After spending ten days in the very polluted cit of Dhaka, I was fortunate to be able to spend three days in the Sundarbans, which literally felt like heaven on earth. Though this is such an overused saying the mangroves were so graceful that it did not feel like hyperbole at all. We spent our time on a boat traveling between the many islands that are home to Heritiera Fomes, the dominant mangrove trees here. Though about 70 percent of the mangroves are this species, it is on the threatened species list due to the rising seas and potential damage from cyclones. I was struck by the exquisite beauty of these trees and how many birds, like the egret in the image above, made them home. Heritiera Fomes are in fact the highest carbon storing plant in the Sundarbanas. Given that this small country is perhaps most affected by climate change than any other place in the world, having a huge delta filled with mangroves is critical–especially as they buffer tidal surges.
While in Dhaka, I experienced a philosophical shift and arrived at a new paradigm of being in terms of my own experience. Though I have often read about people feeling small when standing before the wide open expanses of the west, I did not understand what feeling truly insignificant was until I spent time in a city of 20 million people and huge traffic jams, where I could only see a few feet in front of me at a time. I got claustrophobia and felt both helpless and powerless.
During our trip to the Sundarbans, we took a small boat down a canal one early evening. Standing on the bow of the boat looking down the expanse of the waterway that seemed to terminate at the edge of my vision or beyond, I felt that I was being invited to experience the infinite mysteries of being. The distant horizon seemed full of possibilities I could always strive for. The boatman paddled soundlessly and I caught myself holding my breath several times. Though walking on these islands is very unsafe, due to tigers and crocodiles, and only honey hunters and robbers venture into the forests, I still felt more included in this world than I did in the congested city where I had been hidden away in apartments or cars because I was an other. Here I felt much more at home, though of course it would have been foolhardy to step off the boat.
This narrow mangrove tunnel was off the canal we traveled down in our search for wildlife. Somewhere near here, we'd spotted tiger tracks and smelled its scent. Beautiful Golpata trees graced the entry way. If the tiger had really wanted to meddle with us, and Bengal tigers are the most man-eating of all, there would have been no way to escape quickly. Yet, this knowledge did not fill me with fear and in fact I felt at one with this landscape that contained serenity and hidden turmoil around every secret corner. The mangroves dotting the shores held the soil and helped created a sense of unity among all the ecosystems.
We spotted an endangered crescent eagle, kingfishers and many plants and artifacts, as well as a boat that was hidden on a narrow tunnel, potentially by a robber. This whole area, not just individual species of trees or animas, is endangered. Yet, for a brief period of time it seemed this natural universe would continue unperturbed. I vowed to remember the feeling of oneness that came over me, so I would never forget the importance of unity with the natural word..