The tranquilising sound of the ever-flowing river, splashes of dolphins, a distant bellowing sound of the beautiful Chitals, restless screams of red-faced macaques and mesmerising chirps of kingfishers - all cry for your attention. Breathing the fresh fragrant air of pristine nature while on an early morning cruise is like meditation. The ever-changing canvas of the beautiful sky elegantly poses to be captured. The breath-taking dawn in the amazing backwaters makes you feel as though you are in a wonderland. All this and much more is the ‘Sundarbans - the unexplored gift of nature’.
The name Sundarbans means ‘beautiful forest’. But many say this name is derived from one of the mangrove species known as ‘Sundari’ - that can be seen here in abundance. The beauty of this mangrove forest has remained intact even after going through numerous cyclones and storms that have hit this place year after year. No wonder the Sundarbans was declared a ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1987. The Sundarbans also holds the unique distinction of being one of the twenty-eight official finalists of 'New 7 Wonders of Nature'.
From the hustle-bustle of the City of Joy - Kolkata, a drive towards the south will take you through a slow transformation into a calm and pristine world. The tour starts at Godkhali when one sets sail on one of the many houseboats. Upon reaching the dense jungle, you will find yourself among millions of mangrove trees with their roots protruding out of the marshy ground.
The Sundarbans is a haven for bird watchers and photographers from around the globe. There are about 248 species that can be found in the Sundarbans including a large number of migratory birds from higher latitudes that visit the region in the winter months.
During low tide, one can find mud covered estuarine crocodiles perfectly camouflaged in the swampy shores, sunbathing or waiting for their prey. A glimpse of the magnificent, orange and black stripes of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger can also be seen. The ‘Hental’ mangrove is the area where this giant beast usually rests due to the camouflage that this particular plant provides. The tigers of the Sundarbans have adapted themselves to an environment which is not ideal for tigers found elsewhere. They have become excellent swimmers and long jumpers. They can survive on anything from fish, crabs and monitor lizards to dead or rotten animal carcasses.
The Sundarbans has a fascinating culture and history worth exploring. People of Sundarbans worship the local goddess ‘Banbibi’ who is believed to save them from tiger attacks. An interesting fact about ‘Banbibi’ is that it is worshipped by both Hindus and Muslims alike. One can also visit this unique village called ‘Bidhovapara’ which means a colony of widows. Historically, widows of tiger-attack victims were given sanctuary in this village.
In the evening, one can choose to enjoy tribal dance or ‘Banbibi Jatra’ which is a musical drama representation of the goddess Banbibi performed by local residents. Delicious traditional cuisine prepared by the locals can also be enjoyed.
Tourists from around the world visit the Sundarbans throughout the year to explore the mysterious natural wonder. The true experience of the Sundarbans is in staying on a houseboat in the middle of the river at night. There are a few operators that provide budget friendly tours and a couple of them also provide luxury tours - with luxury stays with all amenities for quality conscious tourists.
The Sundarbans is one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world. With the rising sea level every year, it is feared that most of the Sundarbans is likely to be immersed in the next 50 years and could be entirely wiped out by the end of the century. To create memories of a lifetime, a couple of days on a houseboat in the midst of this magnificent mangrove can be enjoyed.
The author is a freelance wildlife photographer and working in the tourism industry for more than five years. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .