Our trip to Sunderban- experience in enjoying swampy forest infested with Tigers, snakes and crocodiles.
If you like to explore Kolkata and nearby tourists places, it would not be completed without visiting Sundarban, the largest delta abounded with deadly snakes, crocodiles, and Royal Bengal tiger. This time I have got tour offer from my friend Chiranjib and Arijit (Khoka). They offered a group tour to visit Sundarban on hired boat. I immediately agreed, as I know that I can’t visit this place as a solo traveler or in a single family. It’s better to go in a group. Hence, we planned our 2N/3D tour in Sundarban during 14th January to 16th January, 2017.
We are so excited to explore this forest delta in a group. We planned a lot for maximum coverage of this Delta with limited time, budget, and safety.
Journey from Kolkata to Sundarban
You cannot reach Sundarban directly by train or bus. Nature has projected this dense forest from human invasion by separating it by series of rivers and tributaries.
From Kolkata, the last rail head is Canning station. And there are plenty of buses from Kolkata taking you to Gosaba. From Gosaba you can take boat for Sundarban.
In our case, we reached Canning railway station via Sealdha. From Sealdha, there two morning Canning train (6:30 am and 7:42 am) taking you to canning station by 9 am. We are 20 members in our tour. We boarded into 6:30 am local from Sealdha. It was like picnic mood on train. We were excited for possible meet with tiger in deadly forest. We reached canning at 9 am.
Sundarban Trip #1 ; Canning to Dhamakhali journey
This is second lap of journey on land. From canning you can reach either Dhamakhali or goskhali or Gosaba by auto or bus. But our launch is waiting at Dhamakhali. Hence, we come out from station and headed towards auto stand.
Outside the station, we have seen a big signboard telling snake bite help lines. It signifies the terror of snakes in the local people. Some of us got frightened and looked for tiger bite help lines. But no sign of it found nearby. It seemed tigers never allowed its prey to call helpline. If one comes under his jaw, he has to donate his life. Anyway, we are boarded on auto for Dhamakhali for 27 km ride through villages on the both side.On the way we crossed Matla river. Initial 17 km journey was smooth. Next 10 km journey was a bumpy ride through fish ponds (vaery) on both sides. Finally, we reached Dhamakhali after 1.2 hours journey at 10:30 AM.
Our guide on board Sujanda greeted us there at nearby lodge. All foods are loaded on the boat. We have found Barasat – Dhamakhali are also plying in this route. But from canning station, it is best to come by either Canning- Dhamakhali bus or by shared auto service. It was 11 AM, and finally we started for an island called Pakhiralaya sundarban deep inside the forest.
Sundarban Trip #2 : Journey from Dhamakhali to Pakhiralaya
It was a 4 hours journey by boat. We are sailing across river Raymangala. Spread of river was big. Still we could see the distant villages. Breakfast was served on the board. We are all getting settled inside cabin and chair are placed on the top deck for jungle views. After few minute sailing, we entered into deep forest area and both side of the river was covered with jungle. Mobile signals got disappeared. In between tea and snack are severed. We are planning final Sundarban travel trips for next 2 days.
Lunch time came; we finished our lunch on deck with spectacular jungle views, occasional views of fishing boats, and swampy river banks. Jungle views were not intimidating so far. Kids in our group become impatient to see tigers and other wild beast. We made them clam by saying wilds are sleeping after lunch. Since we are going against high tides, our boat speed was slowed. About 3 pm we reached Pakhiralaya spot. The whole day journey to reach the jungle resort island made us tired. We are expecting lots of pakhi (birds) would on site. Inspire a hanging and almost broken stairs from jetty chat welcomed us there. Cemented stairs from jetty also tilted onside. You need have a great balancing power to reach the bank while using this jetty ghat
This is a beautiful island just close to Sajnekhali Island. Most of boats from Gosaba, Godkhali, and Dhamakhali take halt here before starting jungle cruise. When we walked in the village market of Pakhiralaya , it was 5 PM. From jetty Ghat , we could see the distant view of Sajnekhali. In fact, it is opposite of the river. In Pakhiralaya Island, we checked 2-3 hotels for the night stay. Finally, we selected Hotel Mangrove Inn. We booked a 18 bed dormitory for night stay. It was really a very nice dormitory with ample space and 4 toilets. Food counter were located in opposite lawn in the garden. In fact, this my first experience to stay at dormitory. All families were sharing fears and fun together about tomorrow’s jungle adventure. We went bed early for regaining full energy for tomorrow’s day long cruise deep inside the jungle.
