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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Fun, dur, banned

INDIA | Thursday, 14 October 2010 | Views [1057]

The Sunderbans, a vast delta of small islands, mangrove forests and tiny waterways, located partly in Bangladesh and partly in India. It covers 4252 square km in India alone, with almost half the area protected for wildlife. The changing tides mix with the rivers, creating many mini eco-systems of various salinities and providing a home for many different species of bird and fish. For us, it promised romantic backwaters, crocodiles, exotic birds and, most of all, the possibility to see TIGERS!

Apparently there are 427 tigers in the reserve, and from the guidebook and internet, we thought there was a high chance we'd see one. Of course, it's not a zoo and when it comes to searching for rare animals, nothing is guaranteed, but seeing tigers had been a dream for our time in India so we stretched the budget and available days to give the maximum chance.

It seems churlish to say that we had a depressing time there, after all, how bad can it be to not work and idle about on a boat, staying in a rustic village and see crocodiles and wild birds?  Depressing then is not the word, rather very disappointing and extremely frustrating. We stayed in an "ethical" camp, which does lots of things for the local community, puts money towards conservation and employs people who might otherwise be poaching or risking their lives to collect honey from restricted areas.  This was the first major disappointment as we felt extremely uncomfortable with the way they are employed - to us, more servants than employees, serving food to our plates, chasing after us to carry bags and wait on us, unintentionally souring the atmosphere considerably.  Compounding the issue was the utter lack of competence shown by everybody in the camp. From not telling us when they were turning on the generator to spilling food on us that we could happily have served ourselves to overcooking and oversalting everything to giving us bicycles with the stems not tightened on so we nearly fell down a ravine.

The unhappy mood continues as nothing quite meets the mark, it's not that we don't see tigers, it's that we hardly see anything. Unlike parks with forest or jungle, there's very little going on in mangrove swamps, even rare and protected ones. The forestry commission rules mean that we can't go up the romantic little inlets, and our boat is only going to chug along the middle of massive waterways, it seems we are not allowed anywhere near anything approaching wildlife. The guide sometimes tells us the latin names of birds or plants, sometimes he snoozes - he knows there's nothing to see.

We stop at a watch tower, and spend 40 minutes with our binoculars glued to the spaces between the trees. More birds - there are 6 types of kingfisher in the Sunderbans, they are beautiful and, in fairness, we do see a lot of them! On the way back, Emma manages to upset the guide by photographing the pretty bird on the ground. Turns out it's an incredibly rare Mangrove Pitta, and he wanted a photo on his fancy camera! 

We read. We write postcards. We get sun burnt. We see lots more kingfishers. We even see a crocodile. We hope for the miniscule chance we'll see a tiger swimming in the water, or maybe in the mud at the edges of the reserve. The latter hope diminished as the tide rose.

All in all, we clock up 3 crocs, the mangrove pitta and various other birds, some deer and a monitor lizard in about 15 hours on the river. Our disappointment wasn't due to the lack of tigers, though had we seen one it would have justified the trip. It was the way that it slowly became clear that not only would we not see tigers, we were unlikely to see ANYTHING. We felt conned - both about the 'ethical' camp, and by the wildlife wonders of the tide country.

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