Known for hosting the biggest mangrove forests in the world, Sundarbans National Park is located in West Bengal, India. It is also a Tiger Reserve and a Biosphere reserve that provides a complete nature's circle to the tourist right from 'Royal Bengal tigers' to roaring rivers and beautiful estuaries. Sundarbans National Park is a part of Sundarban delta that is covered with Mangrove Forest and the largest population of the Bengal Tigers. It is a UNESCO world heritage site with a large variety of birds and reptiles including salt-water crocodile.
Shared between India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans meaning beautiful forest, have been declared a UNESCO heritage site. This area has a silent charm that manages to amaze one with the simplicity and naturalness of its ecological balance in spite of offering habitat to some of the most dynamic and awe-inspiring flora and fauna. They are in fact the last remaining stands of the mighty jungles which once covered the Gangetic plain and the sustainability of this natural structure is pretty majestic. Since 1966, the Sundarbans have been a wildlife sanctuary, and it is estimated that there are over 400 Royal Bengal Tigers and about 30, 000 spotted deer in the area.
This forest has the largest number of Sundari trees. Sundarbans epitomize wilderness with its meandering rivers, springs, creeks and estuaries. It is a declared Tiger Reserve, home to the Royal Bengal Tiger- an almost extinct species who swim in the saline water and are often man-eating varieties.
Other endangered species in the Bioreserve are Batagur baska, King Crabs, Olive Ridley and Turtle. You can also find the jungle fowl, giant lizards, spotted deer, wild boar and crocodiles in these forests. The Siberian ducks are another famous attraction here. Besides this, there are over 64 varieties of Mangroves such as Goran, Genwa, Dhundal, Garjan, Kankra, Sundari and Passur. Make sure to hit the Nilkamalor Hiron Point and Katka viewpoints that offer fantastic views of animals in the wilderness. Also, enjoy the mud-flats called Chargheri Char where you can enjoy coastal trekking.
I visited Sundarbans a few years back. We stayed at a hotel in Pakhiralay, although some people stay in launch boats as well. From there, we went to various watchtowers like Sajnekhali, Buri Dabri, Neti Dhopani, Dobanki etc. via boats. We were not lucky enough to spot a Royal Bengal Tiger, but we did spot a few deers roaming on the river banks and many cranes. Watching sunsets from the launch boats is a beautiful experience. The watchtowers offer a splendid bird’s eye view of the vast variety of flora and fauna. I would recommend carrying a pair of binoculars if possible to get a clearer view of the forest from the watchtowers, and this might increase one’s chances of spotting a tiger.
One of my most recent trips include a three-day stay at Sunderbans. It is the largest Delta in India and has various exotic species of birds and animals. We took a bus ride to Sunderbans from Kolkata which are easily available. There are many beautiful resorts catering to the needs of the tourists. I was in complete awe of the Royal Bengal Tiger which is an endemic species, that is , species found only in a specific area. I enjoyed boating along the forests which are home to many species of monkeys, deer and tiger. However , the area is reserved and therefore one should act according to the rules mentioned by the tour guides.
- Avoid venturing out on your own. Always carry flashlights and spare batteries.
Hot and humid climate. Threatened wildlife.
The Indian portion of Sunderbans is located in West Bengal. So, the region is perfect for tourists from West Bengal itself. However, the region should be visited by conservationists and shutterbugs from all over the world.
Sundarban is an island cluster in the Bay of Bengal, spread across an area of 10,000 sq. Km. 40 percent of this area lies in India, and the rest is in Bangladesh. The forest lies in the mid of the humongous delta formed by the rivers Meghna, Ganga, and Brahmaputra. The park area is also enclosed with different rivers on all sides. The park boundaries are shared by Malta on West, Haribhanga on East, and Netidhopani & Gosba in the North. The total park area is 4,262 sq. Km, half of which is covered by the Mangrove trees. Out of 102 islands, 54 are inhabited by forest vegetation and the rest by human dwellers. Various tributaries of the river Ganga flow through the park many other water courses, including 31 saltwater rivers form a criss-cross of water bodies in the region. All water bodies flow Southward to mingle into the sea. It’s interesting to note that the region goes through fluctuating geographical conditions, depending on the effect of flow tides and ebb tides. The waxing and waning of tides raise the river bed by depositing slit in varying heights and depths, creating new islands and carving fresh creeks. To the South of the Park and the Dublar Char island lies the mysterious deep-sea canyon, known as Swatch of No Ground where the depth of water undergoes extreme variations, ranging from 20 metres to 500 metres. Sundarban is also known for its metamorphosing mudflats. Mudflats are wet deposits of soil found near coastal areas, formed from the deposition of mud by rivers or tides. The mudflats are submerged during high tide and exposed during low tide, transforming within one tidal cycle. Outside the park, there is a mudflat which is being promoted as an upcoming tourist attraction by private tour operators. During low tide, tourists are seen visiting the mudflat, taking mud baths and even exploring the area on foot. With some luck, small Octopus, Sea Anemones, and Horseshoe Crabs can also be spotted here.
