Flameback woodpeckers hammer away at the trunks of gigantic mangroves, the sound of their hammering almost like a low-pitched percussion instrument. Kingfishers chatter away noisily and out of tune, their scintillating blue hues catching the rare hint of sunshine as they flit impatiently from tree to tree.
Below the boardwalk, dozens of crabs crawl on the mud, feeding on decaying matter, some with pincers larger than their bodies, the fiddler crabs. Some others crawl out angrily if you step too close to their burrows. Leaf litter obscures most, though, covering the forest floor wherever it can.
Through the carpet of dead leaves, ferns unfold their fronds, crimson tinges on their leaflets. The rare pit viper raises its head, almost as if it were annoyed at your presence. The smell of decomposition fills the air, but the large numbers of bird calls distract you enough to forget it.
You, are in Matang.
The oldest managed mangrove forest in the world, and home to hundreds of species of fascinating forms of life.
The mangrove trees are raised with care until they are 30 years of age, and then hacked away to make charcoal. Whether or not this is sustainable, is a matter of debate, but the fact that the forest sustains life within and around itself is indisputable.
Fisherfolk live along the banks of the creek that feeds Matang, catching mussels, cockles and saltwater and freshwater fish. River dolphins make their way up the creek, frolicking in the waters, seemingly playful and friendly. We watch them in amusement and with exclamations of wonder and awe, struggling to keep them within sight.
Mostly impatiently, we wait in anticipation of catching a glimpse of the otter family that lives close to the jetty, and on the very last boat ride, we finally see them, going about their day, as we follow them like paparazzi following celebrities.
The last sight of Matang that lingers with us, is that of the fireflies illuminating mangrove leaves. With the half moon overhead and crickets chirping in the distance, the melody of the mangroves etches itself us.