Bangladesh – the Sunderbans: Richard Parker and the Apocalypse.

After a fantastic first few days in Bangladesh, I caught the local bus (on my second attempt) from Barisal to Khulna for my Sunderbans tour.

 

You can read more about the Bangladeshi bus rides in the 'Transport in Bangladesh' post, but needless to say our bus was this full…

 

 

We crossed a river on one of these…

 

 

And I looked like this.

 

 

Thankfully our bus made it to Khulna in one (or two) piece(s).

 

The Sunderbans.

 

 

The Sunderbans National Park is the largest mangrove forest in the world, and it is home to over 26 species of mangroves, 300 species of birds, cobras and pythons, spotted deer, barking deer, monkeys, crocodiles, wild boar, and most famously, the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger!

There are thought to be around 400 Royal Bengal Tigers living in the Sunderbans, which is around 10% of the total worldwide population of wild tigers, and the highest population density anywhere in the world. They prey on deer, wild boar, and they are man eaters…

They say that if you do see a tiger, it will be the last thing that you ever see… We did see plenty of deer, a wild boar, some sweet birds, crocodiles, monkeys, and plenty of tigerprints.

 

 

Here are some photos from the Sunderbans.

 

Mangroves

 

Eerie

 

3 years ago there was a big cyclone here...

 

Paradise

 

Pier on West Kotka

 

Path to east Kotka

 

East Kotka?

 

I love boats

 

Our group

 

.

 

Our guards and boat boy

 

The tigers were probably scared.

 

Checking for tigers

 

Faisal and our other guard

 

Hurry up!

 
Around about the time the above photo was taken, our guard started hassling us to hurry up, stick together and stop taking photos. Our guide Mani told us afterwards that there was a tiger nearby; they can tell by 'listening to the jungle'. Awesome.
 

Deep in the Sunderbans

 

East Kotka

 

The Bay of Bengal.

 

Rare, dangerous, possibly rabid and found only in the Sunderbans. A Wild Frenchman

 

Sunset in the Sunderbans

 
 
Mahmud organised my ticket for me with 'The Rain Bow Tours' (sic), for 3 days and 2 nights. The staff were awesome, the food was delicious and there was heaps of it, and the boat and facilities were great. Special thanks to our guide Mani, who is an excellent guide and a great bloke.
 
 

Our home for three days

 

Our small boat, for exploring and going ashore.

 

Mani and I

 

Coffee time

 

Breakfast.

 

 

21/12/12 – The Apocalypse...

 

The second day of our Sunderbans tour happened to coincide with the Mayan apocalypse.

I've always been pretty sceptical about the whole thing. Does anyone remember Harold Camping? And seriously, a mountain in France?? As a British citizen (my dad was born in London) I refuse to accept that in the unlikely event of the world ending and Aliens coming to rescue us, they would choose France as a rendezvous point. And if the Mayans could predict the future, surely they would have foreseen the Spanish conquest?

'Hey guys, how about we quit cutting each others heads off and get our shit sorted, the Spanish are coming'.

I am a pretty big fan of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the Walking Dead, 28 Days later, anything by Margaret Atwood, zombie movies and the post apocalyptic/dystopian genre in general, and I do have to admit that I was aware of the date. But I wasn't particularly worried…

 

Until our boat crashed.


Three times.

 

Safety First!

 

 

At this point I'd been in Bangladesh less than a week, and been on three large boats. The boat trip to Bhola Island was thankfully uneventful, but our launch from Dhaka to Barisal had a pretty gnarly scrape with another launch, and my extremely crowded Barisal to Khulna bus had somehow managed to squeeze aboard a dangerously overloaded car ferry. Maybe the ghosts of the Mayans (or the French) were trying to tell me something.

I was reading up on deck, when I noticed that there were a lot of leaves hanging over the railing. Next thing there's an almighty scraping sound, and a big branch crashes into the canopy. Our captain had somehow lost control of the ship and crashed into the trees hanging out over the river.

I helped to clear the debris off the deck, and then checked my phone. No reception. We had spun 180 degrees, and the captain and crew were trying to turn the boat around. But the boat wasn't cooperating, and we crashed into the opposite bank too. Thirty minutes later though, the boat was back on course and we were still afloat. Our worry turned to joking and laughter. Until I looked out over the side, and noticed that we were gradually drifting towards the bank again…

While not as dramatic as the first, the third crash was the scariest. We saw it coming for a good minute before we hit, and by now it was pretty obvious that there was a problem with the steering and/or the motor. Nobody had reception, we were out in the middle of nowhere in the Sunderbans with 400 hungry tigers for company, and the Mayan calendar had just ended…

At least I had the presence of mind to film it. Sorry about the swearing.

 

 

 

 

We survived, and I can now add two boat accidents in Bangladesh to my ever growing list of travel misadventures. We didn't see a tiger, but other than one of our guards who has been working there for 20 years, I've yet to meet anybody who has. The Sunderbans feel like the edge of the world, and are totally unlike anywhere else I've ever been. Our tour was without a doubt a highlight of my trip to Bangladesh and my travels thus far, and it was a pretty damn good way to spend the apocalypse. I still hope to see a tiger someday. And maybe the next time I'm in Bangladesh, I will!

 

 

Cheers,

 

 

Joel

 

P.S. This tragic story of unrequited tiger love actually has a happy ending. About a week ago in a cinema in Kolkata, I saw my first Royal Bengal Tiger.

 

I didn't actually take this photo

 

 

P.P.S. I was sending some of my photos to the French couple on my tour, Franck and Marie-Anne, and I accidentally sent one to my friend Marie-Pier, in Canada, with no explanation. This was her reply.

 

 

RE Photo 5

'This email confused me so much, I still don't know what to think of it really haha'

 

 

 

 

A note on logistics, prices, some info etc.

Monitor the situation with hartals (strikes). It's probably worth getting to Khulna a day early just in case. I had to leave a day later than planned from Barisal as there was a Hartal.

In Khulna, I stayed in New Safe Hotel, which from memory was about 500 per night. Breakfast is included, but if you want it really early, like 630am, speak to the manager direct, as the staff are really confused as to why you'd be up so early (Sunderbans). Good hotel with nice rooms and nice staff.

I bought hiking shoes in Khulna. I'm about size ten. It took awhile to find some that fit, so might be better to bring your own. The walking wasn't particularly challenging, but you do walk through mud so it's a good idea to wear appropriate shoes.

Sunderbans tour

  • I used The Rain Bow tours, about 200-220 USD I think. 3 days 2 nights.
  • It's a good idea to book your trip before you get to Bangladesh, as places are limited. I didn't, and luckily Mahmud managed to get me a ticket.
  • Rooms are normally shared, with two single beds. A bit cramped, but there was enough room under the bed for all my luggage, and it was comfortable and clean.
  • I brought my own water, but when it ran out I drank the water that was provided. It was purified.
  • Food was excellent and there was plenty of it. Dinner is normally at 9pm ish.
  • Western and squat toilets.

 

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