844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

R.B. Emma & Shere Khan (Sundarbans, Bangladesh) Part I

Jan 7th, 2010 - Our boat departed Khulna on the 27th of December and so began our journey into the Bangladeshi Sundarbans. In lieu of booking the usual old hackneyed 12-40 person/4-day boat trip, we opted for the intimate R.B. Emma, a three person house boat (normally reserved for researchers and journalists) with guide, cook, and captain (brought to you by Guide Tours).  Had we not chosen this option I am quite certain our trip would have been fairly ordinary and uninspiring. However, our eight day sojourn was anything but.

[Author's Note: When I first wrote this post back in '10 I left out the following details for reasons that will become apparent. I discovered over the course of my vagabondage that people rarely, if ever, take you seriously when you proclaim your mission to view a tiger in the wild, especially if you are perceived as Johnny Dipshit Tourist. So I decided to perpetrate a  minor fraud upon Guide Tours in order to garner a minimal modicum of respect.  I told the owner that I was in the nascent stage of tiger research and would like to make a preliminary incursion into the Sundarbans in order to survey the landscape and prepare for a later, much more complex expedition. I informed him that my assistant would soon be arriving in Dhaka and that I was attempting to organize a boat for our own personal mangrove extravaganza. 

Imagine my surprise when the owner informed me that a English gentleman by the name of Adam Barlow, a tiger expert studying for his PhD (in tigers and shit) from the University of Minnesota, was staying at his house. He asked me if I'd heard of him to which I replied in the negative. Awkwaaard. And then you have his son and daughter in law, both experts on the flora and fauna of the Sundarbans....also living at his home. Ooooops. 
Thankfully, I was never properly unmasked. Adam was home in England for the holidays and the owner's son and daughter in law were also away. Score. My secret was safe. The following morning with my 'assistant' Alex in tow we headed back to Guide Tours and were given some bad news. The R.B. Emma, normally reserved for researchers and journalists, would only be at our disposal for a maximum of nine days. We did everything we could to quell our disappointment. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I was not sure if someone from the agency would come across my blog so I initially left these tidbits out as I knew it highly likely that I might avail myself of their services in the near future. I did feel a little guilty about the ruse but I certainly meant no harm. I just wanted to see a fucking tiger. Is that so wrong?]

Leaving the harbor area we made an unsuccessful attempt at boarding two enormous cargo ships, one from Ukraine, the other from South Korea. Apparently, letting random goofballs on your cargo vessel to have a look around is against regulations. Prudes. So we sailed on.

En route we stopped at a forest ranger station in the village of Chandpai to show our paper work (permits and what not). While there Alex and I disembarked and had a look around. It was here that we met a local man that had grown up in the Sundarbans and spent many years guiding inside the magical mangrove. It was during the course of this conversation that we learned some interesting factoids concerning the area. It appears that most of the man-eating tigers are found in the western region of the Bangladeshi Sundarbans. Why? No one knows for sure but it is theorized that higher salinity in the waters drives prey (deer, boars, monkeys) to areas with fresher waters. Less food means hungry tigers. Enter slow, sluggish, and easy to catch fisherman, woodcutters, and honey collectors. And, it is believed, once you (as in El Tigre) go homo sapiens you are more likely to come back for seconds, so the theory goes. Not only that but if Johnny Villager is scaring away (or poaching as the case may be) all of the prey then Tony is forced to take whatever happens to be the most convenient.

Streets of Khulna

First tiger encounter in Khulna

A little shopping at the local grocery mart

Shopping cart for hobbits

A rather odd prawn fountain
R.B. Emma

Streets of Chandpai

As it turns out there are still attacks in the east as well. Coincidentally, upon returning to Khulna after our journey I happened upon a program on the Discovery Channel about the Sundarbans and the issue of tiger encroachment.  The village we were standing in fell prey to a bold tiger that appeared to care little about making frequent incursions.  It turned deadly. Although it was most likely lured by the scent of cattle it found a much easier target in an old woman that was sleeping inside her wood hut. It made quick work of the flimsy outer wall and dragged her from her home. Although the tiger was scared off it was too late for the woman. Her injuries were too severe and she succumbed.  The period following that saw more attacks on livestock which only served to agitate and frighten the villagers even more. Something had to be done or vigilante justice would be meted out. Enter members of the Sundarbans Tiger Project with a novel idea to enlist the help of a renowned dog trainer from America. Her mission: Create Bangladesh’s first canine tiger defense squad or C.A.T.T (Canine Action Tiger Team) as I like to call them. This kitty repulsion gang was to be comprised of local strays and required the training of handlers as well (see a Dog Defence Plan to Stop Tigers).

With only three weeks to complete the nascent program the task was daunting to say the least.  Puppies were screened. Candidates chosen. The training began and in just a short time delivered promising results. The idea is to train the doggies to act uniformly with a pack mentality to repel feline invaders. Alone each would be ripped to dog biscuits but together field testing showed (at a local zoo) that a single tiger is much more hesitant about engaging even two barking dogs.  

While I am watching this I recognize the area where they are filming as the schoolyard and cyclone center (built as a safe haven during storms) in which we had visited. You’d think that someone would have mentioned all of this to us while we asked a myriad of questions about the tigers of the Sundarbans. But no, in the end it was channel surfing that led to my enlightenment. Go figure.

