Sundarbans and tigers – oh my!

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I looked down at the ground with my son at the tracks pointed out by our guide. The tiger prints were clearly fresh – made this morning, so our guide thought – and were huge.

“Oh cool!” Said my boy, obviously impressed with the size of the paws, and scanned the horizon eagerly in case the beast which made them could still be seen. I too, scanned around, shading my eyes from the intense heat and looking into the dense forest that surrounded us. We had been walking for about twenty minutes and there was no way, had a tiger actually appeared, that we could have run back to the boat before it would have made sure we never ran anywhere ever again. Even if, by some miracle, we did make it to the ghat, the boat clearing, our motor boat had been taken back to the cruise boat where we were staying. We could not have swum, even though the bigger boat was in sight. Tigers are good swimmers…

There is an expression in Bangla: Jole kumir dangae bagh. It translates to Crocodile in the water, tiger on the bank and roughly means the same as our Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Staying at the Sundarbans, I can see why Bangladeshis have their own version. With crocs in the water and tigers clearly on the land, there would be no place to hide. I took some comfort from the fact that our walking party of about twenty-five was accompanied by two armed guards. But with the Royal Bengal Tiger being a protected species and only around 450 of them being left in the Sundarbans, which is their home, that comfort was not much. I wondered how long a tiger would have to maul me before they would fire a shot above its head. I’m not entirely convinced they would ever have got around to shooting the beast at all.

Fresh tiger tracks on the bank where we went walking to the beach. Thankfully, this tiger remained shy...

Thankfully, we didn’t see a tiger and so I never got to test the loyalty of the guards. Instead we carried on with our walk until we reached the wonderful coast on the Bay of Bengal and all of us took a long swim in sauna-like temperatures of the water.

Oh how manly do I look...?

It is no surprise that most of our group are Europeans with a fair number being English. The old song Mad Dogs and Englishmen is still just as true today as it was when Noel Coward made it popular decades ago. Who else would go out swimming on land clearly patrolled by one of the most fearsome man-eaters the modern world has ever known? On the landing ghat it said (ironically, in Bangla but with no need for translation) “Tourist Spot”. I joked that on the other side, in tiger language it said “Free Lunch”.

This side "Tourist Spot" other side in Tiger language "Free lunch"...

This was not the most dangerous thing we all did on our conference trip from LAMB. A smaller group took a boat trip out down one of the smaller rivers meandering throughout the Sundarbans and came across a king cobra. The boatman swiftly moved the rowing boat over to the other bank. The cruise boat had no anti-venom and the bite from one of these is so large you would die before ever making it to a hospital. Whilst it was prudent that the boat man moved to the other side, one doctor who was with us asked the question: what would have happened if there had been another king cobra on the other side?!

NOT the King cobra...

Well, the cobra was as dangerous an animal as we got to see as the crocs and the tigers are notoriously shy creatures. We saw plenty other wildlife including smaller snakes, otters, deer, wild boar and slimy mudmen.

Well ok, the slimy mudmen came from our own group when we were taken to a beach full of silty mud. Several swam to the shore from the cruise boat but the rest jumped from the smaller boat and swam through the mud, onto the mud or just plain dived into the mud! Very good for the skin I am told but I declined to go in. Way too much mess!

Sundarbans means, literally, beautiful forest though this may have come through reference to the Sundari tree found there. It is true to its name and is incredibly beautiful. Clearly looked after and preserved by all for centuries?  Alas, that is not so true.

Just over 65 years ago my mother used to come from Calcutta, travel over the Ganges river and take a holiday in the Bengal jungle in a place she, as a child, called Ranchee. I can find no trace of that place but I’m fairly certain she misheard (as kids do) and it was actually Rajshahi, the very division I live in and only a couple of hours away from LAMB. That jungle no longer exists there and most of it has gone from the entire country with only little pockets of it in places like Sylhet in the northeast. Most of what is left of the famed Bengal jungle is now the Sundarbans. It is a third of the size it used to be. Here is a map showing you the land area.

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Just try to picture how much of it has been lost. Though Indians and Bangladeshis share some of the blame for using and abusing this magnificent resource, I’m afraid the British were the worst culprits.

For this reason, the whole area is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so. In a country heaving with 160 million people and no chance of any space to yourself, this area is a ‘sea of tranquility’ and we all benefitted from this over the four days we stayed on the cruise.

The cruise company, by the way, were excellent (their website is www.guidetours.com ). The food and service was wonderful, the boat was clean and seaworthy. We were picked up from Khulna train station and had our luggage carried to the boat that took us to the cruise boat. The same happened in reverse. It was actually easier to do than travelling to Dhaka! It is a journey I recommend anyone to go on if you get the chance and I highly recommend the company (not just because the young man who ran the boat looked like me in my youth!). No wonder the Sundarbans have been repeatedly called for to be considered as one of the modern-day seven wonders of the world. The area deserves it.

