Sunderbans travel experience is one of a kind. Not only does one get to see this unique geographical landscape, but they also get an insight into the lives of the local people. These people are scattered across numerous islands and belong to different religious groups and two countries (India and Bangladesh) that share the Sunderbans. Despite these differences, two important things connect anyone who lives here. First of all, the people of Sunderbans are warriors. They live in close contact with nature amidst the natural habitat of tigers, crocodiles, snakes, etc, and are often felled by one of them. Their lives depend on tidal surges and cyclones and every year, many lives are lost due to these two natural disasters. Most of these people depend on nature for their livelihood and are honey collectors, woodcutters, or fishermen. This makes them unanimously believe in the all-religion-encompassing cult of Bon Bibi (forest guardian deity). Both Hindus and Muslims worship this goddess and her brother and shrines containing their idols can be seen at nearly every corner. All this and more create the human tapestry of the Sunderban Delta and it is as fascinating as the wildlife that lives there. That is why Sunderbans travel is an extraordinary experience and here are a few things you should know before you plan a visit there.

Sunderban Delta – a land half-submerged

What is Sunderbans?

Sunderbans is shared by both India and Bangladesh. It is a mangrove-dominated delta that is formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans is a complex ecosystem of which the larger part is situated in Bangladesh, and a smaller portion belongs to India. Four protected areas in the Sundarbans have been given the title of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Indian Sunderbans have been considered endangered under the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems framework. The name Sunderbans in Bengali means beautiful forest. Many believe that it got its name from the Sundari tree (Heritiera Minor) that abounds the place.

How to reach the Indian Sunderbans?

I have visited the Indian Sunderbans twice and therefore can provide firsthand information about this area. Both times, I reached the gateway of Godkhali Ferry Ghat by car and the drive of around 100 km took around 2 hours. It is also possible to reach Godkhali by train. The nearest railway station is Canning and one has to board a local train from Sealdah station to reach there. Godkhali Ferry Ghat is 28 km from Canning Station. One can take buses, autos, and open motorized carts called trekkers to reach Godkhali.

The other gateways to the Sunderbans

Since Sundarbans is accessible only by riverine waterways, there are various gateways to this famous mangrove forest. These gateways are places where boats and motorized houseboats are available to explore the interiors or go island hopping. The most famous gateway is Godkhali Ferry Ghat. Others include Namkhana, Raidighi, Sonakhali, and Najat from where ferry services are available for Sundarbans. Namkhana is 105 km away from Kolkata while Sonakhali is a 100 km drive. The distance from Kolkata to Raidighi and Najat is 76 km and 92 km respectively.

Waterways: Approximate time taken between various points

Channels, creeks, and riverways form the massive network of waterways that is a part and parcel of Sunderbans. Here is an idea of the traveling time between various points on the delta.

1. From Namkhana – Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project (2.5 hours) Sagar Island (2.5 hours) Jambudwip (3.5 hours)
2. From Sajnekhali – Sudhanyakhali (40 minutes) Buridabri (Tiger Project Area) (5 hours) Netidhopari (3.5 hours) Holiday Island (3 hours)
3. From Sonakhali – Gosaba (1 hour)
4. From Raidighi – Kalas (5 hours)

A land of water

The watchtowers for wildlife watching

Sunderbans has various watchtowers for wildlife watching. These are located on various islands and are popular places to view wildlife from a safe distance. The most famous watch towers are Sajnekhali, Sudhanyakhali, and Dobanki. There is an interesting panoramic canopy walk at Dobanki. However, avoid these watchtowers on public holidays as they get extremely crowded and noisy. If I were a tiger, a deer, or even a bird, I would avoid the areas around the watchtowers due to the crowd and the noise. Other more remote watchtowers require a full day of travel by boat to reach. Once you are there, you will be rewarded with a pristine nature free of crowds and noise. Burir Dabri watchtower is located on the Raimangal River and the Netidhopani watchtower has the ruins of a 400-year-old temple. Bonnie Camp at 50 feet in height is the highest watchtower in Sundarbans and it takes about six hours to reach there from Sajnekhali. A rest house there provides overnight stays. Jhingekhali located on the easternmost fringe of Sundarbans National Park is often overlooked for its extreme remoteness. However, this watchtower offers you the best chance of seeing a tiger, as well as several species of rare birds. The permits for these are included in the Sunderbans package. Special permits are required to go there. These permits can be obtained from the Office of the Field Director, Sundarban Tiger Reserve, Canning apart from Sonakhali, Bagna, and Sajnekhali on payment of entry fees, boat fees camera fees, and other miscellaneous charges. A special Permit is required for foreigners which can be obtained from the Joint Secretary, Forest Department, Writers Building, Kolkata. Most group tours,organized tours, and short-trip travelers visit the Sajnekhali, Dobanki, and Sudhanyakhali watch towers.

