Friday, February 24, 2006

The Size Of Wales

They say that the lion is the king of the jungle, but personally I disagree. For a start it doesn't even live in the jungle but in the African savannah, and they hunt in groups (whereas kings, as we all know, reign alone). But the clincher is the fact that they aren't even the biggest and the baddest of the big cats. That title goes to the tiger, which actually does live in the jungle. And the greatest concentration of tigers is to be found in the Sundarbans, the mangrove forests located in the Ganges delta as it reaches the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans are split between India and Bangladesh and form the largest mangrove forest in the world, covering an area half the size of Wales.

In all my travels whenever I seem to come across an especially large national park, salt marsh, "biosphere region" or some other such entity, its dimensions are invariably compared to that of Wales. Whether it is only half or almost treble the size of my fellow British quasi-country, Wales seems to be the benchmark for bigness. Perhaps it is because it sounds evocative of cetacean bulk, which might lead to misunderstandings: (a Texan couple on holiday) "Honey, the nice man says the forest is the size of Wales. Whales sure are big, aren't they?" Perhaps we should introduce a new area measurement for topographical regions, the SWU, or Standard Wales Unit.

But I digress. The Sundarbans are an extremely important area providing habitats to many birds, deer, crocodiles and warthogs as well as the Bengal tigers. Luckily the wildlife is pretty much left alone as the area is quite inhospitable to humans, which is a good thing because the mangroves also protect Kolkata, which lies upstream, from the numerous cyclones that batter the Bengal coast every year.

A visit was therefore obligatory though, despite staying 3 days, I wasn't lucky enough to get a sight of a tiger. Not that that surprised me particularly, as the big cats each have a territorial range of 12 square kilometres. But I did get to see pretty much all the other animal inhabitants of the area so was quite satisfied with my little visit. Plus I got to take a break from planning my days as it was an organised tour, so I could just laze and let myself be led without knowing where I was going.

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