Three Days Trip to Simdarban- A mystic world of prey and predators
Exploring Sundarban National Park- A land of Man-Eating Tigers
Sundarban, a beautiful dense forest! The name itself gives the feeling of mysticism. It is a world of its own; whose co-habitants includes man and tigers with exquisite culture and custom. Many times I had heard about it, even in middle-class books.
This is the only place on the Earth, where the tiger kills fisherman, woodcutter and honey harvester on a regular basis, but still, tigers are reserved and worshipped. This mysticism brought the attraction of many outsiders and describe beautifully about the mystery of Sundarban in their novels. For example, one celebrated wildlife writer Sy. Montgomeryattracted to this unique habitation in Sundarban. He reveals the delicate balance of Sundarban’ life in his famous book, Spell of the Tiger: “The Man-Eaters of Sundarban”. Here he explores the mix of worship and fear that offers tiger’s unique protection in Sundarban and unlocks some surprising local custom about why people at risk of becoming prey might consider their predator a God.
This mysticism and desire to face the love and fear of seeing most revered animal: Tiger has also brought me to this world. The trip to Sundarban was a family trip, the first leg of our vacation of the year 2018.
A) Sundarban- A mystic world of prey and predators.
Sundarban is the world’s largest delta located at the lower end of Gangetic plain, formed by three rivers- Ganga, Brahmaputra, and Meghna. The Sundarban forest area covered by India and neighbour countries-Bangladesh. It is widely spread from the Hooghly River in India’s state of West Bengal to the Baleshwar River in Bangladesh country. This swamp area is extended over around 10,300 km 2 (3,900 sq. mile) of which one-third area is covered in the marshy swamp with the co-joint salt water of Bay of Bengal and rivers’ fresh water. In Bangladesh, it falls under Khulna division and in India; it falls under South and North 24 Parganas. India shared around 4,262 sq. km (1,640 sq. mile) mangrove forest area and Bangladesh shared 6,017 sq. km (2323 sq. mile) mangrove forest area. In percentage, 66% area covered in Bangladeshand 34% area covered in India. In India, from the total area, around 2,125 sq. km covered by mangrove forest and rest area covered by water bodies across the deltas.
It is consisting of more than 200 islands. The The Indian side of Sundarban is consisting of 102 islands of which 54 are inhabited and 48 are forest area; almost covering 40% of the delta, The Sundarban is the largest estuarine salt- tolerated mangrove forests. The forest and waterways of Sundarban support a wide range of Flora, Fauna, and Avifauna including a number of species threatened with extinction. There are 300 species of plants which are found in the entire region of Sundarban. The most prominent mangrove species is Heritiera fomes, which is a prime flora and locally known as Sundry or Sundari, from which name of the Ganges delta is derived.
This mangrove forest is the habitat of over 400 fauna which includes around 300 birds, over 100 different kinds of fishes, 42 mammals, 35 poisonous and non-poisonous snakes and eight amphibian species; but mainly known for largest mammal predator: Royal Bengal Tiger, Panthera tigris. Other species found in this area is a clouded leopard, black panther, Indian mongoose, fishing cat, spotted deer, wild boars, saltwater crocodiles, Dolphins, etc.
Avifauna is also the main tourist attraction which includes- Kingfishers, coots, water hens, cotton teals, swamp, doves, crows, babblers, snipes, herons, pigeon, woodpeckers, whimbrel, mynah, etc.
The Sundarban tiger reserve is critical and of the global importance tiger reserve, where local tribes and tiger are in constant conflicts. The main occupations of the local tribes in Sundarban are fishing and honey gathering, which leads to them deep inside the forests. The changing climate enforcing human and tiger into closer contacts, leading to this conflict. This unique ecosystem is enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site which includes Sundarban National park, Sundarban West, Sundarban South and Sundarban East wildlife sanctuaries. It was also listed in the finalist for the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’ in 2017.
B) Three Days Trip to Mystic World- “Sundarban, World of man-eating tigers”
Last year, we decided to go on a trip to South India, a religious trip to Rameshwaram. And a trip to Sundarban was in that plan too. You could ask me, “But Sundarban is not in South India, then how come it was part of the trip?” Since, my college days, I always like to feel the mysticism of Sundarban; and these days my elder sister is living in Kolkata which gives me a push to visit Sundarban. So, we decided to start our journey from Sundarban itself, a journey from mysticism to religious belief.
