My First Solo trip took me to the terrains of West Bengal to witness the wilderness of Royal Bengal Tiger. The sheer excitement of visiting the largest delta in the world gave me Goosebumps. In order to explore the abundantly found Sundari trees on basis of which Sundarbans got its name, I backpacked to the city of Kolkata.
Sundarban National park is a part of the Sundarbans at the mouth of Bay of Bengal, India expanding itself into the country of Bangladesh. An UNESCO world heritage site with plethora of flora and fauna is one of the intriguing tiger reserve to visit in your life time.
There are said to be around 400 Royal Bengal Tigers in these jungles of which around 100 are in India. A very small part of the Mangroves are actually open for tourism. Off late spotting a tiger has become increasing difficult.
How To reach Sundarbans:
Sundarbans can be accessed by the nearest city – Kolkata. It is a 3 hours road journey to Godkhali – gateway to Sundarban. Tour De Sundarban, a backpacker group arrange Sundarban tours from the city of joy and luckily after facing 8 rejections, they agreed to host a solo traveler. You can also go to Canning railway station which is the nearest rail head to the delta.
We started at 8 in the morning from Kolkata and reached Godkhali in 3 hours time. River being the main transportation of this village, our next stop was Gosaba village by a local ferry which astonishingly costs only 1 INR. (Yeah you read it right).
An Auto Rickshaw ride took me from Gosaba to Satjelia island and BANG!! An ultra peaceful Eco village greeted with open hands. Pre-Monsoon showers started lashing the village and lush green farm house transpired calm & compose feel. Myself along with fellow traveler group eased off to our respective cottages.
The walk through the beautiful paddy fields, serene temples and natural beauty is what a city soul needs to calm his inner channel. Sundarbans’ vicinity does not have any cars and also no electricity which makes the walk surreal.
The primary occupation of people here is fishing, agriculture & Honey collection. Life here is governed by the rise and fall in tide. I started conversation with villagers. I came to know most of school in Sundarban have boarding facility. Still due to lack of connectivity most of the school has very less students.
People are pretty much friendly to the outsiders and they love when somebody visits their house. I visited once such home of a honey collector. Although they had dinner prepared only for two people, they insisted me to have a share of rice bowl with locally brewed rice beer known as HANDIA. I had a Happy Realization moment and that gave me immense respect for people living in that village without basic amenities yet happy with everything they have. BLISS!!
Day one started with a country boat ride in the evening inside the mangroves for bird watching. Heavy rains made it difficult to traverse through the Ganges River but itself was an adventurous journey. We spotted 3 types of Kingfisher, Egret, Pond heron, Jungle Myna and black cormorants to name a few. Introduction to the lovely Mangroves was the highlight of the evening ride with fiddler crabs, mud skipper fish roaming in marshy lands.
An enchanting evening awaited us after our sunset ride back to the Eco village. Local musicians and dancers troupe with their age old musical instruments visited our Eco village to enthrall us with their talent. A glass of wine with some refreshments made the musical evening mesmerizing. Mud cottages of the village along with the silence of the jungle made sure we sleep like a baby.
ELMAR, a personalized engine boat set off early in the morning into the jungle for our rendezvous with one of the biggest mangroves of the world rich in flora & fauna. Elmar in Spanish means ‘The Sea’. It has five sleeping cabins, a spacious deck, clean washroom & authentic Bengali food to serve the tourist whole day.
We cruised through the small channels and creeks and spotted different wildlife, spotted deer, wild boars, monitor lizard, dolphins. The ride lasted till sunset and during this period we visited three watch towers, namely Sajnekhali, Sudhanyakhali & Dobanki. Unfortunately, we did not have a date with the big cat but going to Sundarbans only for Royal Bengal Tiger is sheer stupidity.
During the day during high tide water gushes inside and the water level rises by airing 10 feet. The animals tend to further push inside. In the evening when the water started receding we spotted some faunas in the jungle.
The Threat of Royal Bengal Tiger:
Wildlife researchers believe that as high as 80% of the Royal Bengal Tigers are born Man-Eaters. They have adapted to saline waters of delta and are excellent swimmers. There are generally 50 causalities every year from tiger attacks.
Eager to catch a glimpse of a tiger, I kept on asking fishermen about his encounter with the big cat. He was so frightened that he left without paying heed to my query. One of the villager clarified that people in the village believed, if one talks about the tiger, then it would come. There would be few families in the village which would be spared of tiger attack. Family members are so much scared with the threat of tiger that they perform rituals to the local forest goddess Bonbibi before sending their beloved ones to the jungle. Such is the menace of the Royal Bengal Tiger here.
The everyday life of a Sundarban resident generally revolves around two things – The Tide and the Tiger.
It was a cathartic experience despite not seeing any tigers, probably because of the villagers, omnipresent Sundari tress and Mangroves forest. I took loads of memories in a long caravan ride back to the city.
One thing I would like to highlight is visiting the sanctuary independently might be difficult, what with permits and tricky transport connections to organize. It’s not cheap either; you’ll have to bear the cost of boat rentals alone. Organized group tours are a better and comfortable option.