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March 11th 2012
Published: March 11th 2012
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Mumbai to Jessore

I spent much of my last day in Mumbai relaxing and eating toasted cheese sandwiches in the early afternoon I farewelled Padraic and travelled to the airport, my flight to Kolkata was late departing but arrived on time so all was well. I had arranged a pick up at the airport in Kolkata but when I arrived there was nobody there, so I rang my contact who had forgotten me so I had a long wait, a gentleman seemed concerned for my welfare and offered to take me to my hotel, unfortunately I didn’t have one as I was supposed to be on my way to the Sunderbans not feeding Kolkata’s mosquitoes.

Finally they arrived in an old 1960 era vehicle only to tell me it was too late to go out to the National Park and I would have to stay in town so they took me to a really daggy, smelly old guest house which I refused, I was then escorted to a much more pleasant (and expensive), establishment I arrived around 12.30am.

They then requested I be waiting out the front for a 4.30am pick up so I only had a few hours sleep that night. Next morning I was waiting out in the street chatting with a security guard till 5am but there was no sign of my ride so I rang them again and they turned up a short time later and we were on our way only to blow a tyre minutes later, naturally they had no spare, so I sat on the side of the road for two hours while they got it repaired.

From here we went to another hotel to pick up four very friendly Poles before driving three hours through rural countryside and small towns to a small port on a river, it was a mad journey and I was surprised to arrive in one piece. At the little town we climbed out of the vehicles and followed our guide through the streets until we arrived at a river dock where there was a number of tour boats tied up alongside, one of which we boarded. There were also long open boats that appeared to be river taxis pulling up to the jetty and disgorging large numbers of people, goods, and live stock, and then hundreds more would pile on with their bicycles, motor bikes and chickens for the journey across the river, we had a more comfortable vessel for our trip it was only later that we realised the lack of safety equipment on board.

Soon we began our cruise down river passing various small villages till we reached the Sunderbans National Park office, our guide collected our passports and disappeared for probably about thirty minutes or so to arrange our permits. We were then served an Indian breakfast which I didn’t eat before arriving at the Tiger reserve, the river at this time of day was high and the mangrove forest was covered by water. There were no tigers to see but the cruise was pleasantly quiet and we did see a few deer, a water monitor and many birds.

Late in the afternoon we began the trip back up river it was getting quite dark and the boat had no lights or lifejackets or any other kind of safety equipment when around 7pm within a few hundred metres of our destination our boat ran aground on a mud bank in the middle of the river, our vessel was listing to one side dangerously, the crews answer to this emergency was to explain that this happens every month at this time and that we should wait three hours for the tide to turn and then head in.

How stupid are these people my fellow passengers had flights to catch, but they didn’t care, things soon became heated but they refused to call for help as they would have to pay the smaller boats to take us ashore. Eventually one crew member managed to pole us to shore and we clambered up a ramp slipping and sliding in the mud till we reached the village. We still had a three hour trip back to Kolkata to endure and it was nearly 9pm, the road trip turned out to be the most frightening yet in India with many close calls, one guy was run off the road and fell off his bike, it was a little bit funny as he was screaming abuse as he fell, finally the trip ended around 11.30pm when I had them drop me at a McDonalds near my hotel and I had my first meal of the day. Later that night I got a call from the tour operator asking when I needed to go to the airport the next day, I already explained more than once that I needed to go to the Bangladesh border so I didn’t reply, stupid bastard.

Kolkata is a huge sprawling city with many Raj era buildings and old street trams rattling here and there, the people here seem poorer than those in other Indian cities I have visited with many sleeping rough in the streets, yet I saw a homeless man giving what was probably all the food he had to his little dog, perhaps there is hope for India after all.

I was up again at 7am and my driver arrived at 8am to take me to the Bangladesh border, there are a huge number of bicycles here and these tend to swerve all over the place and we came very close to hitting at least three. At the border things were surprisingly simple, the Indian money changes did their best to cheat me but the process was simple and nobody even bothered checking my bags the Bangladeshi officials were very happy to see me and extremely polite.

After clearing customs I hired a taxi to Jessore, Bangladesh is greener, cleaner and the roads are positively quiet compared to India. In less than an hour I was checking in to a nice hotel with an apparently good Chinese restaurant upstairs my room is clean has air-conditioning and a TV with English channels. One of the lads here helped me acquire a local sim card for my phone and I was able to get some cash easily enough despite Citibank cancelling my credit card again.

The only thing I failed to locate was an internet cafe but that was mainly due to the lack of English speakers to ask directions of rather than lack of trying. Later that evening I headed upstairs for a good Chinese meal before going to bed.

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28th August 2012

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