Sundarban ! Sundarban ! What comes first to your mind when you read that word ? The largest halophyte mangrove forest of the World! The land of magnificent yet ferocious Bengal Tigers! The land of Honey!
Well, all of them are correct but yet fail to describe Sundarban completely. Sundarban is more than this. It is a struggle between humanity and animality where each other respect each other but never mind to venture into other’s territory.
The main livelihoods of the people living in and around the Sundarban are farming , fishing , honey collecting , tourism etc . As whole Sundarban is a low-lying area, often saline water from creeks enters into farming land destroying both the crop and the land for decades. Fisher-men & Honey-collectors have to go to the most impassable places of this jungle. Many times they come face to face with Tigers. A risk they have to take to survive. The bottom-line is, life is not easy here. So next time, when you complaint about facing your boss every day, remember these guys, the fishermen & honey collectors of Sundarban who have to face death in their jobs.
Sundarban got its name from locally grown Sundari Trees. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site & Biosphere reserve covering a whopping 10,000 Sq. Km , two third of which belongs to Bangladesh and rest to India.
Sundarban is situated on the Ganges Delta (the largest Delta of world) and it mainly consists of tidal waterway and innumerable islands. If someone describes it as the Treasure Island of wild lives he is not wrong even by a bit. It is true for every kind of it be it dwells on the land or swims in the water or glide in blue sky.
Sundarban is mainly consists of freshwater swamp forests & mangrove Forests. Apart from Sundari , the other trees which make up this forest include Hetal , Goran , Genwa , Keora,Garjan etc.
Every word of the local saying “Sundarban is as dangerous on land as it is in water” warns the innocuous tourists of what awaiting them in this vast forest. It houses beautiful Bengal Tigers on land and the Water is infested with Estuarine Crocodiles & Gharials.
When you are not busy locating Tigers, you can also spot Spotted Deers , various kind of Cats , Foxes , Rhesus Macaque (trust me a lot of them) , pangolins , wild boars etc on land . Among birds , Kingfishers are most common. Among others , various kinds of Eagles, Kites, Ducks, Open Billed Storks, Pelicans, Black-headed Ibis, Water Hens, Coots, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas etc can be seen. There are many watery friends as well. Among those, the most notables are Estuarine Crocodiles, Gharials and famed Gangetic dolphins. If you are into Fish foods, you can fist with various kind of Carps , craps , shrimps which are found in abundance here. Monitors, Frogs, Pythons, Turtles, Chameleons, King Cobra, Green Vine Snake , rat snakes etc can also be seen here
It was a bright November Morning when I started my journey to Sundarban with few of my maverick friends. We got into Canning Local from Sealdah (in Kolkata) and it took about 1 Hrs to reach Canning. From there we booked a Car to reach Godkhali. A Launch was waiting for us there. We didn’t waste any time to jump into that to venture into Tiger’s den (well to reach Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge! But Tiger’s Den sounds more dramatic. Isn’t it? ). But this supposed to be week-end getaway journey gave us something unexpected. It gave a glimpse of village life to these city dwellers. The picture on the left is of Hetal.
After a heavy Lunch, it was time for sight-seeing. Boat was waiting and we decided to head towards “Pakhir Bill” (Lake of Bird). When we reached there, Sun was about to set. The deeming evening light didn’t allow us to watch the birds but we could still listen to thousand of birds’ chirping. On the backdrop of fire-red Sun about to set on river, the thousands of birds’ chirping is a moment you wouldn’t want to miss for anything. But it soon became dark and we had to head home with a lot of expectations for the next day.
Next day, boat’s engine started to roar at about 9 am in the morning. We were about to enter into the core area of the Jungle. Suddenly Sareng (captain) shouted “ Tiger ! Tiger!”. The name of Tiger was enough to jolt us up from our day dreams and we all ran toward that side of boat. No, it was not Tiger. It was an innocuous monkey crossing the river. What a tame end ? Anyway, we were all in one side of the boat and we did manage to rock the boat. Sareng looked afraid (also embarrassed for the false alarm) and timidly requested us to go back to our places.
