What do Bengali think of Gujarati
Travel report: East India World Heritage Sites in Bengal and mangrove forests of the Ganges
Countless temple buildings with special style features, carried by harmonious elegance and incredibly imaginatively decorated with ornaments, sculptures of gods, reliefs with scenes from everyday life or even erotic motifs impress the visitor. Some of them are so sacred to Hindus in faith and tradition that only strict believers are allowed to enter and non-Hindus are excluded from visiting. Nevertheless, they already cast a spell on everyone from their external impression and symbolize how people pay their tribute to the gods ...
We got to know historical cities, holy places - quite a few of them with supraregional importance or even part of the world cultural heritage - during our trip through West Bengal and Odisha, but we were also able to participate in daily life and gained a deep insight into "real India". That would be the slogan not already occupied, we could now have operated with "in the middle instead of just at it".
We were also able to come up with very special nature experiences in the last part of our East India trip. Against the impressive backdrop of the Ganges delta, the largest river delta in the world, our boat tour followed the rivers and canals through the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, which changes its appearance almost every hour, adapted to the rise and fall of the tides in the Bay of Bengal, is home to a unique flora and fauna ...
But before I continue to rave about in general - just follow me on our tour, which began with an Emirates flight thousands of kilometers from Frankfurt to the southeast and which took my fellow travelers and me into another world ...
Frankfurt - Dubai - Kolkata - city tour: first and second travel day, February 18th and 19th, 2016:
With the rather comfortable arrival option "train to flight" we reached the lively Frankfurt airport in the late morning - without train delays or train strikes. Here our small tour group met at the check in counters of the renowned airline "Emirates". The check-in at the Arab airline, which started quite early, ensured that traffic jams at the check-in counter could not even build up for a long time and that we quickly got rid of our heavy luggage - time gained for a carefree stroll through the not exactly small Frankfurt airport and one of the travel company donated lunch.
Later we sat expectantly in the transit room and a little later in the "Emirates" plane, a very comfortable Airbus A 380 destined for Dubai. With good service and a wide range of on-board entertainment films, we reached Dubai airport at night after a good and quiet flight. the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, there was enough time to change trains and soon we went to the east Indian metropolis of Kolkata.
Exactly in the morning shortly before eight o'clock our plane reached the city's airport and after we had done the border formalities and collected our luggage, we met our local tour guide for the next few days at the exit. Like many other people picking up the car, he stood with a name tag between the exit and the crowd of vehicles in front of the airport. We greeted each other and after he had waved our minibus over and stowed our luggage we started: we had now really arrived in East India and looked - astonished as most of the visitors to India - at the unbelievable bustle of traffic into which we now plunged. Nobody knows exactly how many inhabitants Kolkata with its countless suburbs has - but the officially stated almost fifteen million, which make it the third largest metropolitan area in the country, seem too deep even to those who know it ...
The huge city, which was the capital of British India until 1911, is one of the main transport hubs in the east of the subcontinent. You notice this immediately when you watch the traffic pulsing through streets that seem far too narrow and which have not been expanded since the British colonial era, when the city was still called Calcutta and only had a fifth of today's population.
Our Indian tour guide, Mr. Shankar, greeted us again warmly and told us a little about traffic and current urban development, before the city guide Bharati got on after a few minutes. While we were about to go on the city tour, she explained the history and development of the city and the role of the British colonial and economic power in it. The Kali temple Kalighat, which many suspect behind the city name, played an important role. Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, is derived from the former fishing village of Kalikata, where the goddess, who is still called Kalika here, was worshiped. She embodies the dark, destructive side of the fertility and mother goddess Devi or Durga. This temple, which also makes the city an important Hindu pilgrimage site, was our first destination today. It was a while before we reached the temple. According to Hindu mythology, it was built on holy ground and is therefore one of the places where tens of thousands gather every day for ecstatic prayer. As is almost always the case with important Hindu temples, the kiosks and vending carts crowded around, mainly from dealers in offerings: flowers, entire chains of flowers, fruit, colors and of course money are sacrificed by the believers in the temple. Despite its mystical transfiguration, non-Hindus are also allowed to enter the sanctuary and so we had the opportunity to marvel at the fervor with which hundreds of believers in front of us symbolize the worship of the holy stone, the Kali or the symbols of the " We had enough time to look around and then to stroll through the rows of market stalls outside the temple and to visit one of the asylum houses and medical centers set up by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mother Theresa before we continued our tour.
