Bengal tigers, mangrove forests, unique biodiversity, remote and uninhabited land, Sundarbans in Bangladesh is guaranteed to thrill travellers with its beauty and serenity
In the gentle Mirgamari River, our boat glides through the water sending ripples to each of the opposing banks. The air is cooler, with a hint of a breeze. Standing on the foredeck, watching the white egret catching its prey, I knew that these were the moments that we cherished. As I stand with my binoculars, I see a luminescent kingfisher spread its magnificent blue wings and dive right into the river, and return with a small fish in its beak. Though this was not the first time that I was witnessing such a surreal moment, it did not fail to evoke a sense of curiousness in my heart.
The Sundarbans, meaning “beautiful forest”, is home to over 400 magnificent creatures and covers close to one million hectares spread across the Ganges River delta in south-western Bangladesh. Though surrounded on three sides by two of the most densely populated countries on earth – India and Bangladesh – it remains remote and largely uninhabited by people. While much of the Sundarbans is forest, an impressive 175,000 hectares on the Bangladesh side of the border are waterways.
The star attraction of Sundarbans is the Royal Bengal Tiger. According to a 2015 census, 100 of these magnificent creatures call the Sundarbans home. Sundarbans also harbours a good number of rare and globally threatened animals, including estuarine crocodile, fishing cat, otter, water monitor lizard, gangetic dolphin, snubfin dolphin, river terrapin, cobras etc.
We, a handful of adventurers from Bangladesh, Canada and Europe, boarded our boat at the small river port of Mongla, because of the muddy terrain, the only way to explore the park is by boat. Walking in the forest is prohibited, except for around the watchtowers, with a guide as escort. So it is common to see many other boats as well in these open parts of the forest. The most thrilling experience about a visit to the Sundarbans is spotting a tiger in the wild. It is a rarity that not everyone has had the privilege of enjoying. But we were the lucky ones. On the second day of our tour, we heard a tiger growling during noon. While we were just about to have our lunch, we ignored our food and started scanning every inch of the mangrove thicket. Suddenly, about 30 feet away, we saw a male tiger swimming ahead of us. It was swimming fast, much faster than I have seen any human swim. But he let us photograph him for a few minutes before ambling into a nearby island.
The forest never sleeps! It is magical to go out after dark into the forest and listen to the roar of the predators. The tiger watchtower at the southern end of Jawtoli meadow close is the best spot to witness the hustle and bustle of the forests’ night-life. On the third night, while scanning the forest from the watchtower with my binoculars, I spotted a rare and elusive leopard cat. We watched the graceful feline for a few seconds before it vanished into the forest. Sundarbans never fails to impress me.