Sundarbans Safari Tips: Tiger Wildlife Tour Planning Guide

This travel blog on Sundarbans covers all the aspects of Sundarbans traveling. From how to reach Sundarbans from Kolkata to Boating safari tips to Sundarbans Eco villages to Sundarbans Night safari experiences.

Journey from Kolkata to Sundarbans can be divided into three parts:

  1. Kolkata to Godkhali (Last place which can be reached by a bus), 110 kms
  2. Godkhali to Gosaba island by boat, 2-3 kms
  3. Gosaba island to Jotirampur village, 5 kms
  4. Jotirampur village to Eco village, Satjalia, 2 kms

Sundarbans (35)

Planning my Sundarbans journey:

Personally, I don’t like and believe in organized tours. I believe more in exploring a place on my own. Before planning a trip to Sundarbans, I started surfing about the Sundarbans stay, safari, food, permission etc. over internet. I went through a lot of websites with plethora of informations. Still, I was not sure if I would be able to make the trip on my own because of the following reasons:

  • Reaching Sundarbans from Kolkata needs break journeys and local places information.
  • Accomodation, forest department permission, food, safari arrangement needs more attention from one.
  • There are tour organizers in Kolkata with cheaper and affordable arrangement.

So, finally I booked a tour with TourDeSundarbans for staying into eco villages. The journey from Kolkata to Sundarbans eco villages can be divided into four parts as below:

From Kolkata to Godkhali:

Godkhali is the last approachable place by bus from Kolkata. After that one has to use boats to travel across the islands and thus to reach Sundarbans. There are regular buses available from Kolkata to Godkhali which take 3-4 hours over the distance of 110 kms.

As soon as I left Kolkata, more of rural Bengal began. Every house, small or big, concrete or thatched, is accompanied with a fish pond. Even in paddy fields, there are fish ponds. People even make fish ponds in middle of a small canal or rivulet. In short, there are fish ponds everywhere.

Due  to higher population density, there are people everywhere, on the streets, roadside, riding bicycles, working in the fish ponds, selling vegetable etc. Due to higher amount of rainfall and paddy fields all around, there is much greenery everywhere. People are nice and gentle though their voice pitch/ tempo would be high while talking. The whole journey is more like driving through rural India once Kolkata is left behind.

Godkhali to Gosaba island

Once you get down at the Godkhali bus stand, you will have to walk to the boat point and take a boat to the Gosaba island. Car or bus has to be parked here only at near the bus stand. Gosaba island is the biggest and the last inhabitated island towards Sundarbans. Even being an island, it has its own self-governance, hosital, roads, market, banks, school etc. You can buy fruits, mosquito coil, coffee, snacks on this island at regular rate.

People use boats to cross from one to another island in Sundarbans

Gosaba island to Jotirampur (Another end of the island):

But to reach Sundarbans, one has to cross the length of the Gosaba island. There are was a local transport, motorcycle rickshaw, arranged for us to cross the island. It took us almost half an hour of bumpy ride to reach to the another end of the island. From the another end of the island, one can see the green mangroves of the Sundarbans across the channels of the water.

Jotirampur to Eco village, Satjelia:

From Jotirampur, we boarded pre-arranged cruise boats to reach to the Eco village which was the base of our Sundarbans tour. Eco village was situated near a village called Satjelia. These villages have got their names as eco villages because they are purely eco-friendly in nature.

Solar energy is used for the power which is available to ther user from 10 in the night until 6 in the morning. The Eco village was situated just beside a big river. It was a perfect place for the sunset. It was very calm at the bank of the river.

Mud Huts, Sundarbans Eco village

Sundarbans Safari Guide:

Sundarbans wildlife safari is unqiue in its own because of the following reasons:

  1. Unlike other wildlife safaris, Sundarbans safari is not a land safari. It’s a boat ride or a ship cruise.
  2. During safari, a boat or a ship roams through the various backwaters channels of Sundarbans for hours.
  3. The safari usually starts in the morning and ends by evening. Thus, making Sundarbans safari as one of the longest safaris.

There are a few factors which increase the chances of seeing more of a wildlife and tiger during a safari.

  1. Backwaters of Sundarbans form rivers, canals, coves and creeks. Chances of seeing a tiger are more near the
    creeks than rivers.
  2. Sundarbans experience a unique phenomenon of tides. During high tides, mangroves along the channels of
    backwaters receive more incoming water and water level rises. Thus pushing the wlidlife more inwards into the core
    forest. So, wildlife safari at Sundarbans during high tides might not be a good idea.
  3. Most of the wild animals follow certain pattern in their daily lives. few of the reserve sub forests of Sundarbans like
    Sajnekhali maintains the record of when and at what time, how many tigers were seen at what places. If you can
    follow their timings and be there at those places, you might get luckier too to see a tiger.
  4. There are watch towers and sweet water ponds too where tiger of other wildlife animals regularly keep coming.
    Spend some hours at those places with patience. You can see a tiger as well.
  5. Making a lot of noises might shy away the tiger, so try to maintain a calm environment and contain the excitement.
  6. Carry a binocular. Trust me, Its nice to see the migratory birds which are colorful and of different sizes.
  7. Try not to plan the safari during the peak season. During peak seasons, There are lot of ships cruising and making
    noises in the channels of water which reduces the chances of seeing a tiger.
  8. Heavy rains and monsoon dampen the chances of seeing a tiger. So, avoid monsoons if you are planning a trip to
    Sundarbans.
  9. Also avoid peak tourist season of Sundarbans which is winter. Summer could be the best chance to spot a tiger.