To offer a full view of the rich animal and plant life to tourists, the forest department has constructed several towers inside the forest area. Below are the major ones with the sightings they are famous for.
Sudhanyakhali: Tigers, crocodiles, wild boars
Sajnekhali: Kingfisher, White Bellied Sea Eagle, Plovers, Lap-Wings, Curfews, Whimprel, Sandpipers, Pelican, Bono Bibi temple, Crocodile park, Mangrove Inspection Centre
Dobanki: Canopy walk, Cheetal
Burirdabri: Mud walk, Mangrove cage trail, molluscs, crabs
Netidhopani: Ancient Shiva Temple
Bonnie Camp: Scenic beauty, tigers, deer
Jhingekali: Tigers, Brahmini Kite Bird
Sundarban is made up of a unique ecosystem of Mangrove trees and houses 1586 faunal species. Out of these, 15 mammal species, eight bird species, and 17 reptile species are counted amongst the rare and endangered species in India.
The vegetation in Sunderbans is a moist tropical forest with Mangroves dominating the flora. Multiple species of Mangroves are found here. Sundari tree (Heritiera fomes), which in all probability gave the forest its name characterizes the thick Mangrove growth. Other species of Mangrove found here are Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha), Keora (Sonneratia apetala), Dhundul (Xylocarpus granatum), Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza), and Goran (Ceriops decandra).
Poresia Coaractata, Myriostachya Wightiana And Golpata are the species of Palm Trees found in the forest. Covers of Speargrass and Khagra grass are also found in the forest.
Fauna: Glowing Phytoplanktons: If you are taking a night safari through the waters, be prepared to behold the rare sight of a magical starry night, both underneath as well as above you. Sundarban waters are replete with tiny organisms called phytoplankton which glow in the dark. If you plan accordingly, on a Safari on a new moon night, you will see the waters lit up like blue fairy lights. Animals: Sunderban is particularly known for being the only Mangrove ecosystem in the world which harbours an entire population of Tigers. The tigers here have adapted themselves to the salty water and also become great swimmers. Due to a difficult hunting environment, anything that moves becomes prey in the eye of the Tiger, including human who set out into the jungle. Apart from tigers, other animal species found in Sundarban are Cheetal, Wild Boar, Small Indian Civet, Rhesus Macaque, Fishing Cats, Leopard Cats, Common Otter, and Black Finless Porpoise. Dolphins are also aplenty in the river water and two types of Dolphin, that is, Gangetic dolphin and Irrawady Dolphin are found here. Reptiles: Estuarine Crocodile(Crocodilus porosus), though endangered, is still present in Sundarban in good numbers. Snake population pervades the jungle as 57 out of 93 snake species in West Bengal are found here. Common among them are Common Cobra, Russel's Viper, King Cobra, Indian Python, Common Krait, Rat Snake, Chequered Keelback, and Green Whip Snake. River Terrapin is a locally found species which has been given an endangered species. Water Monitor Lizard is another reptile with a decent population in the Sundarbans. Turtles, both freshwater and seawater are found here. Among the freshwater species, Indian Soft-shelled Turtle, Flapshell Turtle, and Spotted Pond Turtle are common. Olive Ridley, Hawksbill Turtle, and Green Sea Turtles are commonly found seawater species. Birds: The rich avifauna of Sundarban boasts of over 210 species of birds. A huge number of migratory birds visit the forest every winter. Flocks of Wader birds can be seen foraging near the mudflats and sandbanks. Some majorly sighted bird species are Oriental Honey Buzzard, Herons, Short Toed Eagle, Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Spoonbills, Stilts, Thick Knees, Green Shanks, Curlew, Osprey, Shikara, Brahminy Kite, Osprey, and Crested Serpent Eagle. Other species of birds include Green Pigeon, Cormorants, Seagulls, Egrets, Cuckoos, Sunbirds, Ducks, Geese, and Storks. It's also known as Kingfisher's Paradise because of the presence of 10 out 12 species of Kingfisher in the region. Fishes: Numerous rivers and creeks wind through the forests of Sundarban, and an abundance of fish and crustaceans is found in the flowing waters. Peripthalmus and Bolethalmus are amphibious fish species, most frequently seen swimming near mud banks and jetties. These rivers are also home