If you are a traveler who loves to explore wildlife along with the best modern facilities, Sundarbans located 106.2 km (66 miles) from Kolkata is the ideal choice. It is the largest mangrove forest in the world with abundant wildlife, including the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. A UNESCO world heritage site since 1987 the Sundarbans exhibit unparalleled charm. It is an archipelago of 102 islands and spreads over a vast 1351.9 km (840 miles) area. It is a unique natural wonder and the largest delta in the world with two rivers - The Ganga and The Brahmaputra - converging into the Bengal Basin. It is called Sundarbans as it is home to Sundar trees; sundar means beauty. If you plan on visiting West Bengal, India, this is a guide to the Sundarbans in West Bengal.
Things to do
Sundarbans is not only a dream-come-true for wildlife travelers, but it is also a nature lovers’ delight and a photographers’ paradise. This is the reason that tourists in large numbers visit it every year. There are too many things to do in Sundarbans and here are some you can indulge in when visiting this archipelago.
Spot the Royal Bengal Tiger
The Royal Bengal Tiger, the king of Sundarbans is the main attraction. The tiger reserve is the core area of the Sundarbans National Park, and reaching this biosphere is a spectacular experience. As the park consists of islands, canals, creeks, and waterways, navigating to the tiger reserve is a mesmerizing boat journey. If you get lucky you will spot the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger, which can even swim the treacherous waters!
Head to the watchtower
Do not fret if you are unable to spot a tiger or two up close. Head to the Sudhanyakhali Watch Tower that offers a bird’s-eye view of the world’s largest mangrove forest. Marvel at the grassland and if you get lucky you may spot the tiger coming to the watering hole for a drink! If not there are plenty of birds that you can espy from here!
Stop by the museum
There is also a small museum that houses a variety of fauna and flora and is a great way to get acquainted with the area.
Visit the Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary
Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary has over 200 rare bird species. Surrounded by lush greenery and incredible river channels, this bird sanctuary is located on Sunderbans’ northern part. You can head to the watchtowers to espy colorful kingfishers, herons, plovers, sandpipers, and more.
Spot the Olive Ridley Turtles at Kanak
The sanctuary beach of Kanak is pristine and the haven of Olive Ridley Turtles who travel kilometers to lay their eggs here during the breeding season. This endangered specie is the world’s smallest turtle, and watching them in these coastal waters as they lay eggs is a spectacle and privilege.
Visit the Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project
The Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project is the largest house of saltwater crocodiles. Here you can learn about the reptiles and espy crocs of all ages.
Espy tortoises at Batagur Baska hatchery
Children and adults alike will enjoy a visit to Batagur Baska hatchery, where they can espy tortoise species.
Take a dip in River Ganga
Every year in January, during the festival of Makar Sakranti (a day dedicated to the Sun God Surya), devotees in large numbers take a dip at the confluence of the River Ganga and Bay of Bengal. If visiting the Sundarbans during this time, make sure you try it out or watch the spectacle!
Look for the doorway to heaven at Netidhopani Temple
The ruins of the 400-year-old Netidhopani Temple is a popular tourist spot. You need to take a boat to the Netidhopani island and prior permission is required from the Sajnekhali Forest Office. This is the spot where the mythological tale of Behula-Lakhinder took place. You can try to locate the spot the doorway or the stairs to heaven which Netidhopani deployed for taking Behula to heaven! You can also buy fresh honey and mingle with locals.
Take a night safari and spot phytoplanktons
Not for the faint-hearted, the night safari at Sundarbans is a must for the thrill seeker. Take the night safari boat ride as you sail through the mangrove forest in the dead of the night, underneath the moonlight. The jaw-dropping sighs of phytoplanktons, which are small autotrophic components that glow in the nights, will make your journey to Sundarbans a memorable one.
Best time to go to Sundarbans
As Sundarbans experience high and low tides twice a day, the time of high tides when the water level rises by 6 feet to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 meters) is the best time to get into the forest.
When to visit to see the nesting turtles
For enjoying the turtles, December to March is the right time as it is the nesting season for them.
What’s the best time to spot tigers up close
To see the tiger at a short distance, September to March is the right time.
Is photography free
Yes, photography is free, but in some parts of the forest, you require prior permission to shoot videos.
What about safety
Avoid going for a walk in the mangrove forest or boating alone. Don’t go deep into the rivers and creeks especially. The Sunderban tigers can swim and it’s advisable to maintain a safe distance.
Is staying in a houseboat safe
Yes, it is safe, but please do not be unaccompanied and ensure that the tour guide has all the tracks covered. A guide must accompany you on the boat.
Do not hop out of the boat at will
Do not jump out of your boat at will on any island to get a closer view as this is dangerous and can be fatal. The islands are home to venomous snakes like the King Cobra and salt-water crocs as well. Moreover, it is illegal to do so!
Don’t dip your hand in the water
As tempted as you may be, don’t dip your hands in the river water as they are home to poisonous jellyfish.
Carry something warm
While the weather may be humid and clammy during the day, nights can get a little chilly so make sure you carry something warm. Dress conservatively to avoid insect bites.
Carry snacks and cash
Carry snacks as you may get hungry during the journey. Make sure you have enough cash as cards may not be accepted in most places.
Whenever I have visited Sundarbans, I have made sure to see one of its iconic places, which is the Sundarban National Park. It is difficult to get a glimpse of the Royal Bengal Tiger, and I could never spot the elusive creature during any of my visits, but I was excited to see crocodiles and turtles among other animals. The mangrove forests and the rural neighborhoods are also some of the places that I like to visit to get a taste of simplicity and rustic flavor.
How to get there
The best way to get to Sundarbans is to travel from Kolkata and then to Gadkhali Port. From here the only option to get to the mangrove forest is via a boat to Sundarbans. To get to the Godkhali Port you can do the following:
Drive down from Kolkata
The Gadkhali Port is 120 km (75 miles) from Kolkata and you can drive from the city in a private vehicle or a cab. This will take around two to three hours depending on traffic. You can also drive to Raidighi, Najat, Namkhana, and Sonakhali and take a boat/motor launch from there to Sunderban.
Take a bus
You can also take a bus from Kolkata to Gadkhali Port, which may be a bit crowded and a long journey.
Take a train to Gadkhali
You need to board a train from Sealdah Railway Station and get down at Canning Railway Station. Post this you will need to hire a taxi to cover the remaining distance to get to Gadkhali Port.
I have always loved the journey that starts from Science City in Kolkata, where I board a bus to reach a place called Godkhali near Gosaba. A boat ride from Godkhali takes me to the rural village of Satjelia, where I have stayed the night in one of the homestays. I will recommend a boat ride that will take you through the beautiful mangroves where you can spot a crane! Back in the homestay, I have enjoyed some of the evenings among locals performing dances and digging into seafood fare - undoubtedly some of the best food items I have ever had.
Official website: Sundarbans
Department of tourism: Visit West Bengal
News & updates for Sundarbans: New Ferry Service from Kolkata to the Sundarbans
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