Just don’t play with the cats.

Ken woz ere...

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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28 Responses to Sundarbans and tigers – oh my!

  1. Pingback: 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 6 – Bread on the table | kenthinksaloud

  2. Pingback: Reflections on the Hardest Things about Moving Home from Bangladesh | kenthinksaloud

  3. Jeff says:

    May just have to take this trip!

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  4. Pingback: Minipost 17 – The ways people get here baffle me… | kenthinksaloud

  5. Muna Haque says:

    Good to know about your trip to sunderban. And thanks to you again, for introducing Bangladesh to everyone by your wonderful writing!

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  6. kidswhogig says:

    OMG! this was really interesting Ken! I can’t imagine a tiger prowling around and actually seeing footprints. Gators have always scared me and the snake thang – well don’t even get me started. Over here they now have this ridiculous tv show about hunting rattlesnakes in TX. Well you know thats where I live. YIKES! Glad you got in the Titanic pic – that was funny considering where you are! I love the mud idea too! A lovely version of a spa treatment right there in India! Fabulous – I still think you should have done it…maybe next time!

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    • Thanks for your comments! It was a wonderful place to visit and should try and come here for yourself to experience it! I’m rubbish with mess and gunge – messy kitchen stuff and paintings were always my wife’s area for doing with the kids. I never make pastry and try to avoid chopping meat all for the same reason! Diving into mud is my idea of hell!!

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  7. Vikki Ford-Powell says:

    An amazing place that you have captured really well. Makes me want to go back!:)

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  8. Rinth says:

    Very interesting to read about your trip to Sundarban. I myself haven’t yet had the chance to see the place.

    Just a side note… was that a pun? Like your caption said one thing but what actually was written on the sand was “why was I here”😕.

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    • Ah, you maybe can’t quite see the mark under the no in the first word which makes it ‘Ken’ not ‘keno’! Ken is my name!🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post – you MUST visit the Sundarbans if you can!🙂

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      • Rinth says:

        Yeah hopefully I will someday🙂.

        Oh sorry that one is okay… but you wrote “chilam”,, which means “I was”… third person singular should be “chilo”😉.

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        • well now…I thought as I wrote it at the time that it should be “chilo” but then decided that it doesn’t capture the meaning as it is used in English. With third person the writing effectively means “Ken, he was here” whereas “Ken was here” in English would be assumed to have been written by the person themself. So I decided that “chilam” caught the meaning better even though, as you are right to point out, the literal translation should be “chilo”.🙂

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          • Rinth says:

            Ooh okay I got you… that’s interesting actually, although it’s uncommon to see people get so creative with Bangla😛. Maybe in poetry! ^_^

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          • Well, bear in mind I live in Bangladesh which takes its Bangla pretty seriously! Although I am pretty rubbish at it, I love the language and think it is very creative – as Tagore thought too, of course.

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          • Rinth says:

            Well my origin is Bangladeshi so I know😛. And I didn’t mean that it isn’t creative as a lanugage… what I simply mean was that it’s more acceptable in Latin based languages if you bend the words “creatively”, than in Bangla😛. I don’t know if I make any sense smh… never mind😛.

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          • lol you are making sense Rinth…sort of…😛 – I didn’t know you come from Bangladesh! Which part?

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          • Rinth says:

            Hahah… how else would I know how to read Bangla :P? Or did you assume I work there as well :P? Yes well my parents are from Bangladesh but I’m born and brought up in Sweden. I’ve been to Bangladesh more or less every year since I was seven months though🙂. My mom is originally from Dhaka and dad is from Chittagong.

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          • Oh I see! Well, I thought you might be India actually! Bengla (Bengali) is one of the major languages there and when we went to Kolkata last year ( I wrote a post on that) we spoke to everyone we met in Bangla and had no trouble communicating until we reached Darjeeling for the final part of our trip!
            You’ll have to let me know next time you come to Dhaka and we can get a cup of cha somewhere!🙂

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          • Rinth says:

            Ah… hadn’t thought of that possibility😛.

            Yeah that would be cool ^_^. I don’t plan to go this year but next year maybe!

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          • Well let me know. Next year will be my last year here for a while – it would be nice to catch up properly! You might have to put up with my two annoying children though as I usually travel with wife and kids wherever I go!🙂

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          • Rinth says:

            Hahah… that’s perfectly alright as I love children😛. By the way… how does it work for your kids when you’re over there? Are they homeschooled?

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          • No, I teach at an English Medium School at LAMB and my two kids learn here. I do teach them at home too but that is because some things just aren’t taught over here…

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        • Rinth says:

          Oh I see.

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  9. jacqui says:

    Sounds a great holiday. Great company, beautiful surroundings and just a hint of danger to spice it up. And after all the wonderful work you all do at LAMB, a well deserved holiday too B-)

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