Imagine being immersed in a captivating silence, watching the vast stretch of mangroves on both sides, only to be interrupted by the hoarse sound of the boat’s engine. Taking a weekend tour to the World’s most dense mangrove forest in Sundarbans is a thrilling experience of a lifetime.
Sundarbans is formed by the confluence of three rivers – Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna spanning from the Hooghly river in West Bengal, India to the Baleshwar river in Bangladesh. Sunderbans National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and a Ramsar site since 2019.
The rich alluvial soil deposits and the thick mangrove forest have made Sundarbans an abode for hundreds of species of flora and fauna. You will find the most number of Royal Bengal tigers and saltwater Crocodiles here. Sundarban got its name from the Sundari trees, which are one of the endangered species endemic to this area. You will often see the roots of these trees popping out of the soil.
Sundarbans is a tale of survival and co-existence. On one hand, the Tigers are fighting to survive in harsh surroundings, on the other hand, the residents are struggling to make ends meet on the desolate complex string of islands.
A trip to Sundarbans is not always about getting to see a Royal Bengal tiger in the wild but its much more than that. It’s about living and appreciating an ecosystem surviving against all odds.
To spend some quality family time, away from the mundane city space, we booked the 3 Days, 2 Nights stay package from Sundarban Eco-tourism.
Although a day trip to Sundarbans is possible from Kolkata, we feel, you need to stay for a weekend to explore the mangroves fully. A weekend in Sundarbans can be a great detox tour as well as an excellent way to enrich yourself about the ‘life on a delta’.
3 Days Sundarbans Itinerary includes
Day 1: Reaching Sundarbans
On the first day of the tour, we met the tour coordinators at the bus stop opposite Science City in Kolkata. Many others joined us at the bus stop since the to and from Sundarbans is included in our packages. Soon we set out on our journey in a car on the Basanti-Malacha highway. After a 3 hours ride, we reached Godkhali from where we took the ferry to cross the river.
Alternatively, you can also take the train to reach Canning which will be a faster option if you have a time crunch. And then hire a local cab to reach Godkhali.
Going with a packaged trip will save your time as all the necessary permits and bookings are done beforehand. Having an experienced guide on the boat Safari is an added advantage. You could always check the prices for the packages before deciding to book the hotel, boat, and car separately.
The piers of Godkhali is a busy area with many passengers and merchants traveling daily via boats. As soon as we met our guide, we hopped onto a boat and thus our journey began along the waterways. Gradually villages, schools, shops start to appear on either side as the boat sails through the vast Bidyadhari river.
Soon afterward, we reached our guesthouse in Pakhiralaya island that means ‘abode of birds’ in the Bengali language. Along with some local businesses, Pakhiralaya island hosts a number of guest houses. If you are not very keen to sleep in the boat at night, this is a good place to book your accommodation.
Tourism in Sundarbans has come a long way. The guest houses in Sundarban have all the basic amenities but due to the remoteness of the area, they sometimes face a shortage of electricity. One of the couples in our boat was celebrating their wedding anniversary in Sundarbans and to our surprise, our guide arranged a cake for them to cut on the boat.
After a hearty lunch, we set out to watch a beautiful sunset via boat. After coming back to the island, exploring the local shops and buying knick-knacks was a great way to end the day. From them, we bought some honey for home. Sundarbans’ honey tastes different in comparison to the regular ones available in retail shops as the honey is extracted from the wild bee colonies in the forest and no preservatives are mixed with it.
Day 2: Sightseeing
The entire second day of the tour is reserved for wildlife spotting and visiting watchtowers. The boat Safari starts through various rivers, islands & small creeks covering Pirkhali, Banbibi Varani, Sundarkhali, Khonakhali, Choragaji, Deualvarani, Sarakkhali, Gazikhali, Nobanki, Sudhanyakhali watchtowers.
The guide or the boatmen know the parts of the forest where tourists can spot animals easily and steer the boat to those directions. Mornings are the best time to spot tigers as they come to the river to drink water or to cross from one island to another. Rest of the day, you could easily see spotted deers, wild boars or saltwater crocodiles on the river banks. If you are attentive enough, you could see Kingfishers catching a fish, crab or a mudskipper.
Another great place to visit is the Dobanki camp and watchtower where you could walk through an 896-meter canopy that gives you an opportunity to view wildlife from a netted enclosure. You could spot some Kingfishers up close and might have a glimpse of a tiger near the freshwater pond as Dobanki is known for more number of tiger sightings.
After coming back to Pakhiralaya, local folk dances are arranged over a campfire. Women from nearby villages come to perform and they sing songs about Sundarban, their life and hardship, and various other folk songs. All the women are self-taught dancers and chose to perform the local dance to support their families.
Day 3: A Village tour
On the final day of the tour, a visit to the nearby village is arranged. The villages are well connected by roads but the waterway is a faster way to commute in Sundarbans.
During our village tour, we visited a cooperative for women where everybody creates beautiful Batik dress materials. Batik is an Indonesian technique of wax-resist dyeing applied on clothes. The resist is applied to clothes in dots or in lines and the clothes are then dipped in dye. The entire clothes will be dyed except for the places where the wax resist was applied creating beautiful patterns on the clothing.
These kinds of cooperatives help women from nearby villages to empower themselves by teaching them skills to survive and support their families.
Life in Sundarbans is tough for them as they have very limited resources to earn their daily bread. Fishermen and honey collectors often risk their lives while getting a substantial amount of catch for the day. Tiger attacks on the villages on the riverine are also not unheard of. Due to the lack of infrastructure, often villagers don’t get the proper treatments required resulting in fatal casualties.
After our village walk, we visited Sir Hamilton’s bungalow & Sir Beacon’s bungalow at Gosaba. Both the bungalows are in the state of ruins due to lack of maintenance but have histories associated with them.
Sir Daniel Mackinnon Hamilton started the biggest cooperative society in the Sundarban area and left behind his bungalow as his memory. Rabindranath Tagore also visited Sundarbans on the invitation of Sir Beacon and stayed with him in his bungalow. Today a statue of him adorns the garden of Beacon bungalow reminding us about his visit.
After a hearty lunch, we set out to reach Godkhali from where we will go back to Kolkata bidding farewell to Sundarbans until next time.
Things to keep in mind
- A trip to Sundarbans is not always about watching Tigers. Respect and enjoy your surroundings.
- Always respect the locals and try to learn about their daily life.
- Carry mosquito repellent and common medicines for emergency purposes.
- Do not carry any poly bags or plastics as Sunderbans National Park is a “No Plastic Zone”.
- Carry some cash with you as you won’t easily find ATMs on the smaller islands. You can find only SBI ATMs at Gosaba.
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Disclaimer: All the photos are taken by me unless specified otherwise. Please don’t use any of them without permission.