All it started with the decision of my brother; he would like to take a break from his studies and to explore South India. When we met in Patna during Chatha (Read my earlier blog on Chatha festival Exploring Chhath Puja – The Festival of Faith, Devotion and Spirituality.), we made a concrete plan for the trip and convince other family members to be part of this trip. I also decided to take a break from my work during Christmas for three weeks. Since my sister is living in Kolkata and it has better connectivity to South India via trains, so we decided to start our journey from Kolkata. And on our journey to the south, Sundarban was our first leg.
Since Sundarban is a conservation area, so it requires a permit to visit. In my experience, if one is travelling with family and it requires some legal document to travel; it is better to involve a travel agency. At least in this way, one doesn’t need to worry about getting a permit and in addition, ones don’t need to worry about the itinerary too.
There are several travel agencies operate for the Sundarban trip, all offering different travel packages starting from a day trip to multiple nights itineraries including food and lodging. All travel agencies have picked up and dropped from and to Kolkata. For lodging, one could choose between staying over the land in cottages or on the houseboats. Sometimes the resorts in Sundarban also, provide the travel packages of its own. To name a few top Sundarban travel agencies are:-
· 1.West Bengal Tourism
· 2. Sundarban Houseboat
· 3. Sundarban Eco-Tourism
· 4. Sundarban Chalo
5. Tour de Sundarban
One could research more on the internet for finding the best travel agencies suiting one’s requirement. But in general, independent of the travel agencies,
almost all travel packages include:-
· 1. Night stay at the forest (Jungle)
· 2. Bonfire
· 3. Village life environment
· 4. Wildlife view
· 5. Visit Watch Towers & Forest
6. Jhumer Dance (Local folk dance) by the local village
7. Introduction to Banbibi, the forest (Jungle) Goddess. Dukhe Yaatra, local
theater performing a story of a local boy who venture in the wilderness of
We decided to visit Sundarban in the last week of December. During this period, the temperature in Sundarban is around 20oC Degree with mild humidity. In general, the weather in Sundarban is hot and humid. And the best time to visit Sundarban is in early October to early March. Since we were visiting Sundarban in prime touristic season, it was tricky to find the accommodation. We tried most of the travel agency but most of them were pre-booked. There was a last-minute cancellation with Sundarban Eco-Tourism and hence we booked our itinerary of 2 nights and 3 days with them. It is the best and most opted plan and also most of the viewpoints are covered under this package. This package includes accommodation for two nights, boat safari for three mornings, lunches on cruise boats, guided jungle safari, interactions with locals and snacks, etc. Please look for details with the travel agency.
As per the plan, we travelled from Delhi to Kolkata. Kolkata Rajdhani Express was on time. We boarded the train at New Delhi Junction. My son was very excited. As soon as he boarded the train, he jumped to grab the seat next to a window. Unfortunately, in AC 2-tier, windows were tainted; he was not able to see outside and hence he was upset. The train from New Delhi station left on time. Our coach was very clean, and we shared our cabin with a pensioner. It was a big surprise for us; he was a wildlife conservationist and worked in Kaziranga National Park. It was an interesting discussion with him on the depleting status of mangrove forest in Sundarban and human-tiger conflicts in Sundarban. Our discussion enlightens me on the impact of our day to day activities and on environments. We need to be conscious and very protective of our mother nature. This is the legacy which we are going to leave behind for our children. Probably, I should write my next blog on how to be a sustainable eco-traveller.
We reached Howrah Junction as per schedule time at noon. My brother and my Mother already arrived at Howrah Junction late in the morning, from Patna. Their train was late by a few hours. My brother-in-law was at the junction to receive us. We were six people, so it was not possible to get in the same car. So, we decided to take a taxi while my brother and my mother joined my brother-in-law in his car. In 45 minutes, we reached my sister’s home. My sister lives in Gaachtala. She was waiting for us. My nephews had already arrived.
It was a family gathering after a gap of two years. A joy of tears rolled from my mother eyes. It was a very resonating moment. We talked for a while and exchanged gifts. Its already late afternoon and we all were hungry. My sister already prepared typical Bengali lunch for all of us: Drumsticks cooked in mustard and poppy seeds, moong daal, tomato chutney, steamed rice, chapati, and Sandesh. We were hungry so my sister suggested let’s get freshen up first and have lunch. After lunch, we had a quick nap and then in the evening, we discuss the itinerary of our journey which is going to start from the next day. In the evening, my sister and my mother prepared snacks for the journey. Later, we pack our bags for the Sundarban trip. Our plan was to spend 2 nights in Sundarban and then come back to Kolkata and then continue for our South India trip.
