Serendipitous Sunderbans, Andaman and NICOBAR

#1 Sep 21st, 2013, 18:09
Join Date:
Apr 2011
  • drk is offline
Planned a trip today, to the southernmost point of India.
Leaving tomorrow.

The plan (though there is no plan, but an intention) is:

22nd Sep- Delhi to Kolkata
23rd Sep- Reaching Howrah at 1 pm. Immediately leaving for Sunderbans. Target- reach Sajnekhali in Sunderbans before sunset. Ambitious.

24th Sept- A boat ride in the mangroves and return back- target- reach Kolkata before midnight.

Spend the night at the airport. early morning flight to Port Blair.

25th Sep- Probably- helicopter to Nicobar.

26th September- 1st Oct- Exploring the islands.

2nd Oct- Return to Kolkata and back to Delhi.

Lets see how it unfolds.
#2 Sep 21st, 2013, 18:11
Join Date:
Oct 2011
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  • sanuroxz is offline
Have a great trip..
#3 Sep 21st, 2013, 18:15
Join Date:
Oct 2007
  • asishdas is offline
Originally Posted by drk View Post ....
23rd Sep- Reaching Howrah at 1 pm. Immediately leaving for Sunderbans. Target- reach Sajnekhali in Sunderbans before sunset. Ambitious.
Ambitious? I don't think so. But hectic, yes, yet doable. Have a great journey.
#4 Sep 23rd, 2013, 11:17
Join Date:
Apr 2011
  • drk is offline
The journey is turning difficult .
my camera has been stolen. Enroute to kolkata
need help regarding the best place to buy a new camera in kolk. Also, is there is duty free electronics shop at kolkata airport and is it accessible to domestic passengers
#5 Sep 23rd, 2013, 14:11
Join Date:
Oct 2007
  • asishdas is offline
Sorry for the mishap. I have encountered similar situations at the fag end of my Bhutan trip. The Camera was lost and I lost huge catch of pics along with the Camera. I can very well understand your feeling. I had replied to your PM with my suggestion. Forget the past, keep your spirit high. Enjoy your trip.
#6 Oct 10th, 2013, 12:09
Join Date:
Apr 2011
  • drk is offline
the lesser known and seldom talked about sibling of the Andamans.
Nobody goes there until sent,
and it hardly ever happens that someone sets out from Delhi with a vague idea of reaching there,
just to get a new story-
so that was the mission,
and the journey began.

I would have taken a general train ticket and reached the destination,
had it been possible,
but no train would ever make this journey,
and one either floats or flies to reach there-
I borrowed wings,
got an air ticket
and boarded the Yuva Express from Delhi to Kolkata-
the destination was Nicobar-
and though this is a spoiler-
but on reaching Andamans,
I realised that I could not invest those days on a trip to the Southernmost tip,
and explored the Andamans during my short stay,
while gathering all the information needed for a visitor who needs to plan a trip-
to Andaman and NICOBAR as well.
Just to mention-
there are a few places that are remote in the true sense,
even in this era of jet travel.
Changthang and Changlang, Kachhal and the islands in Rann of Kutch, Minicoy and Mechuka- but
Nicobar is more elusive.
Elusive so much that even I had to contend with heresay and memoirs.
Now, I write this after I have returned back,
with memories to comprise my own memoirs,
for them who would some day have stories of their own to tell.
and this is how the journey continues...

They say,
Andamans is not advisable in the monsoons,
I agree.
But what if it is among the few places remaining in India, unvisited?
Unchartered territory fascinates the traveller-
and as 'HE' has his plans for me,
I smile like a child when there is a hint of an upcoming journey,
the revelation this time came through a phone call.
One of my uncle is posted in the islands,
and my cousin who is a buddy- called me up.
Though he has been calling for the past two years,
I could not wait this time,
and logged into an airticketing website with determination-
to find the chapest airfare in the next few days.
I searched everywhere-
all the ports of exit were considered- Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and even Bhubaneshwar.
Though the destination Port was the same- named after Blair.
Air India it was, from Kolkata...
Rs 33500 for return airfare for 2.
Not cheap- but neither exorbitant.
Once the tickets were booked,
I was to devote all the time on research-
none of which was of much help.

I have got useful info---- will share.
And I can now plan a budget trip to Andamans,
costing less than 11000 per person.

