When my sister-in-law suggested that we go on a trip to Sundarbans while visiting them, I was ecstatic. By the way, I am ALWAYS ecstatic about suggested trips, especially if it involves birds and/or even otherwise. So my answer was a resounding, ‘Yes!’ to her suggestion.
D-day dawned misty and grey and COLD. I HATE cold. Nevertheless, I got ready quickly. We had to start early. When my sister-in-law saw me, she asked in surprise, ‘Ready already? No bath?’ The hot water being in her room I couldn’t wriggle out of that one. Errr… umm… it is too cold for a bath, so I had a quick wash and got ready, I told her. So it is that we started our trip to Sunderbans as a group of one unwashed and three freshly washed humans, the brother, SiL and the nephew.
It was a misty morning and the drive was pleasant, especially from inside the cozy confines of the car we had to ourselves. By the time we reached our destination in three hours time, and boarded a motor boat (along with a couple of other families) for the next phase of our journey, the sun was out and shining feebly in an apologetic manner. The wind though, was chilly and totally unapologetic about it too. There’s a photo of me all bundled up, looking like an Eskimo in winter. You bet I am not going to post THAT one here.
The rest of the day and the next one, we went up and down the waters trying our luck at spotting the much sought after fierce tiger of the region along with other flora and fauna. The guide and the conductor of the tour were both emphatic about one thing. IF you see the tiger in Sunderbans, you’ll never ever want to see a tiger again in your life. Such is the fear it will put into you by the fierceness of its look.
Nary a tiger did we see. Like the many others before us. But that was hardly surprising. There was a young man in our group who was coming on the same trip for the fifth consecutive time, just so he could have a glimpse of the famed tiger of the region. He is determined to continue visiting Sunderbans until he spots one, his mother, who was also in the group, told us.
Well, according to the guide there have been groups lucky enough to have spotted the tiger more than once at different locations on the same day. One of them had, hold your breath, three sightings on a single day, he said. How thrilling! Sigh, but never mind. Though we didn’t see any tigers, we saw pug marks in the distance on the shore. In the camp area (here humans walked through a raised, covered and protected walkway), we saw marks that indicated a tiger had had a tussle with its prey, a deer. The guide pointed out the marks to us.
That brings me to something that set me thinking.
When the pug marks on the shore were pointed out, everyone on the boat promptly checked it out as one, with the utmost interest. But afterwards there was some self-conscious tittering among the sightseers. People laughed and joked with each other that for all we knew the marks were man-made, probably by the forest guards who’d gone ahead knowing that a boat full of people was on its way. Doubtless they did it for the benefit of every set of visitors to the area, the sightseers said only half in jest.
‘Noooo!’ my heart cried out, wanting to believe what the guide said. Those ARE pug marks. But then again, what did I really know about pug marks anyway and that too seen from a distance? Not that getting a closer look would make much of a difference. I am a city bred one and pug marks are a closed book to me. What if, I thought, the jokes were the truth? The general mood of skepticism was hard to shake off.
Suddenly something else struck me: We didn’t expect to hear the truth from others, did we? We believed in our hearts that we’d be lied to, that we’d be taken for a royal ride by those around us. In that moment it also came to me with clarity just how many times in our respective lives must we have been cheated or lied to for us to become so cynical. That made me really sad for all of us and our lost faith in humanity.
Philosophical aside apart, the no-show of the tiger did not dampen our spirits at all. We saw birds, water snakes, monitor lizard, crocodile, jungle cat, deer, wild boar… More about that, with a few pictures thrown in, in my next post. The food was yum though a little too oily, and included fish, crab (sorry no pictures of the food, I was busy tucking in) among other things. I really enjoyed the lal chai (black tea, they call it red tea for some reason), the khajur ka ras and the early morning mist which made the village we stayed in that much more beautiful. There was song and dance too for our benefit. And then there was that funny incident…. They will all have to wait for another day. 😉
©Shail Mohan 2018