Along the coast, the southern part of the forest passes into a mangrove swamp, which has numerous wild animals and crocodile-infested estuaries. It is one of the last preserves of the Royal Bengal tiger and the site of a tiger conservation project.
Situated south of Calcutta, Sunderbans is one of the most unique ecosystems in this part of the world and is dominated by mangrove forests. Situated at the mouth of the Ganges, Sunderbans spreads over 54 islands and two countries (West Bengal in India and Bangladesh) and is a part of the world's largest delta region. A UNESCO world heritage site, Sunderbans is home to the largest number of wild tigers in the world.
Project Tiger was implemented here in 1973 and later the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve was demarcated over an area of 2,585-sq km. The core area of 1,330 sq km has been declared a national park and a world heritage site. The reserve has a tiger population of 287(1984 census). The only mangrove species, the tiger here has adapted well to its habitat. The region has a tropical climate with hot summers and cold winters. Maximum and minimum temperatures during the summer are 42°C and 37°C respectively. In winters, the maximum and minimum temperatures are 29°C and 9.2°C respectively.
Wildlife Attractions in Sunderbans National Park
Sunderbans is the largest estuarine delta in the world and the biggest colony of the Royal Bengal Tiger. These evergreen mangrove forests pulsate with myriad forms of life, which hide during high tide and the ebbing tide reveals them on the glistening mud flats. The land is split by numerous rivers and water channels all emptying into the Bay of Bengal. It is believed that Bonbibi, the goddess of the forest, protects the woodcutters, honey-collectors and fishermen on their hazardous missions through the forest. For, as the local saying goes, `here the tiger is always watching you'.
The Sunderbans provide important habitat for a variety of reptiles including river terrapin (Batagur baska E), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea E), estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus E), monitor lizard (Varanus flavescens), water monitor (Varanus salvator) and Indian python (Python molurus V). The only species of turtle known to nest in the Sunderbans is the Olive Ridley but hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) has also been caught in fishermen's nets. The creeks are spawning grounds for some 90 species of fish, 48 species of crabs and a large variety of molluscs.
The Sajnekhali area contains a wealth of water birds, noteworthy residents including Asian openbill stork (Anastomus oscitans), black-necked stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus), greater adjutant stork (Leptoptilos dubius), white ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus), swamp francolin (Francolinus gularis), white-collared kingfisher (Halcyon chloris), black-capped kingfisher (Halcyon pileata) and brown-winged kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera).
The best time to visit Sunderbans is during the winters, between September and March. There are regular bus services from Calcutta. But the main areas of the sanctuary can only be accessed by riverine waterways. The best and the safest way to visit Sunderbans is on conducted tours. One can also avail the services of the private vessels from Canning, Gosaba or Basanti.
The Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project
The Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project is a crocodile-breeding farm. Tours are organized by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC). This place is accessible through Namkhana. The West Bengal Tourism Department organizes conducted tours to the Sunderbans by their motor launches. Bhagabatpur is a hatchery for the largest estuarine crocodile in the world.
It is the only place to have a hotel in this area. There is a Mangrove Interpretation Centre here. There are watchtowers at Sajnekhali, Sudhanyakhali, Netidhopan, Haldi and a number of other places. Birds of prey include osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Pallas's fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), grey-headed fishing eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Oriential hobby (Falco severus), northern eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and brown fish owl (Ketupa zeylonensis).
Other Places of Interest
Other interesting places in the area include Netidhopan, which has the ruins of a 400-year-old temple, Holiday Island is a retreat of the barking deer and Kanak and the nesting place of Olive Ridley Turtles. Piyali is 72 km from Calcutta and is a gateway to the Sunderbans. It is being developed as a tourist complex.
How to get there
By Air: Dum Dum is the nearest airport at Calcutta. Calcutta is connected by daily Indian Airlines flights from Delhi (7:00, 17:00 & 20:00), Mumbai (6:10 & 18:15) and Chennai (10:30 & 17:00). Bangalore is connected to Calcutta through a Jet Airways flight which operates everyday at 9:55.
By Rail: The nearest railhead is at Port Canning, 48 km away. The nearest town is Gosaba, 50 km away. Regular trains operate from Calcutta to Canning The train option is better avoided, instead take the road trip from Kolkata to Basanti or Sonakhali. Sunderbans is accessible only by riverine waterways. From Calcutta there are suburban trains to Canning and buses to Namkhana, Raidighi, Sonakhali and Najat from where motor launch services are available for Sunderbans.
By Road: Means of road transport are available from Calcutta for the places like Namkhana (105 km), Sonakhali (100 km), Raidighi (76 km), Canning (64 km), and Najat (92 km), which are all near the Sunderbans and have access to the riverine waterways leading to it. To reach from Kolkata, take the state highway to Baruipur via Rajpur. From here a district road leads to Basanti via Canning. A motorboat from here will take you to Sunderbans.
Distances from Major Cities
Delhi : 1350 km
Mumbai : 1710 km
Kolkata : 112 km
Bangalore : 1605 km