Mind it- I have done Delhi - Nathula - Delhi in Rs 1100/- including food and travelling.

I am a traveller,
God, keep me that way.
don't make me into a tourist,
to thee, I pray.
For I'll loose the priceless things that money can't buy,
I'll have to leave the cycle rides and opt to fly.
God, my nights would be spent in the prebooked AC rooms and not under the open sky,
and I'll have to relinquish those friendships that come with a host and hearty meals,
and those chats knowing each other- how wonderful it still feels.
This foray into the shoes of a tourist is not that bad,
but its not for me my creator-
as I have tasted blood.
Each passing experience needs to be more intense, more novel-
to create an impact in this already turbulent journey,
and thus, here I begin,
with your permission,
to tell what happened, and how- when you sent me to the paradise- called Andaman Islands.

The journey started at New Delhi Railway station,
I was accompanied by my sister,
the train was Yuva Express,
and on time, it moved towards its destination- Howrah.
it was not a Happy Journey,
as I realised soon that my camera was not with me.
The likely suspect was an IITian who was occupying the seat next to me,
and got down at Kanpur.
It was a difficult situation now,
without a camera, I would miss the shots of all those beautiful beaches.

Howrah arrived, rather we arrived at Howrah,
and I was accustomed to the place- been there before.
Kolkata hardly changed- set in the past.
The Hooghly was crossed on a ferry,
and we moved towards Sealdah station via public transport-
changing 3 modes for a distance of 6 kilometres-
just out of my free will.
Both of us- me and my sister had seen the city before,
and Sunderbans was on the agenda.
I had called the Sajnekhali lodge in Sunderbans Tiger reserve, operated by West Bengal Tourism and they had my number.
Reaching SUnderbans is difficult for someone who is doing it by themselves-
without a guided group tour-
but I would never ever go for a guided tour-
and thus,
we managed to board a 3 35 pm local train to Canning,
the nearest railhead for Sunderbans.
(Ticket- Rs 15)
The local gets full at Sealdah station itself,
and we got a place.
It took around 80 minutes and we were in Canning around sunset.
Bengal is crowded,
and Canning was no exception.
Wading through the sea of people,
we managed to walk a distance of a kilometre to the taxi stand.
We were to catch a tata magic auto to Godkhali (pronounced Gaujkhali)
Getting the auto was difficult,
tolerating the monsoon humidity still difficult,
and sometimes one gets the idea-
why am I doing this?
Thankfully- both of us were hardened souls,
and when one willingly does something,
one forgets the hardships.
Had I been 'sent' for some work here-

the auto took a lot of time to fill up,
and it carried 15 passengers.
Slowly but not steadily,
we left the town of Canning,
in the district of South 24 Parganas,
to move deeper into remoteness.
Here, people were many and land was scarce-
and thus, there were villages on islands which were formed by years of silt capture by the mangroves.
Sunderbans is difficult to reach-
and many people think- its not worth the effort-
as one can guarantee here that the tiger would not be sighted-
forget that this is a tiger reserve.
Come to see the wonder of nature-
an entirely different ecosystem-
how nature has adapted itself and to what extent-
and then you'll never be disappointed.

Till now, we were moving like common men,
but as we got down at Godkhali, (pronounced as Gaujkhali,
we were received by a person in shirt and trousers,
instructed by the tourist Lodge to receive us and direct us to the boat which would bring us to Sunderbans.

Normally- there was a ferry crossing at Godkhali and another 6 kilometer journey and a ferry crossing again to the Tourist Lodge.
But now, this boat would take a longer waterway, encircling the island,
and take us to the lodge.
I did not negotiate the tariff,
and boarded the boat.
From the cramped auto-
now we had this big boat to ourselves.
The journey lasted around 90 minutes.
Cool breeze,
the open, star lit sky,
passing small villages seen by the tiny lights-
and a red ball- which happened to be the moon- as never seen before.
The lost camera was missed.
The mobile network stayed with us all the time,
keeping my sister busy watsapping-
oblivious to the surroundings.
the journey ended at Sajnekhali Lodge.
We disembarked,
being reminded of stepping safely and moving slowly on the slippery slope.
I was thinking actually-
what am I doing here?
I was here because I did not want to spend the day at Kolkata.
It would turn out to be a nice day,
now retrospectively pondered.

