The Sundarbans are the largest littoral mangrove belt in the world, stretching 80 km (50 mi) into the Bangladeshi and Indian hinterland from the coast. The Sundarbans has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The forests aren't just mangrove swamps though, they include some of the last remaining stands of the mighty jungles which once covered the Gangetic plain. The Sundarbans cover an area of 10,500 sq km, of which about one-third is covered in water/marsh areas. Since 1966 the Sundarbans have been a wildlife sanctuary, and it is estimated that there are now 400 Royal Bengal tigers and about 30,000 spotted deer in the area.
Flora and fauna
Royal Bengal Tigers are the main draw, but you can also spot Saltwater Crocodiles, various primates, leopards, King Cobras and Indian Cobras.
Sundarbans is home to many different species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and fishes. Over 120 species of fish and over 260 species of birds have been recorded in the Sundarbans. The Gangetic River Dolphin (Platanista gangeticus) is common in the rivers. No less than 50 species of reptiles and eight species of amphibians are known to occur. The Sundarbans now support the only population of the Estuarine, or Salt-Water Crocodile (Crocodylus parasus) in Bangladesh, and that population is estimated at less than two hundred individuals.
The park is also home to sea gypsy fishing families who catch fish using trained otters.
Organizing your own trip from Munsiganj-Satkhira,Mongla or Khulna is possible (and cheaper, if you're a shrewd negotiator), but questionably worth the hassle. You need a permit from the Divisional Forest Office in Khulna. With permit in hand, it's possible to hire a boat from Mongla or Dhangmari to get you to Hiron Point. From Hiron Point you will have to hire a guide to take you into the park.
Day trips from Mongla are not very interesting, and probably better avoided. After negotiating the price of a boat down to something only slightly less rediculous you'll most likely be taken to Karamjal Wildlife Center, where there are some tame deer to feed and some monkeys, crocs and snakes in cages. But surely you didn't come all this way to see a rundown zoo filled with depressed animals and raucous Bangladeshis. Boatmen seem to want no less than Tk 200 for the trip (locals pay Tk 50/day), and the center charges a very steep Tk 750/day entry fee for foreigners.
From Kolkata (India), suburban trains can take you to Canning (64 km) from where launch services are available for Sundarban. Otherwise, you can avail of buses to reach Raidighi (76 km), Najat (92 km), Sonakhali (100 km) and Namkhana (105 km) from where motorboats will take you to Sundarban.
Field Director, Sunderban Tiger Reserve, Port Canning.
Entry Permits can be obtained from Bagna, Canning and Sonakhali for STR (Sundarban Tiger Reserve) and at Namkhana, Canning and Raidighi for Western region of Sunderban Forest.
For permits, foreigners can contact: The Joint Secretary (Forest), Govt. of West Bengal, 4th Floor, G-Block, Writers' Building, Kolkata- 700 001. Tel: 225-5601 Ext: 411/754.
You have to rely on boats for visiting the various tourist spots of the Sunderbans. You can also hire your own boat but the charges are pretty steep (Rs. 1500-2000 per day). However, in case you wish to move around on your own, make sure to hire a guide or else the boatsmen may take you for a ride (the waterways of the Sunderbans are so similar to one another that even if your boat makes round of the same place, you won't be able to tell the difference without the services of an experienced guide). The Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve (West Bengal, India) is the place from where you can hire a guide.
For people visiting the place from India (West Bengal), the following should form a part of the itinerary:
Apart from visiting the tourist destinations, you may also take some time-out to go to a nearby village to see the life-style of the local people and talk to them to have an insight into their lives.
Some handcrafted articles made by the local people could be good mementos to bring back home.
It's best to savor the delicious dishes made of fresh catches from the water. Some of the lodges also have their own kitchen garden to give the guests a sample of fresh produce.
It is wise to carry own drinking water or carry water purifier tablet/liquid drop.
While as a tourist you are unlikely to face any danger from the local wildlife, it is wise to be informed that two of the most potentially dangerous animals on Earth reside within the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans is well known as the only place left where Bengal Tigers still hunt and kill humans, and they do it regularly. That being said, these victims are always locals who live within the Sundarbans and rely on it for survival, hence there is a "live and let live" policy between man and tiger. Saltwater Crocodiles also inhabit the Sundarbans and are well known to be the largest and (along with the Nile Crocodile) most aggressive reptile on Earth. In the Sundarbans you are unlikely to be in crocodile territory without a large boat, so the risk is minimal. As you can see, while living in the Sundarbans is extremely dangerous, very little risk is posed to the average tourist. Snakes exist, but are primarily either shy or nocturnal, unless you plan on venturing off into the bush alone you don't have much to worry about.
As with the rest of tropical Asia, mosquito-borne diseases including (but not limited to) Malaria and Dengue Fever are present within the Sundarbans at varying levels dependent on the season (the Wet season representing the greatest risk.) It is important to note that the most feared animal (by both locals and tourists) within the tropics is the mosquito and represents a greater threat than any man-eater could. Also, as with any rural part of India, drinking water should be limited to bottled only and always use your best judgment when choosing what to eat.