Published: July 18th 2008July 18th 2008
Tigress being released back into jungle
This tigress had entered a viilage and forest guards tranquilized it to release it back to into the jungle
Sundarban National Park: Unique Biosphere of Home of the Royal Bengal Tiger
Partha De Sarkar
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Late at night the tiger had started growling. Muktar Hussein our guide had told us that it was a male tiger giving mating call. We woke up early and it was still growling intermittently. We had hoped to see it at light break but we could see sandhead and mangrove beyond, not the tiger. Last night we had moored our launch off the Kalas Island after coming back from the Kalas Eco camp.
We had disembarked at the Kalas Island along with fishermen who had come fishing there in their powerboat. Near the sweet water pond constructed by the Forest Department, we had seen hoof marks of deer and had seen two bores with fairly large tusks. But what had thrilled us the most were pugmarks on soft ground with that the hope of spotting a Royal Bengal Tiger. Fishermen and Muktar were confident that pugmarks were fresh and advised us to return to the safety of the launch. We remembered the words of Malay De, ex-District Magistrate of 24-Prganas
Tigress swiming away
After release the tigress swam away
North under whom a portion of the Sundarban came.
When he heard about our planned visit to the unique pristine world of the Sundarban he had told “Huge terrain with inherent lurking danger makes exploring the Sundarban different from other wildernesses in India. Though the Sundarban is the largest home of the Royal Bemgal Tiger, sighting a tiger is very difficult but you will feel its presence always." While hearing the growl of the unseen tiger, we remembered his words.
It was January this year and January is the best time to visit the largest mangrove forest in the world, the Heritage site where tiger on land, largest estuarine crocodile in water roam free. We had hired a launch and guide Muktar Hussein. From Calcutta we had driven out Raidighi and had headed straight for the Kalas Island and Kalas Island Eco-camp. Now we sailed to the Haliday Island. The Haliday Island is the winter nesting and egg laying spot for the Olive Riddley turtles. Reaching there, we were again disappointed. We did not find any turtle. But the rare beauty of the mangrove delta, the glow of perpetual green when the sun falls on them and tranquility
Snake Mating 1
Cobras mating is rare sight. here shown insequance
of the Sundarban was unforgettable.
The Sundarban archipelago of 108 islands interspersed with tidal rivers and narrow creeks hold all visitors spell bound. You are reminded time and again that life is tough on mudflats and food being scares tiger ventures into the villages for livestock. Walking was dangerous as we saw tiger mauled fishermen and honey collectors in many villages.
As we sailed towards Netadhopani, we were among the densest part of the mangrove forest. Birds like Mangrove Pitra and Mangrove Whistler were playing on the sand heads. Colourful kingfishers dived in and out of the water. We were looking for estuarine crocodiles. We were very near Natadhopani. As we turned left, we heard excited voice of the motorman, Suresh. We looked ahead and saw the sight that is the dream of all wildlife lovers. A tiger was crossing the river. It was swift and beautiful. It vanished into the forest of the Dakshinrai River in flash. But we were so over excited that only Dipak's camera clicked and rest of us just forgot to catch the moment.
We disembarked at Netadhopani and went to the watchtower through a passage protected by steel netting from tiger
Pugmark means a tiger passed
attack. We spent an hour on watchtower with forest guards. Some deer and a couple of wild bore visited the waterhole but again tiger eluded us. We met Gagan Majhi. Muktar told us that tiger mauled him while he was fishing. He still carried deep scar on his back. Gagan did not take his shirt off. After he was mauled, he had become an exhibit for the visitors. Being fed up, now he does not show his wounds.
For the night, we anchored at Dobanki. Here we saw young boys, girls and ladies standing in knee-deep water and catching shrimps. Muktar told us that poverty had driven them for such risky job. Risky as every creek and river is the habitat of estuarine crocodiles and these giant reptiles attacked all things living including human. Now it was clear to us why did we see so many people, young and old without limbs in the Sundarban.
Day light broke beautifully. We could see many birds around the waterways and land. There were Spoon-billed Sandpipers shifting mud for food. We heard cuckoo singing and saw flights of shining green parrots. Mud flats and sand dunes were full of crabs of
Royal Bengal Tiger
A lone tiger crossing mud flat
many shapes and size. It was a beautiful morning.
We left for Sudhanyakhali. As we sailed along deep mangrove forests, we realized that civilization as we know it comes to end in this forbidden terrain and we enter the tigerland. We saw a large family of stork, possibly Lesser Adjutant Storks on a tree. But when shouts of Muktar alerted us, we looked around. Initially, we did not see a thing. Muktar asked us to look at our right. And then we saw two nostrils floating just above the water. A crocodile was floating by. But it moved away. As the river turned right, we saw a huge estuarine crocodile sunning on a sand head. It was fearfully huge. We stopped for long and enjoyed its ugly hugeness.
We reached Sudhanyakhali. Sudhanyakhali watchtower was protected by steel net. Dense mangrove forest and local trees like Sundari, Hetal, Garan and Garjan was the home of tiger but we again failed to see tiger from the tower. We saw a large iguana or Gosap as these are called locally. One thing was clear even if we did not see tiger except for one occasion but the beauty of the wilderness
Esturian crocodile is as dangerous in water as a tiger on land
was in its variety of flora and fauna. And when we saw the rarest of rare fishing cat for a fleeting moment, we were no less happy.
We slowly understood why such a terrain in is in the list of UNESCO as a world Heritage Site. The Sundarban is mystical and mysterious. It is dangerous but beautiful. Yet the Sundarban has a dynamic ecosystem. In the morning it is bright and understandable. But when the settings sun turns it into faintly glowing green pristine land where time has stand still, one is charmed and mesmerized.
We sailed into Bali Island. Night was again mystical and silent.
Today was our last day and we reached Sajnekhali, a favourite tourist spot. We checked ourselves in at the Tourist Lodge. We visited Mangrove Interpretation Centre and crocodile and turtle pond. We saw crocodile being fed. In the afternoon, we went to Pakhiralaya, the bird sanctuary. It was full of migratory birds from Europe and Central Asia. Ducks of many colour, storks, and so many other species were visible.
We saw stark poverty. Tourism is gaining momentum and it will definitely be a boon. But for now the life goes on
Croc on Tree
Crocodile climbed a tree is a very rare sight
slowly with hope of a better future and villagers live with the dangerous professions like honey collection, catching shrimps in waters of creeks and rivers. They are maimed or killed by tigers and crocodile. When we talked to the villagers about the danger, they were philosophical. " Sir, we are the children of the Sundarban and we live the life the Sundarban provided us through centuries." But when we talked the officials and the non-government organization working with the people of the Sundarban, we found that they were very hopeful of better days ahead. And that is necessary to save the unique biosphere of the Sundarban. When we thought of the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, we recalled how these mangroves stood the fury of tsunami that had struck the coasts of India without allowing the massive fury to do any damage in the eastern coast of the country. The Sundarban must not die.
Next day we left an ecosystem that has few parallel in the world. We left a maze of islands surrounded by endless stretches of water. Rich tidal creeks that provide diverse habitat such as channel sands, inter tidal mudflats, mangrove forests and animals of varied
Sundarban has many rare creatures. Here is a rare crab
nature. Of all these ever, eluding Royal Bengal Tiger rules supreme.
There are more photos below