November 2005: The Sunderbans is the largest mangrove forest in world and forms the delta of the tributaries of the Ganges River. The mangrove forest extends between Bangladesh and India and is home to rare and endangered wildlife such as crocodiles, Ganges River dolphins and the Bengal Tiger. Despite Bangladesh and India being two of the most densely populated countries in the world, wildlife still thrives in the Sunderbans. A big reason for this is because the Sunderbans is not only protected but the mostly Hindu and animistic people who live there harbor an almost religious reverence towards the wildlife of the Sunderbans. There are approx. 100 tigers living in the Sunderbans and every year at least 50 people are killed by tigers in the area. Despite these killings the people do not seek to have the tigers exterminated. Instead, they accept these deaths as the will of the Gods and their Karma. The people of the Sunderbans have traditionally lived in a harmonious balance with the Sunderbans and harvested the honey, fish, wood, and plants at their own risk because this is necessary for survival. In To avoid being attacked by tigers, many people wear masks on the back of their heads since tigers are ambush hunters and less likely to pounce if being watched. The local people also pay homage to the God of the forests, Banbibi, who they believe look out for their safety.

 

Where is the Sunderbans

Location of Sunderbans in India and Bangldesh 

As part of a larger trip to eastern India, and Bhutan my girlfriend and I traveled to Bangladesh to visit the Sunderbans and to see one of its man-eating tigers in the wild. To do so, I contacted a local company in the Sunderbans that operates boats into the mangroves, and I convinced them to let me sleep overnight in a watch tower in the core area of the park. The core area has the densest population of tigers and is where I would most likely be able to see one. Arranging for permission from the park rangers to sleep in the watch tower wasn’t easy and the decision to do so wasn’t granted until the last moment out of fear for our safety but in the end, permission was granted under a set of rules we had to follow.

We traveled to Bangladesh from India with pre-arranged visas. As soon as we crossed the border hordes of Bangladeshi men gathered around us inquisitively. We were bombarded with questions such as where you from are, are you married, how old are you. Everywhere we went, this kind of treatment followed us. It was a stark difference from India where on the most part people ignored us. The attention wasn’t aggressive, and it always felt like it came from a place of genuine kindness and curiosity. Bangladesh definitely in all of my travels rates as one of the top countries for friendly people.

 

World’s Friendliest People

Warm Greetings from Locals

Bangladesh is a Muslim country, and the men commonly have long beards and wear Islamic clothing.

Friendly Locals

Train Journey Due to Transportation Strike

I had pre-arranged a taxi to pick us up and take us to meet our boat but there was no taxi waiting for us. I figured no problem, we can find another taxi but when I tried, the Bangladeshi people informed me the roads were closed because a national strike. No vehicle or buses were allowed to travel on the roads. I called my fixer from a local payphone, and he apologized and said that it would not be possible to get us, and that travel was blocked by the strike. I asked what would happen if we tried, and he said our vehicle might be lit on fire or we could be subject to violence. After some investigative work, we figured out that the trains were still running despite the strike. So, we decided to take the train, but it still came with a risk. It technically was not exempt of the strike and could be subject to violent attacks. We decided to take the chance anyways and we traveled across the country to the city at the beginning of the Sunderbans, Khulna. we attracted a lot of attention on the train, and everyone stared at us watching our every move and smiling.

 

Train travel

Locals inside the train

Our fellow train travelers

Our fellow train travelers

vender on the train selling food at stops

Village boy 

Starting the Boat Journey into the Sunderbans

After sleeping one night in Kulna, we met our boat for the journey into the Sunderbans and we began our 3-day trip into the Sundarbans.

 

Boat we stayed on

Locals watching us from the boat docks

Inside out boat cabin

Villages that Live Side by Side with Man Eating Tigers

Inside the Sunderbans there are villages mostly of Hindu/animistic people that believe in forest Gods. The eke out a fragile existence relying on the forest for their survival, and they have a very close relationship with nature.

 

Village children harvesting crabs in the mud

Village children harvesting crabs in the mud

Me showing the village children their photos

Every year’s clay figures are made to honor the forest Gods Banbibi and offerings are made for protection in the forest when fishing and harvesting goods. After the ceremony is over the clay figures are destroyed and new ones made the next year.

 

Bonbibi Clay figures in the village

Local fishing boats

Fisherman

Fishing boats

The Sunderbans is one of the last refuges for the Ganges River dolphin which is extremely endangered

 

ganges river dolphin swimming by a boat

Into the Core Part of the Sunderbans

I arranged permits for us to enter the core area of the park, where people are not allowed, and tigers are the most concentrated. We traveled the river inlets looking for tigers and found crocodiles, monitor lizards, monkeys and deer but no tigers. I hoped that my plan to walk to a watch tower and sleep there for the night would improve our chances of seeing a tiger.

 

Lush vegetation

Monitor lizard

easy to imagine a tiger ready to pounce in this

Fishing eagle

Macaque

deer eating seeds at low tide in mangroves

Sleeping Overnight in a Watchtower looking for Tigers

In the evening we took a small row from our boat into a stream and went deep into the jungle. two rangers with rifles were with us as we rowed to shore. As we entered the stream and were engulfed by jungle, a tiger’s roar echoed across the forest. The tiger according to the ranger was nearby. I was giddy with excitement, but I knew the thick foliage would make any sighting difficult and now it was dark. We walked a few hundred yards across a field to a watch tower approx. 75 feet tall accessible by a spiral staircase. The rangers warned us that we were not allowed to come down at night and that we would have to go to the toilet off of the side of the watch tower. They then left us and returned to the boat vowing to return and get us in the morning. We slept on inflatable mattresses on wooden boards, and I shone my flashlight to the forest below catching the red reflections of dozens of deer grazing in the grass. I knew that somewhere below us, somewhere was a tiger. I stayed awake looking but soon fell asleep.

In the morning at sunrise, the rangers true to their word met us at the base of the watch tower and took us on a walk to a beach on the ocean. Although we didn’t see a tiger, we came across a large pugmark of one in the mud. Amazingly despite the tigers in the area, there were still fisherman on the beach and even tree sap gatherers in the trees. The rangers said these men were allowed to be in this part of the park since they have a low impact on the wildlife.

 

Rangers

The watchtower we slept in to spot a tiger in the core area of the park

Tiger pug mark

man harvesting tree sap

Viper snake

Fisherman

Fisherman

Catch of the day

At the end of our Sunderbans trip, we traveled back upriver via motorboat and then via taxi to the India border. The driver who was with us all day refused a tip from me and insisted that he was duty bound under God to help us and he isn’t doing it for tips. On the Indian side of the border our original taxi driver from Calcutta slept in his car for 4 days waiting for us even though I didn’t ask him to wait for us. He was desperate for business and knew we would return so I had no choice but to hire him again.

 

15 + 15 =

error: Content is protected !!