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West Bengal: Sunderbans
The Sundarbans, stretched over a sprawling area of 9630 square km, is the largest tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world. A lot of Sundarban forests have now gone into Bangladesh. The meaning of the name Sundarban is"beautiful jungle" or "beautiful forest" in the Bengali language. The name may have been derived from the Sundari trees that are found in Sundarbans in large numbers but it is seen that 75% of Sundari trees are shattered in last 30 years. You must be aware of the glorious Royal Bengal tigers. The names of the royal Bengal tigers have come since the time when British Royal family came to Sundarban for tiger hunting.
34 islands out of 102 islands of Sundarban have got human population as off now. Sundarban has included its name in the list of the World Heritage Sites in 12th Decmber, 1997 and also Sundarban Reserve Biosphere is now one of the Global Biosphere reserve forests.
In the gripping greenery of gigantic mangrove forest there is no dearth of wild animals starting from different species of reptiles to crocodiles and tigers. The specialty of the mangrove forest is the breathing roots of the trees coming out of the soil. A ride on a vessel through the different islands of the Sundarban to watch the splendor of Sundarban forest is a pleasant experience. The wilderness of the forest is even more prominent with the charismatic presence of various types of birds. Sundarban also has seven species of turtles. In 1984 Sundarban has got the status of national park for its large varieties of flora, fauna and wild life animals. Sundarban is the 9th tiger reserve forest in India. A lot of islands like Suparidanga, Agunmari, Lauhara and Ghoramara are in dilapidated state to natural calamities.
Sajnekhali sanctuary, regarded as an integral part of the Sunderban National Park, for all intents and purposes is a bird watcher's paradise. The best time to visit this is from July to September. Due to its location, the place enjoys a moderate weather through out the year but the summers are definitely hot and humid. Crocodile corral, shark pond, turtle hatchery and an interesting Mangrove Interpretation Centre, temple of Banbibi are the interesting points of visit of Sajnekhali. Watching deers which come to have their food in the afternoon in the crocodile corral is a pleasing spectacle for the tourists. Boats are available for excursions but you need to take a guide along with the boat permits from the sanctuary authority in advance. Bird watchers and nature lovers can take the pleasure in watching more than 500 species of native as well as migratory birds and butterflies in the middle of the virgin and opaque forests of Hetal, Garan, Hogla, and Sundari. The scenic beauty of the nature can be observed intimately while you are on the boat or standing on the watch tower. You should not be heroic at any point of time and land on the sanctuary from the vessel without the permission of the guide due to the presence of snakes, crocodiles and the horrific, shrewd Royal Bengal Tigers.
Sudhanyakhali, about 45 minute’s journey from Sajnekhali, is famous in Sundarban for the view from its watch tower at a side of the water stream. The enjoyable narrow road through the creeks of natural surroundings will take you to the most sought after spot of Sudhanyakhali, the watch tower. The natural habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger is encircled with 6-12 feet tall mangrove trees. At the base of the watch tower, the sight of watching deer and tigers is an enticing experience.
A 3-4 hours tour in and around the Sundarban area will cost you 400 rupees and taking a guide who charges 100 rupees along with you is a must. If you are willing to spend a bit more then you can hire a boat for a whole day and visit places like Gajikhali, Panchamkhali, Netidhopani and Sudhanyakhali as a package tour. More than 271 tigers and more than 30,000 deer give you an idea about the multiplicity of the sanctuary. Watch towers are the attractions of places like Sajnekhali, Jhingekhali, Netidhopani, Haldibari, Burirdhabri, Dobanki and Choragajikhali.
Kalashdweep, covering an area of 24854 acres, is the last island on the Bay of Bengal. Even though there is no one living on the island but the island is well known and acknowledged as an island of Royal Bengal Tigers. You can enjoy watching glorious sunrise and sunsets staying in the tent which is an appreciable initiative of “Sundarban jeeb Parimandal”.
Tourists can also go to Bani Island riding on a boat and stay there at the ethnic cottage. It takes almost five and half hours to reach Bani Island, the ideal spot for picnic and jaunt lovers. The sight of the tiger drinking water on the banks of the river is an enticing experience.
Netidhopani watch tower and Halidaydweep are another two destinations for adventurous and audacious nature lovers. Durgarani Water Power plant in Gosaba is an instance of the extension of the modern facilities to the local people of Sundarban.