to some endangered species such as Ganges Shark, Pondicherry Shark, and Shovel Nosed White Guitarfish. Indian Dog Sharks, Hammer Headed Sharks, Pale Edged Sting Rays, Bull Sharks, Black Tip Sharks, Pale Edged Sting Rays, and Black Edged Sting Rays are also found here in waters of Sundarban. Hilsa, Bhetki, Pomphret, Parshey, Gurjali, Topshey are other fish varieties commonly found here. Among the crab species, Ghost Crab and Fiddler Crabs are common inhabitants of these waters along with two primitive species of crabs known as Horseshoe Crab (Tachepleursgygus and Carcinoscropius rotundicauda). Tiger Prawns are also abundant and serve as a source of livelihood for the locals because of huge demand in the export market.
Sundarban is diffusion of 54 islands, rooted in Mangrove vegetation. The existence of these islands is a worrisome cause for the nature lovers and conservationists as even the main islands are fast disappearing under the rising seawater levels and global warming. Four islands have completely disappeared under water, and another ten are at the risk of submersion because of increase in river water flowing from the Himalayas from global warming.
Lohachara island is one of the vanishing isles in the Sunderban delta region. It was once permanently flooded in the 1980s, then declared disappeared in 2006, and declared visible again in 2009. It was the only one of four permanently flooded islands inhabited by people.
Ghoramara island lies 92 km south of Kolkata and spreads in a minuscule area of 5 km. This island was also once populated with a huge number of local families but now faces complete submergence in water due to erosion and rise in sea water levels. Nonetheless, it is still inhabited by a population of 3,000 people.
Here in Sundarban, you will witness a unique culture of communal assimilation. This is where different religious beliefs merge into one, where the sheer force of the forest brings all communities together, and Hindus and Muslims worship the same deities. Prepare to meet one of the most resilient, hardened community of people you will ever meet. Hardships of living in a remote village take on an entirely new form here as nature cavorts about furiously in the form of extreme tides which wash away homes and predatory animals who prance on humans venturing into the jungle for their livelihood. In the face of such dynamic natural forces, belief in forest deities and the supernatural is firm and unyielding. Bono Bibi (the forest goddess) is considered to be the protector of the forest dwellers, and everyone who ventures into the forest doesn’t forget to invoke her and seek her blessings and protection. What is interesting is that everyone, irrespective of their caste or religion worships the forest goddess and other deities such as Maa Manosa, Dakshin Rai, and Gazi Peer.
Located between India and Bangladesh, Sundarbans is an alluvial archipelago of 54 islands formed by the rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra. Known as the largest delta in the world, the place receives its name from the Mangrove or 'Sundari' trees which grow in the region in huge numbers. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biosphere reserve, the existence of Sundarbans is mesmerizing in itself. The mysterious mangrove forests are home to the Royal Bengal Tiger and several other species of animals. Sundarbans is a replica of the miracles of nature and shows us the importance of the ecosystem. A trip to Sundarbans is thus, a perfect escape from the hectic life into the lap of Mother Nature. Apart from the natural beauty, the non-communal traditions of the local population in the region gives a strong message to take away home.
Day 1 - Start from Kolkata. Reach Gosaba and explore the villages around the forests. You can enjoy a boat ride in the river. Day 2 - Start off early morning. Visit the watch towers in Sajnekhali, Sudyanakhali and Do Banki. The mangrove interpretation centre in Sajnekhali is a must-visit. These regions highlight different features of the huge jungle and are exciting to explore.
Though the options for cuisine and food here are modest and limited, one can relish the freshest catches from the water around and indulge in mouth watering dishes prepared from the same. However since the options for restaurants and joints are limited, it is best to stick to your hotels to avail decent food options.