Sundarbans National Park (SNP) is a huge littoral mangrove forest in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous as a sanctuary of the Royal Bengal Tiger.
This article covers the protected areas of the Sundarbans in West Bengal, including SNP, Haliday Island, Sajnekhali and West Sundarbans.
The Sundarbans have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 1966, the Sundarbans have been a wildlife sanctuary, and it is estimated that there are now 400 Royal Bengal tigers and about 30,000 spotted deer in the area.
On the coast of the Ganges Delta by the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans are the largest littoral mangrove belt in the world, stretching 80 km (50 mi) into the Bangladeshi and Indian hinterland from the coast. The forests aren't just mangrove swamps though, they include some of the last remaining stands of the mighty jungles which once covered the Gangetic plain. The Sundarbans cover an area of 10,500 km2 (4,100 sq mi), of which about one-third is covered in water or marsh areas. Sundarbans are a plastic free zone, so if you bring any plastic with you, remember to take it out when you leave.
This guide covers the protected parts of the Sundarbans region in West Bengal, including the reserved areas outside the actual national park.
Flora and fauna
The forest is called the Sundarbans due to the rich growth of Sundari trees. The chief predators are the Bengal tiger, clouded leopard, saltwater crocodile, black panther and fishing cat. The Sundarbans is home to many different species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and fishes. Over 120 species of fish and over 260 species of birds have been recorded in the Sundarbans. The Gangetic River Dolphin (platanista gangeticus) is common in the rivers. No less than 50 species of reptiles and eight species of amphibians are known to occur.
- October to February — winter, cold and temperate
- March to May — summer, hot and humid
- June to September — the monsoon season, wet and windy
Be sure that you have booked your lodging or trip package through a responsible tourism organisation that shares the tourism benefit with local communities, does not employ child labour, and practices environment-friendly tourism.
The adjacent inhabited areas of the Sundarbans are well connected with Kolkata by roadways and railways.
- 1 Canning railway station. The nearest railway station to the Sundarbans National Park. Canning is 29 km (18 mi) away from Godkhali Port. Public transport services are available between Canning and Godkhali.
State Highway 3 (SH 3) is the only highway in Sundarbans National Park. It starts from Krishnanagar and ends at Godkhali.
- 2 Godkhali Ferry Ghat (opposite Gosaba Island). Gosaba is the last inhabited island towards Sajnekhali Wildlife sanctuary and Sundarban Tiger project area of Sundarban reserve forest. The shortest route distance to Godkhali port from Kolkata is 82 km (51 mi) and 95 km (59 mi) from Kolkata Airport.
Fees and permits
Foreigners wishing to visit the Sundarbans have to obtain a special permit. This is mandatory as per Government rule. It can now, however, be obtained at the Sajnekhali Forest Office (Ecotourism Range). The originals have to be shown to the forest office on your arrival. A permit for maximum of 5 days is usually granted which can be further extended subject to the permission of the local forest officer.
You have to rely on boats for visiting the various tourist spots of the Sundarbans. Local boats or vessels are operated by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation, namely M.V. Chitrarekha and M.V. Sarbajaya. You can also hire your own boat but the charges are pretty steep (₹1,500-2,000 per day). However, in case you wish to move around on your own, make sure to hire a guide or else the boatsmen may take you for a ride.
The waterways of the Sundarbans are so similar to one another that even if your boat makes a round of the same place, you won't be able to tell the difference without the services of an experienced guide. The Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary is the place from where you can hire a guide.
- 1 Chargheri. Here you can feel the mudflats and do a few hours of jungle and coastal trek (in the mud as well as the coast).
- 2 Gosaba. In 1903, Sir David Hamilton bought 40 square kilometres of the Sundarbans from the British Indian government, including Gosaba, Rangabelia, and Satjelia. His efforts at developing these places brought in other people into this area. The people dared not only to struggle against nature but also the predators that lived there – tigers, crocodiles, sharks and lizards. The predators killed so many people that Hamilton gave rewards to people who killed them. In December 1932, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited and stayed in the bungalow of Sir David Hamilton.
- 3 Haliday Island. Famous for the barking deers (muntjacs).
- 4 Kuthi of Port Canning, Canning. Named after the then-Viceroy Lord Canning, the town was originally developed as a feeder port to Kolkata in the 1860s. However, the idea faded with the choking of the Matla River and in 1867, the river reduced the town to a "bleached skeleton". The kuthi is still present as a remainder of the original Port Canning.
- 5 Matla Bridge. Provides an exquisite view of the Matla River flowing towards the Sundarbans.
All the watch towers listed below can be covered in varying lengths of time. For instance, in a 1N 2D package, you may be able to cover 2 to 3 watch towers, in a 2N 3D package you may be able to cover a few more and so on.
- 6 Bonnie Camp.
- 7 Burirdabri.
- 8 Dobanki.
- 9 Netidhopani. Contains a 400-year-old temple.
- 10 Sajnekhali. A watch tower that also houses a museum, a Bonbibi temple and a crocodile park within its premises.