This time the St. Paul's Cathedral was our destination. The Anglican Church, built on the edge of Maidan Park in 1847, has an unusual roof made of iron girders, which at the time was the longest of its kind in the world at 75 x 24 meters. The lower lancet windows up to the floor are unusual - but they mainly serve for better ventilation. The showpiece of the cathedral is a stained glass window, designed in 1880 in honor of the late British Governor General Lord Mayo. The first church tower was destroyed in an earthquake and today's one looks strangely familiar - no wonder, because the bell tower of the cathedral in Canterbury in southern England was a model for the new tower construction in 1934.
While the bus could park in the shade at the church, we walked a bit through Maidan Park, where the English Fort William once stood, to what is probably the most famous sight in Kolkata. The "Victoria Memorial" is a huge building, surrounded by well-tended gardens, which today houses museums and art galleries. At the suggestion of the Viceroy of India at the time, Lord Curzon, it was made in white Makrana marble after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 from Rajasthan - from which the Taj Mahal also consists - built according to a design by the English architect William Emerson until 1921. It was a little strenuous for us to walk around the huge building, because we had to get used to the Indian temperatures But coming to Germany from quite cold weather, we were here today at just under 40 ° C - unusually warm for February, even for East India.
Later we took the bus over one of the landmarks of Calcutta, the Howrah Bridge, which is used by tens of thousands of vehicles and millions of commuters every day and is therefore the busiest bridge in the world. The 670 m long steel structure crosses the Hugli River in a single span of almost 460 m and is therefore also one of the largest cantilever bridges in the world. Later we went to the old center of Kolkata with numerous buildings, where we also took a little stroll to take a look at the Government House. The palace, built in the 18th century with a Greek-style portico, was the seat of the British viceroys until 1911. Today it is the official seat of the governor of the state of West Bengal, the capital of which is now Kolkata.
Then we drove to our comfortable hotel to take a shower after the check and have dinner later. After dinner we fell into a well-deserved slumber after a long day.
Kolkata - Digha - Shankarpur - Balasore: third travel day, February 20th. 16:
Immediately after breakfast we were already on our way south. We would have to drive almost the whole day to our destination Baleswar (Balasore), but there was enough time for a couple of long photo stops. So we stopped at various interesting places - e.g. a spacious street market where, in addition to fruit and vegetables, mainly reed mats and reeds and straw for roof thinking were traded.
Most of the day we drove through travel fields, some of which had just been harvested, some of which were freshly tilled and shone in a luscious light green. We could also see a rice mill during a photo stop before we reached the seaside resort of Digha in the afternoon. Despite the good sandy beaches - which are several kilometers wide at low tide - there are no foreign tourists here. Digha with its many hotels and guest houses is almost exclusively used by Indians who want to spend their holidays on the Bay of Bengal. A few small stalls and stalls near the beach or directly on the sand provide refreshments, for fun - especially for the children - colorfully decorated horses and camels await those who enjoy riding.
It was not too far from here to the most famous of the Shankarpur temples. The sanctuary of Chandaneswar is dedicated to the god Shiva and attracts numerous pilgrims every year. Here, too, we encountered the deep piety and devotion of the Hindus, who often travel long distances to be able to pray and make sacrifices in such a place. After we took off our shoes, we were able to go into the temple, observe prayers and sacrificial ceremonies and also photograph the buildings, some of which date back to the 13th century. The Chandaneswar temple differs greatly from the other Hindu temples in terms of its shape and design as an open columned hall - both in northern and southern India, even if the design of the prayer halls as domes or temple towers recognize the basic idea of the "holy mountain" But the structure like a Buddhist stupa, the use of numerous decorative turrets and the white painting and relatively little ornamentation are unusual for a sacred building in this area of India as well.
The temple was almost on the border and after a few kilometers we had left West Bengal. In the evening we reached the city of Balasore, one of the largest places in the industry-oriented state of Odisha, where we were now. Only a few years ago the part of the Indian Union previously known as "Orissa" was renamed to this name. We checked into a hotel of the state tourism organization in the middle of the city and had some free time before we started the day with a varied one Decided to have dinner.
