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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.