The Sunderbans

A shroud of mystery and danger looms over the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove swamp in the world. This gloomy forest of baffling waterways stretches some 80km into the hinterland from the coast and its name translates into the ‘beautiful forest’, a misnomer if ever there were one. For most people, the Sundarbans is a horrifying matrix where, on average, a person is eaten every third day. To venture into this forest is to return to a primeval world of big trees and big creatures. It is one of the wildest and least known environments in all of southern Asia.

The Sundarbans begins about 5km southwest of Mongla along the Pusur River, and covers an area (split between Bangladesh and India, with the tiger’s share in Bangladesh), of about 10, 000 sq km, which is around half of what it was just 200 years ago. About one-third of the total area of this forest is covered in water – river channels, canals and tidal creeks varying in width from a few metres to a few kilometres. The land is constantly being reshaped by tidal action, and cyclones also wreak their havoc.

The ecological balance of these impenetrable forests is extremely delicate and influenced greatly by tidal shifts that affect the salinity, and hence the growth rates, of the surrounding vegetation. The eclectic inhabitants of the Sundarbans range from deer, pigs and crabs to the mighty Royal Bengal tiger. The Divisional Forestry Office supervises activities to protect the delicate ecological balance and botanists, zoologists, environmentalists and conservationists around the world keep eager eyes on this ecological repository.

The dry season, November to April, is the most popular season for visiting the Sundarbans.

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