Next day, our pick up for Sundarban trip was scheduled at 7.00 in the morning from Gaachtala bus stop. We took two cabs to reach the bus stop. Our tour manager was waiting for us at Gaachtala bus stop. We received our trip ticket from him. My son was very excited to board the bus. He was looking forward to seeing the tiger in Sundarban. He took the seat next to the window. Deluxe bus was air-conditioned and very luxurious. We took our destined seats. Our breakfast was already placed on our seats. It includes fresh tetra pack juice, bottled water, a vegetarian sandwich and a sweet. The bus left the stand on time. Kolkata was looking very beautiful and sleepy at the break of dawn; the air was fresh and has a smell of moist soil.
There were three more families along with us on the bus. We introduce our self to each other. Our discussion was more on expectation from the trip. Some of us were also a bit scared of facing the tiger. The fear and excitement of seeing the tiger were giving us adrenaline in our body. In 1 hr. 45 min, our bus arrived Sarberia. The bus stopped for 15 minutes for refreshment. We had coffee from the tea stall. It took another 1 h 30 min to reach Godkhali. This is the last point for Sundarban, reachable by road from anywhere. It is located just opposite to Gosaba Island. From here, we must travel by boat to our destined resorts. At the port, a diesel boat was waiting for us. The water in the riverine was low and looks very still. Sun was very bright with a pleasant warmth. The boat was very basic with sun shades. On the boat, we were greeted by a local guide.
Our boat cruised through Gomor, Durgadhwani and Pitchkhali River. There was a small stopover at Gosaba, the earliest human settlement in the Sundarban. It is also the house of Sir Daniel Hamilton, a Scottish Banker who initiated co-operative movement in Sundarban. We reached our resort via Datta River at Sunderban Tiger Camp. It took almost 2 hrs. to reach our resort at Sajnekhali where our tourist lodge was waiting for welcoming us. On way to our resort, we saw the Sundarban Tiger View Point; though we haven’t seen any tigers at the bank. My son was disappointed but still, he was hopeful to see at least a tiger during his stay in Sundarban.
We booked with WBTDC- Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge. It is an eco-friendly, located at Sajnekhali in the Sundarban. It is the only tourist lodge which is close to Sajnekhali Forest and gives the perfect forest feeling. It offers comfortable accommodation to the guest which is cost-effective. The lodge was well maintained and the room was spacious and well furnished. Beauty around this lodge was also fantastic and peacefully. We booked two cottages with one king-sized bed and a big cottage with 6 single beds. All cottages were luxurious though from outside they looked very basic but it was maximum comfort and safety to the tourist. Our both cottages had basic amenities such as running water, electricity, western and Indian washroom. Even, one could order hot water as per one’s requirement. The cottages were located next to the small garden in the dense forest.
We took the key for our cottages from him. Our resort manager already arranged our permit to visit Sundarban. After a quick hot lunch, which is the typical local cuisine, there was an optional boat ride to nearby Sajnekhali watchtower, Sundarban museum and mangrove forest (jungle). The Sajnekhali watchtower is a nice spot to watch migratory birds and spotted deer. At the break of dusk, tea was served on the boat.
Viewing sunsets around the forest were mind-blowing. Trees and green plants on the four sides looked great. Nature beauty was surprising and majestic. Now it is understood why this place is called Sundarban- a beautiful forest. By the early evening, we returned to our resort. At the resort, there was evening bonfire with tribal folk dance at the common area.
The local tribes performed the folk dance (Jhumar/Tusu Parab Dance) and local Rural Theatre – Banbibi Yatra, depicting the local custom and religious beliefs. Folkdance is performed on the agricultural theme and dedicated to the Local Goddess- Tusu. It is performed by either male or female or both. Banbibi Yatra is a story based theater presentation. As per local myth, Banbibi is considered as jungle Goddess and she is the principal deity of the Sundarban. The dance/Theatre reflects their hardship as fisherman and honey-collectors, hate and love with the tiger and care for the Goddess- Mother Nature. These dance/ theater were performed in local Bengali language but easy to understand. This makes village people earn income and this way local dance and cultural activities live. We should also help to these people. We were enjoying a folk dance with snacks and feeling very good at that moment.
|Rural Theatre (Banbibi Yatra) |
Later in the night, we were served hot dinner, which includes fish curry, lentils soup, steamed potatoes, cottage cheese, deep-fried luchi, steam rice, drum stick curry, and Sandesh. After dinner, we went for a small walk around our resort. Sundarban is also infested with snakes. It is recommended not to wander too far from the resort designated paths. This was the end of our first day in Sundarban.
