A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans National Park is a magnificent tangle of mangrove jungle that's the only one of its kind in the world. It's spread over 54 islands and extends into neighboring Bangladesh. Part of the Sundarbans is home to a 2,585 sq kilometer (1,606 sq mile) Tiger Reserve, which includes a 1,330 sq kilometer (826 sq mile) national park.
The Sundarbans has three wildlife sanctuaries, one within the national park at Sajnekhali, as well as south of the park at Lothian Island and Haliday Island. In addition to tigers, the area is full of reptiles, birds, and other animals such as monkeys, wild boar, and deer.
At the mouth of the Ganges river, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south east of Kolkata in the state of West Bengal. The nearest railway station is in Canning, and the nearest town is Gosaba. The actual entrance to the Sundarbans national park is at Sajnekhali, and this is where entry fees are paid.
Foreigners need a permit to visit the national park. This can be obtained free from the West Bengal Tourism office, 2/3 BBD Bagh East (near the post office) in Kolkata.
How to Get There by Organised Tour:
The most hassle free way of seeing the Sundarbans is on a tour. Tour operations will take care of getting you there, as well as providing the necessary permits and accommodations. Sunderban Cruises departs by boat from Kolkata. Cheaper options are offered by the Sunderban Tiger Camp and West Bengal Tourism.
If you only have a day to spare, Sundarban Chalo offers popular small group day tours to the Sundarbans from Kolkata, best suited to backpackers and budget travelers. Their two and three day tours are also excellent, and will give you the opportunity to visit villages as well as jungle.
Want to go on a private tour? Take a look at this 3 day Sundarbans tour offered by Viator. It can be conveniently an easily booked online.
How to Get There Independently:
The trip involves some laborious travel by train or road, and then by boat. The most popular way of doing it is:
- By Road: Travel from Kolkata to Gosaba (around three hours), and then take a boat from Godkhali Port to Sajnekhali (two hours).
- By Train: Go from Sealdah station in Kolkata to Canning (around two hours) and take a boat to Sajnekhali from there (5 hours), or travel onwards by road to Gosaba and take a boat from Godkhali Port.
It's also possible to take a boat to Sajnekhali from Basanti, on the way to Gosaba. It will take around three hours to Sajnekhali.
Boats and guides are available for excursions through the mangroves from Sajnekhali.
When to Visit:
From December to February, while the weather is cooler.
How Much Will it Cost:
Boats can be hired for around 600 rupees ($14) for half a day and 1000 rupees ($23) for a full day. A guide costs around 300 rupees ($7), and a boat permit 50 rupees ($2.30). The entrance fee for the national park is 150 rupees ($3.50), as well as 20 rupees (50 cents) for a camera and 300 rupees ($7) for a video camera. Tour operators offer fully inclusive packages from 1400 rupees ($32) to over 5000 rupees ($120) per person, depending on the duration (one or two nights) and standard of accommodations.
The Sundarbans is only accessible by boat. It's not possible to take jeep safaris or even touch down on the river banks. However, exploring the Sundarbans this way is a thrilling experience and shouldn't be missed. It's also completely safe. Don’t be hopeful of seeing any tigers though. They’re very shy and usually remain well hidden in the reserve. Visiting independently can be difficult due to the number of transport connections required and boat permits to be obtained.
Where to Stay:
The Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge, operated by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation and located in the national park area, offers basic rooms costing between 600-900 rupees ($14-20) per night. Permission to visit the Sundarbans is automatically granted for guests staying here. Ph: (03218) 214960. More luxurious options are the Sunderban Tiger Camp
, located across the river, or the award winning eco-tourism Sunderbans Jungle Camp
at Bali Island. Alternatively take a cruise package and stay on the boat.