As we ushered into the reception,
we were asked of our plans.
I looked for the boat rate charts-
for 1-25 people:
Godkhali to Sajnekhali- 2000/-
Sunderbans half day tour- 2000/-
Full day tour- 3000/-

So, for the 90 minute boat ride, I paid the lodge manager Rs 2000/-,
and told them that we would be arranging for the rest of the tour at a later stage,
in consultation with a forest officer whose reference I had got.

The room tariff was around 2000/- including taxes and breakfast.

This is the only accomodation in the Core area of the tiger reserve.
The lodge is fenced all around and tiger visits here are frequent.
I would recommend it for someone who wants to stay here just for the sake of staying inside the reserve-
though it makes no sense-
the food here is BAD.
Electricity only between 7 pm to 7 am.
and service needs a lot of improvement.
It is an eco-friendly building, made of wood,
water for bathing is saline.
Adjoining it is the forest field office,
which has a mangrove interpretation centre and a crocodile pond.
I did not think much on what I was going to do the next day,
as my real destination was Andamans,
this was a mere stop over.

The next morning,
I got up at 5,
to catch the rising sun.
The watch tower at the lodge was the chosen spot.
Monsoon clouds made this a normal spectacle,
and when I was returning down from the tower,
my sister spotted a deer.
We sprinted up again and saw the deer escaping in the woods.

I went to the forest office,
to meet the range officer whose reference I had.
Since he was still asleep, (he was not on adventure trip, so had no reason to be awake at 7 30)
I went to the counter where permissions for the forest entry are given to boats.
No boat can enter the forest without taking this permission.
I tried to converse with a boatman who had arrived,
but he could not understand my request to share costs of the Sunderbans tour-
he was not on a tour but was taking someone near the Bangladesh border-
9 hours boat ride.
I tried to talk to the lady posted at the forest counter but she was an irritated person-
She had accompanied us in the Auto from Canning to Godkhali and had stayed back-
to reach here early morning.
She was not happy to be posted here-
the tourist season had not started,
and few boats plied these days.
I made up my mind to return to Kolkata.
A leisurely breakfast of badly prepared omlette and undrinkable coffee was taken,
and we spent some time in the mangrove interpretation centre,
interpreting what was beautifully described,
and spotting a crocodile in the croc tank.
The ranger came,
and I introduced myself.
He instructed his junior to see if there was any boat coming for the permission.
Meanwhile, a boat with 4 young adventurers came,
and we joined them.
I was not going without a forest tour-
I saw nothing more than what I had seen at the forest lodge.


By staying at the Sajnekhali tourist lodge, we were already in the core area of the Biosphere reserve,
the forest officer told me-
'here, the animal is free and we are caged'
true, because all forest department structures in the reserve are fenced with high barbed fences,
to keep the tiger out.
I was imagining-
we go into deep forest in hope of catching a glimpse of the tiger,
but in actuality,
none of us would like to face this dreaded animal too close to the boat,
as it is not difficult for him to hop on and what would further happen is beyond imagination.
This is a huge area,
and has the highest number of tigers- 256 by the current estimates.
Man animal conflict is common here
as the increasing population cuts the mangroves to start cultivating the land.
Still, the reserve is well managed- and tourism is not damaging the surroundings.
During the tour, the boat is to be confined to the broad waterways,
and in no case are we supposed to disembark.
The boatman was coaxed to take us in the narrow channels where possibility of a sighting was more,
but he did not oblige.
Nylon wire mesh is put up at the boundary of the reserve to prevent the tiger from venturing out into human settlements.
At some places, the channels are more than 3 kilometre wide,
and it is hard to imagine how the tiger swims such distance, if at all it does.
Deer are abundant here,
as we had seen one from the tourist lodge itself.
during the tour,
deer were sighted twice.
from the boat, one gets only a glimpse of the periphery of the jungle,
while the forest extends much inside.
there are watch towers and clearings in the mangrove,
where one goes for the tiger sightings.
Our first such stop was Sudhanyakhali watch tower.
These places are fenced, and have sweet water ponds where the tiger comes for a drink.
As soon as we reached Sudhanyakhali,
birds came up to our boat for their meals,
lined up, waiting for us to disembark, so that they may take over.
The watchtower provides a view into the forest,
but ... what do I say?
No tiger.

