A trip to the Sunderbans national park was always going to be a highlight of this three month journey across India. The largest delta in the world, mangrove forests, tides creating and destroying forests at different times in the day, salt water and fresh water having no boundaries were enough reasons for us to visit this hostile environment. There was also this one other tiny excuse to visit this place feared by outsiders and locals alike:The Royal Bengal Tiger. The forest is known to have the largest concentration of dedicated man-eaters. Fishermen and honey collectors wear masks on the back of their heads to avoid an ambush attack by the 220 kg killing machines. The impenetrable forests make it difficult for people to go in and even more difficult to come out. Just being in these forests, knowing that you could be attacked alike from water and land have led the Hindus and Muslims to worship a common goddess, Bonbibi.
The Sunderbans are a highly protected region with a majority of the area belonging to Bangladesh and the rest with India. Access to this region is based entirely on permission from the forest department and can be best arranged by booking a package tour with the West Bengal tourism department. Opting for a 3d/2n package, we were taken in a bus from Kolkata to the jetty at Sonakhali. We boarded the MV Sarvajaya and settled in as the motor chugged away under the afternoon sun. At Rs 4200 per person, our low expectations were pleasantly dashed when we saw fairly comfortable bunkers, a wide variety of options for food and a generally cheerful staff and tour guide.
After the chaos and crowds of Kolkata, we were looking forward to some quiet time in the waters and we got just that. There was one attention seeking 8 year old kid who made his presence felt by shouting and stomping his feet on the deck every time we forgot him. We spent many hours plotting how to use him as a bait to lure a tiger to restore the tranquility of the place. Within an hour of entering the waters of the national park, we were fairly certain we wouldn’t see the tiger and settled down to getting used to the idiot. While the place is teeming with wildlife ranging from spotted deer and saltwater crocodiles to many bird species and royal Bengal tigers, the ability to spot them depends on being at the right creek at the right time. With so many small rivulets to meander through, the probability of a tiger showing up on the banks of the water we were moving through was equivalent to threading a needle.
Our stay on the vessel was very enjoyable. Our 3 days comprised of waking up, lounging on the deck chair looking for wildlife, getting off the boat to climb on to watchtowers that were located next to “sweet” water ponds(meant to lure wildlife) and a lot of wholesome eating. The most we ever had to worry about was if dinner would be better than the already good lunch. We did see deer, many types of kingfishers, a giant water monitor lizard and other birds and we did see forests so thick that they were overflowing into the waters. For three days, all we did was walk through caged walkways to watchtowers and just enjoy the breeze on the vessel. Go with no expectations and you shall certainly be rewarded with a good time.