Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Sundarban in 2012 through BNHS

The Sundarban Trip Dec 17 to 20, 2012
© 2013 Ramaswami Ashok Kumar
By R. Ashok Kumar, Member Bombay Natural History Society

In brief.
The Indian part of Sundarban where people also live was protected by barricading the Mangrove
Islands of concern by thick reinforced heavy duty polypropylene netting for about 54 km, the height
being about 2 meters.”Knitted into small squares..the nets were tied to fence posts and reinforced by
galvanised iron wire.”
Sundari trees are the dominant mangrove species(Heritiera Fomes). We saw a number of crocodils of
the salt water type, one of them being 80 years old. Also we saw 4 monitor lizards in the Sanjnakali
watch tower area at the water pond. We saw the brown winged kingfishers, the white collared
kingfisher,the black capped kingfisher, the small blue kingfisher, the mudskippers, the fiddler crabs, and birds of prey like the Short toed snake eagle and the Changeable Hawk eagle, black morph.. The sand plover and the prinea were often spotted.The bronze winged drongo was a new sight for us from Mumbai. The rhesus monkey was a common sight. In the walk in the village on Bali Island on the 20 December 2012, where we camped at the Help Tourism premises,  we saw a lone bee hive. But we saw  magnificent threshers operated by pedal power of two persons. The honey collected from deep inside the forest was offered during breakfast which we feasted on, as it was delicious. In the night we saw the zooplankton which gave off light in the night after we disturbed the waters near the ferry wharf.
The 17th afternoon trip was uneventful but  the view of such broad rivers with mangroves beautiful on either side was a feast to savour. On the 18th the sky was clear and we sighted many a creature and fresh pug marks of the tiger going up the mudflat bank but the 19th was a foggy morning where our motorboat ran aground at low tide. But recovered at high tide and we had an uneventful trip down the mighty vast rivers of the Sundarban. In the distance we could see a caravan of ships towards Bangladesh. The lunch on board the ship was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed the sojourn.
The trip was spiced by background of the Hungry Tide(Amitav Ghosh) and a drama enacted by a professional theater group in Bengali on the Sundarban deity Bono bibi bringing out the ecological web in which the circle of lives thrive in dangerous mudflats, tides and thick forests, now tempered by powerful nylon nets in the Indian part of Sundarban.

The above map is Copyright by Sumit K Sen,, 2006.

Chronology of trip Sundarban.
We took a Jet Airways flight to Kolkata Dum Dum Airport in the afternoon(1245 to 1500 hrs) and
landed in the evening and took a prepaid taxi (Rs 300/-) to The Corporate Kolkata, 4, Royed
Street,Kolkata 700016, near Park Street., Mobile: 913322267551/ 9831015348, where we got a
comfortable room booked by our daughter for the night. We ate a good meal at a Punjabi Hotel.
BNHS Trip Rs 21000 for Member Couple @ Rs 10500/- per head.
17 Dec 2012 830-1030 Bus ride from Howrah to Godkhali Jetty. On the way we stopped at a
location to have tea and the breakfast we had brought we ate off. Crowded was Godkhali Jetty with
traffic.It is interesting how they improvise spellings:
At Godkhali where we waited for
going to the Jetty.

We went by motorboat from 1100 to 1230 to Bali Island, enjoying the beautiful views of the
mangrove islands on both sides of the vast expanse of the river. Reaching the Help Tourism Rest
Houses, we were allotted rooms and we had  lunch there a real good one which we all thoroughly
enjoyed. On the way to Bali Island we saw a few birds: Woodpeckers, Lesser whistling ducks,
Common sandpiper, Golden Plover, common red shank, Cormorant, Eastern Jungle Crow, White
collared woodpecker, Juvenile little heron, spotted doves(!), bee eaters, mini swifts, river terns, swifts.

A panoramic view of the Help Tourism lodging where we camped for three pleasant nights.
(Above photos courtesy Poornima Kumar)
18th December 2012
Sundarban has 64 mangrove species.
0710 Set out from Bali Island in two motorboats in the direction of Netidopani Tower, only to be told
we are forbidden to visit it, because of it being a core area of the forest.beautiful sunlit waters.
0725: Black capped Kingfisher

0730: White collared Kingfisher.

0745: Rhesus macaques, 10 nos eating crabs on the beach.
(c) Copyright Rajiv Lather
Our picture of the Rhesus macaques in Bali Moi village on 20th December 2012:

Note the nets:  thick reinforced heavy duty polypropylene netting stored in the side used to protect the people from the tiger(Photo Courtesy Poornima Kumar).

0752: 2 nos Common sandpiper with the magnificent mangroves of Sundarban.

(Photo Courtesy Poornima Kumar)
The common sandpiper:

0755: On the mudflats,live conus-cone shaped shells-live.

Conus inscriptus, common to Indian Ocean:

0800: Indian pond heron, waders.
0815: Rhesus Macaques, 9, including a baby; indian pond heron intently watching and common
sandpiper walking.
0820: Male wild boar
See the tiger of my dreams chasing wild boars  at
0830: 2 Macaques eating from a plastic bag.
0835: Sajnekali Tiger Reserve
Bronze drongo, Bhattagur Baska, River Terrapin, Common Kingfisher, Golpata(Nypa fruticans),
The Bronze Drongo:

 The Batagur Baska, The river terrapin, extremely endangered turtle:

 Common blue Kingfisher

Golpata(Nypa fruticans)Photo (C) 2013  Poornima Kumar


Hossain Sohel: Felling of Nipa Palm or 'Gol Pata' in the Sundarbans
Mar 4, 2011 – The livelihood of a large number of people living in the south-western part of the country depends on various resources of the Sundarbans.

0900: Saltwater crocodile, crocodilus porasis.(Photos below)
Mullet(a species of fish),

 0904:Kakda: mangrove tree(See below).Photo (c) 2012-2013 Poornima Kumar

Brown winged Kingfisher.
Redvented bulbul, different species unique to the east.

Horgoja acanthus species, mangrove:Acanthus ilicifolius

0936: Tiga (flycatcher), Eastern Himalaya.

Left Sajnekali at 0940 hrs.
0946: Indian pond heron
See an illustrated account of the bird at
See also an informative video documentary on the Indian Pond Heron:
1004: Saltwater crocodile.

10:11 Canon ball mangrove tree with balls:

The above photos from Crocs to Canon ball mangrove courtesy Poornima Kumar.
10: 11Common blue kingfisher
Lesser Cormorant in flight

1020: Snake?
1025: Fiddler crabs.
Conus conch sea shells left over by receding sea tide at Sundarban, with fiddler crab.

Check out:
1026: Large grey crab which people eat in Sundarban.

1029: Common kingfisher.
1036: Common kingfisher flying.
1044: Blue capped kingfisher on net top.
Two pond herons at net bottom in the creek.
1100: Godwit(Bartailed).

1110: Tutul phal(cannon ball mangrove).
1138: Swallows.
1142: Conch shells.
Conch marginate

1143: Mangrove kind of grass.

The above two photos courtesy Poornima Kumar 
1145: Kala mangrove, red buds.
1200: Adjutant stork.

1205: Indian date palm(Mangrove associate).

Photo courtesy Poornima Kumar
1207: Sandpiper, white breasted water hen(on opposite banks).
White breasted water hen:

1230: Short toed snake eagle.
Check out

1400: Brown winged kingfisher.
Tender fruited tree.
1438: Black capped kingfisher on a tree.
1552: Sudhanyakali Tiger Reserve, netted on both sides.
Views from the watch tower of Sudhanyakali Tiger Reserve with the changeable hawk eagle, black morph in the centre and the saltwater crocodile in the bottom left(Photos courtesy Poornima Kumar)

1602: Changeable Hawk eagle, black morph(Jayantha Manna,2012 December).

White breasted kingfisher.
Rhesus macaque.
19th December 2012
0715: Heavy fog.
0715 to 0900: Low tide. All of us 22 on one boat.
Boat stuck up in low tide.
At 0915: Boat released, moves.
0944: White bellied sea eagle(Main prey water snake),_Victoria,_Australia-8.jpg
Also see

1030: Lesser sand plovers from Ladakh, breeding in Ladakh.!topic/delhibirdpix/jbxg8TOiIDk
Photo: Copyright Garima Bhatia

1044: Dhani grass.

1045: Three common red shanks(red legs).
1048: Sea perch(fish),jumps up from waters and goes back.
Illustrative photo:(night) Locality: Maumere, Flores, Indonesia.

1055: Dobanki 2-3 m high tide.
1130: Inside Dobanki, Yellow wagtail from Ladakh.

1130: Fruit of Sundari tree(Mangrove).

1143: Water monitor. Varanus salvator

1145: Saltwater crocodile
1215: Spotted deer sitting
Red jungle fowl in forest on left side from Dobanki into forest channels.

1210: Shikra in flight.
 1225: Tiger pug marks up the bank into the mangrove forest, JPEG Image SB 27.

 Photo: (C)  Copyright 2013 Poornima Kumar

The Sundarban Tigers of my dreams 2012: 

1229: Pasur tree (on stilts).

Photo (C) Cpoyright Poornima Kumar

1235: Monitor lizard, Varanus salvator.
1244: Two spotted deer sitting in the forest.
1300: Great Asian Honey bee, going past the boat.
1340: Brahminy kite.
1435: Left Bank Mangrove Island is at Lower Level than Tiger Palm Grove Islandon R.H bank.
Tiger palm is last in succession of trees in a mangrove forest. Tiger palm grove islands are older than
other islands(Not clear from the pic below, but we did not photograhically capture the fact.

Photo Courtesy Poornima Kumar

The two boats in which we were traveling were tied together into a catamaran to ease the serving of
lunch, made fresh on the boat; they have an excellent Chef.

Photo Courtesy Poornima Kumar

Some Haikus highlighting the Sundarban living splendour by the tides.
© 2013 Ramaswami Ashok Kumar
Bengal’s Sundarban
World’s greatest mangrove forest
Protects land from storms

Protected by law
But threatened by man’s projects
Nuclear Power Park!

Big tourist projects
Large ship channels, oil wells;
Tidal power plants.

Parichayadinda Hechhuva keleyae
Muriyade sadilade


Where friendship spirals
With familiarity
Bonds are permanent.

The English proverb:
Familiarity breeds
Contempt, repulsion.

Economics fails
To capture the vital sense
Of diverse functions.

Food, cyclone barrier
Fountains of inspiration
Land grows with mangroves.

Sundarban tidals
Harbour more fish species
Than in whole Europe.

This diversity
Saline turbidity water mix
Made waters differ.

Waters’ variances
Differing eco-niches
Arrays fresh and salt!

One another: Creatures new
Jaltarang patterns

Small environments
Like jal suspended baloons
Unique flow patterns!

Floating biodomes
Constantly changed positions
Midstream,deep inland.

 As domes made their way
Predators trailed in their wake
Dazzling mix of life.

 Shelter of a creek
The wind died, no leaf stirrings.
Air round boat heated.

 Unbreathably hot
Mangroves around burst aflame
Great swarm of glow worms.

The fires were dancing
In the mangrove roots, branches
The sailors panicked.

So many devils!
Why should they doubt it, what else?
The witch said it well!

Dolphins pool the fish
Dolphin man symbiosis

Learn with age death signs
You do not see them at once
Over many years!

Now it was as if
I could see signs everywhere
In the Sundarban!

Birds are vanishing
Land daily reclaimed from sea
The fish are dwindling

Submerge tide country?
A minuscule change sea levels
Sundarbans extinct.

(Adapted from facts narrated in The Hungry Tide.2004. Amitav Ghosh. Harper Collins)

1445: Collared kingfisher on a mangrove tree.
1500-1515: Observed 80 year old salt water crocodile on an island:


The above photos of crocs and mangrove Courtesy Poornima Kumar
1535: Rufus tree pie flying.

20 December 2012
Open air cooking with Chula in a village in Bali Island:
Bali moi village.

A mother with her child in the village, the hut to the left of her.

 Water lilies in the village pond:

The thresher worked by two persons in the village:

We bought honey Sundarban from Help Tourism and it was translucent and delicious!

Another view of the threshing operations:

Bali Moi village street with agricultural field ; note the bund on the right, keeping off the brackish water away.

Bali Moi village folk meeting us to explain a point.

A beehive spotted in Bali Moi   on the tree on the top right!

The chemist at Bali Moi!

Going to school, Bali Moi village:

The above ten photos courtesy Poornima Kumar
Did you spot the tiger at Sajnakali Tower, or at Sudhanyakali Tower ?
Views of the tower watch on the Sundarban Forest Area at Sajnakali and Sudhanyakali Towers(Photos courtesy Poornima Kumar)
Two photos above for 18 December just above Jayantha Manna's changeable hawk eagle, black morph photo.
General tips to spot a tiger in the reserve:

Before venturing to Sundarbans, Haikus by the author on literature survey done:

Haikus Sundarban
By Ramaswami Ashok Kumar, 1/13, Telec Officers’ CHSL, Plot 30, Sector-17, Vashi, Navi
© 2013 Ramaswami Ashok Kumar
For swatch of No Ground 35 km South of Sundarban- a natural undersea canyon- haven for
whales and dolphins.


Sundarbans Reserve
Green warriors of Sundarban
Dedicated band.
Hidden world of some
Cat hid in grass ten minutes
Near freshwater pond.

Water tower vantage:
Sudhanyakali forest’s
Herd of eight chital
To drink from the pool
Tiger eyeing chital drink
To whet its hunger!

The cat followed the deer
From inside cover deep forests
At fifteen meters
The cat attacked deer
Leaping from behind swiftly
Twisting, it escaped.

Sundarban Tigers
Among the least understood
Defending its bounds.
Intrinsic control
Nature does best of its web
Lets just protect it.

Staff died protecting forest
Their families understand best
The facts: man-made disaster.
From man-made cyclones
Protect tiger habitat
Nurture life cycles.

Win people’s support
Much more than half a million
Who respect tigers.
Swamp’s man-beast conflict
Ever since man entered tides
To live and let live.

Trials to train cats
To keep away from humans
Tigers still supreme!
Panthera tigris
Needs large undisturbed forests
Peace, tranquility

The tiger needs peace
Tranquility to survive
Keep man, cat apart!
World’s largest delta
Across India Bangladesh
Washed by Gang-Brahm-Megh!

Hostile Sundarban
Each cat a needle in haystack
Challenge to keep track.
Tiger protocol
A protection monitor
For Sundarban cats.

- 3 -
All levels of staff
Record the area patrolled
In preprinted forms.
The forest rangers
Daily log tiger’s presence
And core tresspassers.

The field director’s
Duty and crime maps provide
Guideline to perform.
The protocol helps
Take spot decisions for change
To save Sundarban.

The central problem
Human-animal conflict
Whose territory?
Reduce this conflict
And you saved the Sundarban
For generations.

This was the upshot
Of intense debate with staff
On the strategy.
Villagers upset
By cats “straying” into fields
Unsettling’s the word.

Man will save cats if:
Live and let live is followed
By Project Tiger!
The successful trick:
Good fences make good neighbours
The tide turned for man!

- 4 -
Thus Sant Kabir said:
Keep it simple; reach the goal
Quicker than you think.
People realised
The saving grace polyprop’s
Man here: net : cat there!

People sabotaged netting
Tigers were straying.
Drama saved the net!
Tiger kept bouncing from net
Woman and son saved!

This act of the net
Spread across Sundarban fast
People applauded.
People supported
Wholeheartedly the project
To save man and cat.

Tranquiliser guns
Straying cat made unconscious
By forest rangers.
Then freed in the core
They bounced back repeatedly
Only from the net!

Protecting all life
In ways not comprehended
By the specialists!
Away from the core man!
Keepers kept bee-boxes
In fringe villages.

-5 -
Away from harm’s way
Two hundred tons honey yield
Five times more from core.
Now staff and locals
Jointly patrol the fences

Thus are fence breaks fixed.
To fix tiger strays
Response time less than an hour
Tranquiliser guns
Ten men trained to use, not one!
Tiger spotting rose!

New speed boat patrols
Check posts brought response time
Under an hour.
Fringe populations:
Lead eco-development
And protect forests.

Better bird sightings
Crocs, whales, dolphins and others,
Including tiger!
Fourth of proceeds, locals keep.
People’s response great.

With boats off the creeks
Wilderness feats tides, mangroves.
Life in harmony.
Many splendoured bucks,
Unity, diversity.
Fringe and core apart.