Next day, we woke up early in the morning; birds were chirping, and the air was fresh and much cleaner than the air in Kolkata. Bell boy brought us hot coffee and tea with biscuits. We also got hot water for the shower. Later in the morning, our planned cruise was ready to take us around Sundarban towards Dobanki watchtower via creeks and numerous riverine and try to spot all different wildlife-animals, birds, water animals, and forest trees.
The canopy walks at Dobanki watch tower give us a glimpse of dense Sundarban forest and at the same time give us chills down our spine for being seen by Tiger. But unfortunately, we didn’t see any tigers. My son was very disappointed. We had seen spotted deer, kingfisher, macaques, nazuri monkey, sandpiper and grey-headed fish eagle. We also saw the spotted deer rehabilitation center. This canopy walk is about half a kilometre long and a height of about 20 ft. from the ground. There was a fantastic and good experience of this aerial view of the forest from the canopy walk. Our guide was a great guy and had good information on the plants, birds, animals and water animals’ life and had also on tradition, culture, and lifestyle of Sundarban’ people.
After that, we were given refreshment pack on board while our boat was cruising via Matla and Bidyadhari River. Bidyadhari The river has high stream; opening to the Bay of Bengal, waves in the river give us fear to be drawn. Around noon, we were back to our resort. Our lunch was ready, the local cuisine of Sundarban was served. After lunch, we had a one-two hour rest. Later in the afternoon, we had an optional tour of the local village. The nearby village of Dayapurwas on our list. My son was not in a good mood, so he decided to stay back at the resort and visit the resort watchtower. He took his binocular and heads to the watchtower with another child from the camp. It has been reported that there are 64 species of the birds which could be seen. My wife was worried to let him go alone, so she requested a resort guard to look after him.
Rest of us decided to catch up with the resort guide for the trip to the village. We have seen the poverty and hardship life of the local tribe, their culture, and belief. The life here is so dull, monotonous and terrible that even in a dream we cannot think. We should help them through buying something which they offer to us such as – Local handicraft, Honey, Organic Brown Rice, Hand-painted clothes and other many handmade things. Sundarban is known for mangrove honey. The mangrove trees bloom in summer and autumn with small, yellow and bell-shaped flower. These flowers have a pleasant smell and attract bees. The honey made by these bees is very dark and have a high content of antioxidant. These kinds of honey are good for constipation, kidney stones, ulcers, and sore throat. Honey harvesting in Sundarban is a very risky business and one of the main livelihood of locals. Lots of human-tiger conflicts are due to this business. We bought 2 l of honey from a local shop there. There was also handicraft made of clay and mangrove wood. My mother bought a clay sculpture as a souvenir for the home. On the dawn of dusk, our guide requested us to head back to resort. He seems to concern about our security against wild animals and would like to keep the schedule of our visit as planned. He told us some story behind this man-eater Royal Bengal Tigers which are worshipped in Sundarban as RAJA DAKSHIN ROY.
Local people were very welcoming and warm. At the resort, our manager had arranged a movie about the Sundarban on tiger conservation. The movie was great informative. Sundarban is the largest tidal salt-tolerated mangrove forest and is very important for the conservation of Sundarban tigers. Though, the mangrove forest is very hostile, swamp area, tides twice a day, sharp pneumatophores, changing water levels, wide riverine, scarcity of prey, etc. Despite this Sundarban tigers are very much adaptable to this hostile environment. They could swim few kilometres of riverine confluences and that also in high tides. I believe the hostile environment in Sundarban, kept influencing this part of the world and hence kept these beautiful creatures Sundarban tiger safe in this isolated part of the world. The movie was a great relief for us as my son was happy to see this movie. After the movie, we were served the hot dinner. There was luchi, steamed rice, steamed potatoes, egg curry, salad, chana dal, biagun bhajja, and sweet curd. This was the end of our second day in Sundarban.
Next day, again we were waking up by bell boy. We had morning walk at the village and a short cruise to third Sudhanyakhali watchtower. After morning tea and breakfast we were walk to a village, feel fresh and good to see local village people.
