As the bus leaves Kolkata and trundles along bumpy roads dotted on either side with fish-breeding water ponds, small hand-made dams, and makeshift chai shops, you can sense a large water body ahead. Later, as our vessel chugs over the vast blue sheet, memories of the din of the ‘city of joy’ are easy to drown as you approach Bali island in the Sundarbans, in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal.
Unemployment and poverty were driving the youth on the island to poaching tigers, deer and other animals, and to illegally felling trees. But over the years, community-based tourism has helped mitigate this – many young people who might have become poachers have become protectors. Alternative means of making a living have reduced their dependence on forests. Some locals have become tour guides, others have made their boats available for tourists, while some have found employment as hotel staff. Although the salaries are modest, for some it’s a matter of pride to be associated with the tourism industry.
Images from a recent visit to the island: