Visiting a queer forest

Visiting a queer forest

23 February 2008

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Bangladesh — The beauty, majesty, and timelessness of a mangrove forest like Sundarban are indescribable. It is impossible to capture on film, to describe in words, or to explain to those who have never had the awe-inspiring experience of standing in the heart of a mangrove forest. I had the opportunity to visit Sundarban four times.

I had an awful experience when I visited Sundarban from Dhansagar Forest Station under Chandpai range. An investigating committee was formed by the concerned ministry to investigate into a fire incident at Tulatola in Sundarban under Dhansagar. I was one of the members of the committee. We stayed at Bagerhat Circuit House the day before. On 24.4.2005 I and other high officials of the committee reached the Dhansagar Forest Station. The station officer, a very simple and humble man, passed almost half of a day on top of a tree, the day before we reached. The fact was that after hearing the incident of fire, he had taken trouble to walk almost 6 km to see himself of the fire incident. He came across a tiger just 15-20 feet away of him. It frowned on him, and he promptly climbed up to a big tree – half burnt due to fire. He stayed there until some of the local people and his fellow men came to rescue him.

As I mentioned, the spot was nearly 6 km away of Dhansagar. We started our trip in the morning. At the very beginning, we had to cross a thin canal. This portion of Sundarban landscape is different than that of the other typical parts. A river called Bhola existed here almost a decade before. It’s now dried up at this point. The usual landscape of the forest had changed a lot. The shula – dead structure of sundari, bain and other prototype Sundarban trees could be seen hither and thither. Those have been replaced by the deep hogla, nol khagra and shawn. One could see the ghastly black skeletons of the natural Sundari trees that once existed. According to the local people, due to the non-availability of the natural flow of the diminishing Bhola river and Arua Ber Khaal, there were no natural flow of the high and low tide, the main characteristic of the mangrove forest.

Anyway, we got startled at the very moment of our adventure discovering fresh pug marks of a tiger near the narrow naala (canal). One of our guards blank-fired from his Chinese rifle to frighten away the tiger, if one roamed nearby. Later, we came to know that all through our up-down journey a mischievous feline followed us! The conservator of forest Khulna circle asked me whether I could smell something! Indeed I smelled something. A type of smell similar to the smell of a carnivore’s cage at zoo. I said, yes. Then the blank fires went on blindly!

Believe it or not, I had a glimpse of a ‘burning bright’ deep inside the nol khagra bush. We were making our way through the head-high nol khagra. Again went the fire frantically. This time I made my position deep amidst the officials and the guards. We had to walk miles to reach the spot. By noon we reached the spot. There were still some fire and smoke around the place. People hired by the forest department and some other volunteers dug wells to pick water to extinguishing the fire around.

We made the return journey to Dhansagar in the afternoon. On the way I saw a wild boar inside a deep bush. I also saw a jungle fowl and a lizard called ‘takshak’. On our investigation and on the basis of some important clues, we found out finally that the people roaming in the forest in search of firewood and other collections might have caused fire to dried leaves and stems from their burning cigarette end. This ultimately spread in a vast area. Later we submitted a report to the ministry stating that the fallen burning cigarette was the root cause of the fire.

I visited Sundarban again in May 2006. This time for a pleasure. This is the Sundarban – illusive, scary, beauty, grandeur and magical. The day I reached Sundarban at Karamjal point I heard from the sources that a tiger was roaring around for the last three days. The awful feeling bewildered many visitors and they didn’t dare to move deep into the forest. I, with my companion, entered a little deeper inside the jungle. There is a wooden bridge leading to three-direction edges, where guests must stop, because after the end of the wooden bridge, one has to climb down to muddy areas and start his uncertain journey through the forest. I dared to. But my companion and subordinate, a loyal old gentle man asserted: You could do whatever you like. The tiger is roaming around, it will devour you and I’ll straight go to the police camp to report and then I’ll return back to the office to report to the chief. I ignored his advice and proceeded to the deep. I started to feel uneasy for two reasons: First I began to suffocate and secondly, I feared an attack of the feline. But why was I proceeding? I didn’t know. Maybe, to see better and perceive this magnificent jungle. But one should never ever be unguarded in such situation – whatever urgency and urge one might have. My companion took shelter high on the tower at the end of the wooden bridge. He watched me as far as I could be seen. I proceeded further and at a stage I began to shake- I lost the way to the tower! An uncanny feeling engulfed me. This was the time I lost my confidence and almost in the state of collapse. A tiger was there and he was in search of food. I was alone in a soggy and dark jungle. I didn’t dare to call my companion loudly lest the tiger should be attracted. Or maybe I couldn’t do so. I was walking, not knowing which way was to back and which way to proceed.

At last, I managed to come back. In fact, I was not so far from the tower. I saw the top of the structure from the bush and rushed onto that. There I saw my companion, trembling. He shook his head in despair and utter disgust and opined that it would have been better if I were digested inside a tiger’s stomach. He, however, concluded that all is well that ends well. When I returned home I suffered from fever for several days. I had had terrible dreams for nights together.

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