We had also tried to interact with village people, fisherman, the Honey collectors, and the woodcutters. The people of the village are very innocent. They share their daily life of experience and problems. Walking in the village seemed very nice. On way, we have seen local Banbibi temple which was dedicated to the Goddess of the forest. After praying for safety and love, we left for the Hamilton Bungalow & Rabindranath Tagore Bungalow.
|Deer view from the watchtower |
Now we were moving towards Sudhanyakhali watchtower for seeing the natural beauty of Sundarban. It was the last desperate sightseeing effort to catch the glimpse of the elusive Sundarban tiger. This watchtower is very close to a freshwater pond, where wild animals sighting is common. Unfortunately, we had not seen the tiger. Though we saw spotted deer and wild boars drinking water at the pond. There were few water monitor lizards at a certain distance but vaguely seen due to their camouflage. There were unique experiences of watching wildlife from its Canopy walk. All three watchtowers strategically place on the island to view a large part of the forest. These are the best platform for viewing animals. And this was the end of our morning cruise. Our boat head back to the resort and on way back, we were served lunch. Later at noon, we head back to the mainland.
Though our trip was not successful in sighting Sundarban tiger, we had a wonderful time there. We had seen the beauty of the wildlife there in the most natural manner. If you are backpacking then this is a fantastic place to explore but carefully and also for those who truly appreciate the beauty of nature. Surely, once you will feel here that how does Mother Nature take care of natural beauty around the forest. Photo is saved by the name Sundarban photo gallery, please go through the link for photo collections-Photo Gallery- Sundarban National Park As it was mentioned earlier, we found that Sundarban is a mystical land, a land which will always call you back. Probably, next time we would like to explore the Bangladesh side of Sundarban.
C) How to reach Sundarban:
Sundarban is located south-east of West Bengal and access only by boat through riverine waterways from nearest various ports and all ports are well connected from its capital city Kolkata by both roadways and railways. Popular ports near to Sundarban are Godkhali, Belgachia, Kodaikanal, Raidighi, Sonakhali, Namkhana and Najat where Motor launch services are available for Sundarban. The nearest railway station is Canning which is connected to Sealdah railway station via local train.
1. Air- Sundarban National Park is located 120 km away from Kolkata International Airport- Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport. Both Domestic and International flight is available from this airport. From the airport, you can take either road or train route for Sundarban. But the easiest mode is road trip to last entry point of Sundarban then further you reach Sundarban via boat.
2. Rail– The nearest railway station is Canning which is located 29 Km far from the gateway of Sundarban- Godkhali and around 48 Km away from the Sundarban National Park. There is a daily local train running from Sealdah to Canning throughout the day. Sealdah The railway station is connected to almost all Indian cities and capital. Firstly you reach Sealdah railway station and then take a local train to reach Canning station. From here, taxi or public transports are available for various ports- Godkhali, Namkhana, Raidighi or Jharkhali, Sonakhali and Najat where motorboat services are available for Sundarban. It is one and half hour journey from Sealdah to Canning.
3. Road– Sundarban is well connected with Kolkata via road. The Road distance from Kolkata to various ports are- Namkhana- 105 km, Sonakhali-100 km, Raidighi- 76 km, Canning- 64 km, Godkhali- 115 km and Najat- 92 km. From these entry points, you able to reach the main islands of Sundarban via motorboat services.
NB: Most of Sundarbans travel agency arranged the pick-up point in Kolkata via Ac/no-ac cars, deluxe bus. There are private taxis also run from Kolkata to Godkhali.
D) Best time to visit:
The climate of Sundarban is hot and humid, an average temperature of the region ranging between 20oC to 38oC The summer extending from March end to July end is very hot, temperature reaching as high as 44oC and humidity reaching as high as 90%. July-September is the rainy season. Most of the islands and riverine are flooded in this season. The main season to visit Sundarban is from October to an early week of March. The average temperature in this season is around 24oC and humidity is around 40%-50%.
Mangrove forest honey is famous; one could buy wild Honey from locals here. Also, locals from Sundarban use the timber from mangrove forests for making a wooden craft, a memorable memento to bring back home.
F) Health risk:
Groundwater in Sundarban are contaminated with arsenic, so one should always carry bottled water. One could also opt for coconut water; locals always sell it close to tourist lodge. Sundarban is a swamp area, so mosquitoes are a bigger nuisance for locals than man-eating tigers. The traveller is advised to carry mosquito repellent when venturing in the forest. Mosquito nets are provided by the lodge.
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