrove forests that straddles the south-eastern tip of West Bengal, India and parts of Bangladesh, and is one of the largest reserves of the Bengal tiger. It derives its name from the Sundari trees that are present in abundance in the region.

We settled for another tour company that were much more responsive. Their resort in the village bordering the Sundarban was neat and comfortable enough.

Tour around Sunderban

There’s no electricity in the village. The power in the evening comes from generators. And the villagers choose to use that power to blare long music all evening. It may have been a way to scare off man-eating tigers, now that I think about it. Not much crowd in the middle of the week, but we had some Baul geet entertainment until late at night. This kid seemed to be quite popular, he makes appearances on TV, and some of the audience had him sing requests too.

Tour around Sunderban

The first afternoon we set out to the Watch Tower, which was actually a tiger (protected) area. No tigers in the wild, a couple in enclosures, the less said about that the better.

Tour around Sunderban Tour around Sunderban

A disappointing start, but we had some lovely sunset views to enjoy.

The next morning, we set out earlyish, along with another family from the resort, on our boat cruise.

Tour around Sunderban

Tour around Sunderban

Our timing for visiting the Sunderbans was off, most of the animals are to be spotted early morning or evening, and we were wandering about in the middle of the day. We did see a few deer, monitor lizard, crocodiles from a distance, but for the most part we lounged on the boat, chatting and eating.

I wish I’d planned the excursion better, but as a means to bond with parents (who often complain that I’m forever running off), this one was perfect!

Tour around Sunderban

And as I was writing this post, I remembered a painting by Rabindranath Tagore. Was the scene above the inspiration for that painting, I wonder?

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Up and down the River

After a very long time, probably the first time this year, we travelled to a new place in Indonesia. We picked a river cruise in Palangkaraya on the island of Kalimantan that was meant to take us through rain forests and orangutan colonies along the river.

The reality was a little different from our expectations. Not so much of a rain forest, and only a few orangutans to spot. The cruise company does collaborate with the orangutan conservation and rescue operations there, but for us it ended up being a more relaxed weekend rather than a major adventure. Got treated to some fantastic food on the boat, plenty of colour and culture along the riverbanks, and some pretty scenic views, so no one’s complaining.

That Trip… Neuvième Jour: Twinkle Twinkle Little Tower

Our Sunday was entirely dictated by what would be open – nothing! We had bought tickets for the cruise on the Canal Saint Martin, and what better day than the one when everything else is closed. We walked to the Place de La Bastille, just a little over a km from home.
The Bastille is one of the most famous icons of France, but there’s nothing left of the former prison. The only monument is the colonne de Julliet.

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However, among the modern day attractions is the very exciting Sunday Market, but we had no time to stop and stare. Still managed a few photos:

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The other sight that made Souvik bemoan missed opportunities was that of people running – not just this race, but all over, Sunday runners.

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The only place we were running to was the port at Bastille, the starting point of our cruise. We got there just in time,and were off almost immediately. The canal cruise has no major monuments to view, but its the crossing of the locks that is the point of interest. There is a height difference of 24m from one end of the canal to the other, which is crossed by passing through 8 locks, each one raising the boat by 3m. And a very interesting operation is that. Adding to that, there are a couple of ‘turning bridges’ and one bridge that gets raised to let the boats pass. And the section of the canal is ‘underground’, just for a little more spice to the trip. Wow!

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I must mention that Souvik’s favourite sight was of one of the bridges on which a French movie, Amelie, was shot. I guess we’ll be watching that one once we get back home.

The cruise boat dropped us off at Parc de la Villette, and we needed the walk back, having had very little physical activity since the morning. Catching interesting sights along the way was a bonus.

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And taking a detour into the Marche des Enfants Rouges for a falafel sandwich was totally worth it. We have to go back there to eat; it’s just 300m from home!

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For the first time on this holiday, we were home in the afternoon, and I was able to have that beloved siesta. Souvik went out to run in the evening, and came home drenched. We decided to brave all odds to go up the Tour (tower) Montparnasse for the panoramique night views.

The Montparnasse tower is the ugliest building in the city of Paris, responsible for the ruling that no building higher than 7 floors will be allowed in the city. It has the best view because that’s the only place from where you can’t see the tower! And there we were at 10pm, still in daylight, howling winds and freezing cold.

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The sparkling lights on the tower were so pretty that we waited for darkness to watch them again at 11pm. And tried to catch some other prominent structures, all lit up too.

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We walked back home in an attempt to thaw, and were treated to a third sparkle at midnight, crossing the Seine. Souvik insists, this trip will be memorable, not so much for the view, as for the bone-chilling experience!

Day 13: Park and Cruise

Thanks to the rainy days we had earlier this week, we left the two crucial outdoor activities for Thursday, with the forecast for sunny weather. Another first; I have never prayed for the sun before.

And sun there was, in all its shining glory! We headed straight to Central Park, hired bicycles, and started our ride through. A couple of km into the ride had me puffing inordinately, and we found that the tyres were almost flat. That entailed a grumpy ride back to the shop for a change of bike, and we had to restart our tour.

Central Park was, is, pretty enough, bustling with people basking in the sun, and plenty of slopes to make the ride challenging. Exactly a week ago we had been cycling in Stanley Park, and I couldn’t help drawing comparisons. The highlight of Central Park was all the running bare-chested men showing off their toned bods! Hmmm. Now Souvik is setting that kind of target for himself ;-).

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We spent 3 hours at the Park, and could’ve done more, had we not had a cruise to head to. Fabulous to catch the sunset, and learn a little about the history of the city, and some funny stories. Lots of photo ops too!

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