The rest of the National geographic crew – Sue (the big boss), Becky and Andy (the cameraman) landed in Calcutta by midnight. On the 1st of April we went to get shots of a male tiger in the Calcutta zoo. This tiger had killed a girl in a village that was just on the outskirts of the forest. A few days after killing the girl he again landed in the village. But that time the Forest Department officials were prepared. They had set up a trap in the village and they did manage to trap the tiger. After they trapped the tiger, they realized that a few months ago this same tiger had been trapped, after he had killed a person, in a nearby village. They had at that time released him deep in the heart of Sundarbans. They decided not to do so again and sent him to the zoo, where he was lodged in a cage that was out of bounds for the general public. When we went to film him in the cage, he was extremely agitated and tried to charge at us a number of times. We would have been in serious trouble if there were no bars between us. Andy did get some great shots.
The rest of the day we drove around the streets of Calcutta taking random shots of the city. My old friend Sanjoy Ghosh (or “Chotu Bong” – a slang for Short Bengali) drove us around in his car. He was a big hit wit the entire team. In the evening when we were sitting in the hotel, we realized that there were not enough Bengali speakers in the team – in fact there was just one – and since most people in Sundarbans understand only Bengali language, we would have to take along some more people who cold speak Bengali. As a result, another friend of mine – Joydeep Kundu – got in the boat the next day. We also had a Doctor on board who was carrying every possible kind of anti-venom.
We left for Sundarbans the next morning and had a blast for the next 10 days. We were booked in a lodge in Sajnekhalli, where we would spend the nights. The film was essentially recreations of there different “tiger attacks” – one on a girl in a village, the other on a man who was part of a group of “honey collectors” and the third was a fisherman (the only one to survive the attack). Most of the filming happened very close to where we were staying but for some shots we had to go a fair distance on the boats. We had two boats – a “launch” and a smaller boat that is locally known as a “bhotbhoti” because the engine makes a racket that sounds like bhot ..bhot ..bhot. The bhotbhoti is a smaller boat and it can go in some pretty narrow creeks, where the launch cannot make it.
The weather in Sundarbans is very hot and extremely humid in April and so we used to shoot from just before sunrise to about 8 in the morning and then from about 3 in the afternoon till sunset. Joydeep and I used the time in between to do a lot of birding – a great way to spend time in Sundarbans. We saw very little terrestrial wildlife – some Spotted Deer and a few Wild Boars – but we did see a lot of marine wildlife, including Dolphins, Sharks, Sea Turtles, and a large variety of Crabs. The bird life was really amazing. Wherever we went shooting we had a large group of curious onlookers following us, like these kids on a cycle rickshaw (the dominant mode of transport in Sundarbans).