Balasore - Lalithgiri - Udaigiri - Ratnagiri - Bhubaneswar: fourth day of travel, 02/21/16:
After breakfast, a longer drive took us across the state of Odisha into the landscape formed and determined by the vast river delta of the Mahanadi and its tributaries. The largest river Odishas has its source in the neighboring state of Chhattisgarh and is about as long as the Oder with its 885 km. Its middle and lower reaches as well as its water-rich delta create good conditions for rice cultivation. As on the previous day, rice fields were the dominant sight and you can understand why the Indians refer to this area as the "rice bowl" along with other growing areas in other regions.
Today's goal was to visit the fascinating early Buddhist temple complexes between the cities of Chandikhole and Kendrapara. First of all we were interested in the remains of the brick-built Buddhist monastery of Lalitgiri, which was a monastery and teaching center for Buddhist monks from the 3rd century BC to the 10th century AD. There were several monastery locations here, grouped around a common center - all designed as living and teaching places for monks. The foundation walls of the buildings - school and residential buildings - and the bases of several stupas have been preserved. Immediately after the famous Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism, Lalitgiri was built up and expanded on a large scale and was active for many centuries.
Not far from here was Udaigiri, to the well-preserved remains of which we walked through a little forest to the hill in fairly warm weather. The complex is considered to be the largest early Buddhist monastery in Odisha and, together with Lalitgiri - which we have already seen - and the Ratnagiri still to be visited, forms the so-called "diamond triangle", the most outstanding center of Buddhist learning in East India. The large stupa is visible from afar and up to about The foundations of one of the residential and teaching monasteries belonging to the complex, called "viharas" in the ancient Indian Sanskrit language, awaited us behind this. Arches, wonderfully decorated with stone carvings and filigree relief art, rewarded our slightly sweaty approach. The monastery complex, once called "Madhavapura Mahavira", really had a lot to offer! This also included an interesting ancient stairwell that was carved into the rock here - to secure the water supply, but above all to have enough water for the ceremonies and ritual ablutions An unusual object for this area - after all, stair wells are otherwise - albeit in a slightly different layout and in contrast to that of Udaigiri, incredibly splendidly decorated - rather typical for the state of Gujarat, which is thousands of kilometers to the west.
We drove on to Ratnagiri, where we first allowed ourselves a lunch break. Afterwards, recovered and strengthened, we went to the new, modern and interestingly designed archaeological museum, in which finds from all three monastery complexes of the "diamond triangle" are exhibited. Representations of the meditating, teaching or peace-making Buddha predominate, whereby it is obvious which big one Great importance is attached to the exact representation of the famous "mudras", the various symbolic hand positions of the Buddha.
In addition to the museum on a hill, there is also the youngest monastery complex in the triangle with many stupa foundation walls and various building remains. Particularly striking is the collection of votive stupas built on the foundation walls - small movable stone monuments in the shape of a stupa, which were donated to the monastery as supplications or thanksgiving and which testify to the deep piety of the residents of Odisha during the building and heyday of the old monasteries.
On the way to today's destination, the federal capital of Odisha, we were able to stop at a stonemasonry workshop and watch as two lion figures were being worked on, which will later adorn the entrance to one of the monasteries. In the early evening we reached the city of temples, Bhubaneswar. The metropolis with a population of just under a million is the capital of Odisha. We had our dinner and overnight stay in the comfortable, renowned Crown Hotel.
Udayagiri Cave Monastery - Temple of Bhubaneswar - Dhauli inscription: fifth day of travel, 22.02. 16:
We started the day with a visit to the fascinating Hindu and Jain cave monastery complex of Udayagiri and Kandhagiri, which is one of the oldest cave monasteries in India with its monk cells and figures, often temple guards, carved into the rock. Just like the famous Shiva temples of Bhubaneswar, these cave sanctuaries - which should not be confused with the almost eponymous Buddhist monasteries 90 km away (which we visited the day before!) - are important pilgrimage destinations for hundreds of thousands of believers every year. The 33 cells carved out of the hard rock belonged to the Jain religion. Many of them are - at least partially - decorated with sculptural jewelry also made from the rock.In contrast to the Buddhist sanctuaries and cave monasteries, whose layout and conception are based on the basic idea of monastic coexistence and a "monastic community", this early layout of the Jain religion was created for ascetic and solitary monks who do not necessarily seek community Udayagiri consists mainly of single cells - with a sloping rock floor, since the ascetics basically slept on bare rock - and contains hardly any deep vestibules or prayer rooms for common ritual acts. For the fact that these cave sanctuaries came into being in the early days of the Jain religion not only speak - partly already weathered - relatively rough execution of the sculptures, but also the motifs and contents of the rock sculptures.While in later Jain temples mainly sculptures of saints of Jain worship - the spiritual leaders of the Jains, the so-called Tirthankaras - are shown here in Udayagiri and Khandagir i don't have any of these. The motifs that can be seen here are typical of the early days, even before the cult and the art of figurative representation of venerated people developed: only temple guards, elephant representations, flower wreaths or representations of processions.
