Sundarbans National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Sunderbans National Park in West Bengal is considered as one of the largest mangrove forests in Asia. However, a part of the Sunderbans also falls within the neighboring country in the Indian subcontinent-Bangladesh.
Thickly covered with dense vegetation, impossible to penetrate, occasional dark small creeks that leads deep inside the jungle, Sunderban is equally stunning and scary for all tourists.
The Sunderbans National Park is the home of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger s which are reputed as fearsome man-eating predator on this land. They often prowl in the nearby villages in search of prey or simply attempt to pounce on local the fishermen who often sail to hunt crabs and fish from deep inside this mangrove wildness.
The local villagers of Sunderban consider the tiger as their God, which led to the formation of the deity ‘Ban Bibi’ or the ‘Queen of the Jungle’. Every day, due to acute poverty in these territories, the local fishermen and honey collectors venture into the jungle in search of fish, honey or wood. While some return safe, others are often not so lucky as the elusive tiger are known to hunt stealthily in the areas. Attacks regarding tigers are not uncommon and most of the time, they can prove to be fatal.
EtymologyThe word ‘Sunderban’ is adopted from two Bengali words: Sundar means ‘Beautiful’ and Ban which signifies ‘Jungle’.
History and DemographicsSunderban gained its status as a National Park in 1984. Currently, Sunderban serves as the Biosphere Reserve and Tiger Reserve zone in both India and Bangladesh. Sunderban stands on the delta of the Ganges River. This natural biosphere reserve is comprised of several small and large islands and spans 13,100 hectares of land in which 55 percent of the area is land and the other 45 percent are the wetlands comprised of vast estuaries, creeks, tidal rivers, and canals. Furthermore, according to statistical surveys, 66 percent of the Sunderbans region falls in Bangladesh while 34 percent falls within India.
Sunderban is not only home to the rare tigers. The forest also houses spotted deer, different varieties of birds, venomous snake, and other endangered animals. The inland areas of this jungle have a significant number of bull sharks, river terrapins, crabs, hawksbills, and also the endangered Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins.
There are 78 different species of mangrove which have been recorded in the Sunderbans, making it one of the most unique mangrove forests in the world.
Sunderban is well known for being a bird sanctuary and has a large concentration of waterfowl besides other different migratory birds.
The importance of Sunderban has helped the park earn its place as a prestigious World Heritage Site acclamation by UNESCO in 2011.
Environmental and Animal Preservation ConcernSunderban has an ever changing topography. The constant land erosion and rise of water levels during the high tide over the ages have proved vulnerable to the existence of these islands and their habitat in this water-world. Moreover, the heavy silt which gets deposited on this river head on a constant basis is also continually changing the landscape of Sunderban over time. It is estimated around half of the area of Sunderbans has gone under the water level over the centuries. During the high tide the water in this area simply channels into the forest, making it inhospitable even for wild animals in some areas of this land.
Another factor that troubles Sunderbans is unauthorized poaching. The exotic and endangered tigers in this area often falls prey to the hand of the poachers who kill them for their exceptionally beautiful and expensive hide and teeth. However, in recent times, with the serious effort from the Forest Department authorities, poaching has somehow been reduced in this area, but since it’s a very large territory, killing of animals in this land has still not stopped in its totality.
As of 2013, Sunderban has seen a steady rise of tigers as their population has risen to 103 with the help of UNESCO and other animal protection organizations that has been working to save the endangered animals in this land.
Furthermore, the human-animal conflict is another major concern in this soil that keeps all the local villagers on their toes with the fear of getting attacked by the Royal Bengal tigers at any point in time. Most of the tigers of Sunderbans are referred to as man-eaters, though no major evidence could be laid out so far to justify the reason of a tiger turning into a man-eater in this land.
However in the recent years, in order to reduce the number of human killings, the authorities have set up electrocuted fencing all across this dense forest, but still the tigers in this area are quite smart, as they often bypass these fencing to reach the local human habitats inside the fenced lands in search of prey.
