Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bangladesh: Sundarban: 20-23 February 2007 (Written 25 February 2007)

A long overnight bus ride from Dhaka to Khulna, arriving on the 21st at about 10am. We were supposed to get there at 6am but for some unknown, unexplained reason we couldn't cross the river on the ferry for about 4 hours. Hmm...

From Khulna we went directly on the boat to the Sundarbans. The whole day on the 21st was spent sailing past cement factories, villages, and river boats.

On the 22nd we packed in loads of activities starting at 6am. We went on a canoe ride down the river and saw lots of birds - kingfishers, herons, and a green-billed malokha. More remarkable was the landscape itself, the mangroves where you could see the water level from the last monsson, and the roots sticking up vertically through the grey mud.

We went on a walk to the beach - but this landscape was really stunning. Immediately in from the river there was a variety of different scenery right next to each other; dry tall grasses, the kind that you imagine tigers walking through; woodlands with lots of shade where the deer are; flat green grassland that looks like any other country; and then you arrive on a huge sandy beach, complete with tiger tracks.

We saw lots of deer, a monitor lizard, more birds, tiger tracks, tiger scratches on trees, and tiger feces. But no tiger. Kind of happy and kind of sad about that. I think they purposely take you around the area when the tigers are sleeping (they're nocturnal) because they probably don't really want to see a tiger. They're scary. All the forest guides carry loaded rifles the whole time, and through certain parts of the forest they have them ready to fire if necessary.

In the afternoon while we lounged on the boat there were a few Rhesus macaques (monkeys) who daintily climbed over the mangrove roots. Very impressive, since I tried the maneuver a few hours earlier, nearly fell off and twisted my ankle badly. We also saw one Irrawaddy river dolphin (same as the ones in Kratie, Cambodia) which I was very excited about.

Another boat ride in the afternoon took us to some vine snakes, who are incredibly well camouflaged, lots more birds, and a lovely sunset.

I decided to join a different boat to head back to Khulna on the night of the 22nd because I didn't want to risk missing my flight from Dhaka on the 24th, so I slept in a Crew Cabin. Was a very interesting experience.

On the 23rd, we stopped off in Khulna, and I was struck by how green and comparatively quiet it was to Dhaka. Lots of ricefields, colorful rickshaws, and not as much honking.

We arrived in Dhaka around midnight, I went to bed, and that was the end of my Bangladesh trip. An uneventful morning on the 24th with my flight to Bangkok.

All in all, I enjoyed Bangladesh but as horrible as it may sound, I enjoyed even more the knowledge that I never have to go back there again. The air, noise, and water pollution is shocking, such that the moment I arrived back in Dhaka from my various excursions I would be coughing, my eyes would tear, and I'd often get headaches.

I think it may be the country where I've most strongly been struck by the contrasts between haves and have-nots, the peacefulness of the countryside and chaos in the city, and so much more that just didn't make sense. Good thing I have a week on the beach in Sulawesi to try and ponder it.

No comments: