The local train from Sealdah chugs to Namkhana station. Nestled in verdure meadows swaying with rabi crops the sleepy station seemed a far-fetched gateway to the land of mangroves. A country van pedals us to Namkhana bazaar, a jumble of narrow lanes and cramped shops. We sail to the other side of Haatania – Doania river in full ‘jowar’ (high tide). The Ganga-Bhramaputra delta fans out like the braids of Lord Shiva covering an area of 354 sq. km. The landscape consists of numerous meandering rivers, mudbanks and oxbow lakes spreading along the coast of Bay of Bengal. The flora and fauna have adjusted to the tide cycle.
Our destination is Henry’s island in ‘Badabon’ ( Sunderbans). There are no borders here to divide fresh water from salt, river from sea, Everyday thousands of acres of forests are swallowed up by water only to re-emerge hours later. At times water tears away large chunks of land to create new sandbars ad shelves elsewhere. The mangroves gestate rapidly to cover up the new land. The mangrove forest with hetal sundari garan golpata is a universe by itself. There are no wild flowers and ferns, no chattering monkeys and cockatoos. The salt in air, surreal sand and sounds, the secret domain of the red fiddler crabs, abandoned sailboats, skeletons of trees add to nature’s beauty.
Here dawn is beautiful in the way only a tidal country dawn can be. Honeyed in winter sun, flocks of herons and Siberian ducks fill up the mud banks. As the tide surges they take wings in search of a more secure perch. The watch-tower of Sundari complex offers a gorgeous view of the dense forest and hidden beach. The fog hangs low and settles on the leaves with sweet tinkles. The legion of red crabs rise to the surface to salvage rich haul of seaweeds.
Twilight tiptoes in the wings of swans that steal away the setting sun. The night is cool and the sky is intense and dark. The tidal country sleeps in dreary discomfort. Soon the eeriness will be a distant memory as the morning fog. The narrow muddy road to the beach and the quaint bamboo bridge will wait silently for the footprints of a new dawn.
Quick fact: Sunderbans covers more than 10000 sq. km of land and water ( more than half of it I West Bengal, India, the rest in Bangladesh) in the Ganges delta.