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This was year 2006 my friend Suvankar and I took the afternoon Bongaon local from Gobardanga. Our destination by train was Ranaghat railway station. We reached Ranaghat in two hours at around 6 via Bongaon, (it was a sudden plan if you think why we started so late). We took a bus from Ranaghat and proceeded towards the forest Choladanga Hoogly, where we had to get down at Taratola then go through a muddy sort of road through a small forest to get a small dingi to get to the other side of Ganga where we would reach the forest Cholardanga. The beginning of March, the cold is good here. Before reaching Taratola, the extraordinary appearance of gram-bangla made me appreciate how lucky we are. It was extremely beautiful at first until it was dark and we realised we are a little too late as it suddenly became all dark and we were thinking if we would be able to get the dingi from this side of ganga. However we reached Taratola at around 8 pm and realised we got down at a place with no people or lights nearby.
The first thought that I had was what if someone mugs us however we decided to proceed towards the ghat, Suvankar knew the roads but in dark and using little lights from the torch of our phones we realised we had lost our way within first 10 minutes of walking, anyways we were going through a bamboo forest via another so called muddy road and after 15 minutes of more walking we found that there is no road left to carry on, however out of nowhere we heard a woman probably old is reading a panchali and there we found a small hut with no electricity but there was a small source of light which was coming from a kerosene lamp. We decided to seek help and went to that small hut and indeed she was not old but ancient, anyways she could only tell us that we can go through the forest ahead of us which was the reason for this road to end and we would find the ghat if we continue that road in 5 minutes and so we did, going through the forest we saw few more small hut type houses with no electricity. Having reached to the ghat we realised there is no dingi or majhi in the ghat but a small kerosene lamp was hanging at both the ghats which we figured to identify the ghat at night. Now we were standing in a ghat with no lights, no people or majhi and a small forest behind so naturally, so many things were going through our mind like mugger, snake, fox, tiger even spirit and to fuel our imagination there was a dead body of a cow floating in ganga right beside the ghat. Coincidently there were no network bars on our phone and after trying so many tricks and places we could get one bar and called Suvankar’s father who was waiting for us on the other side. So we reached to the other side then we went on to stay at uncle’s tent which was about 15 minutes’ walk inside the forest where he stayed with some local people as he has a business of honey. I was quite happy with the arrangements. There was a caretaker of the forest. Gopal Da, the caretaker, is a very sociable person and told us a lot of stories. Also the cooking is great. I asked Gopal Da “Gopal Da, what else can be seen here?” Gopal Da said “There were many animals peacock, wild buffalo, I asked “And tiger?”, Gopalda’s face turned pale as soon as he heard the word Tiger. He changed the topic and we slept shortly after dinner. In the morning I saw a local family came to see how we were doing. I was walking outside the tent with my phone’s camera and exploring the sheer beauty of the forest. I was talking to the other workers but one thing I noticed while talking was that every time the topic of tiger used to come up, somehow everyone got scared and avoided the topic. While walking around, I met a man who was staying in a small camp nearby, he is from Kasba, Kolkata. The name is Raktim Debnath. Speaking with him, I realized he has lot of knowledge about wildlife, a Camera in hand and a large telescopic lens attached to it. From clothes to camera covers, bags and even shoes, Love Wild Life was written all over him. I was also overwhelmed to get such wildlife wise people. There is no such forest in India where the gentleman has not wandered. I asked in words, “What was he doing in the forest of Cholardanga?” He had come on a special mission. What is the mission I asked? But the gentleman said nothing more. I realised there was no benefit in going back and forth. I came back to tent. It is forbidden to cook any kind of meat at night in the middle of the forest. I have been watching Raktim whispering to the other workers since the afternoon. I tried to understand what was going on but did not understand anything at all, I shared my curiosity with Suvankar as well but he was busy helping his father so asked to ignore and enjoy the place. In the evening we had tea, biscuits in the cold and I was sitting beside the tent looking outside. It was full moon, so the moonlight was floating around. Raktim also came and sat next to me and Suvankar. We saw a lot of roasted chicken in his hand. I said, where did you get the chicken from? Besides, are we supposed to cook chicken here at night? Raktim stopped me and told me to follow him. Raktim started