-6 -
Fringe trusts foresters?
Rain water harvesting and
Dig fresh water ponds.
Make water canals
Smokeless chulas, sun lanterns,
Jetties and brickpaths.

Alternate earnings,
Foresters earn fringe man’s trust
Tide country life thrives.
Sundarban’s audit
Poaching and forest damage
Down eighty percent.

In one and half years
Hundred ten wildlife rescued
With people’s support.
Estuarine crocs
Tigers, King Cobras, Spotted deer
Otters, whales, dolphins.

Staff no longer fear
For dear life in villages
Outnumbered or not.
Plenty camps set up,
Buridabri, Deobanki
Storm’s eye Mechua.

Bangladeshi goons
Khaluajari camp watch
Fends pirates away.
Children Sundarban
Eager for more facts, knowledge;
Act to convert facts

- 7 -
Realise value
To make the core rich
Teeming with wildlife.
Worldwide trade cartels
Threaten Sundarban’s demise
Cant drop guard at all.

Pressure from people
For commercial plunder
Sundarban threatened.
Tidal power plant
Nuclear energy park
Within the mangrove wilds.

Nuclear energy
Converts all life to nuke wastes
And non-life as well.
Tidal power plant
Kills ecology fully
Leaving barenness.

Sundarban forest
Is a perpetual hub
Of evolved habitats.
Encroachment modern
Will make Sundarban barren.
Protect the mangroves.

In the present time
The tiger is doing well
Lets keep it that way.
The net came to life
With Bono Bibi's blessings
Tigers, people safe!

Tamam shud !

For a poignant infinitely painful account of the holistic reality of the Sundarbans, see
Jalais, Annu. (2005). "Dwelling on Morichjhanpi: When Tigers Became ‘Citizens’, Refugees ‘Tiger-Food’"; Economic and Political Weekly, April 23 2005, pp. 1757 – 1762. Link:
This was written before the net was working. But what Sundarban has gone through administratively can only be described as Infinite Human Tragedy made by Infinitely Poor Governance. 
Another aspect of this infinitely poor governance makes me wonder whether it is the ruling paradigm of modern civilization so often reiterated by Mahatma Gandhi in his writings in Young India:
"However, in their
repeated attempts to settle there they were brutally evicted from
the various train stations where they congregated on their way
to West Bengal, were starved of water and food whilst in
Morichjhanpi, and finally were even shot at before being brutally
evicted from there.12" Annu Jalais ibid 

This quote and the entire article also makes me wonder whether I am reading about Kudankulam, Idinthakarai struggle(past, present and the future) of the people around the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam(or Jaitapur etc) or of the massacre at Morichjhanpi. We can easily read the analogy "Refugees 'Tiger-Food' ": as "The Kudankulamese and the Kerala fisher folk- Nuclear Plant Victims" with the Tiger read as Nuclear Plant. Similarly with the nuclear parks being set up all over the world.
The analogy is astoundingly accurate.
But look at the dialogue which gets preference over life and Mother Earth:
The Hindu is stating this as bad request. Try Indian express at
This is the hypocrisy of democracy. From Frantz Fannon to Amitav Ghosh nothing has changed. The world will become a desolate radioactive lifeless web of nuclear wastes in spite of the robust resistance of the people at all the nuclear sites the world over. Whether it is life near nature or extractive modern civilization conquering Mother Earth, it is an unequal story-Gross Injustice. The web of life will perish. For want of cooperation towards normal vigorous life. 
Take a look at The Nuclear Era and the Frozen Mind at
and Nuclear Fundamentalism at

The Biosphere Reserve Management in India Sundarban : For an idea of what it is see
For an on the spot verification of management with the great Sundarban net see
Reference for Tidal Power Plants compared with the power of the ecological web of the sea creatures at Sundarban by analogy at
For the either or of nukes and life see
Reference for data: Sehgal.B et al. Sundarbans Inheritance. Sanctuary Asia.2007.

1 comment:

  1. I was in this team and do remember the photographer. She has done an excellent job as is evident from these photos. We all had taken many, but I am afraid, they are not lively as these. Many subjects are caught in the act. The birds in flight are extremely good. All the very best.
    Commander GVK Unnithan, 9869 2382 00, Powai, Mumbai