Nijhum Dwip – a tranquil island

When we reached the Moktaria ghat we found the boat on the other end of the river, and it was our only mean to reach Nijhum Dwip crossing the river as it was the one and only boat service shuttling between the Nijhum Dwip and the Moktaria ghat. Moktaria ghat is the last end of the Hatiya mainland.
Nijhum Dwip is a small island under Hatiya sub-district in the Noakhali district of Bangladesh. And finally, when the boat arrived, we doubted if we really could manage to get on it as there were around 50 people waiting to cross the river and the boat didn’t seem big enough to accommodate them all. Well, to our astonishment we successfully got on board, so did all the other passengers. We started our journey from the Sadarghat, Dhaka on the day before. The ferry carrying us to Hatiya starts its voyage at 5.45 pm from the Sadarghat and our excitement starts getting towards its full throttle as well. Whatever the mode of the journey, a night journey always has a different appeal to me. It makes me realize that there is another life that goes on in parallel at the time when we remain asleep in the cosiness of our home. I could hardly sleep in any journey no matter it is day or night. I know I will miss the good part of the journey if I fall asleep, i.e. the excitement of the journey, seeing the buzz, feeling the crowd, a journey is always an experience. We were roaming around the every corner of the ferry, we went to the upper deck to see the night sky, we went to the lower deck where there was a huge crowd enjoying the movie they were playing on the TV, some were sleeping, and there was the tea vendor we chatted with. Oh, the tea was excellent, we had several cups in the whole journey. We went to the master bridge where the helmsman was piloting the ferry and he no doubt got pissed off our too many questions to him. There was another charm of this journey was that the ferry touched several other stations on its way to Hatiya. The crowd was getting thinner after each of the station. At around 8 am we reached Monpura, another island under Bhola district. The ferry stays a while there for unloading goods which got us an opportunity to have breakfast over there and have some photo-shoots of course. When we reached the last station, Hatiya, it was around 9.30 am. We hired an auto-rickshaw for Moktaria ghat which took us another 1 hour or so to reach there.
After reaching Nijhum Dwip, we hired motorbike to reach the hotel. It was the “Nijhum Dwip Sheraton Hotel”, by any means it has no association with the international chain hotel with the similar name! We were so happy to find an attached washroom in our room. It was almost the lunch time and we decided to have our lunch first before we start the site seeing. Meanwhile we were collecting information from the locals about the island. Someone said we could visit a place called “Soakhali” (I instantly associated it with “Swahili”, the Bantu language, lest I forget the name) which is 10 minutes’ distance on bike from our hotel.
Soakhali was the first real impression of Nijhum Dwip to us, oh…what a place! There was a vast plane land, real vast and as it is approaching towards the shore it was getting wet. So wet and slippery that, at one point we couldn’t move forward. By this time, we have got two guides, two local kids who almost started a quarrel as to who would be our guide, fearing a severe (!) dispute we appointed both of them as our guide. As instructed by the guides we were now heading towards the mangrove forest nearby. As stated in wikipedia, in 1974 the Forest Department took an afforestation program for a duration of twenty years in the north side of the island. Covering an area of nine thousand acres, it has now developed into a deep forest with a variety of plant species. Among the trees Keora is much seen. Besides this Gewa, Kankra, Bain, Babul, Karamja, Pashur and many other species are seen and the main attraction in these forests is the herd of about 5000 spotted deer. I got this info from wikipedia, and I think this number has become much bigger now. If the vast plane land I stated earlier represents ‘serenity’, then this forest, of course represents the ‘tranquility’. So tranquil that, the crashing sounds of the dry leaves under our feet some times made us startled. It was too difficult to walk inside the forest as there were numerous aerial roots with pointing heads and one might not want to fall on them as they could be fatal in such case. As we entered deeper it became dense. There was another challenge, a real challenge. There were so many narrow canals inside the forest, and some tree trunks were kept over them as a mean to crossing these canals. And all of us exhibited the finest (read ‘funniest’) level of acrobatic skills while crossing them. Inside the forest, there were some resting places made of woods which seemed to have been made, perhaps, by the local fishermen. We were sitting on one such places, it was getting dark as the sun had already gone down. There was almost no sound except the sound of jackals calling one another from time to time from far inside the forest. We sat there as if we got numbed by that silence. I don’t know how long we sat there like this, may be 30 minutes, may be more.
When you are on travel, there are always things which add extra spices, which make each of your travel experience a unique one. Duck meat bhuna (a curry made of duck meat) in Nijhum Dwip, especially in winter, is one such thing. We knew earlier that this is one of the must have local delicacies. So, we requested the restaurant manager where we had our lunch earlier on that day that we would like to have duck meat bhuna in our dinner. He honored our request and kept the item in the dinner along with different fish items. One must taste the fishes in Nijhum Dwip, there are so many varieties found there. Apart from the duck meat, I had another experience on that night with one of my travel mates. It may be simple but unique in a sense that we never have this kind of opportunity in our urban life. We had a walk in that night through the village road with a beautiful sky above us with full of stars. No, you won’t feel this until you really experience this in one such occasion. There were so many stars that it made me wonder when was the last time I saw a sky like this (I could recall only two instances in the last two years).