We were here at this sacred place at a special time - the annual pilgrimage season was just at its peak, which explained the large number of visitors to the sanctuary. Europeans rarely come here, but for the many Indian visitors a street market had been established for the pilgrimage week, in which a conspicuous number of household appliances were on offer. The solution to the riddle: Because of the proximity to the holy cities, the devices sold here are blessed - a reason for every devout Hindu to stock up on chopping knives, vegetable cutters or coconut scrapers right here! After some free time at the "pilgrimage market" we drove on to the temples in Bhubaneswar.
The first stop was at the currently largest shrine in the capital of Odishas, which is known for its numerous temples and sacrificial sites. The very busy and active Lingaraj Temple of huge dimensions is forbidden to non-Hindus, but we found a lookout point to have a good view of the busy temple complex.
Then we went on a real temple tour, during which one could conduct architectural studies on the further development of temple shapes and decorative friezes.
The Parasuramesvara temple is one of the oldest in the area and was probably built in the 7th century. It is dedicated to a reborn figure of the preserver god Vishnu, who appeared as a combative brahmin and worshiped the destroyer Shiva. The typical parabolic temple tower on a square floor plan and the associated prayer hall are littered with architectural exterior decorations.
Not far from here are the towers and prayer halls of the Muktesvara and Siddhesvara temples from the 10th and 11th centuries AD. to the sky. The ornamentation and the external decoration appear even more precise and filigree than in the church before and although they are actually massive buildings made of red sandstone, they appear light and their roofs seem to float - especially the cushion-shaped ring stones called "Amalaka", which - mostly together with the " Kalasha "called vase-shaped attachment - form the upper end of Indian temple towers. The Muktesvara temple is also enclosed by a crenellated wall with architectural decorations and has a richly decorated, front gate, which is unique for the temple architecture of this area.
At the end we visited the now no longer active Rajarani temple. It no longer has any statues of gods, but originally housed the phallic symbol Lingam and was consequently consecrated to the god Shiva. The 11th or 12th century AD. The original temple is considered to be one of the most beautiful and perfect of its kind in Odisha.
Ashoka's rock edict
Our temple tour came to an end when we drove a little further out of Bhubaneswar in the late afternoon to reach the Dhauli hills. According to legend, a devastating battle took place here over the river valley, in which the victorious Emperor Ashoka from the Maurya dynasty slaughtered the army of the Kalinga kingdom. Sitting here on the hill, with a speech from the Buddha in his ear, he is said to have become aware of the horrible aspects of war and killing. Ashoka converted to Buddhism and made it the state religion in his empire. He laid down his decisions and his newly conscious social responsibility in an edict that was dug here as an inscription in the rock. Since it was discovered in 1837 and soon afterwards deciphered and translated, it has enjoyed great fame as the rock edict of the Ashoka of Dhauli or "Kalinga edict". We even had the opportunity to photograph the inscription directly from the rock wall, because a friendly guard closed us the glazed concrete structure provided with metal grids for protection in front of the building for a number of years.
Since we were allowed to enter the room for a short time, we had the 2300 year old inscription for photo and video right in front of us.
Above the Ashoka Edict is one of the oldest elephant sculptures in India. The beautifully executed elephant, only half carved out of the rock, symbolizes either the life legend of the Buddha or serves - as an animal reserved for kings - to underline the majesty and importance of the rock inscription below it.
From the Dhauli hills we returned to the hotel for dinner and overnight.
