The Beginner’s Travel Guide To Sundarbans

Welcome to the picturesque, ethereal, and exotic – Sundarbans!

Where you can find the entrance to God’s own abode – where flawless rustic beauty collides with raw untamed power.

The Sundarban is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is put on the world map thanks to its most famous resident – the Royal Bengal Tiger. But what gives the Sundarbans their real beauty are the vast network of swampy marshes surrounded by dense mangrove forests all around.

These swamps are the perfect hunting ground not only for our royalty but also for a variety of animals that call the Sundarbans their home.

But, when planning a Sundarban tour, what’s the best time to visit?
Where can you go and what are the things you can see?
Moreover, how do you go around in the Sundarbans?

Read on to get all your queries answered:

Why Visit Sundarbans?

We have all read the stories in our childhood, ‘a dense forest, a dark moonlit night, a shikari sits on a parapet, looking into the darkness, his gun ready at his side. Suddenly there is a rustling in the bushes below and before he can aim his gun a creature with orange and white stripes jumps to the parapet…’
Yes, stories about the Royal Bengal Tiger have captured our imaginations since we were children. So, why not try to relive that adventure (minus the shooting) of watching and tracking a Royal Bengal tiger? And the best part, you only have to travel 100 kms to experience the sundarban tour from Kolkata for this adventure.

Best Time To Visit?

When booking a Sundarban tour, whether for 1 night 2 days or 3 night 4 days, you need to check the best time to visit.
Generally, the Sundarbans are accessible for all the year round depending on the accommodation you take. For people who book a houseboat tour, the Sundarbans are accessible the whole year round, even in the monsoon months.
But the best time to visit the Sundarbans is during the months of September to March – when the climate is cooler and the animals are out with their cubs or young ones around the forest.

How To Get There?

The entrance to the Sundarbans – Godkhali – is located at a staggering 100 kms from the city of Kolkata.
To reach Godkhali you can either drive the distance or take a bus from Sealdah to Canning or you can take a train from Sealdah to Canning Station and then book an auto to Godkhali from the station.

No matter how you travel – by car, bus or train – remember to carry enough drinking water and to travel with ample time in your hands in order to avoid a rush.

Best Places To Visit?

When booking a tour of the Sundarbans from Kolkata, the best idea is to plan in advance and make all the bookings and get all the permits in advance. You could also book through a travel agent, that way the trip will be hassle-free.

Sundarbans National Park:

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Declared as the core area of Sundarban Tiger Reserve in 1973 the Sundarbans National Park is a Tiger Reserve and a National Park all rolled into one. The main attractions of this Park are the Bengal Tiger, monitor lizards, crocodiles, the olive ridley turtles, and deer. The park also has a large variety of birds and crabs as a part of the fragile ecosystem.

Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project:

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This sanctuary was built to ensure that the ferocious saltwater crocodiles do not become extinct due to over poaching.
In this crocodile-breeding farm, tourist can have a glimpse of saltwater crocodiles as they evolve from eggs to full-grown reptiles.

Sudhanyakhali Watch Tower:

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Located in Sudhanyakhali River Camp, the water tower has a capacity of 25 persons, is positioned near a water body where animals come to drink and are high enough to provide visibility up to a large distance.

Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary:

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Situated in the northern part of the Sundarban delta, it is a safe haven for a large variety of birds such as the Black Hooded Oriole, Cinnamon Bittern, brown fish owl, osprey, etc.
Animals such as water monitor lizards, rhesus macaques, wild boars, olive ridley turtles, and otters can be found in this sanctuary as well.

Sagar Island:

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An inhabited island with over 43 villages, Sagar Island or how we better know it as ‘Ganga Sagar’ is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus. Thought to be the birthplace of Lord Vishnu, this Island is considered as a holy site for Vaishnavites.
Connectivity to this island is better as it is not a part of the Tiger Reserve. From Kolkata, Diamond Harbour Road runs up to Kakdwip from where a ferry runs to the north end of the Island, Kachuberia.

Kanak Island:

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Kanak is another island dedicated to the preservation of the Olive Ridley Turtles – an endangered species.
During the breeding months, these turtles come up onto the swampy marshes of the Sundarbans to lay their eggs. This area is perfect for incubation of the eggs due to the optimum temperature and close proximity to the water.

