Sundarban… The name entered my brain during a book club reading of The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh… and stayed there doing in some dark corner, doing nothing, waiting to be forgotten.
Then, with all the Kolkata planning, I thought, why not use the opportunity to travel a little further – Darjeeling? Sikkim? Agartala? Thanks to the internet, the mind can travel without any constraints. As it turned out, all my potential travel partners had to leave right after the wedding, and I only managed to convince my parents to stay on a couple of days longer, then frantically tried to find some places near Kolkata to visit.
That’s when (aided by Google and some other sites) Sundarban jumped right out from that cold storage of my brain right to the forefront. It made perfect sense to fit it in our West Bengal travel – Baba likes his art and architecture, so we had Shantiniketan – and Mummy likes nature and wildlife – Sundarban made just the right balance. There is only one good place to stay if you want any chance of spotting the Royal Bengal Tiger; that is the Sunderban Tiger Camp, situated inside the protected area of the forest. But, good luck with trying to get them to respond over a simple email from overseas. I had none.
Quick facts: Sundarban is a protected area of dense mangrove forests that straddles the south-eastern tip of West Bengal, India and parts of Bangladesh, and is one of the largest reserves of the Bengal tiger. It derives its name from the Sundari trees that are present in abundance in the region.
We settled for another tour company that were much more responsive. Their resort in the village bordering the Sundarban was neat and comfortable enough.
There’s no electricity in the village. The power in the evening comes from generators. And the villagers choose to use that power to blare long music all evening. It may have been a way to scare off man-eating tigers, now that I think about it. Not much crowd in the middle of the week, but we had some Baul geet entertainment until late at night. This kid seemed to be quite popular, he makes appearances on TV, and some of the audience had him sing requests too.
The first afternoon we set out to the Watch Tower, which was actually a tiger (protected) area. No tigers in the wild, a couple in enclosures, the less said about that the better.
A disappointing start, but we had some lovely sunset views to enjoy.
The next morning, we set out earlyish, along with another family from the resort, on our boat cruise.
Our timing for visiting the Sunderbans was off, most of the animals are to be spotted early morning or evening, and we were wandering about in the middle of the day. We did see a few deer, monitor lizard, crocodiles from a distance, but for the most part we lounged on the boat, chatting and eating.
I wish I’d planned the excursion better, but as a means to bond with parents (who often complain that I’m forever running off), this one was perfect!
And as I was writing this post, I remembered a painting by Rabindranath Tagore. Was the scene above the inspiration for that painting, I wonder?