Nijhum dwip is full of date trees, and if you go there in winter, you must have the date tree juice or date sap. Thanks to one local bike driver, we found a house where the house owner serves date tree juice to the visitors, although not for free, the price is so nominal compared to the taste and experience. We requested the house owner if she could have the chitoi pitha (a kind of very thin pan cake made of rice flour and egg) which is another must have local delicacy. She wholeheartedly agreed and we had those mouth-watering chitoi pithas in our breakfast that morning along with grated coconut and khejurer gur (molasses in liquid form made from date tree juice by cooking it on low heat for a long time). If you plan to visit Nijum Dwip, make it in winter, I must say!
This is our second day in Nijhum Dwip. Today we would go to the sea beach (it was a beach but what they call a sea is not actually a sea rather a big channel which flows into the sea a bit far away from there). The sea beach is a long, big and vast sandy and muddy one. As we went near the shore it became extremely muddy, so much that our feet got into the knee deep mud in the most places near the shore. We hired a boat which would take us to the Kabirajer Char and then to the forest through a channel called “Chowdhury Khal” where we, if lucky, would see the flocks of deer. We stayed for a short time in the Kabirajer char which is a sandy island nearby with mangrove forest on the other side. There are also several narrow canals like all other places of Nijhum Dwip. The surroundings are extremely silent and tranquil which is a common aspect of these places. On our way to Chowdhury Khal from there was another lovely experience. We saw the face of a remote and coastal rural life, hundreds of cows grazing on the vast field, fishermen busy with their boats and nets and huge numbers of birds, some of them seemed to be migratory ones which is common at this season. Unfortunately, our boat could not make it through the Chowdhury Khal as it was the time of low tide at that hour of the day and so the channel was not navigable enough for our boat. Instead, we hanged around another island like field where we found another forest. It was so dense that by all means it was not possible for us to enter much inside the forest, especially there were so many aerial roots that it was almost impossible to go through without damaging them. Moreover, it hurts a lot as well if you get stumbled on them. We saw so many mangrove plants in this place with tiny aerial roots surrounding them, I believe within a decade this field would transform into another forest. Although we missed the chance to encounter with deer, we were not unhappy in the least for that. Let them be their own on their home. We are the intruders, anyway.
It was midday when we got back to our hotel and we were so hungry that, it seemed we could devour the whole island right at that moment. We ate gluttonously and that hot reddish chicken curry…we won’t forget the rustic flavor of that curry for a long time. And it would be unfair if we don’t appreciate the hospitality of that restaurant manager, who himself was serving us. I think this person represents the true nature of the local people as a whole. I did not find the local bike drivers in the habit of cheating on outsiders as well. The lady who served us breakfast in that morning even forgot to charge us for the breakfast. She was more concerned in serving us a meal in a hospitable manner rather making profit out of it. We were happy that we paid her before leaving the island.
The returning from Nijhum Dwip to Moktaria ghat on that shuttle boat service was quite an experience. This time also there were too many passengers than the boat seemed to be able to carry. We saw a chacha mia (an elderly man of the village) jumped on the boat risking of falling on the water instead, just to ensure that he got on board before any one else did. What an amusement! Among the passengers on the boat, there were a cow, some ducks and hens (inside the bag of a female passenger though). Moreover, the boatmen managed to take three motor bikes and a cycle as well. It was a short but funny boat ride.
As I said earlier, every travel experience is an unique one. This Nijhum Dwip travel of us is no exception as well. It is unique for the natural beauty of the island, the tranquility we had on its forest, the simplicity of the inhabitants, the foods, and of course for the journey we had to make to reach this remote island. I would obviously go to this place once again, and this time with some more time. Only one and half days is not sufficient at all for the Nijhum Dwip, this islands deserves more!
How to go:
From Sadarghat, Dhaka, there is a daily passenger ferry service to Hatiya. It starts around 5.30 pm and reaches Hatiya in the morning next day. From Hatiya, you can hire bike or auto rickshaw to Moktaria ghat which would take 1 to 1.30 hours. There is a shuttle boat service between Moktaria ghat and Nijhum Dwip, which would take you to Nijhum Dwip within 10-15 minutes.
Where to stay:
After reaching Nijhum Dwip, you can stay in bandartila bazar area or you can stay in the Namar Bazar. There are some cottages / hotels / resorts in this areas. I don’t think staying in Nijhum Dwip would be a problem. But remember one thing, this places would fulfill the basic requirements only.
Activities:
Nijhum Dwip is a great place for trekking and camping. You will find cycles on rent, and this could be a way of roaming around Nijhum Dwip. Trekking inside the forest would be the most pleasant and exciting experience, I think. Don’t forget to have a walk through the village road at night.
Caution:
Be generous and well behaved with the local people. Keep in mind, the local people are very conservative socially and religiously, so don’t do anything which could hurt them.
Don’t do anything which could pollute the environment and disturbs the natural life in the forest.
Thanks @Rabbi bhai (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=716176691&fref=ts) for writing this..

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