I am not going to bore you by describing details of that day. In short, we saw a lot of jungles & creeks. We saw many birds including varieties of King Fishers, Brahminy kites, Eagles and Open Billed Storks. We did manage to see Crocs , deers & monitors. We visited number of watch towers like Dobanki , Sudhanyakhali etc and had a fine lunch on boat. Like every good thing, that day didn’t last long and Sun started to move to the western corner of the sky. It was time for city-dwellers to go back from the wild surroundings to the warmth & related safety of Lodge and it was time for animals to rule under the pitch-black starry sky.
The next day saw our journey back to the city. It was great trip filled with fun and joy. The only dampener was tiger sighting. But hey, we didn’t go to a zoo. We went to one of the deepest, darkest, scariest Jungles. We might not see the king of the Jungle, but who knows he might have peeked us, measured us from a Hetal Bush.
We could see children playing in mud and bathing on the banks of rivers, village girl washing clothes, villagers conducting religious rituals, fishermen cooking in their boats, women going to market and what not. Ignorant to all these moments of marvel, our Launch was busy crossing the muddy saline water of Matla river . We took left from the junction of Matla-Bidyadhari Rivers to reach our refuge Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge, maintained by the West Bengal Tourism development Corporation and are the only one within the boundaries of the National Park. The lodge is old and has about 28 Double-bedded rooms stacked one beside the other along a long wooden deck on the upper floor of a 2-storied wooden structure. Rooms were surprisingly clean but the running water in the bathroom was quite murky. But we had bigger problems to deal with at that time. The pesky monkeys who lived on the trees surrounding the property are ever vigil to lift anything they can get their hands (or legs) on. But our burning stomachs compelled us to leave these monkeys alone and to head towards dining hall. In spite of few attempts by our forefathers, we ended our lunch reasonably undisturbed. The food was tasty, healthy but I guess you would not be looking for anything else other than Indian food in a Jungle.
How to go:
You can go to Canning by Train (preferable) or Bus. It takes around 90 minutes to reach canning from Sealdah by train. From there you can hire a Car to reach Gadkhali . From Gadkhali , you can reserve a Launch or avail local ferries to reach Sajnekhali or Pakhiraloi.
You can go to Canning by Train (preferable) or Bus. From Canning, you can reserve a Launch or avail Local ferries to reach Dockghat. From Dockghat , you have to hire a car to reach Sonakhali. From Sonakhali , you have to either hire a Launch to directly go to Sajnakhali / pakhiraloi or avail local ferries to reach Gosaba. From Gosaba , you have to avail the only local ferry at 1 PM to reach Sajnekhali at around 4PM.
You can go to Canning by Train (preferable) or Bus. From Canning, you can reserve a Launch or avail Local ferries to reach Dockghat. From Dockghat , you have to hire a car to reach Sonakhali. From Sonakhali , you have to either hire a Launch to directly go to Sajnakhali / pakhiraloi or avail local ferries to reach Gosaba. From Gosaba , you can avail Rickshaw to go to the other end of Gosaba island which is nothing but Pakhiraloi. You can stay at Pakhiraloi or from Pakhiraloi , you can avail local ferries from 7 AM to 6 Pm to reach Sajnekhali.
You can avail Bus from Esplanade , Kolkata to reach Sonakhali. .There on, you can avail local ferries to reach Basanti. You have to hire Rickshaw at Basanti to reach Gadkhali. From Gadkhali , again you have to hire a local ferry to reach Gosaba. From Gosaba , you can avail Rickshaw to go to the other end of Gosaba island which is nothing but Pakhiraloi. You can stay at Pakhiraloi or from Pakhiraloi , you can avail local ferries from 7 AM to 6 Pm to reach Sajnekhali.
Where to stay:
Best option would be the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation’s “Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge”.
To book contact WBTDC’s office : Tourism Center , 3/2, B.B.D.Bag , Kolkata – 700001
Call : 033-2243-7260/4401-2659/60/61/62
Go to : www.westbengaltourism.gov.in