DINNER WITH THE TIGERTweet
The Sundarbans are one of the world’s last wildernesses that the tiger can call home and the largest mangrove forest in the world, a tidal natural refuge created by the meeting of two of Asia’s mightiest rivers, when they become an estuary, only to fall in a rush into the Bay of Bengal.
Here as the great Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers slow down, freeing themselves of the burden, no bondage, of carrying silt, they also form many estuarine islands along the way.
Its reputation as a matchless wild habitat is well-known, but it is a little known fact that the region’s landscape also lures nature lovers from around the world. Its location is the key.
The region is rich and diverse in wildlife and a sanctuary for the Bengal Tigers even as tigers remain on the brink of extinction, making the Sundarbans one of the last large tracts of wilderness left on the planet.
It is a beautiful mangrove tapestry that forms in the inner mind as the incoming tide from the Bay of Bengal holds sway, controlling much of how this unique natural ecosystem works or stays alive, and how these islands are separated from one another by a maze of overlapping water channels.
It’s really a darkly, beautiful world, enchanting and hostile at the same time, hostile because it is inundated by tides, washed by saline waters and lashed by storms and periodic cyclones that no ordinary life can withstand, and survive. The mangrove, however, does quite well here. Its specialized root system, glands that secret salt and a special type of reproduction, all allow the mangrove to not just survive here but flourish and in great diversity.
The Sundarbans are really the culmination of forays into deep mangrove forests through the ages making for a 3500-km long embankment along the rivers and channels that keep saline water at bay. The rain water washes away the salinity to make it possible for human habitation within these very islands surrounded by embankments.
Then there are other islands that harbor mangrove vegetation, parts of which are protected - as a tiger reserve, a national park, a world heritage site and as wildlife sanctuaries. The whole region has been declared a Biosphere Reserve.
Out of the 108 islands of the Sundarbans, 54 are inhabited. The mangrove forests are home to a splendid assortment of wildlife. The extent of mangrove reserve forests in the Indian Sundarbans is around 4,260 sq. km, which is administratively divided into the Sundarban Tiger Reserve (area 2,600 sq. km) and the South 24 Parganas Forest Division (area 1,660 sq. km); and of this total recorded forest area, land vegetation cover makes 55%, while the remainder is designated as a water body and inter-tidal zone. Nearly 40% of the Reserved Forest area has been brought under Protected Area (PA) network as follows:-
|Area of Sundarban National Park||1,330 sq. km|
|Area of Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary||362 sq. km|
|Area of Lothian Wildlife Sanctuary||38 sq. km|
|Area of Haliday Wildlife Sanctuary||6 sq. km|
The most charismatic inhabitant is certainly the elusive Bengal Tiger. The Sundarbans is the largest single continuous piece of tiger habitat in the world. Apart from that, there are interesting wild species in these tidal swamps. The Fishing Cat is the other rare feline that exists in the Sundarbans, apart from the Chital or Spotted Deer, Wild Boar and the Rhesus Macaque – all playing their part as main herbivores.
Notable among aquatic mammals are the Irrawaddy Dolphin and the Ganges River Dolphin. Nearly two hundred fifty species of birds can be spotted in these habitats, including 10 species of colorful Kingfishers. Among reptiles, the huge Estuarine Crocodile inhabits the rivers and creeks, hauling themselves out on the mud flats to take in the winter sunshine.
The big Water Monitor Lizard is common in the wetlands. Along the sandy beaches, the threatened Olive Ridley Sea Turtles arrive each winter to nest. The rare River Terrapin is also found in these waters. There are numerous species of estuarine fish, that inhabit these waters or who come in from the sea to breed in this sheltered habitat. The Sundarbans also produce Mud crab or mangrove crab, some of which can grow to 3.5 kg in size and have a shell width of up to 24 cm. The shell is usually dark brown and they are considered among the tastiest of crab species.
Here's what I went to dinner with the Tiger for: Crab Curry.
Crab Curry (serves six)Ingredients:
Crab – 6 (medium sized)
Onion paste – 250 gm. finely chopped
Garlic paste – 2 tbsp.
Ginger paste – 1 tbsp.
Turmeric powder/paste – 1 tsp.
Coriander powder/paste – 1 tsp.
Red chili powder/paste – 2 tsp.
Salt – 2 tsp.
Mustard Oil – 100 gm.
Shell crabs, gently crack the claws, wash with warm water and keep aside
Heat oil in pan, put chopped onion, fry till golden brown, add ginger paste and other spices, fry for 3-4 minutes
Add crab, fry for another 3 minutes
Pour water and salt, cover and cook for at least 20 minutes till done. Serve hot
[Debasish Sen studied printing technology at Jadavpur University but finds himself spending much of his time as a photographer chronicling beautiful stories from India's nature parks, wildlife sanctuaries. He also wears many other hats as founder member of Prakriti Samsad, one of India's leading nature conservation NGOs, being a wildlife instructor and researcher, and as camp director at remote forest areas conducting various wildlife study camps.]