Sundarban Trip #3: Journey to deep forest in Sajnekhali Island
Next day morning, we get up early; boat is waiting in the river. After tea break at hotel we headed towards jetty ghat at 8 am morning. In the morning, we could see a clear view of Sajnekhali Island from Pakhiralaya jetty ghat. We will go to that destination first. Out launch started and anchored at Sajnekhali Island.
From here we entered into the tiger reserve forest. Our guide obtained pass for all members from here. Before venturing into jungle, we have to take pass from forest department here. The famous Sajnekhali tourist lodge located here. But you have to book in advance. Our boat anchored in a protected jetty ghat. Nobody lives on this island outside this protected area except wild beasts. Inside the forest office, you we have seen Mangrove Interpretation center. Crocodile pond, Bonobibi temple, and wild lizards pond.
Normally, forest office charges 30 per head for park visit. But for one day pass per boat, entry fees are included. I enjoyed mangrove concentration center. Tale a photo of all types of mangroves as this will help me to identify mangroves deep inside the jungle. Park is open till 4 pm evening. After 30 minutes stay at Sajnekhali Island , we boarded on boat for next spot Sudhanyakhali.
Sundarban Trip #4: Sajnekhali Island to Sudhanyakhali journey
Standing at Sajnekhali ferry ghat, we could see distant view of Pakhiralaya. Boat driver told us that sometime tigers swim this river to reach the other side of villages. We again boarded on the boat and finished our breakfast on the deck. Boat started sailing for Sudhanyakhali camp. After 15 min drive, we reached the core area of forest. Now we are sailing along the Vidya Rivers. Both sides of the river are covered with dense forest. We could see different types of mangroves on the left bank. Our boat is keeping 20 ft distance from the border line of deep jungle. We now can see many infamous creeks entering into the deep forest. Entry paths of those creeks are covered with nets so that fishing boats cannot enter into deep jungle for crabs and honeys. If lucks favors, we can see the glimpse of tigers at the swampy river bank.
On the river bank near the jungle, we observed board indicated name Pirkhali, driver informed we are now leaving main stream of vidya river and take left side tributary to reach Sudhanyakhali . Now real thrill has been starts. Here jungles on both sides come close to our boats. Rivers is not wide here. We see many types of mangroves both side. Notably golapata, sundhari, Goran all covered both river banks. We observed many big fruits are hanging from trees. But, could not identify what type of trees these are. All lady members came on front deck; all are enjoying mild sun burn on the deck. They started antakshari on board. Boat is meandering through tributary. I was on front deck reading local book about Bonobibi and local folklore.
Tea was served on board. I was reading history of Bono bibi, Dakhin Roy, and Maajonghi. It was an awesome experience to read local history while sipping tea and watching deep forest in both sides of the boat are crossing by. Suddenly, our boat stops near a creek. I wondered what happened. Guide whisper “sir, just look through the creek. We saw small team of dears grazing on the land inside jungle. We stopped there and suddenly they departed that place. We saw some undulation of tree tops on the backs. Guide hinted driver to start boat and take it to the mid river. Later guide informed that there might be wild beast around. Since river is narrow, it better to maintain safe distance from riverbank.
I felt unlucky as we could have stayed there to see a tiger to kill his pray. However, guide advised to maintain safe distance for safety. This is very popular place for tigers watching.
We reached Sudhanyakhali after 1 hour boating. We observed a old ship anchored in this place, it may be a victim of infamous Aila storm that ravaged Sundenban delta few years back.. There is a watch tower and observed a panoramic views of mangroves all around , narrow stretches of creeks, and deep forests. In this place, Forrest office nicely presented various mangroves plantation with proper labeling. We stayed there for 30 minutes. While retiring to jetty ghat we paid our tribute to Bonbibi darga.
