A cluster of more than 100 enchanting islands and the largest mangrove forest in the world, Sundarbans is one of nature’s most magical creations. Split between the crowded countries of India and Bangladesh, the mangrove lies remote and largely unchanged.
The land has the biggest single population of tigers in the world and a wide variety of flora and fauna that mark its essence. The man-eating tigers are often trouble for the villagers of Sundarbans. But the people along with the local conservation groups have found ways to scare away tigers and make peace with the unadulterated nature around them. Majestic and almost surreal, Sundarbans is quite an off-beat adventure, yet a rewarding experience.
Sundarbans can be visited from either country but Bangladesh offers a deeper look into the wild mangrove. Journeying through the mangrove on a cruise is one of the best and most comfortable ways to go about discovering it.
Hop on the M. V. DINGHY/ M. V. BHELA cruiser in Khulna and set out on your safari into the forests. You will dine and rest on the main boat and have the opportunity to get down and explore in groups. Floating through the canals watching the sceneries change, you may see a lone deer grazing on damp grass or a jungle cat going about his day in the Kotka forest area.
The Kotka wildlife sanctuary is the perfect spot to get a sight of the unique and thriving wildlife of Sundarbans. The cruise also offers its travellers to embark on the trails along with a forest guard to understand the ecosystem of the wild and hopefully spot one of about 200 Royal Bengal tigers that inhabit the mangrove.
Climb up on a watchtower to have the most delightful view of the blue-green contrasts of the land. Make your way to the Bhagabatpur Island and visit the crocodile project, which is a hatchery and sanctuary that protects the biggest estuarine crocodiles and Batagur Baska species of tortoise.
One thing that you will notice here is the sweet, animal-loving spirit of the people. In a world where pollution and modernization are pushing against nature, Sundarbans is a sharp contrast with its great efforts and strides in wildlife conservation.
From agriculture and fishery to collecting wood and honey from the depths of the jungle – The economy here is completely dependent on the wildlife it’s surrounded by. The Mawali people are traditionally the ones to dive into the forests to collect the reddish, local honey that is then sold in open markets. Stroll along the paddy fields in the village making conversation with the locals and you’ll find the most fascinating things to learn.
While the men set out to collect honey, the women observe many rituals like not using oil in their hair, soap during baths and absolutely avoiding burning chilli peppers in the kitchen for their men to return safely. The traditions often tend to amaze travellers and understandably so!
The locals pray to Bonbibi, a guardian angel called upon by honey-collectors and woodcutters before heading into the wild for protection against tiger attacks. It’s eye-opening how detached Sundarbans is from the outside metropolis culture.
Meet the Munda people, an indigenous community in Sundarbans known for their agricultural success in local fields. The Mundas have their own ethnic religion and are divided into several clans. Spend time with a local family drinking rice wine, listening to ghost stories and learning about their traditions.
Taste their local cuisine of fresh vegetables, crabs and shrimp, and if you are feeling brave go for the barbequed frogs and snails. Take memorable photographs in the evening during tribal performances of folk songs, dance and music played on the naqareh, a local musical instrument.
As your visit to Sundarbans slowly comes to a halt, hold closely the magic of nature and the importance of protecting this treasurous mangrove, which is home to many indigenous communities and the imperial Royal Bengal tiger.