The Sundarbans

Province: South-Western Region
Nearest City: Khulna
Access: Moderate
Services: Basic
Highlights:
  • Sundarbans means "beautiful forest" in Bengali.
  • 81% of the forest is in Bangladesh and the remainder in India.
  • The last remaining natural habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger.
  • Other threatened species are the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python
  • Fishing with otters is the traditional method and is still practiced by local gypsy fishermen.
  • The forest is home to 260 species of birds.

The Sundarbans National Park is the largest mangrove forest in the World. The area is consists of three wildlife sanctuaries (Sundarbans West, East and South) and covers over 10,000 sq km, the forest stretches 8 km inland from the coast and over the border into India.

Now only one third of the size that it was 200 years ago, the Sundarbans forest is one of the wildest and least known natural landscapes in Asia. The park is intersected by a series of waterways which makes almost every part of the forest accessible by boat.

The forest is famously home to the ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger. The 2011 tiger census estimated that there are now only 270 of these tigers left in the wild. The Sundarbans National Park is also home to at least 150 species fishes, 270 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, 35 reptiles and 8 amphibian species. Many of these animals are unique to the park and some, including the Royal Bengal Tiger are facing extinction.

The best time to visit the Sundarbans is during the dry season, which is November – April.

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About

You can only visit the Sundarbans National Park on a guided tour. Either a day tour from Mongla or a multi-day tour from Khulna or Dhaka.

Multi-Day Tour
These tours can be up to 4 -5 days long and departure points are most commonly Khulna, but there are tours available from Dhaka. You must travel with a recognised travel agency.

Most of these companies offer similar packages concentrating on the far south east of the park, stretching as far as Kotka where there is a beach. Due to the low numbers, your chances of spotting a tiger are pretty slim, however, you will probably see wild boar, spotted deer, monkeys, reptiles and some of the huge variety of birdlife that inhabits the forest.

Boat quality and environmental awareness varies between operators. Generally, the less you pay the less you get. Prices range from Tk 12,000 – Tk 20,000 per person).

Day Trip from Mongla
The other way to travel into the Sundarbans from Mongla is on a day trip to the Karamjal Forest Habaria Wildlife Sanctuary. With raised platforms, this is hardly a trip into the wilderness, however, it may offer you the best chance of seeing a tiger.

Reliable advice on trustworthy tours from Mongla it is recommended that you seek out the manager of the government run Parjatan Hotel (also known as Hotel Pashur), which is located next to the bus stand.
Expect to pay Tk4500 for a full-day return trip.

History & Culture

The known history of the Sundarbans, can be traced back to 200 – 300 AD as a result of ruins that have been found of a city built by Chand Sadagar during this era. During the Mughal era, much of the forest was leased to the local population by the Mughal kings. It was also a place of refuge for criminals and late pirates, many of whom were killed by Bengal Tigers.

The first survey and mapping of the area was undertaken in Persian as early as 1764. Soon after, propriety rights were stripped from the local Mughal King by the British East India Company. However, as the British had no expertise in management or adaptation of Mangrove forest, no planned management existed for another 100 years, and then it was only to extract whatever treasures were available from the area.

Recognition of the Sundarbans Forest as an area worth preserving, was first made in 1878 when it was made a reserved forest under the Indian Forest Act 1878 (Bangladesh was not an independent country until 1971). Three wildlife sanctuaries were established in 1977 under the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Amendment Act and the total area of the wildlife sanctuaries was extended in 1996.

The Sundarbans National Park gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997.

Getting Around

You can only visit the Sundarbans National Park on a guided tour. Either a day tour from Mongla or a multi-day tour from Khulna or Dhaka.

Multi-Day Tours
These tours generally start and finish from Khulna, although operators will arrange transport from Dhaka or you can reach Khulna by overnight train or bus from Dhaka.

These tours are all inclusive and boats range in size from small to groups of 50. You eat and sleep aboard the main tour boat but there will be options for smaller group expeditions to track tigers, on foot (with armed guards) or on smaller boats.

If possible you should try and book your tour in advance. Some tour companies offer online bookings, but even if you cannot book and pay online, you should be able to reserve and then confirm your booking on your arrival in Dhaka.

One Day Tours
To reach Mongla from Dhaka to take a one day trip:
Train or bus
Overnight train or bus to Khulna, and then catch a bus to Mongla. These take 90 minutes and leave at frequent intervals.

Boat
Take “The Rocket” paddlewheel ferry to Hularhat (16 hours) and then a bus (2 – 3 hours) via Bagerhat and Khatakhali.