In pursuit of Royal Bengal Tiger: Sunderbans

 

Bengal tigers - image @ The Wildlife Review

Bengal tigers – image @ The Wildlife Review

Sunderbans – Royal Bengal Tiger’s haven! Many come in the hope of shooting the Bengal tiger with their cameras and capturing the jungle king in their memories. But one glance of the jungle royalty is as rare as it can get. Only a lucky few witness the glory of the Royal Bengal tiger. Royal Bengal Tiger are so special since they are the epitome of wilderness, supremacy, beauty and grace. Born and raised in the most challenging environments. In the marshy land surrounded by water and limited open area, these tigers grow into very powerful and mean animals facing everyday difficulties of survival. Around 500 of their species habituate the entire Sunderban area which is spread across 2410 Sq kms (land area in India approximately) and has 54 small islands which are gradually disappearing due to global warming.

The entire forest covers 10,000 sq km, of which about 6,000 sq km is in Bangladesh. It became registered as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997. The Sundarbans is estimated to be about 4,110 sq km, of which about 1,700 sq km is occupied by water bodies in the form of river, canals and creeks of width varying from a few meters to several kilometers. The Sundarbans is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests. The interconnected network of waterways makes almost every corner of the forest accessible by boat. The visit to Sunderbans is not at all fancy. It is full of heat, humidity, adventure and a bit of danger. Don’t get discouraged by this statement if you really want the true taste of rustic life of Bengal as well as closely observe the wildlife at one place. The wilderness will grasp your attention and so will the innocence of village life. You will feel anxious as well as serene to be in the dangerous beauty of swampy and humid forest of Sunderbans. It will certainly overwhelm your senses.

Sundari tree in Sunderbans

Sundari tree in Sunderbans

Named after the rare Sundari trees which are found in plenty in this area, this forest has a lot to offer. Wildlife plays peekaboo with you, including snakes, giant lizards, wild boars, deer and the jungle king. Needless to say, you can spot various species of birds too.

map

Sunderbans is divided into the Core zone and the buffer zone. The Core zone is meant for animal breeding and is a proctected area. Only forest rangers with special approvals and ministers 😉 can travel. As a tourist you can only enter into the Buffer zone.

Our journey

Anyway let us begin with our journey to Sunderban National Park.

Day 1:
Our journey started from Kolkata on the morning of 5th October. It was Navami and Kolkata was still in a slumber after the hectic celebrations of Ashtami the day before. We started at 7:30 from Kolkata to Sonakhali where we were supposed to board our boat for the entire tour. From Kolkata we took State Highway 3 (SF 3) via Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, Narendrapur, Baruipur, Canning and reached our boarding point at around 11:30 am.

Roads in rural bengal

Roads in rural bengal

It was hot and humid even in October. A basic boat, with minimum facilities of an Indian and English toilet was ready to take us to the deep jungles of Sunderbans. Our boat included Bishnu Ghosh (our tour coordinator), boat men (it was motorised boat), a cook, a porter and 5 of us.

Banks of the river - copyright Rajosik Banerjee

Banks of the river – copyright Rajosik Banerjee

We had a quick breakfast on the boat and then started cruising on the Matla river towards our destination. Saw a lot of village banks. Villagers were busy in their daily chores of feeding cattle, building hay stacks or preening boats at the shore. Their bright clothing against mud walls was such a contrast. You suddenly felt mesmerized with their simple life and basic needs. Saw a village school where students from far off villages and various islands come to get education. The only developed area was Gosaba which looked better off than other villages. We reached Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve at 2 pm. Had lunch on the boat and then went inside to see the watch tower and the Tiger museum and get the boat pass. (It is a permission for the boat to stay in those waters). Museum detailed all the species of flora, fauna found inside the jungle. We went to the watch tower to quietly witness deer grazing in the vicinity.Watched a fight between a snake and a mongoose, where the mongoose emerged the winner.

Dead snake and mongoose - copyright Rajosik Banerjee

Dead snake and mongoose – copyright Rajosik Banerjee

Sajnekhali has a government resort, where you can stay very close to the jungle life. The entire jungle area is barricaded with net so that wild animals do not come anywhere near human habitat. Although many a times, the net has been found cut by the villagers and used for various purposes like making a baby’s swing. It’s from where the Tigers get into human habitat. We took the boat around in the adjoining waterways and in the evening reached Pakhiralay, the shore across Sajnekhali where our hotel was located.

Day 1 highlights: Sajnekhali tiger museum, watch tower and Pakhiralay

Day 2:

Sunrise

Sunrise

Next day at 6:30 am we reported at the small river jetty to board our boat. As a boat is allowed to cruise only from sunrise to sunset, it became imperative for us to maximize on the opportunity to explore the depth of these narrow canals. First we went to Sajnekhali where we were supposed to get our guide for the trip inside the jungle. The forest office allocated Manoranjan Raptan as our guide on our demand. As soon as he boarded the boat we set off cruising through the water bodies in the delta area. He kept us entertained with his poetry and stories about the area.

Manaranjan Raptan - Guide, Bishnu Ghosh - Tour coordinator

Manaranjan Raptan – Guide, Bishnu Ghosh – Tour coordinator

The fable

A fable, prevalent in the area about ‘Banabibi’ was told by Manoranjan, our guide. The goddess ‘Banabibi’ is the deity who is revered and worshipped is this area. She is believed to save honey collectors, fishermen and wood cutters going inside the jungle from all the dangers. She is one of the few deity’s who is worshipped by both the Hindus as well as the Muslims.

