Sunderban National Park is the largest mangrove forest in the world, located in the state of West Bengal, India. It is a biosphere reserve and tiger reserve with the largest population of the majestic Royal Bengal tigers. It is also the largest delta in the world and is formed by the conflux of the Rivers Ganges, Meghna and Brahmaputra.
The Sunderban jungle is a magnificent land of pristine natural beauty; staying true to its name 'Sundarban', which translates to 'beautiful forest' in Bengali. It consists of a criss-cross of tidal rivers, estuaries, creeks and numerous channels all enclosing flat, marshy islands that are thickly forested.
The Sunderbans is shared by India and Bangladesh and covers an area of almost 10,000 sq Km (including both countries), of which about 4,260 sq km of the mangrove forest lies in India. In 1973, the present national park was set up as the core area of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve and a wildlife sanctuary in 1977. It was established as Sunderban National Park in 1984 and in 1987, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sunderban jungle safari
There are no jeep safaris in Sunderban National Park. The Sundarbans are a network of the Ganges tributaries before it empties into the Bay of Bengal; hence, boats are the best way of exploring the beautiful forests. It will be an experience of a lifetime as you glide across the river in boats to get a closer look at the wildlife that inhabits the jungles.
According to the duration and budget of your safari, you can go on boat tours or cruises in small 4 seater boats or large 40-50 seater boats. You can also find Ac and non Ac options.
You cannot step off the boat and onto an island at any point during the boat safari. Any animal and bird spotting will be done while staying seated in the boat. With a tiny bit of luck, you may glimpse the ferocious Bengal tigers walking along the river banks or swimming in the waters.
Aside from boat safaris, you can also visit the several watchtowers constructed in the forest areas by the forest department, for a greater wildlife viewing pleasure. The major ones are:
Sajnekhali - renowned for bird watching, Sudhanyakhali - famous for tiger, wild boar and crocodile sightings, Burirdabri - known for mud walks and mangrove cage trails. Dobanki - known for a canopy walk to get an aerial view of the forest, Jhingekali - famous for tigers sightings and some bird watching, Netidhopani - known for a 400-year old temple and Bonnie Camp - the highest watchtower in the Sunderbans, known for its scenic beauty.
What to see
The Sunderban National Park has a unique ecosystem that boasts a wide variety of flora and fauna. The park houses around 60 mammal species, 55 reptile species, and more than 250 bird species.
Some of the wildlife found here are:
Mammals: Bengal tigers, jungle cats, fishing cats, leopards, chital, flying fox, fox, rhesus macaque, rhinoceros, small Indian civet, Indian grey mongoose, wild boar and more.
Reptiles: Snakes like the king cobra, Indian cobra, Russell's viper, checkered keelback, Indian python, common krait, rat snake, red-tailed bamboo pit viper, green whip snake, dog-faced water snakes.
Turtles including green sea turtles, hawksbill, olive ridley, river terrapin, flap shell turtle, spotted pond turtle and Indian soft-shelled turtle along with water monitor lizards, chameleons, estuarine crocodiles and many more.
Birds: Waders, greenshanks, Eurasian whimbrel, curlews, thick-knees, herons, egrets, sandpipers, stilts, cormorants, spoonbills, openbill storks, seagulls, spot-billed pelicans, common kingfishers, black-capped kingfishers. Brahminy kites, pariah kites, shikra, peregrine falcons, ospreys, Oriental honey buzzard, grey-headed fish eagles, crested serpent eagles, white-bellied sea eagles, short-toed eagles, woodpeckers, rose-ringed parakeets. Red junglefowl, spotted doves, jungle crows, cuckoos, common mynahs, green pigeon, whistling teals, ducks, swamp partridges, geese, sunbirds and many more.
Aquatic animals: Horseshoe crabs, fiddler crabs, king crabs, ghost crabs, shrimps, starfish, butterfish, sawfish, common carp, silver carp, tiger prawns, electric rays, pale edged stingrays, black-edged stingrays. Indian dog sharks, bull sharks, Ganges shark, blacktip sharks, Pondicherry shark, hammer-headed sharks, Gangetic dolphins, indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, Chinese white dolphins, finless porpoises, common otters, and many more.
Endangered species: Bengal tiger, olive ridley turtle, river terrapin, hawksbill turtle, horseshoe crab, Ganges river dolphin and saltwater crocodile.
The flora of Sunderban National Park is dominated by a variety of mangrove species, the most prominent being the Sundari trees. The park got its name from this truly unique tree. The roots of these trees grow above the soil in spikes. This is because the region gets waterlogged often, especially during the rainy season and the spikes above ground help them breathe.
Other mangrove species like Genwa (Excoecaria agallocha), Khalsi (Aegiceras corniculatum), Dhundal (Xylocarpus granatum), Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza), Passur (Xylocarpus mekongensis), Goran (Ceriops decandra), Garjan (Dipterocarpus turbinatus), Keora (Sonneratia apetala) and many more can be found here.
When to go
From October to March, during the winter season, the temperature ranges from 10 to 30 degrees Celsius. This is the best season to visit Sunderban National Park. The weather is pleasant and you’ll be able to spot a wide variety of wildlife that calls this park their home.
From April to June, during the summer season, the weather is very hot. The day temperature climbs to almost 42 degrees Celsius. Visiting Sunderbans during this season might be uncomfortable but it is the best time to spot the majestic tigers as they venture out to the water to quench their thirst.
From July to September, during the monsoon season, the park sees heavy rainfall that causes the water level to rise above the normal level. This makes boat safari a dangerous affair. This is also the mating season for the animals in the park.
How to get there
Sunderban is an important national park of India, attracting scores of tourists every year. The national park is only accessible by boat, so you will have to reach Godkhali Port, the entry point of Sunderban. You can travel to Godkhali by air, road and rail.
Air: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, located 140 kilometres away is the closest airport to the park. From the airport, you can board a bus or catch a taxi or cab to the starting point of Sunderbans, i.e Godkhali Port.
Rail: Sealdah Railway Station is the nearest major railway station with regular trains plying to various cities in India. Canning Railway Station is the closest local railway station, situated around 29 km away from Godkhali Port. Tourists travelling from other corners of India can first arrive at Sealdah railway station and then catch a local train to Canning railway station. From there, you can easily hire a private taxi or get on a shared public transport to reach Godhkhali.
Road: The distance from Kolkata to Sundarban is around 120 km. You can hire a private vehicle and reach the entry point of Sunderban via West Bengal State Highway 3.