Sundarban National Park, West Bengal: Sundarban National Park is in the 'Sundarbans Delta' - world's largest mangrove forest and a complex eco-system which is 6000 years old and spanning across geographies of Bangladesh and West Bengal State in India. Sundarban National Park in India stretches between 30° 24' - 30° 28' N latitude and between 77° 40' - 77° 44' E longitude and spans more than 4200 square kilometres in the South 24 Parganas District of West Bengal State at 25 feet elevation from sea level.
The Sundarban National Park lies in the Bay of Bengal Delta formed by the confluence of the three rivers - Brahmaputra, Padma and Meghna - on the coastal fringe of the Bay of Bengal - the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean. The Rivers of the Sundarbans are the converging points of the Salt Water of the Bay of Bengal and the freshwater of the rivers which originate in the Ganges - a trans-boundary River of India and Bangladesh.
Sundarban National Park comprises 54 islands; river; tributaries; canals; creeks; mangrove forests; estuaries; mudflats; on which are the Tiger Reserve and the Biosphere Reserve which all together is a protected area and is owned and governed by the Government of India and the West Bengal State Government and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. The Sundarbans - on which is the Sundarban National Park has also been nominated for the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature' - chosen by people through a global poll. It is a protected area for its biodiversity conservation owing to its rich ecology.
The Sundarban National Park comprises two Eco-regions - the Sundarbans Mangroves and the Sundarbans freshwater swamp forests. Apart from supporting intensive agriculture and dense forests, the Sundarbans also act as a protective barrier for millions of inhabitants in and around the National Park against floods due to cyclones.
The Sundarban region includes 4200 square kilometres of Forests and about 5400 square kilometres of inhabited areas of West Bengal which are spread over 13 Blocks of South 24 Parganas District and 6 Blocks of North 24 Parganas District.
The Mangrove trees are called the 'Sundari Trees' (Heritiera littoralis) which are the characteristic tress of the forest of which there is abundance in the Sundarbans because of which the area was named Sundarban meaning 'the forest of Sundari trees'. The added benefit of the name is that Sundarban also translates to 'beautiful forest' in Bengali language which it truly is.
Known for weekend-getaways and weeklong-stopovers in the Sundarban, the river-cruises and boat-ride Tours into the Sundarban National Park is an amazing experience as the water-crafts slowly float on the Sea water and then on the River Water as they meander through countless estuaries and canals. The slow and silent water rides become thrilling as your boat gets closer to the dunes and levees in anticipation of encountering a huge tiger or a crocodile or a snake from much closer quarters than expected.
Sundarban National Park is an awesome and fascinating eco-region of numerous estuaries and islands zigzagged by hundreds of river-tributaries and streams. The mainland is covered with a dense green cover of mangrove forests abundant with more than a hundred thousand animals, birds, amphibians and fish and is bounteous with a wide range of plant life. It's a nature-lover's dream destination.
And what makes the whole idea of visiting the Sundarban National Park so attractive and adventurous is that unlike most other National Parks in India, the 4000 square-kilometre Sundarban National Park can be traversed to most of its nooks and crannies through its complex networks of waterways. The whole trip from start to finish keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes for a very interesting and an exciting ride.
The Sundarban National Park's claim to fame apart from its thick mangrove (Sundari trees) forests and countless kilometres of coastal wetlands or tidal flats and lagoons is that it is home to many rare and endangered wildlife species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger; the Estuarine Crocodile; the Gangetic Dolphin; the Water Monitor Lizard; and the Olive Ridley Turtle among others.
Sundarban National Park is the largest colony of Royal Bengal Tigers - home to more than 400 tigers which have picked up a unique trait of swimming in the saline waters that envelope the tiger landscape. The Park is also home to the Spotted Deer (Chital); Leopard Cats; the Fishing Cats; Jungle Cats; Fox, Flying Fox; Indian Grey Mongoose; Wild Boar and the Macaques.
Among others, the popular birds that made the Sundarban National Park their home and add colour and melody to it are Pariah Kites, Brahminy Kite, Marsh Harriers, Swamp Partridges, Water Hens, Coots, Pheasant-Tailed Jacanas, Black-Headed Ibis, Black-Tailed Godwits, Little Stints, Rose Ringed Parakeets, Cormorants, Grey-Headed Fish Eagles, Openbill Storks, Cotton Teals, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, Gray Herons, Common Mynahs, Jungle Crows, Jungle Babblers, Woodpeckers, Whimbrels, White-Bellied Sea Eagles, Seagulls, Red Junglefowls, Spotted Doves, Paradise-Flycatchers, Night Herons, Common Snipes, Wood Sandpipers, Green Pigeons, Brahminy Ducks, Spot-Billed Pelicans, Great Egrets, White-Eyed Pochards And Whistling Teals.