The fable goes that a rich Muslim merchant didn’t have any child. Allah came in his dreams and asked him to get a second wife who will bear his children. The merchant dearly loved his first wife Phoolobibi and wanted her permission for second marriage. Phoolobibi agreed to the marriage, with the condition that would be revealed in the future and her husband had to honor it. The merchant agreed. He married Gulabbibi and finally she got pregnant after a few months. When she was carrying her child in 8th month, Phoolobibi asked her husband to send pregnant Gulabbibi into the jungle as a condition of marriage. The merchant was in a fix. But as he promised his first wife about accepting any condition he tricked Gulabbibi into the jungle and left her there at the peak of her pregnancy. He told her that he will be taking her to her maternal place and instead took her into the jungle. He left her while she was sleeping. He spilt ‘aalta’ (red colour liquid which Bengali brides wear in their feet after marriage) around her so that she assumes that he has been killed by a tiger. When Gulabbibi woke up, she realised that her husband was not around and she was all alone in the jungle. She started praying to Allah for her safety. 5 men appeared from nowhere and started helping her with food and shelter. They took care of her till her babies were born. She had twins – a girl and a boy and immediately after the child birth, those men disappeared. Gulabbibi was left stranded with no help. She thought that she could not survive in the jungle if she has two newborns to look after. Therefore, she abandoned the girl child and moved to another island with her boy child to look for food. The new born girl child was left alone crying. She had no one to look after. Just then a deer passed by the infant girl child and fed her with its milk. The girl child grew up to be Banabibi among the wild animals. Sounds like a Bollywood flick. But this is the fable which is prevalent in the area with many small temples made out of wood and hay where people offer prayers to her before entering the jungle. Even today poeple seek Banabibi’s blessings.

Banabibi

As the stories continued, we were served breakfast and lunch on the boat. Needless to say we enjoyed the delicious sea food and the local catches. We saw the islands from far off which are a part of Bangladesh. We went to Dobanki deer park and kept on cruising in the hope of spotting a tiger. We managed to spot deer, crocodile, wild boar, snakes, giant lizards, crabs in diverse colours as well as various species of birds. But our watchful eyes couldn’t manage to get a glimpse of the jungle lord. Tired and dejected we returned back to our hotel in the evening. The local shops were selling honey collected from the jungle. It is the most organic form of honey which has a very liquid like consistency. Our friends haggled but couldn’t bring it to a point of sale. Finally, we retired to our respective rooms. Local performers were called who sang the folk songs popular in that area. But the entire day’s exhaustion had caught up with us. We retired early after dinner.

Day 2 highlights: Do-Banki Canopy Walk, Netidhopani, Bonbibi Bharani Canal, Peerkhali Canl, Gazikhali Canal, Choragazikhali Canal, Panchamukhani (5 rivers adjoining center) & Sundarkhali canal

Day 3:
It was time to go back to the main land. We pretty much started the same time as the previous day. We went to Sudhanakhali watch tower to try our luck again. Unfortunately after 2009 Aila tornado, many part of the Sunderban islands have been destroyed, which is still being rebuilt. Manoranjan told us his own horrific experience where he had survived for two days by climbing a tree during Aila.

A boat ride in Gosaba

While going back we got down at Gosaba. Gosaba boasts of having the Hamilton’s bungalow. We went inside the market area which is narrow and overcrowded. We finally saw the bungalow which is opened for public only once a year. We saw another bungalow where Rabindra Nath Tagore once visited. A quaint little bungalow located next to the market. Nothing fancy or celestially beautiful, but it definitely reflected simplicity and an aura of creativity around it.

Hamilton Bunglow

Hamilton Bunglow

We again got on the boat. The weather was getting a bit rough. Saw dangerously grey clouds all over the sky and the river started looking a bit unpleasant too; As if it could topple us over anytime. The water is infested with sharks and other species of fish which devour human flesh. Right then, the owner of the boat started telling us horrifying stories of accidents where the sharks chomped off someone’s leg or a crocodile suddenly appeared from nowhere and pulled a man inside the water. Spooky! Finally we got back to Sonakhali at 2 pm.

Overcast sky followed by heavy shower

Day 3 highlights: Sudhanyakhali Tiger Reserve, Sarakhali and Gosaba Hamilton Bungalow.

End of our journey!

We drove back to Kolkata via Kolkata-Malancha road. I thought the road via Baruipur was better. Reached Kolkata by 5 pm, which ended our eventful journey in search of the jungle king.

About MumbaiGloss

Parimita Chakravorty is an author, blogger, features writer and a communications specialist. She has written for various popular magazines and websites related to beauty, fashion, jewellery and lifestyle, including HAIR India, Femina.in, BeBeautiful.in, Hello, etc. She has also contributed to various youth blogs and magazines. Her book ‘Look Stunning At Any Size’ has been well appreciated and received by the readers. Currently, she is part of India’s leading IT brand and takes care of their internal communications. Parimita is also working towards bringing awareness about Endometriosis in India; a silent epidemic which is consuming a lot of lives. She manages a page ‘Endometriosis India Files’ where patients discuss their condition and diagnosis.
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