Bhubaneswar - Sun Temple of Konarak - Puri: sixth day of travel, 02/23/16:
We were all looking forward to today: the morning should lead us to one of the most beautiful, most famous and most important sights of Odisha and all of India: the sun temple of Konarak. The only partially preserved sacred building from the 13th century has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for some time. dedicated to the sun god Surya. It is one of the most ornate temples in Asia and eats like many other unique sanctuaries. Completely unique, however, is its design as a "Ratha", a temple chariot.
The reliefs, friezes and groups of sculptures attached to its outer walls culminate in 24 stone wheel reliefs, some of which are splendidly preserved and decorated, which, together with the unfortunately poorly preserved horse sculptures at its entrance, suggest that the temple is modeled on the sun chariot of Surya.
King Narasimha Devi had the temple built in the middle of the 13th century on the occasion of his victory over attacking Muslims from the west. Allegedly 1200 artists created the magnificent building in twelve years of work, of which it is still not known whether it was ever completed. In any case, its use did not last very long.
Stone carving in Konarak
The excellently preserved base zone of the main temple and vestibule looks like a picture book and contains thousands of sculptures. Some tell stories, depict daily life during the time of the building or show musicians, dancers or members of the court. Many very revealing depictions with erotic motifs are - like the similarly designed reliefs of the better-known temples of Khajuraho - interpretations of the erotic guide "Kama Sutra" (= verses of desire) handed down from the 3rd century AD.
Regardless of which representations you look at - all of them are absolute masterpieces and wonderful testimonies to the perfect stonemasonry art of the 13th century. Almost in love with detail, the artists have given the brittle material stone an incredible liveliness, which still delights every viewer to this day. Be it the figures, the plant tendrils, animal representations or moving scenes, be it figurative representations or the huge wheels for which the Sun Temple is known - the masterful execution, which prompts every viewer to create their own imaginative interpretations and associations, is always surprising. Incidentally, the artists had to pay for their work in a very original way: they were paid depending on how much material they had knocked out of the stone they were able to show in the evening - graded according to the coarseness or delicacy of the expected work processes.
We spent a long time in amazement at this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Beach life in Puri
Around noon we went on to Puri, which we reached in the early afternoon. We checked into our luxurious Hans Hotel, almost directly on the beach and equipped with comfortable rooms and a nice pool area. This afternoon we had free time - the opportunity to have a snack, relax by the pool or take a walk on the beach on the Bay of Bengal.
Another highlight was the colorful beach market not far from the hotel, which starts daily from 5 p.m. Shortly before sunset, tens of thousands of Indian tourists and locals came to the hundreds of colorful stalls selling shells, jewelry, souvenirs, toys and clothing - one of the most colorful pictures imaginable!
Jagannath Temple - Chilika Lake - dance performance: seventh day of travel, 24.02.16:
Our day started after breakfast with a visit to the Jagannath Temple, for which Puri is famous. For devout Hindus, the state of Odisha, the former Orissa, is the land of the divine Jagannath. As "Lord of the Universe" you see him, an incarnation - incarnate rebirth - of the Preserver God, as a special, abstract form of Vishnu in a variant of the figure of God Krishna. Here in Puri is his preferred temple, which is one of the most important Hindu ones Pilgrim centers was. Honor and particularly good karma for the next life achieved who visits this particularly gracious place of pilgrimage. The city of Puri, beautifully situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, is therefore referred to as the "Holy City" and experiences one all over the world every summer World famous festival. It is called "Rath Yatra" - several million Hindus are there when the statues of gods are drawn through the streets in procession on large "Rathas" - temple chariots.
Like the Shiva temple in Bhubaneswar, non-Hindus are also not allowed to enter the Jagannath temple in Puri. Our Indian travel companion, Mr. Shankar, found a way out: from the roof of the city library we could overlook part of the temple. It was terrific to watch from above the colorful swarm that pushed through the doors of the huge temple. A special feature here was the temple kitchen with dining rooms, which is exactly opposite our vantage point, in which tens of thousands of believers are fed "Prasad" - sacred or blessed food - every day. According to regulations, there is "Mahaprasad" (= "great Prasad). It consists of rice, lentil porridge, vegetables and sweets and is first offered to Jagannath as a food offering. Through this ritual, pilgrims go from normal food to blessed prasad, which is consumed in the temple or bought for a few rupees and taken away to those who were unable to visit the temple.
