Sundarban National Park
  and Tiger Reserve

 
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Wetland area symbol © Sumit Sen
‘Sundarbans – The Venice of Nature'
 


© Sujan Chatterjee   (Pic: Sujan Chatterjee)

History  Images  Trip Report1  Trip Report2  Checklist   Maps   


Introduction

Where the land meets the sea at the southern tip of West Bengal lies the Indian Sundarbans, a stretch of impenetrable mangrove forest of great size and bio-diversity. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sundarban is a vast area covering 4262 square kms in India alone, with a larger portion in Bangladesh. 2585 sq. kms of the Indian Sundarban forms the largest Tiger Reserve and National Park in India. The total area of the Indian part of the Sundarban forest, lying within the latitude between 21°13’-22°40’ North and longitude 88°05’-89°06’ East, is about 4,262 sq km, of which 2,125 sq km is occupied by mangrove forest across 56 islands and the balance is under water. 

© Sumit

The Sundarbans are a part of the world's largest delta formed by the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Situated on the lower end of the Gangetic West Bengal, 21°13’-22°40’ North and longitude 88°05’-89°06’ East, it is also the world’s largest estuarine forest. The Sundarbans is inhospitable, dangerous and monotonous.  Dense mangrove forests occupy 56 islands and the balance is under saline water which flows through numerous tidal channels and creeks. It is difficult to approach and even more difficult to spend time in. But for those who dare, it must be one of the most attractive and alluring places remaining on earth.

© Nik

Key to birding the Sundarbans is overcoming the geographic and physical hurdles. Though only a 100 odd kms from Kolkata city, Sajnekhali, an established tourist/visitor destination takes 5 - 6 hours to reach through a combination of road and water transport. In a landscape dominated by great tidal creeks and waterways, the only way to access and enjoy the area is on motorized boats which come in various sizes and shapes. Sundarbans is the home of swimming man eating tigers, estuarine crocodiles, sharks, poisonous snakes and pirates. Man fights for survival in great numbers by living off nature's bounty by accepting and fighting against these odds. The visitor has no choice but to stay within limits and out of trouble. This means that there is very little conventional bird-watching, more observations from water.

© Nikhil Bhopale
Buffy Fish Owl - a very rare resident

 But the dark and foreboding attractiveness of the mangroves also hides some of the most sought after birds in the world and a chance encounter with a Brown-winged Kingfisher, a Grey Headed Lapwing, a Pallas's Fish Eagle, a Lesser Adjutant or maybe a Mangrove Whistler is always a possibility ~ as is the unforgettable sight of the most secretive great cat in the world.

© sumit
Mudskipper

Birding is difficult not just because of the terrain but also because the density is not evident from the limited view one gets from a noisy boat. The fringes of Sundarbans play host to many local endemics and the visitor is well advised to spend time on land outside the core area before venturing into the heart of the National Park. Once inside the Park, the only access to land is at the Sajnekhali compound and the various Watchtowers you can visit. Remember that the watchtowers are inside wire cages and do not allow you to stroll in tiger-land.

© G Denzau
Masked Finfoot

How to reach:
Sundarbans is accessed from Kolkata ( Calcutta) by traveling either towards the South East or the South West. The South West route takes one through Diamond Harbour to Kakdwip and Namkhana. You can take a boat from these places or from Gangadharpur and visit Lothian Island and surrounding areas.
The South Eastern route is more popular. You drive 86 kms through wetlands and agricultural land to reach Sonakhali. You can take a 3 hour boat ride from Sonakhali jetty to Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge or cross over to Basanti. From Basanti you can take an auto-rickshaw ride to Gadkhali (11kms). At Gadkhali take the ferry to cross the Bidya river to arrive at Gosaba. A Cycle Rickshaw ride will take you to Pakhiralaya in about half hour. Sajnekhali is across the water from Pakhiralaya.

Where to Stay:
Accommodation is at Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge and new resorts at Gosaba and Bali Islands. Help Tourism's Bali Jungle Camp is  well appointed and comfortable.

© Sumit
Bali Jungle Camp

Jungle Camp arranges ex-Kolkata round trips and travel within the delta. The Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge is very basic and in need of serious renovation. Visitors often stay on board vessels that they arrange. Make sure you know what you are getting before you choose that alternative.


Ruddy Kingfisher

Contact: W.B. Tourism Development Corp. Ltd. at (033) 2248-8286 or 2248-7302 or the Tourism Centre at (033) 2248-5917/5168 for enquiry's or bookings. Help Tourism can be reached at www.helptourism.com

Permits: Government of West Bengal has withdrawn the permit rules for foreign nationals for one year. This means that foreign nationals do not have to secure any special permit to visit Sundarbans, nor do they have to produce the copies of their passports and visas prior to the trip. They will just have to carry their originals and have to show those to the park authorities before entering the park. [Dated August 23, 2008]

Best Tip: If you just want to enjoy the beauty of the Sundarbans without making an adventure out of it, take the Govt. of West Bengal Conducted Trip which comes in 2 or 3 night packages. The trip is ex Kolkata and you can travel in style in a quality Motor Launch without hassle.

Best time: November to March.

References: 
1.The Sundarbans Inheritance (2007); Bittu Sahgal, Sumit Sen, Bikram Grewal (Sanctuary Asia)
2.The Sunderbans; B. Roy Chowdhury, P. Vyas.

Webpages:
1. WB Forest Deptt. page
2. West Bengal Coast

Sumit K Sen
Kolkata, India

 

   
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