Sundarban Trip #5: Journey to Dobanki
After Sudhanyakhali , our boat took the main journey through core jungle area in Sunderban. Driver informed it take another 1-2 hours journey to reach Dobanki camp. Our boat took more narrow path of a tributary. Jungle on both sides comes close to our boat. We keep our eye open for looking beasts on the river bank. This area is really dreadful dense forest and uncanny silence on both sides make nerve alert for any possible darshan of wild beasts nearby on the river bank.
In sunderban, there is a popular saying, you me be looking for tiger on river bank or in jungle, but Dakhin roy (tiger) is watching you from deep jungle. Kids stopped playing now. All are anxiously waiting for some darshan of wild animal either in jungle or river bank or in river. I was standing on the front desk of boat. All of a sudden, our team manager Chiranjib silently pointed a swampy land see through the creek. Yes, we observed a big crocodile (about 2-3 meter long) taking rest in sunlight on the bank. Our boat stopped engine and went close to creek. Yes, I could see the giant crocodile taking sunbath on riverbank. We stopped sometime there. On the way we saw deer and wild hen. But we could not find any trace of Royal Bengal tiger.
On the both sides, we found various types of mangroves sharing the riverbank and water was covering the base of dense mangroves forests. After 20 minutes water journey we reached Dobanki camp. This is very popular tourist spot in the deep jungle. Boat left us on jetty connecting to the forest office on the land. Both side covered with iron mesh as this is located just deep inside the forest.
Canopy walk at Dobanki camp
Main attraction of this place is canopy walk through a 20 feet elevated path through the deep mangroves forests. After disembarking at jetty, we went to watch tower. From here you can have spectacular view of Sunderban deep forest. From the watch tower, we took elevated path covered with iron mesh. We could see food steps of many wild animals roaming near the path. Someone tells we may see tiger in this area coming for water in the morning or in evening time. But it was 2:00 PM pm. Hence no trace of tiger around. We all are stranding on an extended platform near path. On the bottom below 20 feet’s there is deep jungle. . All of asudden we heard a sound as someone smashing bushes nearby. We got curious, but we are feeling safe as we are inside mesh. Then suddenly we saw a big deer coming out of one side of jungle and quickly vanish in other side. That was really an awesome experience to see animal are roaming in deep jungle and we are inside a case to watch their lives.
We spent another 30 minutes there and moved to jetty ghat to board the launch. It was 2:30 PM by that time. Our next destination is Jharkhali.
Sundarban tour#6: Journey to Jharkhali
This place becomes increasingly popular among Sunderban tourist in the recent time. This is famous for 3 reasons. First, it is close to forest area. In fact, you get many boats to venture into islands deep inside the forests. Second, this is most famous for recently built tiger rehabilitation center. Forest department keep wounded tigers here for treatment and release them after necessary treatment . Third, it is very nice picnic spot just very close to hear of Sunderban jungle.
From Dobanki camp, our launch entered into a large river confluence. Here we could vast water body on both sides of our launch. It seems 2-3 rivers meet here. We were on our boat deck. We finished our lunch on the boat before disembarking on land. After 1 hours water journey, we reached Jharkhali around 300 pm. From the launch we could see distant view of tiger rehabilitation center, mangrove forests and watch tower protruding out of jungle top.
When reached jetty and observed local mela organized in the name of Bonbibi. Path connecting to jetty, covered with food stalls and are selling foods to travelers. Many boats from deep jungle islands stopped here with jungle tourists for tiger Darshan. Moreover, this is well connected with Kolkata and other places in Gosaba.
After some brisk walk along the fields which are used for cultivating different types of mangroves in sunderban, we reached a tiger rehabilitation center. Entry fees is RS 30 per head and open up to 4pm ( they sell ticket up to 4 pm) we entered the center and observed watch tower on the right side. It was closed then because of renovation work. We saw one big royal Bengal tiger which was taken here from forest for treatment few weeks back. In the whole day, we at last saw tiger of Sunderban. It was a vicarious feeling as this tiger is real tiger just taken from forest and would be released to forest soon. On the back side of tiger camp, we saw two forest bungalows for tourist. Kids from our team spend some times for rides in nearby park.