From the Jagannath sanctuary we drove to our next item on the program, Lake Chilika. India's and all of Asia's largest brackish water lagoon is located at the mouth of the Daya River in the Bay of Bengal, the coast of which is characterized by fairly strong tides. A sandbank about thirty kilometers long with several canals that can be broken through connects the estuary lake and the sea. A very special biotope has formed here, especially since depending on the water masses - salt water from the flood on the one hand and different amounts of fresh water during and outside of the monsoon season on the other - the mix changes several times during a year. Dozens of fish species and special plants thrive only in and around the lake, which is also one of the largest Indian resting areas for migratory birds from Siberia and Europe. During our visit, the shallow lake, the surface of which is always churned by the action of the tides or the fresh wind, took up an area of only about 600 - 700 km², but after the monsoons it expands to over 1,100 km². From the port of Satpada we took a boat trip on the lake, mainly to watch dolphins. Here in the southern part of Lake Chilika, facing the sea, live over a hundred of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins. Although they were named after the most important river in Myanmar, the rather shy animals are not real river dolphins, but live in river mouths etc. in brackish water. The animals, which are a little over two meters long, do not have the typical dolphin snout, but rather a rounded head and are more like the significantly larger white whales. Their color is gray-brown, they don't jump like other dolphin species and they have to come to the surface more often than these to breathe. In fact, we managed to see several animals appear several times, briefly appearing on the surface, showing us their backs for a moment, and then submerging again. Our skipper obviously knew the places where they are. He also drove us along the numerous fishing spots in the lake, because many families live from the abundance of fish by means of trap fishing. The countless rods protruding from the water, between which nets were stretched, mark the fishing grounds and huge, extensive shrimp and crab farms. After our boat trip and a lunch break at Lake Chilika, we returned to Puri.
Palm leaves and dance in the artist village
However, we made a stop in a very special artists' village, the only one in East India, where palm leaves are still being decorated. Here the well-known Guru Maganayak teaches the art of "Pothichitra", the palm leaf illustration. It was quite exciting to watch the technique that has been used for the production and storage of documents for about 3000 years: the artist or master of inscriptions scratches letters with a steel pen, Ornaments or drawings - e.g. motifs from the Heldeneops Ramayana or the legends about God Krishna - in a specially prepared palm leaf cut to a certain thickness and shape from the stem of the Lontar palm rubbed in, then cleaned again. The soot has filled the depressions, the inscription appears black - and is evidently durable for centuries.
We were then impressed by a dance group consisting of little girls in traditional costumes with a classical dance performance organized especially for us. Beginning with graceful movements of classical dance - which, according to the legend, the gods themselves taught people, the well-coordinated show to music on traditional instruments culminated in new dance interludes through to acrobatics. We were wholeheartedly impressed by the long demonstration, which kept new highlights in store and created "eye-catchers". In the early evening we returned to our beach hotel on the outskirts of Puri and had another opportunity to visit the colorful beach market before dinner.
Puri - Pipili - Cuttack - Bhubaneswar, eighth day of travel, 25.02.16:
Today we returned from Puri to Bhubaneswar, from where we would fly to Kolkata in the early evening. We made the first stop on the way back in the village of Pipili, known for its appliqué sewing. With colorful fabrics and tiny mirrors sewn in or sewn on, lampshades are created here, which are also often used in monasteries and temples or in the residential buildings on or near the house temple, or parasols and bags. The diverse sales objects exhibited all over the houses on Dorfstrasse create a picturesque, lively and colorful picture. We continued our journey to Cuttack, formerly even the capital of Orissa, today mainly an industrial city. The remains of a fortress, which must have been large in the past, still bear witness to the former importance of Cuttack. At a. Walk through first the old dilapidated gate and then the ruins of the old Barabati Fort, of which hardly anything remained except the gate and the ruins of a palace building, we could enjoy the flowers of the gardens surrounding the ruins. Afterwards we had some free time at the nearby Durga Temple in the middle of the road and could watch the coming and going. In the afternoon the minibus brought us to the modern airport of Bhubaneswar, which was only completed in 2013. It was time to say goodbye to Mr. Shankar and our bus driver, who had chauffeured us safely and bravely through the unbelievable hustle and bustle of traffic in two East Indian states for seven days. Then we went to check in on the domestic flight to Kolkata. The flight was punctual and smooth, and after we arrived in Kolkata and picked up our luggage, a minibus was waiting for us again. After a long drive through the evening traffic of downtown Kolkata, we came to the hotel - the same one we had stayed in six days earlier.
