Sundarbans I – The Hunter and the Hunted

When I was in Bharatpur, I got a call from a guy from Bangalore called Lesley, who wanted to know if I would be interested in working on a two week project on Tigers of Sundarbans, , with the National geographic Film and Television department. He was the India co-coordinator for this project and told me that if I was interested he would put me on the Producer in Washington. If I was interested??? This guy must have been crazy – Of course I was interested. It is not everyday that national geographic takes us out on an all expense paid trip to an exotic tiger habitat and pays us at the end of the day for our time (which most people like us have in plenty). So I told the guy that I “maybe interested.”

When I got back from Bharatpur I got a call from James Byrne from National Geographic, Washington. We discussed a lot of general things and he told me that the shoot starts from the 1st of March and would be over in two weeks. He also told me that he would be in Calcutta (the closest airport from Sundarbans on the 25th of March) and would then head to Sundarbans for a familiarization trip and would be glad if I could join him for the same. I reached Calcutta on the 24th night (a day before James was to reach) and met up with Lesley.

sunset in Sundarbans

Over dinner, Lesley explained to me what the film was going to be all about. I knew a bit about it but not enough. The film was about man eating tigers of Sundarbans and was to cover three different stories – one about an attack on a girl child inside a village, another about an attack on a fisherman who was on his boat and the third about an attack inside the forest on a man who was part of a group of honey collectors. In all the three cases the tiger (different ones in each cases) had killed the people they had attacked but could not eat them, mainly because the other people around had managed to scare the tiger away.

Sundarbans – the world’s largest estuarine mangrove forest – is the largest habitat of Bengal tigers in the entire world. It gets its name from the “Sundari” mangrove tree, which is now a rarity in most parts of Sundarbans. It is situated in the southern tip of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. Sundarbans is the delta of two of India’s mightiest rivers – the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. The entire place consists of a number of tiny islands and is cris-crossed by tributaries, distributaries, creeks and backwaters. The face of Sundarbans changes dramatically with the diurnal tides. Durinf the high tide about half the land is submerged and one can see floating forests” all around. While at low tide, large expanses of mud are visible all over. Sundarbans is home to large number of aquatic and terrestrial animals. As one goes closer to the sea, the salinity of the water increases and this has an important role to ply in the mix of the aquatic animals and plants that are to be seen.

mangrove forests in Sundarbans

The Indian part of the Sundarbans has been declared as National Park and is a Project Tiger Reserve. UNESCO has also declared the region as a “Biosphere Reserve.” The region is home to some of the poorest people in the world, who make their living out of farming, fishing, aquaculture and through the collection of minor forest produce (such as honey). It is one of the few regions in the world where there are no social tensions between the mix of Hindu and Muslim population that inhabit the area. In fact the muslim and hindu population share a large number of social, cultural and even religious traditions.

fishing in Sundarbans