We thought it was high time to go meet the Royal Bengal in its home, all together in a large group. Even if we did not see 'his majesty' himself, at least we would see some crocodiles and probably a deer or two. So we gathered in a number, keeping in mind the promise of moonlit nights ahead, and started off.
The moment all 27 of us boarded the 'Sundarban Express' headed to Khulna, it became apparent that the journey would be a success regardless of meeting any of our 'untamed' friends in the jungle. Continuous chatter of friends, joking about, and a stream of fun companionship as well as snacks and taking photos were already making the trip a memorable one.
We reached Khulna in the evening and our little ship to the Sundarbans departed from the jetty nearby, and we were off, with us as the only group of passengers. This would be home for the next four days.
It was hard to imagine this while floating in the waters of the Rupsha river. The moonlit night further encouraged us, and we all gathered on the ship's open deck, and bathed in the silver beams; we laughed and sang together all evening, and it was dinner time already.
The food was delicious, although a little on the spicier side. Most food of the river people are generally spicy.
The cabins on the ships had bunk beds, one over the other delighting the children in the group. There is quite a variety in the size of the ships that go to the Sundarbans, with capacities ranging between 150 people to as few as 25-30 people. The living conditions are mostly the same, but the facilities and comfort provided can affect the prices. Generally it costs between Tk10,000 to Tk35,000 per head.
The symphony of moving waters lapping against the ship's metal body as well as the happy chirping of excited people woke me up early in the morning. I wondered how everybody had started chatting away so early again.
The ship was moving forward through the morning mist, which masked the light of the sun. Everyone was already up, although with dozy eyes and a steaming cup of tea in their hands.
Our guide was already rushing us, as there were two smaller boats tied behind the ship, to take us further inside the forests, through mush smaller and intimate canals. And what amazing views! The boats flowed on peacefully, with so many of us stuffed on them, in completer and utter silence, except for the chirping of birds here and there.
The trees on the banks stood in unison, as if locked in a familial embrace. No one spoke, because that would mar the pristine silence, and overpower the songs of the birds.
After about an hour, a silent yet invigorated group of people came back to the ship after viewing the sunrise over the waters.
Next came breakfast, and a period of general laziness. Then came lunch, and we all shpwerred and freshened up, and the very relaxing "bhat ghoom" on the ship's open deck. This little nap, so common in our childhoods, has all but become an unattainable luxury since we all entered working lives. It was after a long time that we all napped, almost in a competition!
There were also bouts of some board games – ludo, and cards. You would never know the purpose of the whole tour looking at any of us, seeing how much we lazed around just chatting the time away. It was like an endless festival of eating to our heart's content, sleeping, talking to friends, and simply floating about on the river stream, singing our joys.
But, what is a Sundarbans tour without an actual effort to meet the Bengal tiger? So we left our unexpected bode of luxury in the ship, and set out to look for the famed resident of the Sundarbans. Along the coast, and sometimes inside the narrow pathways in the forest, we met a lot of deer, monkeys, snakes and other little creatures.
We did see the paw prints of the tiger, and some even claimed to smell the distinct smell of the large predator. After walking about for two hours, we were back in the ship by noon.
While standing on the decks, we saw a large group of kites fly in, snatching fish out of the waters around - what a wonderful sight it was! During the cruise we also saw river dolphins, and many a deer running about while crossing the water near Kotka, coming to the shores for a drink of water. They seemed quite used to people and ships, going about their business without any concern for us.
Every evening, we would get on those little boats tied behind the ship, and explore the canals inside the Sundarbans, to see nature in her intimate solitude. Then we would have tea and snacks on the boat, and float about till the sun went down on a canvas of shades of red and gold, to give way to the moon's silver rays, emanating from a metal plate hanging in the sky. I do not think any of us had ever seen something so beautiful before.
Four days passed in a jiffy, surrounded in mirth and enjoyment. No topics escaped discussion on these four days - politics, society, the media, entertainment, food, travelling, environment and all things personal.
Our train back to Dhaka was supposed to leave at 8pm on the last of the four days, but in the evening we discovered we were still two and a half hours away from the port.
And that is how we missed out train, without seeming to care too much though!
And it was not a few tickets either, but 27 in all! Because of a little confusion with the guide, we were all now in a bit of trouble since there were no tickets available for anything - buses, planes and certainly no trains, at least until the next morning. Moreover, we could not even unload the frustration as the guide ran the minute we reached the station.
Then began the frantic search for a means of transport to good old Dhaka! We were stranded till 12am, after finally getting in on a run down and barely held together bus to go to Dhaka. Yet, being in a group the whole delay or trouble seemed like another source of fun, really.
We got back to the city in the morning. We did not get to meet the Bengal tiger, but what we did see and experience was worth it all.
By Ranjana Huda
Translated by Sania Aiman
Photo: Naser Ahmed