(Memorable encounter with the only Sunderban tiger I have seen till date)
Aug 2010: As I left my car after witnessing the beautiful and green Bengal countryside and boarded my boat for Sunderbans, I had mixed feelings… I was loaded with expectations. Expectations to shoot some of my most memorable shots and ofcourse having seen the largest mangrove forest of the world through the eyes of my wonderful fellow photographers I was expecting to see some of the most outstanding landscapes of the country. With every bend and turn that the boat was taking my expectations and beliefs started turning into a reality and as I crossed the last village to enter the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, I was amazed to see this remote and hidden nature treasure of India and yet again India’s natural beauty filled me with pride.
Having tracked tigers for years in the dry and deciduous forests of the plains and the thick forests of lower Himalayas, we knew that this terrain would not be that easy as here you don’t track tigers and just hope that you are being tracked by the Royal Bengal Tiger. Tigers would no longer be like a needle in the hay-sack for us. Rather the needle here is somewhere there and can see you but you really need to have some stupendous luck to find it.
Not worrying about the tigers and just spellbound by the beauty of the place, I started my Sunderban expedition by perching myself on the Sudhanyakhali watchtower. Protecting my equipments more than myself from the intermittent rains that we were facing time and again, I dozed off in the shady comforts of the strategically built watchtower. Suddenly some commotion behind me disturbed me and I realized that Kahini had caught hold of a beautiful ornamental flying snake that was hanging above my head while I was asleep. She dragged the striped beauty out and as soon as it found its escape route towards the roof-top of the watchtower, I was wondering whether I should feel excited about shooting this awesome looking reptile or thank Kahini for saving me from the snake bite. The locals had something to smile about… “The snake knows that your name has a connection with Lord Shiva,” remarked the boatman as we were laughing at the incident. Far below on the swampy river beds I could see a flurry of red and yellow spots which turned out to be the fiddler crabs that were glowing bright in daylight.
It was an eventful day indeed and early next morning, I headed off to a small temple to seek the blessings of the Bandevi (forest goddess). “Need just that one moment I can cherish forever!” I told myself and headed off for my cruise. As I was setting my camera doing the routine early morning camera settings check, I noticed a small object on the right hand creek. The suspect escaped our eyes as well and we assumed it to be a stone. Within seconds something struck Kahini and she asked the boat to go back towards the creek. A collared kingfisher was sitting at a close range and my irritation levels grew high as the boat was back gearing at full speed not allowing me to focus on the kingfisher shot. “Dada… BAGH… BAGH! (Tiger, tiger)” Kahini shouted standing on the edge of the boat holding the rod with hand and looking through the binocs using the other.
I was still concentrating on my kingfisher as I was sure it would be a stone. From the corner of my eye, I saw the boatman along with Kahini and the guide hurling the anchor so as to get a clear view of the creek. The boat swayed from one direction to the other and so did the creek! As we gained stability I strained my eyes and was not ready to believe what I was seeing. I pointed my 400mm lens towards the creek and was wondering if this was a statue as a young Royal Bengal Tiger sat still at the edge of the creek. I concentrated hard and saw the tiger moving its head and looking straight towards me. For some reason I was just looking through the view finder and was not pressing the shutter. Having taken hundreds of tiger shots from a distance as close as 8-10 feet, my hands were going numb because of a Sunderban tiger that was sitting more than 500mts away. The lens had turned into a mere telescope for me and I stood still frozen and shaken.
“Shivang, are you shooting?” I could faintly hear Kahini’s voice when the boatman came and shook me. I took a few seconds to regain my composure and started shooting this beautiful Royal Bengal Tiger as he majestically approached the river and swam past in true Sunderbans style in just a few seconds.
The 25 minutes I spent with the beautiful predator would be edged in my memory for time immemorial. After all this was a Royal Bengal Tiger in true sense!
January 22, 2012 | Categories: Tiger Photo Safaris in India, Wild Notes by Shivang Mehta | Tags: Bay of Bengal, India, mangrove forest, Nature Wanderers, ornate flying snake, royal bengal tiger, Shivang Mehta, sunderbans, tiger tigers, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography | 2 Comments