I first visited the Sundarbans with these guys back in August, planning to stay for 1 night and ended up staying 2. This time round I planned to stay 2 nights and ended up staying 7. I have thought long and hard since this trip how I could possibly explain just how incredible this experience was, and I am forced to admit that words fail me. However, I will give it a shot as I want to try and explain why I believe that it is important why everybody experiences this.
What Rajesh and his brothers have created here is not just an eco-village tourist destination. It is an example of how human beings are actually capable of living in syncronisation with nature and each other. In a modern world where we all live high-paced stressful lives this place is a necessary refuge. Various other tourist resorts are popping up around the Sundarbans as it's popularity increases, but in their modern vulgarity none can come close to what is on offer here.
This eco village has been built with so much attention to detail, care, and genuine love for the place and this is very apparent. The people who work there are all locals who are some of the most capable people I have ever come across. Their warmth and enthusiasm for the environment around them is infectious. Their dedication to whoever sets foot in that village, and the joy that they feel from the joy of others is overwhelming. This is sensitive, non-intrusive tourism. The villagers are not 'on show' as some part of spectacle, they are simply part of the whole thing. Were they not there, this would be half the place it is. The eco village and the local village co-exist side by side very comfortably, there is no feeling of alienation.
In the week that I spent there, only one day was on the jungle tour. We didn't see any tigers or crocdiles, but that didn't even remotely bother me. Tiger spotting was not high on my agenda, in my opinion the highlights of the Sundarbans are found elsewhere. Instead, I spent my days walking around the local villages, meeting local people, hearing their stories, sharing knowledge. Swimming in ponds, eating delicious Bengali home-cooked food, fish that had been caught in the pond of the eco village that morning. Evenings and nights (I stayed up for the sunrise pretty much every night there) were spent on moonlit village walks, live local music filled with such passion and zest that you can't help but dance alongside the vibrant, vital children who live in the village. A local wedding, or simply staring in awe at the canopy of stars resplendent in the sky above. Every moment spent asleep was a moment wasted. We even went on night boat rides, twice on Rang de Basanti, the smaller motor boat and once on a hand boat. Honestly, it took me a while to overcome my fear of being defenceless in the jungle in the middle of the night, in a small boat. However, once I realised that the people with me were those who had grown up there - if there was a risk they would know about it - I decided to place my trust in them. Once I made this decision I was taken on the most beautiful journey of my life - this trust paid off. Drifting through the mangroves at night, by star and moon light, was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We anchored the boat and climbed up onto an island and waded through the mud to see the moon glow through the trees. With my limited Hindi and the help of Rajesh's translating I was able to have conversations with the local fisherman who had taken us on the handboat, and share our ideas and perceptions of the world. They helped me to realise that there actually is an alternative to the life plan that we are all spoon fed, and it isn't very complicated. Live in syncronisation with and respect for nature and fellow human beings. Appreciate the small things and the overwhelming beauty of life. Nothing else is important. This tour company is unique in that it is not driven by the desire to make money, but instead to display an idea. An idea that it is possible for anybody to live with those levels of happiness and fulfillment that these people do, if they just open their mind a little to the idea that money, success and comfort aren't everything.
I strongly recommend that everybody, from any walk of life, takes this trip. Don't go desperate to spot a tiger - if you're lucky it'll happen, but there is so much more on offer. Instead ask the villagers to tell you stories about their encounters with tigers and try to understand how the presence of this powerful, terrifying creature affects day to day life in the jungle - I guarantee you will be shocked and overwhelmed. Get out of the city, lie on a boat and stare at the stars. Sit on a mud floor and eat fish with your hands. Walk through a village by star light. Feel some true peace and quiet, away from the bothers of electricity, loud music, lights. Talk to some of the people who are lucky enough to live in this astoundingly beautiful part of the world, learn something from them, then apply it to your own day to day life and see the improvement. Places like this are few and far between. THIS is the Sundarbans. I genuinely have not a single complaint.
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