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The Beautiful Forest: The Sundarbans

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It was a journey of a kind– expedition on a river encircling a jungle- the Sundarbans. Sundarban (pronounced Shundor-bon) is named after the Sundari trees it is famous for. Sundarban National Park, a mangrove forest on the islands of the Ganga Delta, is home to a hundred Royal Bengal Tigers. It is spread over both India and Bangladesh, with 1,330.12 km2 (328,680 acres) in India alone. Tigers, unlike humans, have no boundaries. So they keep travelling between both the neighboring countries and attacking humans as if all humans are the same. Such foolish creatures!

Staple rice and fish is the common diet of the poor humans who co-exist with these carnivores. For us, the citizens of the modern world, life seems miserable there. People lack basic amenities. They are always in the pincer grip of fear. There was a time when people used to enter deep forests for fishing. Only a few of the fishermen who went on such expeditions were lucky enough to see dusk falling on them again. Life was such that women, when they bid farewell to their men leaving for work, removed all signs of marriage- the vermillion and the bangles from their body. They put those back on only when their husbands, with great luck, returned to their huts. It was not just a simple return home, but something akin to a return from visiting Yamraj himself.

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Conditions have certainly improved a manifold from those days. Sunderbans is now famous for its splendour and the regal beauty of the fauna it nourishes. I was awe-struck by the serenity of the scenery that surrounded me as our launch made its ways through the river. We were all waiting in anticipation for the royalty of catching a glimpse of the Tiger and cry out–

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

(William Blake)

Unfortunately, I could not pay homage to the Royal creature. Instead, I paid homage at the temple of Bandevi (the Goddess of the forest, pronounced Bon Devi) who is depicted as an idol being worshiped by the human-tiger devotee. I also saw the muscular Spotted Deer watching us in the shade of the trees.

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It was a romantic journey, with an especially ecstatic night spent listening to the stories of the Sundarbans from the boatman, with the boat docked mid-river, the shimmering water reflecting the moon.

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