Sunderbans Wildlife and Tiger Spotting

Although the Sunderbans has a huge population of tigers, the possibility of spotting a tiger here is extremely rare. This is due to the thick forest cover, inaccessible interiors of the various islands, and the massive area of the forest. However, this mangrove forest region abounds with many other wildlife and birds. These include the Gangetic Dolphin, Irrawaddy Dolphin, Cheetal, Rhesus Macaque, Wild boar, Fishing cats, Leopard cats, Small Indian civet, Common otter, Black finless porpoise, etc. The most popular reptiles include the endangered Saltwater/Estuarine crocodiles, various snakes (poisonous and non-poisonous), Water monitor lizards, and many different types of turtles. The most common amphibian is the mud-skipper and the fishes include the Ganges shark white spotted shovel-nosed guitarfish, Pondicherry shark Indian dog shark, Bull shark, Hammer headed shark, Black tip shark, Pale edged sting ray, Black edged sting ray, etc. The most easily seen birds in the region are sandpipers, different types of herons, kingfishers, White-bellied sea eagles, Osprey, Brahminy kites, sunbirds, ducks, storks, egrets, and cormorants. One of the most interesting sights of Sunderbans is the different species of crabs. These include Hermit crabs, Fiddler crabs, Red ghost crabs, and Horseshoe crabs.

A tree crab

Best Time to Visit Sunderbans

The best time to visit the Sundarbans National Park is during September and May. Winter is the peak season.

Where to Stay in the Sunderbans

There are many hotels, wildlife resorts, forest lodges, and jungle camps present within and outside the vicinity of the Sunderbans Wildlife Sanctuary. Accommodation is usually included in organized packages. Independent travelers can book accommodation online.

Things to Remember

  • Do not go with the expectation of wildlife spotting. Enjoy the unique landscape and the interesting local culture.
  • Do not litter or leave behind plastic trash.
  • Do not enter prohibited areas without proper permits or official armed guides.
  • The Sunderbans is home to many animals. It is not a party place. Please avoid playing loud music in your boats.
  • Carry a sunscreen and mosquito repellant.
  • Electricity is erratic here, so carry a flashlight or a headlamp.
  • Wear light-covered walking shoes.
  • Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and caps. The daytime sun is quite harsh.
  • Wear light, cotton clothes. Avoid tight clothes in non-breathable fabric since the humidity is quite high.
  • Carry cash as ATMs are difficult to find.
  • Support the local people by buying honey and other forest resources.
  • Carry proper wildlife lenses to photograph wild animals from a safe distance.
  • Visit a local island to get a feel of how the Sunderbans people live.
  • If you have time, go on a longer trip to visit the further-lying islands and places.
  • Always carry your medicine for headaches, stomach upset, fever, etc. The nearest pharmacy is in Gosaba. There is a hospital in Gosaba.
  • Sunderban National Park can be explored only by boat. The boat service is available from early morning at 8:30 AM to the approaching dawn time of 4:00 PM. No boat is allowed inside Sunderban after 6.30 PM. There’s a boat entry fee for all park zones, and it’s compulsory to hire one guide per boat.
  • Due to the remoteness of the location and lack of proper infrastructure, differently-abled travelers will find it hard to explore Sunderbans.

    A land of water

To learn about the Bangladesh Sunderbans, check out this interesting post by Soultravelblog. An excellent travel post on the Indian Sunderbans is by Budgetwayfarers.

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