Sunderbans Trip Report
by Sumit Sen
January 2006

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Day 2 (contd) .....

There are 15 species of raptors in the Sunderbans checklist. We added a new one at the Netidhopani watchtower, a Changeable Hawk Eagle. More importantly, the bird was a dark morph specimen, the first of the type recorded in India. A star bird and a star record for the trip!

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Changeable Hawk Eagle 
(dark morph)

Other raptors seen on the trip included a solitary White-bellied Sea Eagle, Osprey, Brahminy Kite, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Shikra

© Sumit K Sen 2006
White-bellied Sea Eagle

Netidhopani has mystery, myths and folklore. The ruins of a 400 year old temple point to the presence of humans in the area before the land went back to the forest. Little is known about the original inhabitants and work is just beginning to start on unraveling the mystery surrounding those who were the first to tame the Sunderbans.

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Ruins, Netidhopani

The folklore based on Netidhopani relates the touching tale of eternal love between Behula and Lakhindar. Manasha, the goddess of snakes has a feud with Chand Sadagar, a merchant. In an act of vengeance she kills his only son Lakhindar on the wedding night. Behula, the child bride, puts Lakhindar's corpse on a raft of banana stems and travels to the court of the gods to pray for her husband’s life. On the way, she passes Netidhopanir Ghat, where Neti, a washerwoman, is plying her trade. Neti’s little son disturbs his mother at work and she picks him up and bashes the child on the washing stone, dropping him dead in the process. Washing finished, Neti calmly picks up her son and restores him back to life before heading home. Inspired by Neti's prowess, Behula seeks her help in restoring her husband's life. Neti helps Behula find the court of the gods. As with most folklores, the tale has an inevitable happy ending.

The journey back from Netidhopani takes the boat through some of the largest river systems in India. Miles and miles of water stretch to the horizon at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal. This is the land of sharks, dolphins and crocodiles.
One of the most enigmatic residents of the Sunderbans is the Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), a greatly threatened estuarine species found in small numbers in dwindling habitat. Made famous in 'The Hungry Tide', this beauty was spotted by Sudeshna on the River Matla while it was fishing in the golden light of the setting sun.
 

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Irrawaddy Dolphin

A small detour on the return trip took us to the Dobanki watchtower, where a short canopy walk is the main attraction. A particularly tame Hoopoe was the birding feature. The bird refused to fly till you literally stepped on it! Other birds at Dobanki included a wire hopping Dusky Warbler and an Osprey

© Sumit K Sen 2006  © Sumit K Sen 2006
Common Hoopoe 
                                                    Dusky Warbler

The evening at Camp was devoted to a performance of folk-theatre ('Jatra') featuring the tale of Bonobibi. Interestingly, Bonobibi has Islamic origins but is worshipped in the form of an idol by all inhabitants of the Sunderbans, be they Hindu or Muslim by faith. The story of Bonobibi's travels from Saudi Arabia with her brother Shah Jungli to the forests of the Sunderbans and the vanquishing of the evil Dakshin Roy while protecting the faithful 'Dukhey' is a much adored village theatre in these parts, bearing endless repetition.

 © Sumit K Sen 2006
Bonobibi

...... end of Day 2

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