Gangetic Dolphins, Common Carp, King Crabs, Electric rays, Silver carp, Star Fish, Prawn, Shrimps, Skipping Frogs, Sawfish, Butter Fish, Common Toads and Tree Frogs are some of the fish and amphibians found in the Sundarban.
Some of the most dreaded inhabitants of the Sundarban National Park are Crocodiles and Snakes. Sundarban is home to Estuarine Crocodiles; Pythons; King Cobras; Dog Faced Water Snakes; Rat Snakes; Russell's Vipers; Asiatic Water Snakes (chequered keelback); Common Krait among other varieties of snakes.
Sea Turtles such as the Olive Ridley; Green Turtle and Hawks Bill are also available here in abundance.
Other Reptiles seen in Sundarban are Monitor Lizards and Chameleons.
A recent wildlife census shows that the Sundarban National Park houses more than 400 Royal Bengal Tigers; more than 31,000 spotted deer; 38,000 Rhesus Monkeys; 12,000 wild boars; 10,000 Monitor Lizards among others.
But the Sundarban fauna and aqua fauna that get the maximum number of visitors yearly are Royal Bengal Tigers; the Saltwater Crocodiles; Gangetic Dolphins; River Terrapin (riverine turtles); Olive Ridley Turtles; Hawks Bill Turtles; Ground Turtles and Mangrove Horseshoe Crabs. These creatures not only top the popularity charts, they also top the Endangered Species Charts which is why the Indian Government has launched several programmes of eco-conservation and eco-development to prevent the extinction of the endangered species.
Sundarban National Park also consists of 64 plant species in its mangrove vegetation - others being Sundri, Goran, Garjan, Passur and Dhundal. Bright red leaves of the Genwa plant, red flowers of the Kankra plant and the yellow flowers of the Khalsi plant adorn the Sundarban National Park during the spring months of April and May. The mangrove forests or the 'sundari' trees are hard and are used to make houses, furniture and boats by the locals.
As the Sundarban National Park encompasses about 4000 square kilometres of the mainland geography of Indian sub continent, hundreds of villages exist within the perimeter of the National Park. For the sake of their livelihood, the Government permits these village people to fell the hard mangrove trees for their firewood and also do bee-keeping for domestic use as well as for sale of Honey and to do fishing - all in a limited form. The inhabitants of the Park are allowed to earn their livelihood from mono-crop agriculture, bee-keeping, pisciculture and fishing. Each year, 500 quintals of honey and 30 quintals of wax are collected on an average by local people under license from the Forest Department.
Such is the diverse abundance of this National Park that it has attracted the attention of many Indian and International Environment Protection Organizations and features on their top priority lists. Everyone is desperately trying to preserve and protect the Sundarban National Park Environment from the effects of climate change; the human-wildlife conflict; deterioration of natural habitat of the wildlife; and the depletion of the mangrove trees which are hard trees and are used for making houses and boats. The Sundarban National Park ecology elements are so interdependent on each other and removing any one - either the mangrove trees, or the salt water, or the swamps, or the wildlife from there, would collapse the balance of the ecology. This is why the Government of India and the West Bengal State Government have together launched the Sundarban environment protection initiatives.
10 Forest Protection Committees which are established on the circumference of the National Park protect the Park from poaching and from theft of forest products through their Anti-poaching Camps and Patrolling Boats which are manned day and night non-stop. Since 2011, crocodiles are also micro-chipped' in order to keep track of them and to maintain a database of them under the Bhagatpur Crocodile Project.
Amidst the rugged and wild terrain of the Sundarban National Park, are a few strategic points which were identified for viewing the wildlife in their natural habitat without direct interaction with them. Sajnekhali, Sudhannyakhali, Netidhopani, Dobanki, Bakkhali, Lothian Island, Bonnie Eco-tourism Camp and Burir Dabri are areas where Watch Towers have been erected for tourists to view the forests and its wildlife from close quarters which are safe. Sajnekhali, Bagabatpur, and Bonnie Eco-tourism Camp also hold the Interpretation Centres which provide information and statistics and pictures of the Forest and the Wildlife to give Tourists clarity on the environment of the Sundarban.
The entry into the Sundarban Tiger Reserve is through Canning to Sonakhali or through Dhamakhali to Bagna. On the western banks of River Malta, is the South 24 Parganas Forest Division which can be visited through Namkhana, Raidighi or Jharkhali via Canning or Basanti.
Sajnekhali, Do Banki, Netidhopani and Burirdabri in Sundarban Tiger Reserve and at Bonnie Camp (Sudarikati), Netidhopani, Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project, Lothian Island,and Kalash Beach are where the Eco-Tourism Centres are located.
Sudarikati (Bonnie Camp) also houses an Eco-Museum.
Gosaba (50 kms), Kolkata ( 110 kms) are nearest big towns.