Nusaira A. Hassan
If anyone were to ask which is the best place to visit in Bangladesh one would reply with either Cox’s Bazaar or Sundarbans without missing a beat. For the travellers who look for a haven away from the hustle and bustle of the city and want to be one with Nature, Sundarbans is the more obvious choice. Set against a background of lush green trees, which constitutes the largest single block of halophytic mangrove forest in the world, Sundarbans is the idyllic setting for the adventurous. Apart from that, the mist-shrouded and river-riddled mangrove forest is listed among the heritage sites of the world as chosen by UNESCO. Sundarbans boasts the largest single population of tigers or rather Royal Bengal tigers in the world and these magnificent creatures are easily the region’s biggest attraction.
Situated in the South West part of Bangladesh, Sundarbans is a major tourist spot of the Khulna division. The journey from any part of Bangladesh to Sundarbans is an adventure in itself. For the Dhakaites, the quickest route would be to pay for an air fare to Khulna, but if one wanted to take in the rustic rural scenery, then coach and overnight train rides as well as long drives by cars are also available options. Rocket steamers or paddle wheel ferries also serve as popular choices for transport. With Khulna as the starting point, Hularhat is the next destination, taking almost 16 hours of journey, followed by a two to three bus ride via Bagerhat to Katuakhali. Irrespective of the starting point, one has to take part in a water voyage from Khulna or Mongla Port, where one can find numerous private boat services for the rest of the journey.
The mangrove forest is home to not only Royal Bengal tigers, but also prominent animals such as spotted deer, crocodiles, jungle fowls, wild boars, birds and lizards as well. For the Slytherin at heart, Sundarbans has an assortment of different snakes ranging from King Cobras to Russel’s Vipers and Rock Pythons.
Travelers and tourists alike can take in the panoramic view from different locations including Hiron Point, possibly the best known spot for catching a glimpse of various animals such as tigers and deer. For the ones who want to snatch a glance of blue, pristine water, Dublar Char Island is the ideal locale. Travelers can not only take in the scenery but also get a first-hand experience of the lifestyle of local fishermen. The island is also home to spotted deer and crocodiles, which grow up to a length of 7 meters, and can be seen basking in the warm glow of the sunlight in nearby streams. Tin Kona Island, where the land and streams play hide-and-seek and Katka are also other tourist spots waiting to entertain guests from all over the world. Needless to say, the best way to explore Sundarbans in depth is to take a three-or-four-day boat trip through the forest. Travelers can then have the unique experience of either tracking Royal Bengal Tigers on foot or take rides on smaller boats along narrow river channels. Either way, armed forest guards ensure that everyone has an enjoyable and safe voyage.
For the avid bird-watcher, Sundarbans is a sight for sore eyes with different species of birds flocking into the forests from all over the world, including migratory birds that are yearly guests from April to May. During the rest of the year, visitors can come across up to nine different species of kingfishers.
Even though hunting is prohibited under the country’s legal system, amateur hunters can still fulfil their hobbies by shooting certain species of birds with permission from the Forest Board.
One of the highlights of Sundarbans is the collection of honey during the seasonal time of the year from April to May. The honey-gatherers known locally as the maualis follow a honey-harvest trail and visitors can follow them around as they take on the formidable honeybees of the region.
From a practical perspective, Sundarbans is detached from the modern parts of Bangladesh and one would do well to be accompanied by an expert guide. Also,visitors should carry anti-malarial, anti-diarrhoeal medicines and insect repellents to ward of mosquitoes and insects alike.
Sundarbans offers a little something for everyone, whether an adventurous getaway or a thrilling escapade into the wilderness. So, when are you boarding the next train to Khulna?