Embarking in the colonial city of Yangon (Rangoon) initially we sail east towards Thailand to the bustling trading port of Mawlamyine (Moulmein), where Kipling was inspired to write his famous poem The Road to Mandalay. Voyaging south, we call at the tropical islands of the Andaman Archipelago. These little-visited islands provide a fascinating insight into the British Indian colonial period as well having superb unspoilt and rich marine reserves.
We turn north, we take advantage of our expedition ship’s ability to access the unique and vast estuarine-world of the coastal forests of the Sundarbans. Touring by zodiac and on foot we explore the tortuous creeks of the world’s largest river delta – the mighty Ganges. The ship will relocate within the delta during our days here to enable us to experience the varied areas and see different wildlife as we thread through the channels and walk on boardwalks.
Local rangers will come on board to enlighten us on their work in this unique ecosystem. In India we visit the Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary in the foothills of the Eastern Ghats with impressive flora and fauna diversity, the keynote species being Indian leopard. We experience the colourful cultural traditions of Andhra Pradesh before we end our voyage of in the fascinating city of Chennai (Madras).
We will shortly finalise which of the Durrell trained conservationists now working in India will join us to tell us about the important work on species conservation and fascinating projects they are now involved with.
London / Yangon, Myanmar
Suggested flight with Emirates departing UK on 3rd February via Dubai arriving Yangon on 4th February (flights not included in the cost of the tour). Passengers will need an additional night’s accommodation in Yangon due to strict boarding times on 5th February. Suggested hotel Sule Shangri La (please refer to expedition prices for additional cost).
Transfer to the port from the Sule Shangri La Hotel for embarkation by 15.00 hrs at the very latest. After settling into our delightful small expedition ship, Silver Discoverer, we meet the expedition team, our fellow passengers and our lecturers as we begin our journey down the Irrawaddy River to the open sea and voyage east across the Gulf of Martaban.
Mawlamyine & Bilu Kyun Island
We call at the small outpost port of Yazar Min on the estuary of the River Thanlwin and from here there are possibilities to visit Mawlamyine, once a trading post for pearl-fishing and teak. The town had a substantial Anglo-Burmese population and still retains its colonial core and George Orwell’s family was based here. It is known for its Kyaikthanian Pagoda, immortalised by Kipling in his famous poem The Road to Mandalay, and its dark, sprawling atmospheric markets, alive with colour from the local Karen, Mon and Kayah people. Alternatively we will have a day of rural charms amongst the peaceful villages of Bilu Kyun Island, a delightful tropical hideaway of palm-studded rice fields, bullock carts and fishermen, famous for its attractive handicrafts varying from wood carving to rubber bands! Our programme depends on what local transport will be available closer to the date.
A relaxing day at sea as we begin to learn more of our future destinations and local conservation projects.
Port Blair, Andaman Archipelago
This morning we arrive at the leafy town of Port Blair and travel the short distance to visit the infamous Cellular Jail. Standing on a small rise and overlooking the sea, the solid construction originally had 7 spokes – the wings of the jail – enabling a jailor to sit in the middle and monitor the cell doors. This sombre but fascinating edifice is a bleak reminder of the British period and was declared a National Memorial by the Indian Government. It now has an art gallery and small museum.
North & South Cinque Islands, Andaman Archipelago
Linked by a spectacular isthmus, revealed at low water, these southerly islands are blessed with superb snorkelling, rich in colourful coral ‘bommies’ or mushrooms where the abundant fish life clusters. After a morning’s beach and swimming time, we depart the archipelago via Ross Island passing the decaying British colonial buildings to voyage north across the Andaman Sea.
A day to delve into a book, visit the spa, catch the lectures from our on-board team and simply enjoy our well-appointed small ship.
Deemed by many to be the perfect tropical bolt-hole, Ngapali is one of the high spots of Myanmar. With 3 miles of powder-white sand, backed by swaying coconut palms, the swimming is glorious and the waters of the Andaman Sea warm and clear. There are two or three smart hotels, a couple of simple thatched villages, a thriving early morning fish market and if you’re really keen a little golf course nearby.
St. Martin’s Island, Bangladesh
After our exertions the previous day, today’s gentle beaches, palm-fringed shores and marine life at St. Martin’s Island will provide relaxation on the borders of the Andaman Sea. This is the only coral island of Bangladesh and we can swim, snorkel, visit the turtle hatchery or simply wiggle our toes in the sand relishing being away from Europe in February.
The following days will be dedicated to the extraordinary eco systems of one of the most exciting and inaccessible wildlife areas of the world. As the World’s largest area of mangrove forest, mudflats and sandbars the Sundarbans, are divided between India and Bangladesh and were designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987. We will have two and a half days to visit the remoter areas of the three wildlife sanctuaries in Bangladesh of this water world. European winter is deemed the best time to visit.
The vast tidal Ganges delta zone of flooded forest with elevated areas, thanks to its remoteness and difficult terrain, remains little-visited. The creeks and estuarine islands teem with varied wildlife and by using our zodiacs to the full we can explore this labyrinth of channels and waterways. Whilst a bird-spotters’ paradise with over 200 species varying from kingfishers to the rare masked-fin foot, we also expect to see wild boar, jungle cat, flying foxes, spotted deer (Chital), macaques, monitor lizards, turtles, sharks, saltwater crocodiles, Indian grey mongoose, leopard cats, Ridley sea turtle, Gangetic and Irrawaddy dolphins and otters. If we are very, very lucky we might even see the highly-adapted and threatened Bengal Tiger which cross the channels with ease, skill and stealth. In addition to the wildlife, small village communities survive by collecting honey, carving wood and fishing.
The ship arrives through the Sundarbans up the Mongla River making her way to Mongla Port to clear Customs and collect our local rangers. After an initial informative walk, or zodiac tour, the ship repositions and there will be an afternoon tour. On our second and third days in this unique environment we venture further afield to explore in the early morning and evening light searching the waterways and shallow creeks. Our exact daily programme will be dictated by the tide and adapted accordingly to maximise our opportunities in this unique environment.
A day to recharge the batteries, perhaps lounge by the ship’s pool, a rare treat on an expedition ship, or catch up on what we have seen whilst exploring the Sundarbans with our on-board speakers.
From our off-shore anchorage we make our way to what was once a deep-water port used by the Chinese when trading to the west. Now only just cut off from the sea it is Asia’s largest lagoon – Chilika Lake – and home to the Nalbana Bird Sanctuary, a haven for birdlife. This huge area of brackish semi saline water entices a vast number of resident and migrating species.
Choosing between the marshy islands and sand flats the birdlife varies from fish eagles to flamingos. There are resident populations of purple moorhen, kingfisher, jacana, Indian spot-billed duck, Brahminy kites, glossy ibis, painted storks, bittern and pelican. February is high season for species from Siberia and Iran. Local boats will allow us access to this unusual lagoon.
Our final day on board offers time to hear the wrap-up lectures, swop addresses and see the re-cap slide show reflecting our recent days of visits, exploration and privileged activities.
Chennai, India / London
After berthing early this morning, disembark between 06.00 and 09.00 hrs and transfer to Chennai airport. Suggested flight with Emirates departing Chennai this morning via Dubai to the UK (flights not included in the cost of the tour). There are opportunities to extend in Chennai, closely linked with the British cotton trade, or in other parts of this fascinating country.