সোমবার, ১৯ অক্টোবর, ২০১৫

Mongla and the Sundarbans

After getting completely jerked around by not one, but two travel agents regarding my Sundarbans boat trip.  I got a call late Wednesday night asking if I’d be willing to change my travel date from Friday to Thursday because the Friday boat was booked.  Never mind that I’d made and paid for a reservation a month ago.  After getting everything packed and ready to go I got another call indicating that I would now be going on Friday but instead of leaving from Khulna, where I am staying and where I was originally scheduled to leave from, they decided that I would leave from Mongla, a two hour bus ride away.  Also, my departure time was revised from 7AM to 7PM, a loss of twelve hours.  Complaining did no good.  The man with whom I originally booked told me my complaints were “making him sick” and he hung up on me and refused to return my calls.  He's a well-known poster on various Bangladesh forums and I'll spare him the embarrassment of revealing his name here, but feel free to PM me if you'd like to know who he is.  His partner travel agent could not be budged and told me that because of fog, the boat would have to leave from Mongla.  He also indicated that my real issues were with the original booking agent.  Talk about passing the buck.  There has been zero fog in Khulna the past three days and other boats leave from Khulna.  It was my bad luck to deal with a couple of less than ethical travel agents and I later found out from the boat owner that I could have booked directly from him at a savings of roughly 40% ($165 vs $265).  His name is Mr Rahman and he can be reached via email at thesoutherntours@gmail.com.  His phone number is 01712-773361 (add 88 if calling from outside of Bangladesh).  There are thousands of travel agents in BD, but only 15 boat owners.  Mr Rahman owns two boats and is having a third built.
The Mongla Market
Anyways, I was escorted to Mongla on an old non-A/C bus (other passengers were driven in private cars) and arrived at 2:30PM, so I had almost 5 hours to kill before boarding the boat (the info from the travel agents was wrong once again).What a shithole is Mongla!  Just a dirty port town with a bunch of seedy characters hanging around.  Not a place you’d want to spend 10 minutes.  Let’s call it the Tijuana of Bangladesh.  At least dinner on the boat was excellent and the live chickens provided some fresh food along with some loud squawks as they were being butchered on board.

My Cabin with King Size Bed
 The cabins on our boat weren't luxurious, but represented good enough value (the luxury boat companies charge $500 for the 3 day/ 2 night tours).
All 8 of us passengers (2 young French backpackers, a Swiss guy about my age and four Bangladeshis) were all impressed with both the quantity and variety of the food.  We had chicken, beef, fish, pullao rice and plenty of fresh veggies for every meal.  There were as many crew members as passengers and they all went out of their way to make our trip as enjoyable as possible.  I can highly recommend Southern Tours and Travel for those looking for good value.  As I understand it, all boats go to the same various beaches and use the same jungle viewing platforms and hike the same trails.

Tiger Food
The main goal of visiting the Sundarbans, besides seeing the largest mangrove forest in the world, is to spot a tiger.  The owner of the company has seen 12 tigers in 20 years, so your chances of seeing one approximate a Powerball lottery win.
Our Boat
Along with the deer to the left, we saw a wild boar, some kingfishers and various other birds.  We got out of the boat for a couple of hour long hikes.  Our late start the first day meant that we pretty much all slept as the boat ran most of the night down to the Bay of Bengal.  From there the idea was to visit Bay of Bengal beaches, spend another night on the boat and then work our way back to Mongla with numerous stops along the way.  Unhappily, it didn't quite work out as planned since we experienced a steady rainfall that only enabled a few stops at government research stations.  No one was particularly dis-appointed since they kept feeding us well and, to be frank, how much mangrove forest does one really need to see?
I find it almost unimaginable that some folks book 5 day/4 night trips.  Although the guide books and travel agents would have you believe that single day, inexpensive trips don't give one enough of a true experience, I'm not sure that I buy that argument.
Nonetheless, the Sundarbans is rightfully considered one of the top tourist destinations in the country and shouldn't be missed, however you decide to go about seeing it.  Oh, and a most special thanks to my French buddies who shared a bit of their precious pastiche (Pernod) with me as we cruised the river on a magical full moon night on day 2.
Part of the Tour Involved A Trip Down a Narrow River on a  Small Boat

Fishing Village in the Forest
  Traveler's Tips:
They're pretty much all in the above narrative.  Unless you're traveling to BD during a special holiday season, you should be able to get on a boat with just a few days notice.  An email to Mr Rahman might also be a good idea if you prefer to make your plans further in advance.  Tell him Bruce from the US sent you.  I'll get nothing out of it, but I did tell him I'd post his contact info.  The French backpackers showed up less than an hour before the half-full boat departed and were able to negotiate a slight discount from the normal rate, though the negotiations ran hot and heavy.  My three day/2 night tour turned out to be a 42 hour tour, so it might be wise to get an exact accounting of the proposed trip and then hope that the plans are honored and the weather is good.
Source: http://bruce3404bangladesh.blogspot.com/2014/02/mongla-and-sundarbans.html

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