Have you read Amitabh Ghosh’s ‘The Hungry Tide’? The novel takes you to the easternmost coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal, where lies the labyrinth of tiny islands, known as Sundarbans National Park. The novel reflects the difficult life of the settlers, who migrated here from other parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh, social unrest, sudden eviction, and threat from tiger attacks. However, the book also talks about the rich flora and fauna this mangrove forest has and the conflict between humanism and environmentalism.
Sundarban National Park
Sundarbans National Park, established in 1973, is the world’s largest mangrove forest in the delta, which was formed by the confluence of River Padma, Brahmaputra, and Meghna. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to mangrove trees, encompassing the largest mangrove forest in the world. This large coastal mangrove forest shared by India and Bangladesh is best known for its star resident- the Royal Bengal Tigers.
The other residents include other endangered species like estuarine crocodile, Ganges River Dolphin, monitor lizard, olive ridley turtle, and several rare bird species. Leopards, rhinoceros, water buffalos are some other animals, who call the park their home. The national park consists of 102 tiny islands on the Indian side, half of them are inhabited and is one of India’s most eco-friendly destinations to explore.
It encompasses 10,000 sq km at the mouth of the Ganga and Brahmaputra that separates India and Bangladesh. A mere 35% part of the park is located within India and the rest is in Bangladesh. Furthermore, it is the only mangrove forest in the world, which has a decent tiger population. The forest department has installed long stretches of nylon net fence to prevent the tigers from venturing into the villages.
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Ways to Get There
Kolkata to Sundarban distance is just 109 km, and takes just 3 to 4 hours. You may drive to Sundarbans on your own vehicle, or by public transport, and rail. So, if you are coming to Sundarban from other parts of the country, then book a flight to Kolkata. You can visit Lowest Flight Fares for affordable flight deals.
By Private Transport
To reach Sundarban from Kolkata, you first have to reach Godkhali. From Godkhali, you need to take a ferry ride to Gosaba.
By Public Transport
Regular bus service is available from Kolkata to Sundarban. Hop on the bus at Kolkata’s Babughat bus stop to reach Sonakhali. Take an auto rickshaw from Sonakhali to Pakhiralay village.
A train journey is fast and comfortable. Board a train from Sealdah to Canning. Once you reach Canning, board an auto rickshaw to reach Godakhali and then Pakhiralay Village. Another way is to hire a boat from Canning and reach Sajnekhali directly.
Sajnekhali Island is the main entrance, where all entry fees are paid.
Best Time to Plan Sundarban Trip
The months from October to April are considered the best time to visit Sundarban, when the weather is comfortable. Avoid visiting the park during monsoon, as heavy rain in the region can create sudden floods.
Top Places to Visit in Sundarban
The only reason you are here is to explore the rich wildlife of the Sundarban delta region. Being the world’s largest mangrove forest, it boasts some of the most exotic and endangered flora and fauna, including Royal Bengal Tigers. However, unlike other jungle safaris, Sundarban offers only boat safari. Jeep safari is not available. However, you can wander through the local villages to see their life, and take part in the cultural programs.
Birdwatching in Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary
It is mainly mangrove scrub, forest, and swamp, which is visited by the tourists for birdwatching. It is the perfect place to have a close encounter with bird species like Spotted Billed Pelican, White Bellied Sea Eagle, Caspian Tern, Osprey Herring Gull, Open Billed Stork, etc. While you are admiring the native and migratory birds, don’t forget to visit the watch tower to spot a tiger, leopard, or a deer herd.
Tiger Spotting in Sundarban
Tourists mainly visit Sundarban to see the Royal Bengal Tigers here. However, don’t let your hopes get high. There are no jeep safaris available and you can only take the wildlife boat safari. It makes tiger spotting difficult and tourists totally depend on their luck to spot this majestic creature. Since the tiger reserve mainly consists of canals, waterways, creeks, and islands, it is not possible to go on a jeep safari here. However, as you traverse through the mangroves, chances are, you will get to see river dolphins.
Crocodile Hatching at Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project
Located adjacent to the Lothian Island, the crocodile project of Bhagabatpur is a hatchery ground for saltwater crocodiles. The tranquil surrounding, unadulterated natural beauty, and littoral mangrove of Bhagabatpur is unmatched. It is the only crocodile project in West Bengal. This hatchery is of the estuarine crocodile and Batagur Baska species of tortoise. The project includes the incubation of the eggs, nurturing them, and when they are adults, release them into the wild.
Admire the Exotic Flora & Fauna from the Watchtowers
There are several watchtowers in Sundarbans that offer 360° views of the surrounding forest. Since not many species are visible from the boat, it is better to climb the tower and take out your binoculars to spot the wild animals. Several watchtowers are built in different islands, including Dobanki, Sajnekhali, Sudhanyakhali, etc. Visit Burir Dobri, which is located on the Raimangal river near Bangladesh. From here, you can get to see a 400-year old Hindu temple.
Bonnie Camp Watchtower
It is the highest watchtower in Sundarbans, with a 50 feet height. From the top, you can easily get to see the panoramic views of the delta. The views of the mangrove trees and the river flowing through the forest are quite mesmerizing and can captivate the onlookers. Get your binoculars and try to locate a wild animal.
Go For A Night Safari
Night Safari in Sunderbans is something you shouldn’t overlook. It is one of the national parks in the world that offer safari even at night. The night safari on a boat here is the best thing to do, as at night the wild animals come out from their shelter in search of prey. You may even get to see a tiger or a leopard. Another beauty you may find in the waters is phytoplankton, a kind of terrestrial plant. However, don’t shout and maintain pin drop silence so that your noise doesn’t scare the animals away.
A Tour of the Native Villages
The best way to learn about the local way of life, culture, tradition, and history of how these people ended up here, is to take a Sundarban tour in its villages. You may take part in the cultural programs with the villagers or enjoy the festivals and rituals. Pakhiralay, Bali, Sajnekhali, are some of the villages you should not miss visiting.
Tips to Remember
- Foreigners visiting the park need a permit and a valid passport. Foreign visitors can obtain the permit at Sajnekhali.
- There’s a boat entry fee at each zone and it is compulsory to hire one guide per boat.
- Plastic is banned. You can bring water bottles. Loitering inside the park is strictly prohibited.
- There are several eco camps, resorts, and hotels near the park. Book one of them to spend the night.
- Bring cash, as online transactions are not so popular here, and you may not find an ATM.
Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and is home to the rare royal Bengal tiger. If a family vacation is on your card or you are a wildlife enthusiast, then this is the paradise you must visit. It is a popular tourist destination and hence remains packed with tourists during peak season. Book your accommodation and plan your trip well in advance, so that they don’t cost you a bomb.