The forest department also demarcates various places in this Sundarban as a tiger prone zones. But owing to the poor financial condition of the local villagers, they are often tempted to reach even those secluded areas in search of crabs and honey, which eventually results in death in the hand of the predator who roams freely in the wilderness of this land.
Places to visit in SunderbanThe Indian forest department has set-up some watchtower in the prime zones where there are possibilities of seeing tigers in this territory. Most of the watchtower zone has an artificial sweet water pond and the tigers usually visit these locations in search of water and salt. Some of the recommended watchtowers to visit in the Sundarbans are Bonnie Camp Watch tower, Kumirmari Watch Tower, Jhingamari Watch tower, Sudhanyakhali Watch tower, Sajnekhali Watch Tower, Dobanki Watch Tower, and others. Another watchtower at Netidhopani is also worth mention, over here as there are higher chances for watching tigers in this region due to its proximity to the heart of this jungle. However, this watchtower is made available to only eight boats per day and the cost to reach this location is higher compared to the other zones in this sanctuary. Also in Netidhopani, there is a three hundred year old shrine of Hindu that is of mythological importance, which can be explored by the tourists while they come to visit this land.
How to reach SunderbansSunderbans National Park has three wildlife sanctuaries. The first one lies within the national park territory at Sajnekhali while the other two, Haliday Island and Lothian Island are located at the south of this park.
To visit Sunderban, you first need to reach the nearest city, Kolkata, capital of the state of West Bengal and then subsequently visit this tiger reserve via Gosaba or Canning.
FlightThe Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport is well connected with various foreign destinations as well as other domestic cities in India. The airport also acts as a stopover for the flights, flying from Europe to Australia and Indochina aerodromes. From the airport, the convenient option would be to hire a car and reach Gosaba, which is around 3 hours’ drive from the Kolkata city. From Gosaba one needs to take a ferry ride from Godkhali river port to Sajnekhali, which again takes around two hours before one can reach the heart of this mangrove forest.
TrainTraveling to Gosaba via train is somewhat tedious because you need to catch the local trains, and they remain pathetically crowded most of the time. But if you are adventurous and would like to mix with the local people, take any local train from the Sealdah railway station in Kolkata to reach Canning. From Canning, you can take a boat to Sajnekhali, which takes around five hours or hire a local shared jeep to reach Gosaba en route to Sajnekhali via boat.
RoadThe road to Gosaba from the heart of Kolkata city takes around two to three hours by car.
CruiseProbably the easiest and most luxurious way to travel to Sunderban is by cruise service from Kolkata. The cruise service offers different type of luxury packages and they take care of everything needed for your trip. All cruises to Sunderban are operated by the West Bengal Tourist Development Corporation and Vivada Cruise service which are located in Kolkata.
Where to stay and eatThere are very few tourist lodges in the Sunderbans National Park, which are operated by the West Bengal Tourist Development Corporation. Three such recommended places to stay over here are Sunderban Jungle Camp, Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge, and Sunderban Bali Jungle Camp Tourist Lodge. All these camps offer dining facilities and it is advisable to stick to them while visiting this territory as private accommodations are not so good in this land.
Another beautiful option to explore the Sundarbans is to hire a houseboat. You can hire a houseboat from Gosaba. The crew members of the houseboat are generally suave as they take care of your entire tour into this jungle at a much cheaper price. However, be sure to deal with the cost beforehand as these houseboats operate privately and so can be bargained on their price. For food, you can carry it with you or else the crew members of these boats can also arrange your food from the villages which lies along the water’s shoreline.
Obtaining the PermitAs a foreigner, if you are travelling without any assistance of a tour operator, you need to obtain a permit to visit Sundarban which is available from the tourism office of West Bengal at 2/3 BBD Bag (Near General Post Office), Kolkata – 700 001.
Best Time to VisitSunderban falls in the tropical climatic zone. The summer season is hot and humid, and it is so not at all comfortable to visit this area during this time. Hence possibly the best time to visit this tiger reserve would be from October till the end of February.
NoteExploring Sunderban involves a lot of inland travel as there are no such ways to enter the forest by car. Also remain prepared for long jungle-walks and carry safety precautions against Malaria and mosquitoes, once you visit this territory.
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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Feb 08, 2015