Into the Wild
A boat ride through the mangrove forests of Sundarbans will leave you in an ocean of adrenaline with the complementing calm of lush dense nature
There still exists a place where the tiger rules as the king of the jungle – the mighty Sundarbans. A marvellous natural wonder, this forest is also a tiger and ecological reserve. While a major portion of the Sundarbans is governed by Bangladesh, a smaller part of this mangrove and Gewa forest delta lays with India. This delta is formed by the confluence of Ganges, Bramhaputra and Meghna along with other minor rivers and distributaries. This mangrove forest today stands as one of the last strongholds of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.
Travelling to Sundarbans is an adventure. Especially because these beautiful big cats here have earned themselves a terrible reputation and some have even developed an affinity for human flesh. It would be perilous to not account for the crocodiles in the rivers in the list of animals fond of human flesh. If one is travelling from Kolkata, they can book themselves a taxi till Godkhali, from where launches are available to Gosaba and other popular tourist spots.
Gosaba, a small village situated in the south of South 24 Parganas, has two wooden stilt cottages belonging to Mr Hamilton and Rabindranath Tagore within walking distance of one another. The launches have partitioned beds beneath the deck for travellers to rest, since the next destination Pakhiralaya takes around four hours along Durgaduani creek, Bidyadhari and Gomdi Khal rivers. Pakhiralaya, also a village, has new well-built resorts for vacationers to spend their nights in comfort.
According to locals and the travel-guide, the time between March and April is the most suitable to soak in the beauty of the land of mangroves or Sundri trees. The place is bound by rivers on almost all sides and the primary occupation of the villagers includes pisciculture and collecting honey from the forest. Many people lose their lives to tigers while trying to collect honey illegally from dangerous zones in the forest interiors. They worship 'Banbibi' or 'Bandevi' for keeping them safe in the forest and in water. A large section of villagers also depend on tourism for their livelihood. Villagers here recommend that vacationers spend their nights peacefully inside resorts and not on boats, keeping in mind various issues like tigers and local pirates.
The Matla river of Sundarbans has an age-old association with Bengali sentiment – Uttam Kumar had romanced Sharmila Tagore here in the movie Amanush. Tourists have several options to choose for a visit, for instance the Jharkhali Tiger Reserve, probably the only place where travellers can see tigers if they are fortunate enough. A place like Sajnekhali has a museum about the demographic and geographical features of the place, the flora and fauna of Sundarbans along with a small zoo. There are two specific watch towers for observing animals in their natural habitat at Sudhanyakhali and Dobanki. The watch tower at Dobanki has a canopy attached to it. The forests provide habitat to 453 faunal lives, including 290 bird, 120 fish, 42 mammal, 35 reptile and eight amphibian species.
The Sundarbans mangrove forest covers an area of approximately 10,000 sq km, of which, forests in Bangladesh's Khulna Division extend across 6,017 sq km, and in West Bengal, they occupy 4,260 sq km across South 24 Parganas. Four protected areas in Sundarbans are enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, i.e., Sundarban National Park, Sundarban West, Sundarban South and Sundarban East Wildlife Sanctuaries.
The boat ride through dense forest areas is the most enthralling part of the entire trip. It is usually a three-day trip and Mother Nature ensures that none of your precious hours is wasted. A favourite saying among boatmen is that you can probably never see the tiger but you are already being watched by the beautiful Bengal cat. A visit to the dense natural forests of Sundarbans provides the ideal gush of fresh air to whisk away horrors of our urban, concrete living – embracing all in the lap of pristine, lush nature.