Best Things To Do On A Sundarbans Tour:

When booking a tour of the Sundarbans from Kolkata, the best idea is to plan in advance and make all the bookings and get all the permits in advance. You could also book through a travel agent, that way the trip will be hassle-free.

Track the Royal Bengal Tiger:

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When thinking about an adventure of a lifetime the best to choose is tracking a Royal Bengal Tiger. You can move from island to island and track the movements of a tiger. But be warned – you might be tracked just as you are tracking him.

Watch the Dolphins Dance With Glee:

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Dolphins are considered to be the smartest water mammals and are often used by fishermen to help them catch fish. When the fisherman lowers their fishing nets, they signal to the dolphins by banging on the side of their boat, the dolphins then push the fish towards the nets. In exchange for guiding the fish to the nets, the dolphins are rewarded with a couple of catches themselves.

Touring local villages:

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The most intriguing part of the Sundarbans is not the mangroves or the tigers but the people to choose to reside in this region. They are fearless and fearful as well. They not only respect the land and all the magnificent beasts that roam the region but also have learned to adapt to the ever-changing needs and demands.
You can visit these local villages and see the hardships the people face, simply because they chose to reside in the Sundarbans.
Visit the widow village and see the resilience of the women to live in harsh conditions even though they have loved ones taken away from them.

Chase After The Monitor Lizards:

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When touring the Sundarbans it is easy to forget that it is made up of hundreds and hundreds of little creatures. But one creature that might give you nightmares is the Indian Monitor Lizard. With a striking resemblance to its Asian brother the Komodo Dragon, these reptiles might look fierce and scary but in reality are not as harmful to us as we are to them.
Due to their scary looks and long forked tongue, most people consider them to be poisonous and kill them before they even get a chance.

Bird Watching At Its Peak:

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With over hundreds of species and subspecies, the Sundarbans are a bird lovers paradise. When you take a Sundarban tour you have the opportunity of being up close and personal to the hundreds of birds – you can watch the kingfisher dive to get fish, or watch the osprey hunt for field mice or watch the storks wade through the waters to catch fish. If you have the time and are an avid bird watcher then the Sundarbans have a treat for you – they are home to the endangered Masked Finfoot. These birds are very secretive and do not like to be watched or studied. So, if you do get a chance to see one do not hesitate to take a few hundred pictures for you never know, your picture might just be on the cover of a wildlife magazine.

Help The Olive Ridley Hatchlings Reach The Water:

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When taking a tour of the Sundarbans, the best time to visit is during the month the Olive Ridley Turtles hatch.
The Olive Ridley Turtles are the smallest and most abundantly found turtles in the world. They are known by the greenish blue streak across their back and by their unique mass nesting ability, where all the females lay eggs on the same beach in order to reduce the danger.
You can talk to your tour guide and ask them to take you to the islands where the hatchlings will trek down to the water. If you are lucky you might even be able to help the little hatchlings reach the water.

Watch The Crocodiles Basking In The Sun:

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What can be more majestic than watching a crocodile sunning itself in the light winter sun?
How about watching a few hundred crocodiles doing the same?
Known to be the fiercest and the scariest of all crocodiles the saltwater crocodile or the gharial are much smaller in size than their African counterparts. But do not judge a book by its cover – for these crocodiles can pack a solid punch – one bite from their razor-sharp jaws are enough to rip off a limb.

Scrounge About For A Glimpse Of The Pangolin:

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The Indian Pangolin or the scaly anteater has large overlapping scales and often curls into a ball to protect itself from predators.
These little fellas are insectivores and live close to the jungle floor. Though mostly nocturnal, these little guys are very shy and solitary. They prefer to stay alone rather than a group and finding them is more difficult than finding a tiger in the Sundarbans.
But these harmless creatures are endangered as they are hunted for their meat and various body parts which are used in traditional medicine making.

