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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bali Jungle Camp is well appointed and comfortable.
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
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
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.
1.The Sundarbans Inheritance (2007); Bittu Sahgal, Sumit Sen, Bikram Grewal (Sanctuary Asia)
2.The Sunderbans; B. Roy Chowdhury, P. Vyas.
WB Forest Deptt. page
West Bengal Coast