Located in the vast estuarine region of West Bengal and spanning the Hooghly in the west and Teulia River in the east, Sunderbans is the world’s largest estuarine forest. With an intricate pattern of creeks and narrow channels, open muddy beaches and a densely canopied forest, Sunderbans has several other notable claims to its credit. It is one of the largest deltas in the world, the largest National Park in India and the only Mangrove Tiger land on the globe, harboring the single largest population of Royal Bengal Tigers anywhere. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sunderbans is a vast series of islands covering 4264 square km in India alone, with a larger portion in Bangladesh. 2585 sq. km of the Indian Sunderbans forms the largest Tiger Reserve and National Park in India.
The history of the area can be traced back to 200–300 CE. Vestiges of a city built by Chand Sadagar were found in the Baghmara Forest Block. During the Mughal period, local kings leased the forests of the Sunderbans to residents. During this period, Raja Basanta Rai and his nephew took shelter in Sunderbans from the advancing armies of Emperor Akbar. Many of the buildings constructed by them were taken over by Portuguese pirates, salt smugglers and dacoits in the 17th century. A sprinkling of these ruins can be seen at Netidhopani and other places in Sunderbans. The area was mapped by the Surveyor General as early as 1764 after the proprietary rights were obtained from the Mughal Emperor Alamgir II by the East India Company in 1757. With the establishment of a Forest Department in the Province of Bengal, in India, systematic management of this forest tract started in the 1860s. The Sunderbans Tiger Reserve was created in 1973 and declared a Reserve Forest in 1978, a National Park in 1984, a World Heritage Site in 1997 and the entire Sunderbans area declared a Bio-sphere Reserve in 1989.
Sunderbans is a Gangetic Delta and very close to the Bay of Bengal, the weather is normally humid and windy. So the best time to visit is between September to March, when the weather is suitable. This region witnesses heavy rain during July-August. It is very pleasant during October-February (temperature can dip to about 10 degree C during peak winters) and gets warmer from March and by June the temperature can be an unbearable hitting highs of about 40 degree C. The monsoons arrive in full force by June and depart in September making travel difficult during this period.
Sunderbans is one of the most affected areas in the world due to global warming. Many of its islands are sinking due to rising sea water. An estimated 15% of the delta forests will be submerged by 2020. And rising salinity is adversely affecting agriculture. In light of all these developments, responsible tourism can play a positive role.
How to reach
Sundarbans National Park is best reached by bus or car from Kolkata (131km).
The nearest airport is in Kolkata, while the nearest railhead is Port Canning (48km southeast of Kolkata).
As the landscape is dominated by great tidal creeks and waterways, moving around on motor launches which come in various sizes and shapes is a way of life.