It was 5 pm by then and park was closed for visitors. We came out and moved to jetty for our return journey to pakhirala. It was sunset time. We were again on boat for return journey. Evening tea was served and we were observing sunset over the jungle.
Driver informed technical problems in our boat. Hence, we started late around 530 pm from jharkhali to our jungle destination pakhiralaya . Darkness already covered the river and nearby jungle area. It was Makar sankranti night. Cool breeze was flowing over the river. Jungle becomes more mystic. We are on the top deck of our boat. Moon would come appear in the sky soon. Driver told it would take 3 hours to reach pakhiralaya .
Both sides of the river were covered with deep jungle. Regular tourist boats were absent by then as we were late to start our boat due to technical problem in our boat. We started after sometime, when main driver informed that boat problem was rectified. So we gathered happily on the top deck of the boat in an adda mood with our co-driver and listening old folklore and historical narrative of jungle, tigers, and struggle of local people.
But, after few minutes journey, our boat got stranded on the river bed due to low tide. We had to spend fearful 2 hours on a stranded boat deep inside the forest. It was 8 pm night. Big moon declared her presence in sky. In the moon light deep jungle on both sides looked more romantic and equally dangerous. After some time, high tide came and we started our journey. When reached pakhiralaya, it was 10 pm night. Care taker of our hotel stood at jetty ghat and anxiously waiting for us. We foot onto jetty and be assured that we were safe. Our day long journey ended with a tasty dinner and finally went to bed safely. We tanked Bonbibi for ensuring our safety during this Sunderban trip.
We could not get change t o have look of tiger in jungle, perhaps, tiger was might be watching us through the narrow jungle creek. Watching tiger on river bank may be the next event in our next trip in sunderban.
Sunderban sightseeing and travel tips:
Sundarban tour guide: Some important information for travelers:
1) Best time to visit Sundarban: From September to March every year. In winter, there are greater chance of seeing tiger, crocodile and other animal on river bank. In September, weather would be more humid. But you can enjoy heavy current of rivers. It is better to avoid rainy season and summer time. In summer, there is always chance of facing Kalbaisakhi (local Strom). It is dangerous to venture into jungle through river path during this time.
2) How to reach Sundarban ?
You can reach Sunderban delta through various routes. We have reached Sunderban via Dhamakhali. But, it is better to reach core jungle via launch thorough Gosaba or Gadkhali. From these places, you can reach Sajnekhali by launch in 2-3 hours.
3) Where to stay in Sunderban ?
Based on my travel experience, I have found pakhiralaya is the best place to have night halt. There are about 35 different budget hotels in that location. We did not book our hotel in advance and it was Saturday night. Hence demand was peak. Still we managed to book our hotel there after checking 2-3 hotels. We stayed in Hotel Mangroves in and it is very close to pakhiralaya jetty chat. There is small market near jetty ghat. We did our evening shopping here. In fact, I always look for books shared local folklore and fables. This land is famous for Bonbibi. Hence, I grabbed a copy of Bonbibi upkhaan ( legend of Bonbibi) written by local author.
Again for hotels in pakhiralaya, I feel you can try your luck if reach here in non pick season.
4) Approximate budget for Sundarban tour
It depends on which travel agency you have chosen to visit there. We spent about INR 2500 per person for 2N/3D tour. It is very cheap as it was managed by our local friends group. This tour cost INR 4000 – 5000 if you book from outside agency.
Please check their itenary before booking the same. In fact, if you have about 20 members in your team, you can arrange your personal trip by hiring boat and cooking facility from local market.
5) Some myths and facts about Sunderban tiger and sunderban tour
Sundarban tiger facts
Some interesting facts you should know about Sundarban tiger while you meandering though deep jungle creeks for quick meet up with tiger.
When you cruising through treacherous creeks in Sundarban, you keep yourself alerted for possible darshan of dakhin roy (local name of sunderban tiger). But, what is the best time to get darshan (visit) of a tiger?
I have shared some facts of Sunderban tiger, especially their habit and daily touring activities. Here are some interesting facts
1) Sundarban tiger moves 4.6 km per day.