Kolkata - Gothkali Jetty - boat trip to the Sundarbans: ninth day of travel, 26.02. 16:
After breakfast we set out on the last leg of our journey, which should lead us into the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, located in the vast Ganges Delta. First of all, before the departure of our minibus, we met our tour guide for the next few days, Mr. Tenmoi, in the hotel lobby. A journey of several hours to the small boat harbor on the edge of the car-free Sundarbans was interrupted by a stop in a pretty market town. When we arrived at the "Jetty", our luggage was put on the boat and we climbed on board the vehicle that was to take us through the Ganges Delta today and for the next few days. Soon we were on the Gomor River. No less than 240 rivers and Rivers flow in one way or another here in the Ganges delta, which is mainly formed by Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna. Almost as big as the entire state of Odisha, which we just left yesterday, or almost half the size of Italy is the mighty river delta of Two thirds of which belong to India's neighboring state, Bangladesh. At the tip of the delta, the side where the tides of the Bay of Bengal collapse, lie the only sparsely inhabited Sundarbans, the most extensive mangrove forests on earth.
Just before noon we arrived at "Tigercamp", a very comfortable little tourist bungalow settlement in the middle of the Sundarbans jungle. Even while we were having lunch - after checking in - it began to rain - and it should go on until dinner We did not stop again. Nevertheless, as promised, we took a boat trip in the afternoon. We visited one of the observation towers, which are mainly designed for tourists, to which the path is always barred to protect visitors from the wild animals that live here, especially wild boars, larger jungle big cats and Of course, to protect the king of the Sundarbans, the tiger. The Sajnekhali observation tower was in the rain and no animal was seen! We consoled ourselves with a visit to the Mangrove Sundarban Explanation Center, a small museum about the animal kingdom. and flora of the mangrove forests and the peculiarities of the area we were in. Later the Bo brought us ot back to our bungalows, where we could watch a small folklore show with music and dances from the region before dinner.
Sundarbans: tenth day of travel, 27.02. 16:
The weather had improved considerably today, the sun was shining and after yesterday's cool afternoon with rain and wind it promised to be a warm day with lots of sun and a light breeze. After the morning shower we started early today for an eventful day in the mangrove forests. to different islands and observation towers. We ate breakfast and lunch on the boat because it is the only means of transport that can be used to get around here. The landscape, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1997, extends over more than 10,000 km² in the monsoon floodplain of the great rivers that originate in the Himalayas, at their confluence with the Bay of Bengal, where the flowing water masses have strong tides with high water level differences between ebb and flow. Almost two thirds of this also belong to Bangladesh and a good third to India, i.e. an area about five times the area of the island of Rügen.
Wildlife of the Sundarbans
Hundreds of plants and animal species, especially birds, that are unique to the region, live on the islands formed by the countless rivers and canals. Monitor lizards and crocodiles are at home on the mud banks, which are covered by the tide about twice a day, deer and wild boars appear on the higher-lying swamp meadows and bushes, and large wild cats search for prey in the denser forest areas. The best known, however, are the Sundarbans, especially the part designated as a national park, which you can only enter or drive on when accompanied by a forest ranger, in their capacity as a tiger reserve. 103 of these big cats currently live here according to surveys and statements by the forest administration. To anticipate: unfortunately we were not allowed to see one, but we were amazed to listen to some of the stories of the ranger accompanying us. In order to protect visitors to the Sundarbans, all paths that can be entered, mostly near rest houses or observation towers, as well as all circular paths that are publicly accessible to tourists, are fenced with strong wire mesh - you walk like in a cage. The inhabitants of the few villages on the edge of the Sundarbans live in constant fear of nocturnal "visits" by tigers, who sometimes fetch goats, sheep or cows as prey. Although cats are generally thought to be afraid of water, the big cats and tigers of the Sundarbans are like all other Tiran inhabitants are used to water, mud and tide changes - we learned that tigers often move from island to island when searching for prey, crossing canals and rivers - a Bengal tiger can swim up to 10 km ... Despite all caution, they keep falling Villagers are victims of tiger attacks or women are attacked by crocodiles while fetching water. Nevertheless, tigers are rarely seen - at our hotel reception on a board at the reception was a December day shortly before Christmas 2015 as the last date of a confirmed sighting ...