I try to gather the names of various species of mangroves, labelled-
and its interesting to know the names of those beautifully different trees-
Nypa- the palm, rhizophora, avicennia- the tall tree, grey and yellow mangroves, and many other species.
talking of animals, the orange coloured fiddler crabs are ubiquitous, and so are the mud skippers.
what to say of the monkey and those spotted deer- spotted everywhere.
Water birds are also in plenty,
and I missed my camera.
there are six species of kingfisher in these forests, but I saw none.
overall, the best way to enjoy is to totally forget that this is a tiger reserve.
and then, the nature opens up to you.
though, I did see a hint of orange in the bushes,
like a tiger resting under the tree.
but when we returned with the boat,
there was just a wild cock.
I still wonder what that orange beast was?

further into the forest is Dobanki forest camp,
another watch tower and a mangrove walkway.
It has some posters describing the local flora and fauna,
and we had seen most of it except the tiger.
The long walkway provides a good view of the forest,
and if one sits here the whole day,
there are good chances of being lucky.
We had our boat to return to,
and after a last glimpse of hope, we turned back.

The group that we were with was indeed the best that we could have.
They were four guys, who came on motorbikes from Kolkata.
Biking to Sunderbans isn't easy,
as one needs to cross waterways on ferries.
But it is indeed recommended.
Alternatively, one may cycle down from Canning, after reaching Canning in the local alongwith one's cycle.

Egg curry and dal rice was our meals on the boat,
and we did fall asleep.
Its easy to get bored by the monotonousness of the landscape.
But nature did try to keep us awake-
rudely sending a strong downpour.
trying to protect ourselves from rain lashing from all sides,
we did enjoy the freshness and cool breeze that accompanied the showers.
Near the shore,
men and women were engaged in harvesting prawns and shrimps-
one of the important economic activity here-
men wearing just the loincloth,
women dressed in saris.
The boat moved at a fast pace,
and we knew that the journey was to end soon.
It docked on the jetty at Pakhirala,
and with a hot cup of tea,
we bid goodbye to our friends.

The journey back to Kolkata was memorable.
The best part was the cycle rickshaw ride to Goshaba ferry ghat.
This is an island with villages and a glimpse of rural life.
It was afternoon and children were returning from there schools,
shy bengali girls wearing white saris with red borders,
cycling down in groups,
boys following them,
children playing,
full of life, and yet, relaxed.
The fare for ferry crossing was just Re 1.
But the boat left as we were climbing down the stairs.
We were asked if we wanted a personal boat,
and six of us booked it for 120/-
I was curious why everyone was in a haste,
and it was because they wanted to catch a bus.
We reached well in time to get seats,
and began the ride to Canning.
the question now was to get a camera,
and the research began.
Kolkata closed early,
and we were told that most shops would shut down by 8.
We reached Sealdah by 7 30,
and an uncle helped us by suggesting the shop,
which we could find open at 8 30.
I purchased a DSLR, still not knowing how to use it,
but since I had lost a good point to shoot,
the upgrade to DSLR was needed,
still need to learn using it.
The real journey was to begin now-
to the islands.
But till now,
it was a mixed bag.
The bag was filled with goodies as the journey progressed.
more on it later....

Tips for travelling solo to Sunderbans from Kolkata-
The best way-

Sealdah Railway station to Canning- 70 minutes, Rs 15/- Local Train.
Canning to Godkhali- 70 minutes. Rs 20. Bus or shared autos.
Godkhali to Goshaba- ferry crossing - Re 1.
Goshaba to Pakhirala - 20/- shared cycle rickshaw. 30 minutes.

Total cost- Rs 56/-
Total time- around 3.5 hours.

Stay at Pakhirala- Apanjan Hotel. AC rooms. Budget hotel.
around 500/- per room.
next morning, book a boat for Full day tour and return to Kolkata.

Have a nice trip.

Map embeded-
A- Canning town
B- First ferry crossing, to Goshaba town
C- Goshaba
D- Pakhiralay ferry ghat
E- Sajnekhali tourist lodge.

some images from the islands before I write about it-

Marina at Port Blair

Sunset at Chidiatapu

A group enjoying at Chidiatapu.
#7 Nov 13th, 2013, 15:34
Join Date:
Oct 2010
New Delhi
  • ankurarora is offline

NOW.. write about it :)

Seen the Pics.. please continue your log on Andamans and the NICOBARS

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