Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Thru grasslands to the beach

Another way of exploring the Sunderbans is on foot. So after a short boat trip we got dropped off at what used to be a concrete jetty but is now a broken pile of concrete courtesy of cyclone Sidr.
As we arrived, we say a number of monkeys in the trees but they quickly disappeared as we landed. No time for a photo. Then we followed the trail through the grasslands, with grasses and ferns growing up to shoulder height. We were accompanied by the two armed guards from the forest centre theoretically to protect us. Whether they had bullets for their guns could be debatable. First stop was a lookout tower, with a few broken wooden steps that had to be avoided. From its top I took this photo of the trail in from the river.

At the foot of the tower was a small flowering plant that had yellow-green flowers that were tinged with pink. Actually they looked more like leaves, but they must have been sweet as the butterflies were flitting around. Landing, then taking off again, then coming back. This plant seemed to be the favourite of the very beautiful blue and black winged, Blue Tiger butterfly. It is shown in the photo below. But there were many other also flying around: a plain yellow one, one with a red body and pink, black and white wings - the Common Rose butterfly and its close relative the Crimson Rose. Butterfly spotting was a real highlight.

As we left the lookout tower, we meandered through shallow water and patches of mud bordered by the grasses including one with a white feathery head that resembled pampas grass. In the edge of the forest was a herd of deer who on our approach, quickly skipped off across the trail and into the grass. All that could be seen were their cute faces and their ears pointed upwards in alertness. A few of the males also had antlers. Then a wild boar also crossed the track and disappeared. Nobody wanted to be too close to it.

As the sound of the waves got louder and the beach nearer we entered a forest area, an apocalyptic forest that had been decimated by cyclone Sidr. Broken and fallen down trees were everywhere. Those trees still standing were mostly a single stick trunk, many devoid of leaves. Rounding one corner and trying to avoid sinking too deep in the mud, there was a splash of bright orange, then lots of patched of bright orange. These were the opportunistic bracket fungi shown in the photograph below. Parasitic, they live on the wood from the dead trees gradually breaking it down.

Finally the waves roared and we reached the beach, the Bay of Bengal. Here are some of our group braving the warm waters, and warm they were as I found when I went for a paddle. The water was a very murky brown due to all the sediment running in from the rivers plus it was not very salty due to the large amount of fresh water entering. It was a long, wide beach and totally deserted. What a surprise!

Then we had the long hot walk back to the river to get the boat back to our "cruise ship". It was a fun walk though and gave a very different perspective on the Sunderbans.

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