World Discovery’s Roy Davies recently paid a visit to the Sunderbans in the Ganges Delta.
Billed as the ‘World’s largest mangrove forest’ and recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this huge tract of wilderness (the greater part of which is actually in Bangladesh) is also claimed to be home to the greatest number of Bengal Tigers on the planet. It is undoubtedly a unique eco-system, covering a total area of some 4,264 square miles, but is it geared up to take international tourists?
Roy has his doubts.
It’s different, it’s reasonably accessible – a 2 to 3 hour drive from Kolkata depending on traffic – and it’s certainly a bolt hole from the noise and pollution of the city. Birdwatchers will enjoy the number and variety of species.
The chances of seeing a tiger – despite the high population – are minimal. Travel in the Sunderbans is by water, on noisy boats that announce their arrival to any creature that may be near the water’s edge well in advance. Tigers simply disappear into the mangrove forest well before a boat gets near them. Additionally, many of the boats are used by local Indian visitors as ‘party’ or ‘booze’ cruises, which only makes the noise problem more acute. This also adds to the pollution in the waterways as the usual method of disposal (plastic bottles, food cartons) is to chuck things overboard. The few landing sites that have been set up are constructed in non-eco-friendly concrete and (again) no self-respecting tiger is going to come within a 100 metres of these crude fenced-off walkways. I suppose it’s not surprising that the ‘canopy walks’ are unimpressive when the height of the mangrove forest rarely rises above 3 or 4 metres!
Accommodation in the Sunderbans is also of a generally poor standard, well below what the majority of international passengers are looking for.
All in all, a disappointing destination. For those who simply want to relax in a quiet rural environment and enjoy some village walks and bird-watching (and are prepared to accept simple accommodation), it can probably provide some pleasant relaxation and enjoyment, but the Sunderbans is not the must-see up-and-coming destination that the Indian Tourist Authorities are promoting!