Is there another place that sounds as seductively mysterious as Sundarban? The very mention of it conjures up images of swampy mangrove forests with ferocious man-eaters hungrily licking their teeth in the dark-lit shadows, lonely boats floating cautiously along mud creeks, tiny fishing hamlets and of course, the musical orchestration of the tides! The region is often wrecked by storms and floods; and the natives who are mostly refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan, are subject to an intensely difficult life. Sometimes coastal erosion swallows up whole islands rendering the entire populace homeless. Sustainable eco-tourism is being encouraged here as it can provide the residents an opportunity to earn an alternative livelihood. Many NGOs have set up schools and health centres on the most isolated corners and they are doing a great deal of good work to help the people lead a better life here.
Visit Sundarban National Park not only to experience the sheer beauty of this gigantic maze of wilderness dissected by rivers as treacherous as the Matla but also to contribute to the local economy here. Gypsy Shack lists 6 reasons why Sundarban deserves to be on your bucket list.
Besides being the largest estuary in the world, the Sundarban is also the largest halophytic mangrove ecosystem out there. The Sundari tree (Heritiera fomes), from which Sundarban derives its name, breathes through pneumatophores or breathing roots that look like stilts. The ebb and flow of tides creates an ever-changing landscape. Despite generally being more adaptive than tigers, even leopards cannot survive here. The region is also home to a large population of deer and muntjac and numerous migratory birds that add a splash of color to the muddy creeks.
Breathing roots of the Sundari trees (Image Courtesy: Flickr)
You can get an insight into how unpredictable life can be. Everyday, scores of men leave home to earn their livelihood - cutting wood, honey collection, fishing being the major means. Some may never return back from the jungles. Most are claimed by tigers, some fall prey to the saltwater crocodiles. A study pegs the number of deaths caused by tiger attacks at 30-100 per year. Floods are common and sometimes wash away an entire island, leaving the inhabitants homeless. Destructive cyclones too often rage over this area.
Destruction caused by flood: in the search of new homes (Image Courtesy: wn.com)
Sundarban is the only mangrove eco-region that harbours Indo-Pacific's largest predator, the Royal Bengal tiger. Tigers dwell in this labyrinthine maze of canals, branches and breathing roots. The man-animal conflict that ensues as well as rampant poaching and wildlife trade through Kolkata has diminished the tiger population (a 2013 survey puts the count at 103) but that doesn't really stop your heart from skipping a beat at the slightest rustle in the undergrowth, does it? While most tiger spottings happen during cruises, if you're lucky, you can also spot a tiger from one the many watch-towers in the area.
A Royal Bengal Tiger spotted in Sundarban (Image Courtesy: WWF India)
It's a thrilling experience to live aboard a motor-boat, exploring the "Indian Amazon" over rivers and creeks infested with humongous crocodiles that are often over 15 ft long! Days drift in the quiet jungles, with only the whirr of the motor and birdsong for company. Stops are made at small villages and ecological centres along the way.
Exploring Sundarban in motor boats (Image Courtesy: Hobby Monger)
Take a cue from Amitava Ghosh's The Hungry Tide and go exploring the remote corners of the "mohona" on a fishing boat. While parts of the book is fiction, you can visit places like Satjelia, Morichjhapi and Emilybari and who knows you might even come across a moonbow at Gerafitola! Fishing boats can take you deeper into the heart of this wilderness: to tiny sandbanks and forested islands that only the locals know of. However, a word of caution for the intrepid soul: some islands are out of bound for tourists and this being an international boundary, keep your ID with you always.
Fishing Boats in Sundarban (Image courtesy: Hindustan Times)
Despite the bounty of beauty that the Tide county has been blessed with, it is regularly ravaged by natural disasters like cyclones and floods. The remoteness coupled with the notorious political red-tape of Bengal means that aid hardly reaches here. Potable water is a major problem as the estuarine water is salty and thus cannot be used for drinking purposes. Education of children is another challenge. In recent years, however, a number of NGOs have set up branches here to impart not only education for the children, but also livelihood skills for the adults. These skills are especially useful for the many women who have lost their husbands and because of social evils, live as outcasts now. Health centres have also been set up. If you are going to Sundarban, we strongly recommend that you do as little or as much as you can through these NGOs to help improve the conditions of life in Sundarban.
Children being taught at an NGO (Image Courtesy: Insearchofmyhorizon.blogspot.com)
This one-of-a-kind bio-geographical region with its network of pneumatophores and branches concealing man-eating predators is a must see for us! What are your reasons to visit Sundarban?
Sundarbans is the largest estuary in the world- the Brahmaputra and the Ganges along with their countless tributaries and distributaries meet the Bay of Bengal here - and this littoral mangrove forest has been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a Ramsar Wetland. To get here, either take a train from Sealdah to Canning and board a bus to Godhkhali from where launches take you down the river or avail one of the many bus services from Kolkata to various towns, like Basanti, around Sundarban.
Article by Mohana Das
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