- 11 Sudhanyakhali. Most of the tigers are sighted from this tower. Some other wildlife-like axis deers and crocodiles may also be seen from here.
- Apart from cruising around the tourism zone of the National Park, take a village walk. Visit a local school.
- Go on a cycle trip to the local village market. Know more about the unique Mangrove Eco System.
- Join a fishing or crab-catching expedition on a country boat around the village (you are not allowed to do that inside the Reserve Forest).
- Take a birding walk around the village.
- Experience a local cultural programme Bonobibi Yatra - a local rural theatre performed by the villagers.
- Join a cooking class, and learn how a local dish is prepared with simple local ingredients.
- Local handicrafts
- Organic brown rice
Recommended items to eat locally:
Fresh sea fish, crabs, prawns, lobster, dry fish curry, cottage cheese, pancakes, Bengali-style rice pudding, and local sweet curds. It's best to savour the delicious dishes made of fresh catches from the water like shrimp, crab, hilsa, bhetki, pangas, partsay, boal, rohu, or katla. Some of the lodges also have their own kitchen garden to give the guests a sample of fresh produce.
Filtered or boiled water. (Do not insist on mineral water unless it is a part of your personal medication. Mineral water comes in plastic bottles, and the Sundarbans is a no-plastic zone.) Fresh coconut juice, fresh watermelon juice, mango juice.
- Houseboat in Sundarban, M.V La Fiesta, Sajnekhali, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. A houseboat with 4 rooms sufficient to accommodate 8 persons, two washrooms - one Western-style and another Indian-style, 1 kitchen. Sightseeing tour by boat.
- Houseboat in Sundarban, M.B India Beacons, Sajnekhali, ☏ , . A houseboat with 2 rooms sufficient to accommodate 3 + 4 = 7 persons. Well-furnished rooms, not cabins. A unique experience of cruising during the day and staying in the middle of the river at night.
- 1 Prakrity Village Resort Sundarbans, Gosaba.
- 2 Matla Tourism Property (Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge), Sajnekhali. Belonging to West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. 30 double bedrooms, ₹700/- including breakfast+1 meal. It is the only lodge close to Sajnekhali Forest Beat Office. Dormitory, ₹250 per bed including breakfast +1 meal.
- Sundarban Hotel & Cruise, Booking office: CIT Rd, Entally, Kolkata, ☏ , .
- 3 Sundarban Residency, toll-free: 1800 103 9161.
- Sunderban Tiger Camp, Dayapur Island, National Park East Range. Booking office: 2F, 9, Mitter House, 71, Ganesh Chandra Ave, Kolkata, ☏ , , , fax: , email@example.com. In the heart of Sundarbans and amidst 9 acres of forestland opposite Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve Forest. A boutique resort providing conference facilities and accommodations including tents, huts, and cottages, with A/C units available, all with attached baths. Meals are served buffet-style with vegetarian options. Sightseeing tours by boat. The rooms have attached clean bathrooms with running cold water and hot water on request, and are very well sanitised.
- 4 Sunderbans Jungle Camp, Bali Island, National Park-West Range, ☏ (Camp), (per Help Tourism), , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
If you are backpacking, go to Godhkhali/Pakhirala and inquire about the boats. They are generally cheaper, but there is always the risk that you may not get one on weekends and important dates and have to abandon your tour from there.
Overnight stay on the boat, is possible and is a unique experience. However, check out the hygiene and safety of the boat before you do so. Most of the boats have single toilets and the toilets on the boats stink and may not be so clean as most of the boats carry a maximum number of passengers (25, 35, 40 or maybe 60) as per their Licensed capacity during the day and all those passengers use on-board bathrooms.
However, if you find one such nice boat, the experience of an overnight stay on the boat and the scenic beauty of the dawn on the water is absolutely breathtaking and mesmerizing.
Always insist or inquire whether the boat you would be travelling has life jackets, lifebuoys, fire extinguishers and other fire fighting measures" as those are minimum prerequisite safety measures (most of the boats do not have them). So be very careful in planning your trip in small boats. You may endanger your life by availing of the services of such small boats which do not have these safety measures.
The Sundarbans are the only place in the world where tigers still actively hunt humans for food and usually between 50 and 80 locals are mauled per year. The royal Bengal tiger is extremely dangerous in the Sundarbans, but most visitors need not worry since wildlife tours and accommodations that is provided by the state government will never put you in harm's way; however if you are interested in a private tour (by hiring a small machine boat), do it at your own risk! The Sundarbans are also home to a population of saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) and bullsharks are found throughout the estuaries, so swimming is not advised anywhere.
Mosquito-borne diseases including malaria and dengue fever are present within the Sundarbans at varying levels depending on the season (the wet season represents the greatest risk). The most feared animal (by locals and tourists) within the tropics is the mosquito which represents a greater threat than any man-eater could. Drinking water should be limited to bottled only. Always use your best judgement when choosing what to eat.
|Routes through Sundarbans National Park|
|Kolkata ← Canning ←||N S||→ END|