Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Ratargul Swamp Forest in Bangladesh


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Priyan R Naik

When I last drove into Dawki, the road meandering through, lush green meadows, streams clear as crystal, pine-covered hills, gorgeous waterfalls, lakes and majestic forests, I was inclined to stop at  one of the waterfalls and see water gloriously dropping in cascades, with the Umngot river separated by barbed wire fencing of considerable height with  barbed wire  rolls  fixed at the top, visible in the distance.

This time I had a visa to enter Bangladesh  and my thoughts were tuned to  reaching as early in the morning as possible, to avoid  the horrific traffic jams that start from Dawki’s famous suspension bridge over the Umngot River. Several lorries carry construction material from India into Bangladesh and hog road-space leaving little room  for anyone else to maneuver. The chaos these monsters create  continues till the Indo – Bangladesh check-post from whereon  India’s Dawki becomes Tamabil of Bangladesh.

The highlight of  my last Dawki  trip was boating in the  fascinating Umngot River, with water so clear that it could be mistaken for see-through glass. Flowing into Bangladesh, the river water is so clean and transparent, that the boat seems to be in the air while the bottom of the river is easily discernible.

I wanted to repeat the Dawki boating experience across the border in Bangladesh and this  was possible at the Ratargul Swamp Forest, 24 Kilometers across the border as the crow flies, a freshwater swamp forest located on the Gowain river, hardly 26 Kms from Sylhet. One of few freshwater swamp forests in the world, the forest gets submerged in the monsoons under 30 feet of water. In the hot month of April, I found the water level was 10 feet deep at the jetty from where one could pick up a boat.

Permanently waterlogged, 80 percent of the swamp forest area is covered under an  umbrella of trees, land topography  ensuring high water tables. I could see two layers of greenery,  the upper layer  with different species of trees (I could recognise several banyan trees), while the lower consisted of shrubbery resembling smooth bamboo stems. Wild life was largely confined to different kinds of snakes and worms and what looked like a mongoose. Birds were plentiful and I could spot herons, egrets, kingfishers, parrots, bulbuls and doves.

The boat ride through the swamp made for an exhilarating experience. Everyone sat  cross legged on the boat floor spread out  with colorful jute matting. Before I could board, the boat keepers at the jetty were confabulating among themselves, their discussion centering around charging me an exorbitant ‘foreigner rate’ although the Indo- Bangla border was  close by. My boatman, Nizanur Rehman was energetic, with a single oar he rode through the narrow channel expertly, multitasking as a guide and cameraman while adroitly steering the boat. He knew precisely at what spot to take still pictures and where to take video shoots while he rotated the boat around and around at full speed to get a memorable video shoot. His lovely voice and full throat-ed songs as he rowed were a delight .

On the onward trip to the swamp forest, I was fascinated by Bangladeshis in the  boats returning to the jetty as they passed by. Some with colorful umbrellas, made for a pretty picture. Several others warmly waved exchanging big welcoming smiles, even as our boats crossed each other. One boat was hosting a ‘modeling shoot’ for ‘Boitalik’, a clothing  shop in the nearby city of Sylhet. I could discern a pretty model giving her best poses with her pictures being taken from various angles.

While the Shillong boating experience is about spotting the clear Dawki lake bed, Ratargul is completely different as one trapezes through a swamp forest. Tourists  coming to Dawki should get a visa, cross over into Bangladesh and revel in the greenery and uniqueness of a swamp forest experience.


(The author is a contributor at The Shillong Times)

PICTURE KEY : 1) The boating jetty 2) The A banyan tree in the swamp forest 3) banyan tree in the swamp forest 4) Boats parked in the swamp 5) Boats passing you by. 6) The swamp 7)The Boitalik model 8) The Boitalik Model posing 9) The boatman Nizanur Rehman


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