We were once again reminded of the ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ likelihood of seeing a striped marauder. Without the use of live bait (i.e. cows) it seems you might as well go to the zoo. As we were a few bovine volunteers short and lacked the proper permit to conduct such an endeavor we were forced to rely on the grace of God.

Tigers were not the only topic of discussion. The mangrove is also apparently home to three groups of modern day pirates known as Rustom group, Raju group, and Zulfikar group. Their activities include intimidation, robbery, and kidnapping for ransom. The usual victims are wood cutters and fisherman.  Our curiosity piqued, we decided we would make an attempt to find out more and it was suggested that we visit the seaside village of Dublar on the southern edge of the Sundarbans.  I was told about the presence of ‘Sinbad’ at the Guide Tours office but was assured that as long as you dock near a forest ranger station at night there was little need for concern. And, as we to learn later, tourists are not part of the plundering strategy.

Before we departed we were treated to a tour of the local school by one of its proud faculty members. I’ve mentioned our near star status before and this instance was no different. They were extremely excited to show us the classrooms and introduce us to other members of the faculty.

Afterward, we headed south. Our destination that day was Dublar Island where a fishing village sits on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. As it would take all day and into the night to reach the village we nestled in for a long, albeit pleasant, ride. As we cruised along a wide channel in the northern area of the Sundarbans I was feeling rather content. The sun was shining, the wind refreshing, and I had anticipation of what was to come stimulating my imagination.

I was under the assumption that of all places to spot an orange kitty cat this was the least auspicious due to the wide channel and fairly heavy boat traffic. Besides, the odds of one of these beasts simply sunning itself on the riverbank at two in the afternoon was highly unlikely, right?  Were not these mostly creatures of the night, preferring to conduct the majority of their activities under cover of dark? Why would such royal denizens deign to rest in the mud pondering the goings on of the misguided bipedal fools hopelessly scurrying around in a vain attempt to witness their magnificence? Why am I such an idiot?

While I sat on the deck and my hearty companion was below we both engaged in an activity highly conducive to the spotting of tigers: book reading.  Imagine my surprise as I sat there attempting to learn a few words of Bengali when I suddenly heard my guide scream, ‘TIGER!!!!!”. Sure enough I looked up and was presented with the very feline I had sought to encounter, lazying away the afternoon on a muddy river bank. I almost pooped a little. Considering this was the whole purpose of my journey it is a little difficult to explain why my camera was out of reach and why I reacted with the reflexes of a tranquilized rhinoceros.

It was my guide’s exclamation, not the sound of the boat, that prompted his or her highness to slowly rise, move to the edge of tall grass lining the bank, and look back with an indifferent ‘There,  you saw me. Now get a friggin life!’' expression.

Did I get a picture? Take a guess. When I finally realized what was happening I had to make a choice between grasping for my camera or simply appreciating the ferocious feline. I chose the latter. And then he was gone. As the windows below deck were open Alex was also lucky enough to catch a glimpse but, like me, was nowhere near his camera. We deserve to be flogged.

To get a better look the boat edged closer but the crew balked at the suggestion that we go ashore.  I was forced to garner every ounce of self restraint to avoid jumping into the mud to have a closer look. It was not easy. One of the larger Guide Tours boats was in the vicinity and within five minutes a member of the staff came aboard to have a look (he had been alerted via cell phone of our encounter). When I saw that he had no reservations about having a gander I was in the mud faster than two shakes of a lamb’s tale. So we all stood where the kitty was lying not ten minutes before (our crew made sure to make vast amounts of noise to make sure kitty was far away). The truth of the matter is, for the most part, tigers are wary of humans. Man-eating is the exception not the rule although that number of attacks in this part of the world is a little unsettling.

Although hoping against hope the beast would reappear somewhere along the bank I was to be disappointed. We lingered for a bit and then continued on. The crew found endless enjoyment in the fact that we failed to get a photo. I heard no less than four individuals on their cell phones discussing our incompetence.  Even in Bengali I was able to get the gist, “blah gah nah buju gonho nanna photograph hanah baba ganna…”, which loosely translates as “Yeah, I know. We actually see a tiger and those stupid bastards don’t even get a picture. You should have seen the look on the tall one’s face. I think he s#*t himself.”

As we continued down river I could not escape the familiarity of the vision I saw lying on that river bank. Where had I seen that creature before? And then it struck me: Shere Khan from the Jungle Book. I could almost hear the voice of George Sanders introducing himself, “Heeeellllloooo Richard. Its me. Shere Khan. I’d like a word with you if you don’t mind.”  The image is so overwhelming that when I look back on the encounter I cannot separate the real tiger from the cartoon version. Kooky. 

So I blew the first encounter. I am not complaining as even one sighting is quite lucky but kicking myself was unavoidable. Would I get another chance?


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  3. very interesting blog, i will go there in summer, so it´s good to get ideas, how much did they charge for the boat?? thanks a lot!!

    1. Hi there,

      The price for the R.B. Emma for 9 days was $1500 US. There were two of us so we split the cost. Yes, that could be cost prohibitive if you are on a budget but it was certainly worth it. Hope this helps.

      Best Regards,


  4. Do you have any video inside the jungle? can you share your full video link? Interesting blog.

  5. this blog content true travel story very help full by the stranger who are just read a place before expeditions - www.expeditionbd.com


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