Everything you will happen to see or come across in the wild mangrove forests of the Sundarbans will irresistibly draw you towards them. The dazzling expanse of green, the blue heaven overhead meeting the horizon, the playful high tide and the ebb, the very smell of life in the air and the pristine sea beach– you name it.
As if these won`t be enough– there`s the naive lifestyle of the fishermen and demanding way of works of the forest rangers. Or you could catch yourself a fun ride by a small boat, if you are inclined to having more adventure.
The starlit sky pierced by speeding meteors leaving dazzling light in its trail, that very celestial sight of the milky way in clear sky, the roaming of satellites or even the fireflies moving close by– all adds up to the adventure of a lifetime.
The eerie still of the forest shattered often by the chirping birds, deer and monkeys or roaring Royal Bengal Tigers can only be found in this part of the world close somewhat to civilization.
Just being there in a moonlit night can make you have the fascinating experience of being reborn– all over again. But it is impossible to travel in this dense, wild forest without organized assistance. A well- equipped vessel is what you need to get first to be able to swan around in this barren land ran through by rivers and rivulets. Better if you have a skilled tour operator to fall back on, who can guide you through the splendour of the Sundarbans.
The Sundarbans forest, the largest mangrove forest in the world is situated in the south-west corner of Bangladesh. The total area of the Sundarbans reserved forest including the West Bengal portion, comprises of 10,000 sq. km., of which Bangladesh portion is approximately 6000 sq.km., inclusive of new emerging islands. The area is divided into 55 administrative forest compartments by the Department of forest and environment , each with a land area of 40 to 160 sq.km and divided into several islands. There are three wildlife sanctuary areas ‘Kotka-Kachikhali Tiger point’, ‘Hironpoint’ and ‘Manderbaria’, number of unexplored natural beaches, innumerable rivers, canals and creeks in the Sundarbans forest, one third of which is water body making the waterways as the only means to enter the forest. It is famous as the habitat for its semi-aquatic tigers, popularly known as the Royal Bengal Tiger. It has a fair amount of spotted deer, wild boar, rhesus monkey, salt-water crocodile, water monitor lizard, pythons, etc. The forest treasures 330 plant species, 35 species of reptiles, 400 types of fishes, 270 species of birds and 42 species of mammals. The Bengal tiger, biggest of the cat family, plays a very important role in the forest ecology as well as in the rich mythology and legend.
The forest dwellers gradually developed a culture of their own, having an isolated life from the main stream, which expressed itself in many ways, peculiarly suited to the local forest ecosystem. There are some rituals and religious festivals observed in the Sundarbans. Annual fair in the Dubla island on the day of Raash Purnima is observed in the month of November. Borderline Hindu community , devotees from different parts of the country including India gather in the Dubla island to bathe and make offerings against a wish. And the forest product collectors engaged in various profession, before entering the forest had been paying homage to certain gods and deities whom they thought to be their saviours and protectors. Banabibi is very widely worshipped as their saviour.
The Sundarbans over the years attracts adventurous forest product collectors, hunters, nature and wildlife lovers, researchers, and tourists. To extract different forest products each group has a professional name, like the ‘Baolis’ ( timber, fuelwood, and thatching materials collectors), the ‘Jalias’ ( fishermen of both inland and offshore), ‘Moualis’ (the honey collectors), and ‘Jongrakhuta’ ( gastropod collectors), etc. Professions like fishing with the help of tame Otter, honey collection, etc., are unique of the area. Gathering wild honey in the wildness of the Sundarbans is among the oldest professions practiced by the dwellers of the area and still practiced in the traditional ways. Honey hunter’s community lives along the borderline of the western forests are mostly destitute day labourer, although they are descendents of their professional ancestors. Honey Hunting season continues for 3-months starting at the end March or beginning of the April every year.
The Sundarbans play an important role in the economy of the southwestern region of Bangladesh as well as in the national economy. It is the single largest source of forest produce in the country. The forest has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999.
