After finally reaching the Mongla and our boat, we settled into our new home. It is a similar design, but much larger than the one we used in September. As we ate dinner and explored the ship, it started the overnight journey to the southeastern part of the Sundarbans where the wildlife is most plentiful. The Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and home of the Bengal tiger. Thus, along the way we picked up two armed guards at the forest station. In the morning, we took a hike along the edge of the forest to Katka beach, with a guard at the front and back. We saw some spotted deer (chital) and arrived at the beach, where untold numbers of tiny crabs made beautiful geometric patterns in the sand with the sediment dug out of their burrows. Much of the group joined in a pickup soccer game where the Bangla Tigers beat the Columbia Lions 4-2. We cooled off with a dip in the sea until it was time to walk back.
In the late afternoon, we had another walk – this time through the mangrove forest itself. First through the more open forest, slipping on mud and avoiding the areal roots of the mangroves. We saw more deer, monkeys and wild boar rushing across the forest. Then we went into denser forest, crossing sites where Bengalis would hide their salt production from the British. Then into the densest part of the forest in single file, close together. If not for the trail, the forest would be impassable. We emerged into a more open forest by a river and a large beautiful tree we climbed over for a group photo. On the way back, we passed some tiger tracks. Since the entire forest is flooded at spring tide, the tracks could not have been older than a week.
Overnight, we shifted to Tiger Point, where most of us arose for an early morning bird and animal watching expedition. We transferred to a small wooden boat, which cut is engine and switched to an oar for the near-silent ride. We saw a multitude of birds including eagles, kites and woodpeckers, but also more deer, wild boar, an otter, a snake and a monitor lizard. Along the waterline at one stretch of the creek were a set of tiger tracks paralleling the river. These had to have been made since the last high tide.
Our final excursion was to two islands that are forming offshore – Bird Island and Egg Island. They first appeared about 20 years ago. Landing on a new part of the island, we walked across it for several hours, starting from a sandy beach devoid of vegetation (but with lots of crabs). We walked across patches where the first grasses were taking root to a more open meadow, following deer tracks for our route. Now we were above the area inundated by the tides. As we continued, the first mangrove trees appeared singly or in small clumps. They were still small, perhaps only 2-3 years old. Finally we ended at the edge of a full-fledged mangrove forest, the oldest part of the island. Then came time for a decision. We could continue working to the very edge of the Sundarbans, but if we turned back immediately, we could reach Chandpai in time to visit some shrimp farms before dark. We choose the latter, skipped the game with the soccer ball that accompanied us, and headed back to the boat. A six-hour trip upriver and our Sundarbans leg would be over.