Sunderbans National Park

The largest mangrove forest in the world is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger and harbours some of the subcontinent's most remarkable natural treasures

Dipankar Mandal

Sunderbans

Sunderbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a cluster of 56 low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, spread across India and Bangladesh. Famous for its unique mangrove forests, it covers an area of about 4267sq.km. This unique ecosystem harbours about 248 bird species, 48 species of reptiles and 58 species of mammals. 

Of them, the most elusive is the Royal Bengal Tiger, revered by every boatman, each with personalised narrations of its power, ferocity and intellect.

Life in the world’s largest estuarine forest is harsh and conflict-riddled; the animals here tend to be elusive and display very different characteristics to their counterparts in other forests.



Plan Your Trip

Getting there

Air

The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata (140km; almost 3 ½ hours), with good flight connectivity all over the country, is the nearest airport from the Godkhali Ferry Ghat (entry point).

Rail

The Canning railway station is the nearest railhead, which is about 29km from the Godkhali Ferry Ghat. Frequent local trains are available from Kolkata's Sealdah railway station to Canning (around 2 hours).

Road

The Godkhali Ferry Ghat is at a convenient driving distance from Kolkata (120km; almost 3 hours), if you take the Kolkata-Basanti Highway or travel via Baruipur. Public buses and hired taxi services are also available.

best time to visit

The national park is open throughout the year; the different seasons provide glimpses of different species.

  • November to March: This is the coolest time of the year, with temperatures ranging from 20-32°C through the day. Winter migrants congregate in large numbers during this period, making it an ideal time to visit for birding enthusiasts.
  • April to June: During peak summer, temperatures soar over 48°C with high levels of humidity due to its proximity with the Bay of Bengal.
  • Mid-June to mid-September: The park receives heavy rainfall during the monsoon, and the humidity levels rise to 80%. Torrential rains and frequent cyclonic storms during this time can affect travel plans adversely and can prove to be risky. However, this period is blessed with some rare bird species that are usually not found in other months.


History

The Sunderbans is not just a national park but also a tiger and biosphere reserve. This densely covered mangrove forest, including the adjoining Sunderbans Reserve Forest of Bangladesh, is one of the largest reserves for the Royal Bengal Tiger. In 1973, it was declared as the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve and in 1984 as a National Park. In 1987, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and subsequently in 2019 as a Ramsar site.

The seven main rivers and innumerable watercourses form a network of channels on this estuarine delta. Life here is entirely at the mercy of the tide, dancing in tune to its every ebb and flow. However, the increasing population pressure hastens the thinning of mangroves and consequently paves the way for shore erosion.

Stay

Die-hard wildlife enthusiasts prefer living in the boats that they hire to traverse this unique terrain. But the Sunderbans offer a variety of accommodations, from budget to luxury resorts, that provide packages including food, boat safaris, and village walks.

  • Tora Camp at Bali Island provides an authentic village experience for about ₹6,000 per night for a double room.
  • Sunderbans Tiger Camp at Dayapur appeals to those who wish to experience the local way of life, with a tariff of  ₹10,690 for a double room.
  • Matla Tourism Resort (erstwhile Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge) of the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. (WBTDCL), located at Sajnekhali, is also highly recommended. Their tariff varies from ₹1800 – ₹3000 per night.

Royal Sundarban Wild Resort, Solitary Nook, and Sundarban Royal Eco Resort are the other available choices.

See|Do

  • Cruising through the innumerable creeks and tributaries in the dense mangrove forests of Sajnekhali, Dobaki, Deol Varani, Panchamukhani, Jhingekhali, Buridabri and Netidhopani unveils the beauty of this magical landscape and its numerous inhabitants.
  • Go for a canopy walk at the Dobanki and Sudanyakhali watchtowers and catch sight of tigers, deer and wild boars.
  • The mud walk at the Burirdabri Forest Camp introduces you to the wide variety of ground fauna, snails and crabs and other molluscs. It takes you to the Raimangal Viewpoint, which overlooks the Raimangal river that forms the international boundary between India and Bangladesh.
  • Visit Kalash Island during winter, a breeding ground for Olive Ridley Turtles and a good place to spot some uncommon waders. Sajnekhali and Amlamethi are also good spots for bird watching.
  • Encourage your guide/ boatman to share anecdotes and stories about the Royal Bengal Tiger. Most of them are very resourceful, and their stories about the ferocity and cunning nature of these mystical felines will make the cruise interesting.
  • Visit the WBDTCL complex to see the deity of Bonbibi, and the Mangrove Interpretation Centre (open from 8.30 am to 5 pm) in Sajnekhali.
  • ‘Bonbibi-r-Palagaan’, a short folk drama connected with the worship of the guardian spirit of Sundarban mangroves, Bonbibi, is quite enjoyable. Different eco-resorts and luxury camps at Bali and Dayapur organize 'Bonbibi-r-Palagaan' for tourists.
  • Savour delicious preparations of freshly caught fish or crab preparation on board, if possible.

