What you need to know
With a name that translates to ‘beautiful forest’, the Sundarbans span a total area of 10,000 square kilometers, of which about 40% is in India, the rest in Bangladesh.
As per the last count, the number of tigers in this UNESCO World Heritage Site is about 180 – of which only 74 are in India. Efforts are currently underway to collect more up-to-date statistics.
How to get there
The nearest airport to the Sundarbans is in Kolkata, from where most package tours to the forests begin.
While the Sundarbans have multiple points of entry, most tours begin from Godhkali Port, located by Gosaba, the last inhabited area before the forests deepen. Gosaba can be reached by road from Kolkata, or by public transport from nearby Canning, to where you can travel by rail from Kolkata.
The forests can only be toured via boat, which stop at various islands.
Fees and permits
All visitors to the Sundarbans are required to obtain a permit from the Forest Department. For locals, this can be done from the Office of the Field Director at the Sundarban Tiger Reserve office in Canning, and will cost about Rs. 60. Foreigners will have to obtain a special permit from Kolkata, at the office of the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporations, for Rs. 200.
Things to do
While a boat ride through the inner channels of the forest will let you observe and absorb the scenic beauty of the forests, there are quite a few stops you can make to spot animals.
From the Sudhanyakhali Watch Tower, deep within the jungle, you have the highest probability of spotting tigers. It’s a popular stop for most ferries. The Sajnekhali Watch Tower is yet another popular option for spotting birds, tigers, deer and other animals. The Dobanki Watch Tower offers visitors a unique opportunity to observe wildlife from the 20 foot canopy walk. Views span for about half a kilometer.
Besides animal sightings, there’s plenty of local culture to be experienced. The Chargheri Kali Temple, deep within the forest, is a popular stop. The Tripligheri Bazar – a small, remote local market – is yet another interesting spot.
Where to stay
Although it’s possible to join a one-day tour of the Sundarbans, most tours are more comprehensive and span multiple days. Sunderbans Tiger Camp is a popular luxury resort that offers a wide range of rooms from rustic huts to luxurious cottages. The Sundar Chital Tourist Lodge is yet another popular option, and offers over 30 double bedded rooms. On other tours, you can sleep aboard your boat.
How to stay safe
The Sundarbans is said to be the only remaining place in the world where tigers actively hunt humans for food. Some 50-80 locals are estimated to be victims of fatal attacks from tigers every year. This is one of the primary reasons visitors are recommended to navigate the forest with a government-approved tour operator rather than just by themselves.
The waters of the Sundarbans are also quite dangerous, as they’re home to predatory saltwater crocodiles. Swimming is absolutely prohibited, and visitors are recommended to ensure their boats are well stocked with life jackets and first aid kits.