Sundarbans

The Sundarbans is the largest Mangrove forest in the world and home to the Bengal Tiger. 60% of it is in Bangladesh and the other 40% in India. Despite being a Unesco World Heritage site, the way there on the Bangladeshi side takes some patience (unless you fly). After a 7 hour bus ride from the capitol to Khulna, I decided to make it easier on myself and went the rest of the way with Guide Tours.

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Early in the dusty morning, I took a moped taxi down the bumpy road to the harbor. Already waiting for me was Emamul, a very smart and kind man who was to be our groups guide. I briefly met the captain and a short row boat ride later, found my bunk-bed for the next three days.

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The first day was a leisurely ride to the mangroves. There wasn’t too much to see but endless water, coast line, and the occasional alligator. At night, I sat next to the captain and watched him sail in almost complete darkness.

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Captain

The best chance to see tigers is early in the morning. But with a big group, I find early isn’t early enough and as expected, no tigers. Fishermen waited for their catch, uninterested in us and most definitely uninterested in tigers. I will say though that as we crept along the mangrove banks, I held my breath with a fluttering anticipation. Did you see me tiger? Perhaps my heart beat too loudly.

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The further we ventured, the narrower the stream and the sharper the Mangrove trees’ roots grew. I was impressed to see how the sprung from the mud. Their objective: air.

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On the second day, we tried again along a different part of the park. Today, every rustling branch was a tiger. Every yellow leaf was its tail. I imagined it looking at me through the palm leaves, but I knew my imagination could not grasp the enormity of the beast. Another morning gone without any luck.

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The afternoon was our last chance. We picked up an armed guard and went by foot. First, we hiked through tall elephant grass and I cursed myself for wearing shorts. Although I could barely see above the thick, our movement scared away plenty of deer. Halfway through we found a clearing, where we snacked on sour plum trees.

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Gradually the terrain changed to mangrove, then to sand and we walked between the trees to the ocean. I was surprised to see a google cam, but Emamul was not pleased as now, “everyone would know [his] secret beach”.

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I asked the guard what he would actually do if we were to encounter a tiger. He responded that he would shoot it and I secretly hoped we wouldn’t see one. Along the way, we found a couple days old footprint. To Emamul’s dislike, I joked the whole thing was a farce and there weren’t any tigers in the Sundarbans.

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The best part of the day was wading through the mud. Broken pieces of pottery used to import and export salt melded with the earth. I became an anthropologist and searched for buried treasure. My greatest regret is leaving the beautiful round vessel on the shore for no one but the sunset.

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I went to the Sundarbans to see tigers. But after three days, I was almost convinced the whole thing was a hoax set up to encourage tourism. Emamul told me this was the fault of poachers. In all his trips to the Sundarbans, he had only seen tigers on 3 occasions. The joke being that they all live on the Indian side. Maybe next time.

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