Sailing through the saline waters of Sundarbans delta, there will flash just one thought in your mind, “where do we find them?” Your chances of spotting them are bleak but that does not mean, you haven’t been spotted!
Sundarbans is the largest mangrove delta in the world and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But over the years, Sundarbans meaning Beautiful Forest, has become synonymous with killings, tragedy and poverty. But the one thing that is deemed to be the identity of the forest from time immemorial, is the man-eating Royal Bengal Tigers. They are one of the most ferocious animals on the face of Earth and THE MOST ferocious tigers. The Royal Bengal Tiger of Sundarbans is infamous for being the only kind of tiger that actively hunts human beings; making the delta a dreadful place for the inhabitants and tourists alike.
As you leave your accommodation early morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of this one-of-a-kind killer, little will you know about the nerve-wracking experience that lies ahead. From sailing through water all day spotting various birds and animals to hustling through land; you will find yourself constantly looking over your shoulder, breathing heavily or becoming extra alert. This is not because you are on the look-out, but you know that they are. At this point, you relive the life of the victims who were ambushed and killed by the tigers. Not for one moment can you catch a breath or heave a sigh of relief. You will realize that the idea of being in a close proximity with arguably, the most savage killers of the world is not exciting but daunting.
One of the local survivors looked shocked as he asked, how is it possible that these monstrous animals are endangered species? Being around the delta fighting with a constant feeling of insecurity, you will ask the same question too. While it is one of the most sought after tourist destinations of West Bengal, it is also the most dangerous. The moment you find yourself lost amid the unsullied natural surroundings, the yellowish-orange sunset, the reflection of the sky on water and primitiveness of the place, you will be pulled back by your senses to the fearsome reality, never truly allowing you to relish its beauty.
No amount of security forces could inculcate a complete sense of safety to the inhabitants and tourists alike, as they are all but preys to the predator. The 100 tigers that remain in the delta, hunt more than 60 people a year (the actual number is not known). You could feel the helplessness of the ladies dripping from their eyes as they chant prayers and desperately wait for the men to come back home. As you make your way through the muddy lands and bushy surroundings it’s hard to not think about the local stories of how people were abducted in their sleep and killed, how it’s easy to prey on tourist groups sailing through the water as they have nowhere to escape. You will not feel detached from the emotions of the inhabitants because an eerie feeling of being watched all the time engulfs outsiders from the first moment.
No one really has a fool-proof answer to the question, why do Sundarban tigers actively hunt human beings. While some theories suggest it is due the salinity of the water, other opine that humans are slower than other wild animals, hence, easy to hunt, some also say that it is the scarcity of food across the delta for both humans and tigers, that lead to them hunting humans but the inhabitants have no option than wandering in the wild every day in search of honey and food. The reason may differ but the consequence is ghastly.
It is not just about the perpetual feeling of being the victim and the vulnerable one, it is about being the intruder in a wild territory. Every day you would see the truth of humans not being the superior species, unfold in front of your eyes in a hard way. Another survivor recollects how a tiger leaped over him from nowhere and he managed to hold it off while shouting for help. Although he is one among the few who has fought off a tiger but he did not flaunt his feat, in fact, he stuttered as he spoke about his experience. Even when you win, it’s them and the fear that actually win the battle.
As you roam from village to village crossing expanses of wilderness, you understand the struggle of survival. Looking at a honey comb you think, what is more important than life? The hope of being alive. As you meet survivors, touch and see their wounds you could not help but imagine a pair of glowing eyes following you everywhere. As dusk falls and the eagerness and desperation of the villagers to see their working men return home, increase, you wonder if you have ever truly known the price of life; you wonder, amid darkness and terror, how will you reach home.