Updated: Aug 2, 2019
Kolkata to Jharkhali
Kolkata in July is out of movies . Rain filled clouds lurking, teasing, filling the city with humidity that makes the soul ache for that first rain. And when the rain arrives, the city changes structure, rain filled ways, folded jeans , slushy markets, busy walkers, rushing to some place , a cloud of umbrellas arrive.
And this is what I was leaving behind at 4:30 one morning. My final destination - Jharkahli, before I could enter the famous Sunderbans. Jharkhali is 110 kms from Kolkata and takes 3.5 hours to get there. Laced along this route are small villages so very different from the theatrical monsoon soaked Kolkata that in retrospect, my camera was in love with the journey - once again !
Its not the destination - It is the journey !
Jharkhali is the last stop before sunderbans, a tourist attraction for its dense forests , crocodiles, snakes and of course the Bengal tiger. But today is not about the Sunderban alone , it is about my jounrey to this little village , a journey riveted through multiple rivers , streams and an array of scenes so different from the previous that you would think of the well orchestrated broadway show.
Garia fish market
Almost outskirts of Kolkata, is Garia, a place famous for its fresh catch and a market bustling with buyers and sellers at the break of dawn. Fresh pomfrets, crab, shrimp line up the stalls and one cannot help marvel at the old style weighing scales, the rocks instead of weights, the deals through approximation and a tonne of metal containers lining up to store the catch in water. There is enough buzz for a photographer to make optimal use of the changing scenes in these markets.
A tradition like no other: For the love of fish !!!
After spending a great deal of time pleasing my camera , we start again and drive in the direction to Jharkhali. The road opens into wetlands surrounded by palm trees on either side until we cross Sonapur, string of old houses catch my attention. Each one of these houses has a tiny pond attached and every house has its denizen sitting out in the afternoon sun, with a fishing rod catching fish from their very own personal pond!
Oh what era do I get transported to ! The manifestation of what this geography is famous for - the laid back lifestyle and the love for fish!!
Vano- the fine balance of speed, people and eco system
After passing through paddy fields on both sides of the road and just before reaching Canning, a sea of local transport was shuttling down the road. There is no local transport such as a bus or car but a Vano - a makeshift rickshaw loaded with people beyond its capacity . This is a common sight- cheap, fast and economic, overflowing with people maintaining balance of weight , speed and ecosystem.
One can find this funny
Brick Kilns at Canning
Canning has multiple brick kilns and driving through this road, one can see them as you drive by. One of the areas so intense that google maps shows them in brown vs the heavy green that surrounds the area. There are no automobiles in these brick kilns and most work done manually. surprisingly, unlike many other brick kilns that I have photographed before, I found no women workers here . Have a look at some other brick kilns around the country
The density of the kilns lead up to entire road upto Jharkhali.
Canning is also the last train stop from Kolkata railway station . From here one can take a bus to Gosaba and then a boat ride into Sunderban.
Jharkhali -life, lifestyle and photography
Driving through Canning, I reach Jharkhali at about 1 Pm. A village tucked away in time, identified as an entry point to Sunderbans and converted to a tourist place only couple of decades ago. !
This village lies at the edge of the brackish water. Rivers Bidyadhari and Herobhanga
very lovingly caress the banks of the Jharkhali.
Even 20 years back, a strong wind blowing in from the mangrove forests was common in Jharkhali, the storm-like wind probably lending the place its name.
Across this river, the dense Sunderbans surround this area. I reach there during a low tide when most boats were under repair. Despite what you read, monsoon is a brilliant time for photography. The country boats on the edge of water without many humans around is a pensive subject. A small creaking bridge crosses over to the village and I am told that not more than one person can walk through at any point.
The entire village has just one hand Pump as a fresh water source. Cooking is done in open air through conventional methods. I enjoyed a traditional meal of fish, potatoes and rice and attempt to capture the raw life in this place. The slush around the Mangrove forest isn't helpful and I slip and fall. No one should underestimate the power of wet mud- I had to take support of a rope to get any balance. Note : Always be in as comfortable clothes as you can !
A small boat ride later , and a long conversation with local village men,I photographed and experienced Jharkhali and its non visitor side before leaving for Kolkata at 4 Pm.
Did I see a tiger ? well I wasn't there for the big cat , I was there for the journey !