Discover The Benefits Of The Horseshoe Crab:

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When you tour the Sundarbans there is one animal you must see – although these crustaceans are not beautiful to look at – what they lack in looks they make up in quality – are the Horseshoe Crabs. These distant relatives of scorpions and spiders (not crabs in actuality) are known the world over as the ‘living fossil’ because they have not changed in shape, size or DNA structure in the last 400 million years. If a fossil of a horseshoe crab is compared to that of a live horseshoe crab then it is seen that there is actually no difference – no evolution.
These crustaceans are sought worldwide not for their meat or for their shell but for their blood. Their blue blood is used widely in biomedical science as it helps in the detection of bacterial endotoxins. These magnificent creatures are found in abundance in the Sundarbans and are often considered to be good luck by the fishermen.

Watch Out For The Snakes:

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When traveling to a swampy marsh like the Sundarbans, it is a known fact that you will come face to face with a few snakes. The snake population in the Sundarbans is equivalent to the human population of the area. Although there are some snakes that are harmless, there is one particular snake that you should fear and that is the King Cobra.
Known for their poisonous bite, the King Cobra is indigenous to this area. They are known to stay in cool, damp places wherein they can hibernate in peace. Living off of small rodents and lizards, these reptiles are known for their aggression and are considered to be very temperamental in nature.
When visiting the Sundarbans be aware of your surroundings for you never know when you might come face to face with the King Cobra.

Honey Collecting – To Pain Or Not To Pain:

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One of the main modes of income earning for the residents of the Sundarbans is collecting honey. But, if you thought that Mother Nature would make it easier for the people living in this harsh terrain, then you thought wrong. For she has provided them with all the honey bees in the world. Actually, there are more honey bees in the Sundarbans than there are people – but there is only one catch – the bees are the Giant Honeybees.
The most ruthless, vicious and largest of the entire bee family. One single movement in the wrong direction can send these bees into a stinging frenzy in which the perpetrator is stung well over a couple of times.
When you travel to the Sundarbans you might want to buy some honey to take back home but before you do why not find out just how painful it was to collect that honey?

Crab Hunting With The Locals:

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The Sundarbans are home to some of the biggest not to mention tastiest crustaceans of India – the infamous Mud Crab. Found in abundance in these marshy swamps, these crabs are known for their export quality flesh and are in high demand in most Asian cuisines.
When you plan a Sundarban tour then it is best to befriend locals, who will not only take you out hunting for these little delicacies but will also cook up some in the authentic Bengali style to make you feel like a part of their family.

Where To Stay In The Sundarbans?

When you plan for a Sundarban tour from Kolkata then you have the benefit of choosing from a wide variety of options.

You could always choose to spend a day in the Sundarbans and be back by evening – not that it is a waste but at the end of the day, you won’t even be able to see half of what she has to offer.

You can plan to stay in a hotel. But then you would have to make bookings for rooms, hire a jetty to take you to and from the hotel and you will also have to make bookings to reach the hotel.

The best option is to make a booking on a houseboat. You are picked up from Godkhali and you spend the whole time in the boat without having to worry about room rents, boat charges, and permit costs – everything is done for you when you book rooms in a houseboat.

People Of The Sundarbans:

When you tour any place in the world you always come in contact with the local population. In some cases the population maybe hostile but in most scenarios, the people are warm and friendly.

The people of Sundarbans are no different. They are warm and friendly and treat all tourists coming to their villages as Gods. For when tourists arrive they know that trade will take place and they will be able to provide for their loved ones for a few more days.

Because of the location of the Sundarbans, it has witnessed multiple floods, storms, tsunamis, and floodings over the years. Most of the people have lost their land to the sea or to the terrible tsunamis that rocked these little islands. Worse still, because of the decrease in a land area the living spaces for animals and human beings have shrunk – this means that humans are now encroaching into animal territory in search of food.

This is the reason why we hear so many stories of men being dragged away by the tiger. Yet this does not deter them. They push through and thereby endure all that mother nature throws down at them. These resilient people, rather stay in their homelands and have their pride than move somewhere else and live cowered in fear.

When taking a Sundarban tour from Kolkata be it for 1 night 2 days or 3 night 4 days or even for a single day, you cannot unsee the beauty and the ethereal presence of the land nor can you forget all that those few islands holds for you in terms of adventure.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” -Henry David Thoreau