Mysterious, wild , magical, secluded, the Sundarbans has always twitched my curiosity but has eluded me. And yet this biodiversity hotspot is probably one of the most idyllic destinations in the world. Complex and heart wrenching and yet fascinating, the Sundarbans is home to some of the endangered and endemic flora and fauna, including the Bengal Tiger. The Sundarban Tiger Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site while the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve is an ecological and a biodiversity hotspot. However, ravaged by cyclones, the stories of the locals here will move you and we are not just talking about the Tiger Widows. There are many reasons to visit Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, the largest mangrove forest in the world and though I am unable to go just now, here is an opportunity that awaits you from Migrations, brought to you by my good friend Loveleen Multani Arun, an ace travel designer and an amazing traveller who has just returned from Sundarbans herself . She has designed this once in a lifetime experience with Keshav Arya of KFT Travel and it is absolutely mesmerising.
Largest mangrove eco-system in the world.
Imagine this for a moment. You are at one of the largest mangrove eco-systems in the world formed at the delta of three rivers – the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna as they end their course at the Bay of Bengal. A dense and tropical mix of open and closed mangrove forests, mudflats and coastal wetlands, channels of tidal streams and riverine islands – some uninhabited greet you. Silent and savage, the experience is surreal as you cruise along the largest mangrove forest in the world. And all this from the comfort of a small luxury river cruise ship, the only one of its kind in this part of the country .
Sundarbans take its name from the “ sundari” species of trees which is found aplenty in the Sundarbans mangrove forest. The wood is used to build homes and boats.. The predominant vegetation is more of the brackish water mixed forest and over 50 percent of the overall mangrove species can be found in the Sundarbans.
Endemic and endangered wildlife
There is the Bengal tiger swimming in the marshes which has unfortunately the dubious distinction of being a man eater. The Sundarban Tiger Reserve is home to over 100 Bengal Tigers today. But it is not the only wildlife in the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve. Dark and dense, the mangrove forests are along the coast, at the delta and the habitat is unique as it transforms from a marine to freshwater and a terrestrial ecosystem, supporting different species of flora and fauna.
Several predators lurk in the dark and dense undergrowth and amidst the serpentine network of branches and roots and labyrinth of channels. Crocodiles and snakes, leopard cats and jungle cats, spotted deer and wild boars are just some of the wild creatures to be found here.
There are over 280 species of birds, endemic and endangered in Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. Its where you can see the brown winged kingfisher and the black capped kingfisher among other species. You can also spot the lesser adjutant stork, brown fish owl, grey headed fishing eagle, pallas fish eagle among others.
The locals and their lives
People always make places and the inhabitants of Sunderban Mangrove Forests have their own stories to tell. There are several islands and only a few have been inhabited. And yet they grapple with both natural and wild tragedies and encounters. Plundered by cyclones and tsunamis, these men and women may come across as a resilient lot and yet the stories of the Tiger Widows are heart wrenching. Every day men and women go about their daily lives, unsure if a man eater will attack them or a cyclone will destroy them.
Climate change has unfortunately devastated the fragile ecosystem of the Sundarbans with cyclones and tsunamis destroying homes and habitats. And there are several NGOs working in these villages and these stories need to be told. You meet naturalists, conservationists and environmentalists who will share their perspectives as you delve deeper into the lives of the people and how they coexist and conflict with the wild.
There is nothing more nurturing and graceful than a river in full flow. And this experience is special as you learn about the river and cruising on the Ganges Voyager – a lovely lady with an open deck, shiny wooden floors, spacious cabins with views of the landscape . This is the one and only experience of a lifetime as its the only scheduled sailing of its kind. There is no other ship sailing right on the Ganges and into the Sunderbans. There are only country boats taking you on a river safari otherwise as you experience the largest mangrove forests in the world
You will travel in a small ship with very few people. Almost all of the common areas are open and airy. The Antara Cruise has enhanced protocols for safety in place with trained staff and extra stringent hygiene standards. You and your co-passengers will be boarding after a negative Covid Test so there is an extra layer of assurance
Tell the stories of Sunderbans to the world
This is not just a leisure luxury cruise. This is where luxury meets responsible travel, immersive experiences add to travel stories, tourism meets mindful travel and climate change and conservation adds to wildlife . Its not just about a beautiful landscape, but a habitat that is unique but is crying for attention.
The onus is on us – travellers, storytellers to tell the story of Sundarbans to the world . Sundarban Mangrove Forests are not easily accessible and there are secrets lost in the dense landscape. Most tourists just have a superficial experience by going by road and cruising on country boats and just getting a glimpse of the mangrove forests and wildlife, if they are lucky. But here is your chance to be a sustainable and a responsible traveller, forge deeper connections with the land and its people and understand how man and animals coexist in the wild nature,
This trip is safe, not only for you and your co-passengers but also for the local communities that you will visit. For more details visit Migrations organised by my good friends Loveleen Multani Arun and Sanjar Imam who manage Panache World, and Keshav Arya from KFT Travel who are travel designers and create magic with their travel itineraries. Go ahead and sail with them on this once in a lifetime experience.