Sunderbans literally means beautiful forest and oh boy! what a beauty it was! Sunderbans is a declared UNESCO world heritage site, it being the largest coastal mangrove forest in the world, 40% of which falls in India and the rest in adjoining Bangladesh. The marshy delta is formed because the world’s largest rivers, Ganga & Brahmaputra along with Hooghly, Padma & Meghna rivers drain into the Bay of Bengal. The tidal saline ecosystem is home to hundreds of species of plants, birds & animals all of whom have adapted to the harsh natural conditions here. Mangrove plants grow aerial & support roots to enable them to breathe & grow in the daily tidal grind. The narrow water channels through the mangrove forests makes it a serene and picturesque natural beauty.
Home to more than 85 species animals and 270 species of birds, we were able to spot 35 birds and few animals on a recent trip to Sunderbans. For me, the discovery of the trip was that all animals, including tigers, monkeys, deers etc. know how to swim across water canals and channels as it is the only way they find food distributed across large swathes of the mangrove islands. The most common birds were the Drongos, Minivets and Kingfishers and we are able to spot 6 types of kingfishers – Collared, Common, Black Capped, Brown headed, Pied & White Throated. The area was also dotted with some majestic birds of Prey like Osprey, Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Shikra, Brahminy Kite and the rare Peregrine Falcons. There were many water birds like Egrets, Cormorant, Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Whimbrels, Black headed gulls, lesser Adjutant, Striated Heron, etc. that feed on the small crabs, insects and fishes by the banks. We were also able to see many spotted deers, River Otters etc. We saw many Estuarian crocodiles lazing on the banks and very shy of human presence for the moment we used to go anywhere near 30 ft of them, they would slink into the water! The sighting of the trip for me was the Red-tailed Bamboo Pit Viper; it looks quite small harmless, but is one of the most venomous snakes in India.
The tiger, sadly, remained elusive!
How to reach there: Nearest airport is in Kolkatta, 2.5 hrs drive to Gadkali which is the ferry point to Sunderbans
Where to stay: Many decent options to stay the night exists in Sunderbans Villages. Sunderbans residency is a good option
What to do : Boat safari with a good government guide.