Mud banks and stilt roots
The special thing about the incredible landscape of the Sundarbans and one of the most interesting observations for us was the fact that the landscape here changes its face almost every hour depending on the ebb and flow of the tide. If the mud banks are exposed meters high when the water is low and you have a view of the high stilt roots and the tips of the aerial roots of the bushes and trees, every plant seems to be completely in the water at high tide and all the mud banks have disappeared. The tidal waves rushing against the banks break pieces out of the embankment everywhere, causing trees to tumble into the river despite huge root balls or flushing them free. Often one sees dried up trees, which in the struggle for survival could no longer draw enough oxygen from the dense, oxygen-poor mud environment. Several walks to lookout and observation towers gave us a panoramic view of trees, mud clearings and water holes (all paths were fenced in to protect against wild animals), but we observed all animals that we saw from the boat on the canal edges. The impressive change of landscape took us around many of the smaller and larger islands, over some canals and rivers as well as over Lake Matla, in which the waters of the larger rivers unite with that of the Bengal Sea, i.e. part of the Indian Ocean. On this day, on which we had our lunch on the boat, we experienced ebb, flow and ebb again and were able to observe numerous birds, herons and the kingfisher species represented here, crocodiles, monitor lizards, once a wild boar and several deer. In the early evening we returned to our bungalows in the tiger camp for dinner and overnight.
Dayakpur - Kolkata - flight home: eleventh and twelfth travel day, February 28/29, 2016:
We explored the nearby Sundarban village of Dayakpur on a walk after breakfast. We saw the villagers' huts made of logs, twigs, and clay-like river mud. It becomes rock hard after drying, but must be protected with overhanging reed or thatched roofs so that the houses do not soften again during the heavy monsoon rain - which still happens in some years. Relatively small are the forecourts of the houses, protected by house roofs and paved with dried, smoothed clay, where the main part of the family's life, including cooking and eating, takes place, and the windows and door openings are small and protected by bamboo struts.
The villagers grow rice, a modest amount of potatoes and vegetables, the men go fishing in narrow boats and many of the women, always dressed in colorful saris, earn a more than modest contribution by wandering for hours through the shallow water of the mud banks and using large trawls Drag behind you to catch crabs and shrimp. Even with a good yield, the daily earnings usually remain below the equivalent of one euro ...
After the walk through the Sundarban village we returned to the hotel, our luggage was brought to the dock and loaded onto the boat and the journey back, during which we had our lunch on board, went back to the port of Gothkali, where our bus was waiting for us.
In between it got even more dramatic when suddenly many colorfully dressed villagers streamed together on both banks and pointed excitedly into the middle of the river. A huge crocodile swam not far from our boat, its jagged armor clearly pulling through the muddy waters. In Gothkali there was another transfer of luggage to our minibus and suddenly we were on the way back to Kolkata Airport. Here we said goodbye to our tour guide of the last few days and after a short wait we were able to check in for the Emirates flight via Dubai to Frankfurt. With only a slight delay, but enough time for the change, we reached Dubai and then flew towards Germany for the rest of the night. We were then in Frankfurt too punctually, where we boarded the "train from the flight" after passport control and luggage collection and started the rest of our journey to the starting point.
We knew beforehand that the travel destination was a bit unusual and that it is hardly ever on offer in this form anywhere. We were able to experience that here, in East India - in West Bengal and Odisha - you can find areas completely untouched by mass tourism with friendly people, fabulous traditions and an incredibly rich culture. It is worth telling exactly that further, arousing curiosity about the untouched landscape of the Sundarbans, the unbelievably lively everyday life in which one can simply participate, but also about the mystical experiences and observations in the wonderful temples and monasteries or the amazement while looking at masterpieces such as the sculptures and friezes at the Sun Temple or the ornate temple towers of Bhubaneswar. Everything about this trip breathed exoticism, history, culture, special nature and landscape and - life!
Come with me again - we will certainly keep this exciting destination!
Your study tour guide
Dr Michael Krause
Picture gallery for the trip
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