2) Home range popularly designated by the area where tigers catch their preys is 57 sqr km (female tiger) to 110 sqr km .( for male tiger)
3) Peak activity of tiger. In Sundarban, tigers are very active during morning I.e. from 5 am to 10 am. Hence , you are peeing into deep mangrove forests near hetal tree or sundari trees during this time. There is good chance to get welcomed by tiger. So be careful this time. When we visited Sundarban, we knew that we could see tiger in the evening or night. But in night tigers to to bed after day long marathon. Hence, most of reports of tiger attack in sunderban happened between 7 am and noon.
Sunderban tigers prey base mainly consists of deer. Deers are diurnal in nature. That forces tigers to hunt preys in morning. Hence, tigers are very active in morning. However, tigers in Russia and in other part of SE Asia are nocturnal in nature as prey base are very active in night.
4) Though tigers are good swimmers, still they are reluctant to cross big channel or rivers. Tigers in swampy forest like Sundarban cross about 5 channels or creek per day. In fact, in Sunderban preys are so abundant, a tiger , can satisfy its hunger after few hours of strolling.
( source, public library of science journal. 2017) reported in times of India.
How to reach Sundarban from Kolkata
There are many ways you can reach sunderban. I have found many questions raised online about route information for reaching sunderban
A) Reaching Sundarban from Sealdah
Sealdah is the second most busy train terminal in Kolkata. From Sealdah many trains run up to canning, the last railway station near Sundarban. Every one hour you get Sealdah-Canning local to reach canning station. From here, you can take bus , auto to reach various islands near Sundraban’s core jungle area. Best way to reach these islands just take bus or auto for either Dhamakhali, Gosaba, Godkhali.
Canning to Dhamakhali : you can reach Dhamakhali from canning by auto or bus. It is a 28 km journey on road and you can take either bus or auto to reach Dhamakhali. Just come out from Canning Railway station, you can get bus from main road connected to station. You can ask anyone for bus direction. In the morning, you get 2-3 buss from Canning Railway station for Dhamakhali.
However, if you like to avail shared auto, then you need to walk at least 200 metre towards Matla bridge to reach auto stand. They talk about 10 people per auto. Charges 30 rs per head for 28 km journey. If you get sitting place in bus, better you avail that as the last 18 km road near Dhamakhali is really very bad. Plan your journey accordingly. From here you can reach Pakhirala in 4-5 hours.
Canning to Gosaba : This route is good. From here you can reach Pakhirala in 2-3 hours by boat. You can plenty of buses and shared autos to reach Gosaba.
Canning to Gadkhali : this very nice route. Road condition is very good. From here pakhirala is also 2-3 hours boat journey. We booked auto from this place while returning to canning station. The whole auto can charge rs 400. -600 for booking.
I strongly suggest to avail this route to reach Sundarban from canning station.
B) Reaching Sundarban from Howrah : if you reach Howrah railway station, from there you can take bus or taxi to reach Sealdah station. From Sealdah you take local trains to reach Canning station.
C) Outside Bengal: if you are coming from the rest part of India outside Bengal. Then you can take trains to reach either Sealdah or Howrah station. Once you reach there, you can take trains for Canning and follow the directions mentioned above.
By Air) Nearest airport in Kolkata is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose international airport (Dum Dum Ariport). From here you can take cab to reach Sonakhali, Canning, Namkhana, Raidighi. From here can access waterways to reach sunderban jungle.
D) Bus routes for Sundarban:
From barasat : if you like to catch bus from Barasat, Airport, VIP road or Ultadanga , you get Barasat Dhamakhali state transport bus to reach Dhamakhali. From there you get launch to reach the heart of sunderban delta. Again, this is a long road journey.
From Husnabad : few boats are plying between Sundarban and Husnabad route via Ichamati river. But I am not sure how much time they take to reach popular tourist destinations in sunderban.
By bus from Calcutta city : many buses are plying on a daily basis between Kolkata ( K. C. Das at Esplanade) and Sonakhali port near Sunderban.
In my opinion, train journey is comfortable to reach SundArban from Kolkata.