Jan 4, 2011

Sundarbans

ABOUT SUNDARBANS

So little is said about the Sundarbans that I decided to dedicate a post just to the specifics about the place and logistics about how to get there and what are the options of traveling within the Sundarbans.

Sundarbans is the largest tidal halophytic mangrove forests in the world and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. With 64 species of plant life and over 200 species of birds, and last but definitely not the least the Royal Bengal Tiger, this is a veritable treasure for a nature lover. The Sundarbans spanning India and Bangladesh covers over 26,000 sq. kms. of area, of this 9,630 sq. kms. lies in India spanning approx 102 islands. Of these 102 islands 48 are still mangrove forests while the others are inhabited. The forests span 4,264 sq. kms. of which 2,585 sq. kms. has been declared as the Sundarban Tiger Reserve while the other part forms the Divisional Forests as part of 24 Paraganas (1679 sq. kms.)

To start with lets get a better idea about Sundarbans, Google Maps (however I may swear by it usually) is no good for this area, the best I could find was on Trip Advisor, contributed by Bishnupada Ghosh. Here it is reproduced for your convenience.

The area within the dotted line in the adjoining map is that of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve. The area marked in pink is demarcated as the Core Area (1330 sq. kms.) where except for forest officials none are allowed. The most one can get there (with a permit of course) is upto Neti Dhopani on the top left corner of the Core Area. Most of the migratory birds are in this part along with the Olive Ridley Turtles which nest in the beaches on the southern most part of this area.

The area marked in green is the Buffer Zone (892 sq. kms.) and one can go up to the Bangladesh border here to Burir Dabri & Jhinga Khali. The area marked in Yellow is the Saznekhali Wildlife Sanctuary. It is in this area that you will be allowed most access with a permit of course. In subsequent posts I will elaborate a lot more on the landscape, flora and fauna.

[ASIDE: By now its apparent that most place names have the suffix "khali". It comes from the word "khadi" for Canal in Bengali]

GETTING THERE & STAY

There are several options to get to the Sundarbans. The West Bengal Tourism runs several basic initiatives.
  1. Take a 1N/2D or a 2N/3D package on the Launch (large motorboat) services the tourism department has. The Middle Deck is better, avoid the lower deck options. There are A/C options as well. The arrangements are basic and will be in the range of INR 1500 - 2000 per person per day inclusive of everything. This transports you on a Bus to a place called Shonakhali and from there the launch takes you around the various watch towers and canals/rivers.
  2. The second option is to stay in Saznekhali Tourist Lodge (Rs 700 - 1000 approx per day) on the island by the same name. Jayant Basu is the forest ranger and is most helpful with information and making minor adjustments if you request. The lodge can be approached via road upto Shonakhali and thereby you can avail private boats to take you or do what the locals do, island hop with the help of a myriad rickshaws and ferries. This is way more economical and a lot of fun if you are up to it. The closest rail head is Canning, which runs local trains from Kolkata (which is the nearest airport as well). From Canning you can hire boats or island hop. A slew of private boat operators are present and one can hire or share a boat with several people.
  3. The other option to stay, are a number of hotels on the island Pakhiralay (translated in English means home of the birds) right across from Saznekhali island. Its best to remain close to this island since all permits are issued from here.

GETTING ABOUT IN THE SUNDARBANS

The only means of going about in the Sundarbans is by boats, permits are issued at Saznekhali and it costs INR 100 per day per boat. INR 15 is charged per head per day and it is mandatory to take a guide (unless he's not around) for INR 250 per day. Hiring the boats depends on the route and can range anywhere between Rs 1400 - Rs 3500. One can get permits issued for multiple days. My experience with guides here have been amazing.


A special mention needs to be made of Arun Kumar. Arun not only spend the greater part of the day telling me about Sundarbans, but in a great story telling manner digressed between the history of the place and the present issues and local life of people as well as the forests and its various conservation efforts. He is a veritable treasure house of the local flora and fauna and takes great pride and enthusiasm in acquainting you with the area. It was a pleasure interacting with him. He also guided me about the various travel options within the area making it economical as well as a truly amazing and wholesome experience. He can be contacted on +91 9153626612.

The forests are a pleasure to float about in. The serenity is all pervading and the birds, estuarine crocodiles and monitor lizards are quite a sight. I did not see a tiger, I suppose its rare to spot one, but one has to keep hoping :).


THE MUST DO LIST


  1. Float about with not a care in the world and lose yourself in the Sundarbans
  2. Visit the villages nearby and interact with the villagers or visit little market places
  3. Buy/Try the local honey which is the produce of the Sundarbans and is distinctly different.
  4. Take ferries and local transport and hop from one island to another
  5. Try the local cuisine, its a delight especially if you love fish
  6. Try identifying the birds, I saw about 25-30 different species.
  7. Of course look out for the Royal Bengal Tiger, or at least his pug marks

8 comments:

Kits said...

Oh man. Tigers in the Sunderbans is like a mythical being. The amt of pugmarks we saw I half expected a tiger to leap out of the bushes.

Sunderbans was an amazing experience. The best memory for me is waking up to shoot a 4 am sunrise! :D

Siddhartha Joshi said...

Superb! This is an excellent article, I would surely have this as reference when I travel to Sunderbans.

Thank you so much for sharing this.

Safari Al said...

Why didn't you see a tiger?

:)

Tina said...

Thanks a ton for the info....i have always wanted to go there...waiting fr my hubby to land in India...

suchismita said...

Very nice post. makes me want to get up and go to the sunderbans...

Dew said...

Aditi, I have to thank you! I am very soon going to visit Sunderbans, and when I googled to check reviews/experiences of travelers, bloggers, I hardly found any, except yours. And, your post is very insightful. :-) Though am a bit perplexed, that why so little has been written - is it because it did not leave a fine imprint on the minds of travelers or that the place is yet unexplored by serious travelers. I promise, I would write and share my experience as soon as I am back from the trip.

Thanks once again

Aditi Das Patnaik said...

Thank you!

Aditi Das Patnaik said...

Dew,

I am not sure why its not written much about, its a delightful place, just not for many mainstream travelers I guess. Drop me a note if you want to discuss or ask anything else.

Although I did not go to Sagar Island, I hear it is quite nice. Do check it out as well.