SUNDARBANS AT A GLANCE
The Sundarbans, single largest chunk of productive mangrove forest in the world. Named after it’s commercially important tree SUNDARI, Sundarbans- means forests of Sundari trees. The mangrove resources of the Sundarbans comprise of forests, fisheries, wildlife and water. Due to its character it is always mysterious to the nature lover, scientists, researchers and tourists. The Sundarbans have been under some form of management since the 1860s and most of the forests were declared reserved forests in 1875 76. Four, out of the six Ranges created by Curtis are now in Bangladesh portion of the Sundarbans. A professional forester is now posted as the Ranger. A very detailed set of regulations is laid out which cover all financial matters in the Sundarbans. The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) is an authorized drawing and disbursement officer and as a result he can act as a Treasurer of the forest department.
Divisions: 02, East & West
Ranges: 04, Sarankhola, Chandpai, Khulna, Satkhira
Compartments: 55, Administrative sets
Main Rivers: Large and small tidal waterways providing opportunities for cruising and boating. Among the huge number of rivers Baleswar, Sela, Passur, Shibsha, Malancha, Raimongal & Kobadak are very important for the forest’s ecology.
Tidal Creeks: The water body of the forests contains a large number of tidal creeks, which are essential in navigating through the mangroves and are important factors in the drainage pattern of the forests.
Beaches: Unspoiled, wild & totally undeveloped sandy beaches throughout along the Bay of Bengal and around some islands.
Archaeology: Rare sites set in the forests and representing the oldest communities in this region. Shibsha temple is one of the historical and archeoligical evidence still declaring it’s former glory.
The forest treasures 330 plant species, 35 species of reptiles 400 types of finfishes, 270 species of birds and 42 species of mammals. This represents about 28% of the reptiles, 36% of the birds, and 33% of all mammals occurring in Bangladesh.
Common vegetation: Sundari, Kewra, Passur, Dhundul, Kakra, Gewa, Amur, Goran, Garjan, Kholshi, Bola, Hental, Nypa Palm, Tiger fern, Horgoza etc.
Common wildlife: The largest single population of the Bengal Tiger with spotted deer, wild-boar, rhesus monkey, monitor lizard, otter, gangetic dolphin, saltwater crocodiles, king cobra, Bengal cobra etc.
Common Birds: Migratory, local migratory & local birds consist the bird life of the Sundarbans about 270 species are so far recorded. The great white egret, lesser adjutant stork, white bellied sea eagle, kites, masked finfoot, kingfishers, drongos, bee-eaters, woodpeckers, paddy field pipit, red jungle fowl, etc. are commonly found.
Cuisine: Many different species of edible fish, prawns and crabs.
Tropical Climate: The four main seasons are pre-monsoon (March-May), monsoon (June-September), post-monsoon (October-November), and the dry winter season (December-February). The coolest temperature occurs during December-January and the warmest at the end of the dry season, during May-June.
Rainfall: Rainfall increases from west to east and the mean annual rainfall within the forest varies from about 2000mm in the east to 1600mm in the west.
Salinity: pH in river waters varies little. Three salinity zones were recognized for the entire Sundarbans by Curtis based on site quality. Accordingly Bangladesh Sundarbans is located in the freshwater and moderately saltwater zone while the Indian Sundarbans is in the saltwater zone.
Geology: The surface geology consists entirely of quaternary sediments, sand and silt, intercalated with marine salt and clay. The Sundarbans mangroves grow on soil formations of recent origin consisting of alluvium washed down from the Himalayas.
Economy: It is the single largest source of forest produce in the country. According to the forest department’s report the forest was producing about 45% of the total timber and fuel wood output from the forests of the country.
Profession: The forest department since the beginning of the 1990s has stopped commercial wood felling. Considerable changes have taken place in the socio-economic structure in the habitations around the Sundarbans. The possibilities of pursuing the traditional professions have been dwindling too. But still the Woodcutters, Honey collectors, Fishermen and Mollusk shell collectors survive. About 3.5 million people of the impact zone of the forest either directly or indirectly dependent on forest product.
Environment: Natural delta development cannot, therefore, be separated from human interventions, which have always been a part of this process. While natural phenomena such as subsidence and earthquakes and stochastic events like cyclones & tidal surges affect the costal system in many ways, their effects have been exacerbated by human activities.
Tourism: The Sundarbans is unique scientific and biological interest & offers opportunities for tourism, outdoor recreation, biological research and conservation education. Some areas in the forest have been earmarked as protected. No forestry operations are carried out in these areas, which support a rich concentration of wildlife as well as vegetation, which has not been disturbed for decades. The Sundarbans has excellent potential for tourism and if properly developed, this could be a major source of foreign exchange for the country.