Good to know

  • Unlike other national parks, walking inside the forests here is dangerous and strictly prohibited, except around watchtowers. Always, strictly follow the instructions/advice provided by your guide.
  • ATMs, food joints, pharmacies, convenience stores and medical facilities are available in the nearby villages of Gosaba and Pakhiralaya. However, due to its challenging landscape, ensure that you are carrying essential medicines and conveniences before leaving Godkhali Ferry Ghat.
  • All major mobile phone networks provide good network coverage and data connectivity in the region. Certain patches do have unreliable connectivity.
  • Car parking facility is available at Godkhali Ferry Ghat, so self-drive up to that point is also a convenient option.
  • Sunderbans is a difficult place for an outsider and managing logistics here can often be problematic. Tourists prefer to opt for tour packages which include boat, accommodation, food, guide, and permit charges. Most of the resorts and the WBTDCL offer a variety of packages. Several private tour operators like Tour de Sundarban, Sundarban Cholo, Sundarban Eco Tourism, Sundarban Houseboat and Vivada Sundarban Cruises also provide standard/customised packages. Packages range from ₹2,140 to ₹17,875 per day per person.

What to pack

  • During summer, it is imperative to carry loose cotton clothes, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Slippers or any rubber sole footwear will be convenient when on the boat. Gumboots are ideal when going for mud walks, etc.
  • Carry a torch/ headlamp and covered shoes if you intend to go for a walk in the local village.
  • Always carry drinking water and something to munch on.
  • During winter, carry light warm clothing for mornings and late evenings.
  • During the monsoon, an umbrella or a rainproof jacket would be necessary.

For photographers

  • A telephoto lens of 500mm focal length or more is essential for bird photography since passerine birds are often small and/or well-camouflaged. Swamp tigers are also quite elusive and are dangerous to be approached at close quarters.
  • Carry a wide-angle lens (16-35 mm) to photograph the mystical landscape of the Sunderbans.
  • A tripod is of no use while on the boat. Carry a bean bag, which is often useful, but mostly you will be left with no choice but to go handheld.

Permits and Fees

  • Foreign nationals require a permit to visit the Sunderbans National Park, which can be obtained from the Forest Department Office at Sajnekhali or the Tourism Centre in Kolkata. If one travels with a tour operator/company, they may arrange the same.
  • In this muddy terrain, the only way to explore the park is by motorised boat. Boats can be hired from Godkhali Ferry Ghat, and most of them have kitchen and bathroom facilities. Remember to ask for a for 4-cylinder boat with reverse gear. Charges usually range from ₹7, 000-₹8,500 per day, which is inclusive of meal charges, permits, guide fees etc.
  • Entry fee is ₹60 for Indians and ₹200 for foreign nationals. The boat entry fee is ₹400 per day for all zones except for the Netidhopani zone, which is ₹800. Boat entry inside the Sunderbans National Park starts at 6:30 am and closes at 4:30 pm.
  • Hiring a guide costs ₹400 rupees for Indians and ₹700 rupees for foreign nationals, per boat.
  • Contact Tarun Baidya (62957 71175), Shuvarthi Guha (98367 11148), Gouranga Mondal (80177 38940), or Nitai Mondal (97329 09545, 90910 36626) to hire a boat.

Budget per person

A two-night stay is highly recommended, allowing you to enjoy the wildlife, mystical wilderness and culture of the Sunderbans. It is possible to experience some of the key highlights with a one-night stay too.

An independently arranged one-night stay at the Matla Tourism Resort costs ₹5110–₹5680 per person on a twin sharing basis, excluding transport from Kolkata to Godkhali Ferry Ghat, shopping and other personal expenditures. The budget includes all meals, boat hiring charges, and guide and permit fees.

Solo travel can be costly; if a group tour is planned ahead of time, costs can reduce drastically.

Dipankar Mandal - Wildlife Photographer

Dipankar Mandal

Wildlife Photographer

An avid birdwatcher, Dipankar is a passionate photographer by choice. Whenever he gets time away from work, he spends it in the numerous national parks across India, observing and photographing their inhabitants, particularly the winged wanderers. He tweets as @dipanka57511550 and posts as @mdipankar68 on Instagram.