Through our guide we inquired about the pirate underworld but folks were reluctant to broach the subject. After a few inquires we were directed to someone of importance that supposedly had first-hand knowledge. We had heard only rumors and were anxious to find out more. Unfortunately, the gentleman with whom we spoke, fearing retribution, refused to talk about pirates. There were numerous individuals within earshot, any one of whom could have been a pirate informant.
We did ask about his operation and his general outlook on the future. He was concerned about the dwindling catch that, he said, decreases every year. According to him this is due in no small part to the incursion of modern Indian fishing trawlers into Bangladesh’s territorial waters. His antiquated wooden boats simply cannot compete and there is little he or anyone else can do as a matter of recourse. The gov’t does nothing, leaving the folks of Dublar with nothing but a rather profound sense of helplessness.
We thanked him for his time and moved further along. Just a few minutes later we encountered a man by the name of Mr. Forid that was willing to talk pirates. He’d been coming to Dublar every season for the past 29 years. From him and some of his fellow fishermen we determined that of the three pirate cartels Raju Group (named for its leader), was the most potent.
According to Mr. Forid Raju has at least 45 men at his disposal. Often the pirates will stop a boat and either commandeer the vessel itself or kidnap a fisherman or two. Word is then sent back to their employer that a ransom must be paid for the safe return of either man or vessel. It is also customary to rob vessels just after they have sold their catch. Violence is not unheard of but it would appear that killings are rare. The week before we arrived there had been four attacks in the northern region surrounding Habaria. Sinbad and company often dwell within the narrow channels of the mangrove working under the guise fishermen or woodcutters.
The Bangladesh Forest Department has neither the will nor the capability to thwart pirate operations. As they are understaffed, underpaid, and ill- equipped they often find themselves at the mercy of Raju and his band of misfits. We were even told that it is not uncommon for pirates to seek refuge at any one of the 60 or so forest department stations throughout the park. Bribery of public officials was also highlighted as a leading cause of inaction.
There appears to be some sort of unwritten code governing piracy in the area. Keep it reasonable, don’t get greedy, and avoid outlandish behavior. Follow these rules and most likely no harm will come to you. And, more importantly, you will be allowed to conduct operations with impunity. Robbing tourists would probably force the government’s hand. Apparently, clamping down is not out of the question as a band of pirates discovered in 1985. I guess they went one step too far forcing gov’t troops to wipe them out. So there is a line but where it actually lies is subject to interpretation. I feel I must point out that all of what I have written here is hearsay and not to be regarded as cold hard fact. Although I am fairly confident in the general accuracy of what folks told us the truth is that without a serious investigation it is impossible to be certain.
Mr. Forid invited us to a cup of tea and even sat for a quick photo. We thanked him profusely and moved along. Next we went for a little stroll in the forest east of the settlement along the beach. It was a rather picturesque area with a combination of sandy beach and the signature above grown root system (known as Halophytes) typical of the mangrove forest in the Sundarbans. We also spotted the recent tracks of a fairly large tiger. Oh, what I would have given to see that monster patrolling the semi-surreal beach landscape. Of course, our guide (Rashid) did not share our enthusiasm with such a prospect. Imagine that. We went a bit closer to shore where we met some of the local fishermen/woodcutters chopping down dead trees. A quick chat, a few photos, and we made our way back to the boat.
By mid-morning we were back aboard the Emma with a course set for the forest station in Katka where we would be spending the night in an observation tower overlooking a vast expanse of open grassland. As tigers are most active in the darker hours we hoped this would afford us a solid chance of seeing Mr. Khan.
Depth finders can be invaluable, especially when cruising the waters on the edge of a vast silt depositing delta like the Sundarbans. Our small boat did not have one. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. I was told we had one but the captain only put it to use when researchers and journalists were aboard, i.e. people of consequence. Apparently, we did not qualify. Our punishment for obscurity and insignificance was banishment upon numerous sand bars on more than one occasion. The first set us back at least two hours. Alex, my trusty companion, decided it would be an opportune time for a spin on the wooden country boat we towed behind us for incursions into the narrower channels of the mangrove. So he, my guide, and the country boat owner abandoned the Emma to the whim of the tides. I considered joining the escape but stomach concerns dictated I remain in close proximity to our thunderbox (i.e. toilet). Eventually we broke free and made our way to the waters near the forest station at Katka.
As I mentioned above there is a watch tower near the Katka forest station that provides an interesting place to sleep and an opportunity to spot the nocturnal wanderings of residents. So with sleeping bags, cushions, flashlights, and plenty of tea and coffee (nothing like roughing it) we made our way to the top of the tower for our midnight vigil. Unfortunately, the tower is in ear shot of the forest station and all of the larger boats that regularly dock there for the night. We were lulled by the constant hum of a diesel engine and the muffled cries of blithesome tourists…….all night. Not exactly the picture of secluded jungle I had in mind. None the less it was worth the trouble. We sat up scanning the area with concentrated stares while occasionally utilizing our headlamps (Alex has one that can illuminate the dark side of the moon) for the better part of four hours. Thankfully, we were assisted by a waxing moon. Our guide made us promise we would not leave the tower and go for a jaunt in the surrounding areas. He also advised us to urinate from tower rather than risk the fury of a stalking kitty. And if numero dos presented itself? Well, I guess you gotta do what you gotta do. He advised us to use our lights and make lots of noise if forced to set foot below.
Dear Rich and AlexReplyDelete
Beautiful Bangladesh, Wonderful Place, Breath taking photographs. I wish I were there. Thanks for sharing.