Friday, November 12, 2010

An audience with the king

Tiger Attack!Image by Douglas Brown via Flickr
Tomorrow I set out for a trip into the most heavily populated tiger sanctuary in the world... both in terms of people and in terms of tigers. 274 odd Royal Bengal tigers inhabit the Indian portion of the forests of Sundarbans but oddly enough, it is the place where all around the year the chances of spotting a tiger are the least. The thick mangrove vegetation of the Sundarbans (the picture above is of the Siberian tiger not the Royal Bengal tiger, hence all that snow) with narrow channels of water where the tourist launches cannot go (Too swampy for jeeps and elephants the terrain happens to be) is just one of the reasons why it's so difficult to spot them. The other reason is that the tigers of the Sundarbans have a knack for wilyness and carry a nasty reputation of being scientifically acknowledged man-hunters! Nowhere else, does the tiger have to come across so many human beings in his domain and likewise nowhere else is a tiger attack more common.
Then there's the mystique of the animal. The powerful, graceful top of the food chain predator commands respect even in our imagination, let alone when it growls imperiously in its own domain of the wild. To be able to see it very frequently would ruin its powerful grip on our thoughts as we cruise wide-eyed through the water channels in search of a fleeting glimpse of the yellow and black coat. In the midst of his vast kingdom, we would be praying that the king will grant us audience.
This, being November, is not at all the season for tiger-spotting, our tour operators have already told us. In the summers, when the heat brings out the tiger for a drink to the water's edge is our slim but best chance of spotting one. But I am going now in the off-season so to speak and they say there are lots of other creatures to see including a personal favourite monster of mine, the estuarine crocodile (the salt water crocodile) which regularly grows 20 feet long and is also a known man-eater. To add to that there is the hair-standing-on-end thrill of being in a jungle, with the safety and security of urban civilization only distant dreams. 
If we do not come across a tiger, as is the most likely outcome, it will only be a re-affirmation that out in the depths of the forest, we are his subjects, and subject to his powers and not vice versa. Will I be happy if I spot a tiger in the Sundarbans? Will I be unhappy if I spot a tiger in the Sundarbans? The answer to both those questions (subject to the master hunter not coming too close for comfort as in this video from Kaziranga is a paradoxical yes.
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