talking openly. Have you seen a deep road in the middle of the forest before you came here? Where Danger is written with No Entry Board? A couple of days ago, a tiger killed a local guy where the road ended. There is news that the tiger is still in this area. I’ve been trying to capture him on camera for the last two years but I can’t reach him. This time I will leave after seeing him and taking the pictures. Raktim said will you go with me at night? I was shocked and asked where? The answer was something I was not expecting yet he replied, “In the Forbidden place.” I was a little scared this time but I couldn’t give up the addiction of adventure. I asked Raktim,”How can we get there?” Isn’t forbidden means not to go there? He said, “All arrangements have been made, I have managed one of the local person. Although he did not agree at first, he agreed to the greed of thick bakshis which I offered later on. He will go with my car at night with his old gun. I will leave by 12 midnight. You can go if you want.” I thought to myself, should I go? Gopal Da brought dinner. I told the matter to Gopal Da. Gopal Da started screaming in fear and asked not to go. I asked Gopal Da why he was so scared when he heard about the tiger. Gopal Da replied that this tiger is not an ordinary tiger, this is god himself. Gopal Da started the story by saying- My father and grandfather all worked as caretakers of this small part of the jungle and there used be a Bunglow near the tent, I did see some of the remaining’s in the morning but it was so small that I thought it was a small old house. The he continued that “During the English period, kings and lords used to come here to hunt. Back then there was a deeper jungle here. They used to kill animals here. Deer, pigs and many more animals but they have never been able to kill a tiger here. It is was spread from the ancestors that the tiger used to disappear due to some miraculous force after firing. The tiger here is not an ordinary tiger but God Himself. In the end, Gopal Da cautioned “Babu, please don’t break the rules of the forest, this will not be good for anyone.” My mind was stumbling and could not resist the greed of adventure. I’m lying down after dinner thinking about what to do. At about 11:45, Raktim came and asked, “Are you afraid to go?” The word fear made me feel a little bit motivated so I replied I will not go to prove myself brave but I will go. I got ready and left at sharp at midnight 12. Raktim, me, the driver of the car and the local worker with the gun. We left that portion of that part of the jungle and entered the forest where the moon was completely hidden. Not even a drop of moonlight can enter the deep forest. The headlights of our car were showing the way by breaking the darkness all around. I can not express the feeling in words. On the way, I saw bright yellow eyes burning somewhere along the way.
After 2 years looking for that tiger and knowing the place I don’t know why but Raktim suddenly sighed and said this path does not seem to be ending. We then stopped where the road ended for real and then we started walking, I saw a small wooden Watch Tower and a vast meadow in front of it. We climbed to the top of the Watch Tower. Raktim had procured a living goat from the village Guptipara outside this forest. Then tied it under the Watch Tower. The goat seems to be scared. We sat up the tower and started counting the hours. Raktim is always aware of the camera. There is also an ancient search light not sure how it was powered, may be by battery or something. So many strange sounds were coming from this part of the jungle and most them were unknown to me yet we were told not to speak as that could drive away the tiger. Raktim occasionally showed few signs and to be honest I could not tell what he meant. We were sitting like this for couple of hours. My eyes were wide open and then I saw two eyes peeking out from inside the meadow and I felt I’m not as brave I thought I was. Gradually the tiger left the grass and came out. Now the goat is screaming loudly. Raktim started clicking on the camera in the light of the moon and the search light, a huge tiger was visible. In one leap he jumped on the goat and killed it at once in front of the Watch Tower but since the goat was tied to the watchtower so the old Watch Tower leaned and Raktim lost balanced and rolled down. Before we knew it, the tiger let go of the goat and dragged Raktim towards the forest. Everything happened so quickly that we could not do anything and the driver of the car started crying. We then did something savage and started running towards the car. Then the driver started driving the car in high speed and since we all were filled with fear so no could understand what was happening and few minutes later the driver lost track of our way and struck the car with a tree where I fell from the car unconscious. When I opened my eyes I found myself lying in the bed in my tent and I heard the sound of Raktim, I got out of the tent and found that Raktim was shouting at the caretaker who could not convince the driver of the car since last minute the driver decided not to go.
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