The Sundarbans is a cluster of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, measuring about 40,000 sq km across India and Bangladesh, making it the largest active delta in the world formed by the river Ganga and Brahmaputra. The region is well known for its unique Mangrove forests, which cover about 10,000 sq km across both the countries. Parts of the forest are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in recognition of their high biodiversity1. The region is home to 78 species of Mangroves, the highest diversity found in one region2.
In India, the Sundarbans eco region is spread over 9630 sq km, of which the Mangrove forests cover about 4267 sq km3. These forests are home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the estuarine Crocodile, Bengal Tiger, Water Monitor Lizard, Gangetic Dolphin, Olive Ridley Turtle and King Cobra. The Sundarbans forests are the only Mangrove forests in the world where Tigers are found. The existence of the Tiger in this region is testimony to the species’ ability to adapt to extreme conditions. Despite the swampy topography and high salinity in the water, the wildlife in Sundarbans withstands it all, and is thriving well against all odds.
The forest is divided into the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve declared in 1973 covering an area of 2585 sq km, and 24-parganas (South) Forest Division covering an area of 1682 sq km4. Of the Tiger Reserve, an area of 1330 sq km was declared as the Sundarbans National Park in 1984, which is under strict management and kept free from all human disturbances. The rest of the Tiger Reserve is open to tourism activities.
This unique landscape is a star attraction for wildlife lovers. Despite the challenging climatic and geographical conditions faced by this region such as high tides, floods, and cyclones, a number of tourists visit these forests every year for the wide variety of biodiversity on offer. While few can boast of sighting Tigers here, all who visit are left mesmerized by the vast expanse of water bodies all around dotted with thick evergreen Mangroves and wildlife on the banks.
The closest city to the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve is Kolkota, the capital of West Bengal which is easy to reach via flight or train from every part of the country. From Kolkota, one can travel 80 km to a village called Gadkhali, a 2–3 hour drive by road. From this village, boats ferry visitors up and down to the entrance of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. The last inhabited area before the Sundarban forests begin is Gosaba village, which houses several wildlife resorts. An alternative route is also via Canning, 40 km from Kolkota by road and by rail, and then via boat to the entrance of Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, its adjoining Wildlife Sanctuaries and Reserve Forests are open all year round. However, the best time to visit is between November to February as the rest of the year, activities are at a low because of the monsoons. It is necessary to get a permit to visit the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, which can be obtained from the Forest Department in Kolkota and requires your passport for identification.
Due to the geographical constraints of the landscape, it is only possible to travel into the interiors of the forests via boats and ferries through backwaters, hopping from one island to another. In fact, experiencing nature and wildlife though boat rides is unique to this National Park and its main attraction. These boats are available on a half and full day basis, but a boat permit and a guide is a must. The Sajnekali Wildlife Sanctuary within the Tiger Reserve is also a well known tourist destination, especially for bird watchers.
Best time to visit:
September to March.
Present prices for safaris:
Boat rides - INR 100 (US$ 1.6) to INR 200 (US$ 3) per person per
Guide charges- INR 200 (US$ 3)
Charges for Sunderban Tiger Reserve are as follows (2013):
- Entry Fees: INR 15 (Indian), INR 150 (Foreigner)
- Still Camera: INR 300
- Video Camera: Free
- Boat Fee: INR 100 (per Day)
Guide: INR 200
Any restrictions and rules:
Still cameras – No fee
Video camera - INR 300 (US$ 5)
Professional movie camera - INR 1000 (US$ 16.5)
IN THE FIELD UPDATE
The Sunderban Biosphere Reserve is made up of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve (2585 sq km) and the 24 Parganas Division Forests (1500 sq km). The 24 Parganas Division Forests continues to record sightings of estuarine crocodiles, spotted deer, wild boar, nine species of kingfisher, lesser adjutant storks, the great thicknee and large egrets. Tiger sightings in this area are rarer than in the Sunderban Tiger Reserve, where the lucky can catch sight of a tiger swimming across a creeks. The present tiger population, as estimated through the camera-trap method, is approximately 100.
Prices have been revised and the current prices per day are as follows:
- Forest entry permit for Indians – Rs 60 per person and for foreign nationals – Rs 200 per person.
- Mechanised boat entry – Rs 400 per boat; Launches – Rs 700 per launch; Air-conditioned vessels carrying more than 25 tourists – Rs 2500 and Air-conditioned vessels carrying less than 25 tourists – Rs 1450.
- Park guide (compulsory, one guide per vessel) for Indians – Rs 400 and for foreign nationals – Rs 700.
M. V. Paramhamsa (Quality PUG Eco Rating)
The Vivada cruises cover both 24 Parganas Division forests as well as the Sunderban Tiger Reserve. The MV Paramhamsa enters Sunderban through Namkhana, cruising approximately 130 km from Kolkata along the River Hoogly, thus covering both the 24 Parganas Division forests as well as the Tiger Reserve.
Contact Mr. Shakti Banerjee at email@example.com