A nature’s trail at Buri Dabri dweep, situated at the river side of Roybengal, is famous for the watch tower; where from fortunate people can get a glimpse of the strolling Royal Bengal Tigers and a part of Sundarban in Bangladesh.
Dobanki, at the natural surroundings, is a site for watching wild life animals. You can enjoy the natural surroundings staying at the wooden bungalow of the Development authority in the tiger prone Jhorkhali.
Rangabelia, at a distance of 3 km from Gosaba, is famous for the bird sanctuary. You can also stay overnight in the guest house of Gosaba. Gosaba also has a lot of privately owned hotels and guest houses.
Crocodile corral at Methian dweep, about 20 km from Namkhana, Sundarikati Eco tourism centre, situated at 30 km inside the mangrove forest and fishery at Dhanchi forest can also be seen. It is not possible to go to crocodile corral and come back on the same day to Namkhana. No suitable guest house is there in Methian dweep but you can book bungalow of the irrigation department in Sitarampur.
Lethian dweep, the mangrove forest stretched over an area of 38 square km, at the southern side of Matla River, has different kinds of snakes. Lethian dweep doesn’t have many tigers but the botanical garden in the shades of Baines, Keora, and Goren trees is the main attraction. The wild life existence in the forest is also quite significant and appreciable. A guest shade is available here in Lethian dweep but it has only one room.
Piyali is another gateway to Sundarbans, 60 km away from Kolkata by road. A small rippling river Piyali passes through the green paddy fields and mingles with the river Matla. Pretty Piyali delta is a pleasing sight and it makes an ideal romantic holiday destination. The dense forest is really dangerous especially at night when there is no light after it gets dark. The state tourist cottages are present in Piyali but the doors of the cottages remain closed all over the year due to the lack of proper initiatives taken by the Government. The well decorated boats called Janhabi and Bhagirathi are still not operational due to the scarcity of tourists.
Another small village called Dabu, lies 20 km from Canning, is encircled with a deep and impenetrable forest of tall Eucalyptus, coconut, and Babla trees. Most of the villagers here are fishermen. The gentle streams of the River Matla along with the dark and dense forest around make the village a destination for the tourists. If you plan to stay overnight then you can make arrangements in the bungalow of the irrigation department in Dabu.
Even though it is recommended that the hot and humid seasons should be avoided for the trip to Sundarban but for bird watchers the best season for Sundarban trip is from June to September. WBTDC tourism centre arranges a package tour to Sundarban. The duration of the trip is for 2-3 days.
You will get to know the people who have a tough life fighting with the tigers and living with the snakes through out the year. Although a lot of steps have been taken by the Government to improve the lifestyles of the residents of Sundarban but still a lot of initiatives are required to help them to lead a healthy and prosperous life. It’s true that most of them are living under the poverty levels but the communal harmony maintained in the worships of Banabibi is one thing that many people should learn from them.
You can also arrange your own boat for the trip to Sundarban but it is pretty evident that you should take adequate measures and equipments for the night stay on the boat. A special permission is required from chief conservator of forest if you have plans to enter into the Sundarban forest and sanctuary. For a comfortable and hassle free journey it is always advisable to avail a package tour for an apposite duration.
Enthusiast bird lovers can visit Narendrapur sanctuary, covering an area of 0.10 square km. A lot of trains from Sealdah railway station are going to Narendrapur everyday in every 20 minutes.
NOTE: Sightings of tigers are very very rare in Sunderbans. Most people who have witnessed a tiger visit were while being killed by one. Sunderban is not a place to go for tiger sightings or safari. The tigers here are man eaters due to scarcity of food. However, one can go just to experience a dense forest, which is second only to Amazon.
How to reach: Buses are going to Sonakhali from Kolkata. Take buses which are going towards Basanti and get down at Sonakhali. Now reach Gosaba from Sonakhali in one and half hours by a vessel. The only bus from Gosaba to Sajnekhali departs at 1 Pm. You can also reach Canning, the gate way to Sundarban, by train from Sealdah railway station, Kolkata. Sonkhali can be accessed from Canning by vessel in one and half hours.
Where to stay: Sajnekhali tourist lodge, Tourist lodge in Pakhiralai, Krishnakunja in Pakhiralai, Hotel mouchak in Pakhiralai, and Luxurious Sundarban Tiger Camp in Dayapur village.
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