Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Canoe Ride in the Sunderbans

Once in the canoe, we were rowed past small fishing boats with a short semi-circular shelter. Kingfisher birds of varying colors perched on top of poles and branches. From the muddy shores, birds such as Indian pond herons searched for fish, tadpoles, and crustaceans. Crabs merrily scampered along the muddy beach. In the calm waters, tiny fish skipped across the surface. The sky now changing from a warm orange to pink, a few fishermen were spotted, casting their nets from the muddy shore. Flocks of birds flew across the sky, mere silhouettes at dusk. With the light rapidly fading, our expert rower navigated to the large boat that would be our abode for the night and tour vehicle the next day. After some live entertainment by several local Bengali musicians, we headed below deck for the night. 

A Marooned Boat and a Mudskipper

Near where the goats were happily nibbling away on the breathing roots of some mangrove trees, a canoe lay marooned on the bed of very mucky clay. A very wet zigzag led down to the river, indicating that even this height would be underwater come high-tide. At this time though, it seemed to be improperly placed.

Walking carefully on the raised mud path, I spotted a mudskipper fish below, successfully walking on the mud with its pectoral fins and looking rather muppet-like with its closely-placed beady eyes.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nibbling At the Roots

Much like anywhere, these goats wander through the area in search for food, nibbling at whatever might possibly be edible. These goats in the Sunderbans schlepped through the muck and appeared to nibble at  the breathing roots (pneumatophoresof the mangrove trees. (Pneumatophores help trees in these soil-poor clay soil areas to receive sufficient oxygen). The breathing roots here were quite small and likely rather tender; by contrast, some of the breathing roots I spotted elsewhere in the mangrove forest were spiky and well over a foot high.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adding a Fresh Layer of Mud

Despite the recurring destruction of cyclones in the Sunderbans area (four years ago, a devastating cyclone destroyed virtually all mud homes in the village, with people fleeing to the tops of concrete buildings), many people still build their homes with mud. It is cheap, plentiful, and keeps the interior much cooler than concrete. This woman was spending her late afternoon putting a fresh layer of mud on the exterior. I wonder how she reaches the area near the top....

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

You're Invited

Come to my art show in Chennai, India. 
Opening: Saturday, Dec. 3

Just Hangin' Around With My Friends and My Toothbrush

I've seen this many times- people in India seem to like to walk and brush. While curious as to the red-haired visitor to their quiet island village, the girl quick got in a few brushes in between posing for the camera. Quite the four-some!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bonbibi and the Honey Collector

Walking through the village of Pakhirala, we were shown a small enclosure along the side of the road. Inside were several clay figures. Our guide explained that in the Sunderbans, a sort of folk religion was practiced - superstition combined with Islam and Hinduism. The clothed female figure was Bonbibi, a goddess of the jungle. Islanders believe that she protects the fishermen, woodcutters, and honey collectors from attacks by tigers.
Our guide said that this boy (below) was also involved with the honey collecting protection/success. Looking up information using the name he gave me was unsuccessful.

Read more about Bonbibi at http://infochangeindia.org/environment/features/maa-bonbibi-in-the-land-of-tigers.html

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Homes of the Sunderbans

A quiet canal flanked the sides of the road. To reach the homes and farmsteads, one had to walk across a tiny plank or narrow mud mounded path. Homes and barns were next to each other, with the livestock wandering around. While most structures were roofed with thatch, walls were built with cement or mud. The roof of some homes sported a satellite dish while others had a small solar panel. Such solar panel would provide enough electricity to light a bulb and TV. Saris, blankets, and nets hung out to dry on lines stretched between palm trees. Goats lazed in the shade while women worked.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Pole With a View

Camera strapped around my shoulder, I instantly had it ready when I spotted these two guys up on what looked like an electrical pole, here on the island of Gosaba in the Sunderbans. They seemed very happy up there, waving and sending me a greeting as I passed by - probably with a rather shocked look on my face. Note the safety harness, hard hat, and protective footwear....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Bicycle Taxi Through Gosaba Island

Safely ashore on Gosaba Island, we were greeted by two island taxis. We piled on to the flat wooden trailers as the taxi man pedaled on in his large trike. Along with bicycles and the occasional motorcycle, these taxis were the main ways people traversed across the island. Our tricycle taxi man was rather patient, only ringing his bicycle bell when passing or meeting another vehicle on narrow parts of the road. Others depressed their horns or bells as often as drivers in metro Indian cities did. In front of us, a small green covered shelter motored by a tricycle made its way through the narrow path. Schoolchildren cheerfully waved to us through the iron-gridded window in back, enjoying the diversion as they were pedaled home from school. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gosaba Island Taxi

No fancy ferries to get to the Sunderbans and the island of Gosaba! Instead, we took this island taxi. For five rupees (about 10 cents) it took all who could crowd onto the boat to and from the island. Most people, including the grannies, sat along the edge of the boat, perched rather precariously on an edge that was about two inches in width. Not wanting to risk my DSLR camera (or embarrassment), I chose to buck the trend and sit inward.

The taxi "driver" steers the boat

Rice Paddies of West Bengal

Reflecting the West Bengali’s steady diet of rice, the fields leading down to the Sunderbans largely contained the tell-tale green of rice plants. Along with fish, rice is a staple of many residents. Alongside the river in some towns, I saw small plots of marigolds, popular flowers in the area for festive occasions. Tied to posts  and tree trucks near the road, goats rested on the edge of the road. Motorists had to watch out for them, lazy dogs, and the ambling cow.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Water - Source of Pleasure and Livelihood

Rural West Bengal  seemed to place great importance on water. In some areas, the wide, expansive flat areas edging each side of the road was filled with water. Fishermen stood in waist-deep water, armed with fishing nets and box traps. Narrow, mounded mud served as paths leading to thatched homes and across to other “ponds.” In towns, kids (and adults) happily splashed in the town ponds, playing around or lathering themselves with soap. Women took advantage of the the water to wash clothes and kitchen pots.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Vehicles of Rural West Bengal

Once out of the expansive metropolis of Kolkata, the pace relaxed.   Multi–story  buildings  and showrooms gave way  to simple  huts and shacks.  The center of activity for men of the village,  such tiny shops were gathering places to purchase goods, drink sweet chai, gossip, and play a few rounds of cards.   The iconic yellow taxis of Kolkata  were replaced by  flat bed trailers pulled by motorcycle–sized vehicles.   Others chose to  traverse the narrow roads  by hanging on to the back of trucks,  crowding into battered buses,  and the occasional modified auto rickshaw.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Kolkata, West Bengal

I have now posted on Flickr my photos of photos of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Includes photos of the Hindu celebration Kali Puja. http://www.flickr.com/photos/melissaenderle/sets/72157628044313254/

Blog posts about Kolkata to follow!