Sundarbans Day Safari Schedule & Experience:

Wildlife safari starts in the morning with the sunrise in Sundarbans. Our day started around 06.30 in the morning. Our ship named “Elmaar” set off from Eco village and our first destination was the forest range office of Sundarbans. There, our organizer, took the permission for jungle wildlife safari and we were given a guide.

The guide was a Sundarban native and he had his own story to tell. Most of the members of his family were attacked by the tigers during fishing and honey collection in the Sundarbans. He had been working as a tourist guide for past 14 years. A few facts those were told to us about tigers by our guide are:

  1. Tiger in local language, Bangla, is called “Bagh”. A tiger is so quick in attacking that fishermen or the local would not even be able to pronunce the full name of a tiger in local language. They just would pronunce “Baaa….” and the attack happened.
  2. Within a year, the tiger crossed his village and took away animals like calf, cows and buffaloes not lesser than 35
    times.
  3. A tiger maintain a territory of their own and the same territory is shared by as many as three tigress.
  4. A tiger is very peculiar about cubs from other tigers. Thus, sometimes a tiger would kill the cubs those are not his
    owns.
  5. To avoid the peril of her cubs, usually a tigress would raise the cubs on other islands. So, after giving births to the
    cubs, a tigress would swim across the river as many times as number of her cubs to locate them at a safe location on
    different island.
  6. Sometimes, a tigress while crossing the river would miss the straight line in the flow of the river. Since the tigress
    has not a strong spatial cognitive sense as humans, a tigress would return from the middle of the river and give a retry
    until she crosses the river in a straight line and reaches her destination on the other island.
  7. A tiger/ tigress swims very fast in the water and some times with in five minutes, they can swim across a river which would take ten minutes for a boat to cross across.
  8. There is a goddess called “banobibi” means Goddess of the Jungle. She is worshipped by all the fishermen and
    honey collectors before they set out for the fishing and honey collection.
  9. A tiger usually attacks from behind at the neck. So, to avoid the tiger attacks and fool the tiger, fishermen used to
    wear at back of their heads. Still, the tiger was quick to recognize that and that trick could not work for so long.
  10. A ship not boat is preferred for safari because a tiger can’t jump to the height of a ship from water.
Also Read:  Mussoorie Trip With HardyHawks Adventures

After taking the permission, we were served breakfast. Poori, Sabji and pudding cooked in local flavours. The ship had gained some speed and we were going to enter reserve forests. To me, whole of the Sundarbans just looked like a
dense mangrove forest. I could hardly spot anything except the flying birds or birds sitting on logs in middle of the river.

But to my surprise, for the guide, spotting a bird sitting amid dense leaves, a crocodile lying camouflaged on the muds was just a cakewalk. We used binoculars and were always on alert. The guide would keep talking to us. Then, he will look to the shore and in the mangroves and after a min or two, he would just ask us to take a deep look and spot the wildlife. It would take us more than a min to spot the same. Some won’t even notice that.

That day was very hot. Since that was not the peak season of Sundarbans, there were very few tour ships cruising
on the green backwaters. Towards the core region of the Sundarbans, backwaters were greener, cleaner and looked
more calm. It was so soothing to sit and stand at the bow of the boat looking at the water getting displaced from the
boat. I also went at the stem of the boat and it was nice to see the parts of the Sundarbans left behind. After a long
time, I saw another ship roaming around for a glimpse of a tiger.

Until lunch we witnessed a lot of wildlife like Kingfisher, great egret, wild boar, flameback, woodpecker, storks,
wearver, sparrow, parrots, eagles and a lot more. Intially, I was little dejected not to see so much of wildlife but as we
started going deeper into the reserve forests, birds were so common to watch. Our guide was carrying a book about
the birds of Indian Subcontinent and it was so doscovering to see a bird and know about the same referring through the book.

We had enough of Bird watching. Just before the lunch we went to Sajnekhali watch tower to try our luck if we could
spot a tiger. Sajnekhali has a watch tower near a sweet water pond. Wildlife animals come there to quench their thrists in the summer. We spent some time at the watch tower. We could see a herd of spotted dears, jungle fowls from the watch tower. That day was the first day in my life when I was able to differentiate a male deer from a female one.

We, soon returned to the ship and that was time for lunch. Our lunch was served at the ship. Reliquishing the lunch
over turquoise water of sundarbans in deep mangrove forest was really a mesmerizing experience. I can’t deny that I
had not have that kind of big and royal lunch ever before on a tour. I was served almost 8-10 dishes and all were
cooked so well to lick fingers. The best part was the fish. I ate 5 of them and still I felt hungry.

After the lunch, most of us felt lazy because of the heavy lunch. The excitement level had dropped down. People had
stopped paying attention to the birds. Wild boar, crocodiles, spotted deers were a regular sight now.

Sundarbans Safari factors:

There are a few factors which increase the chances of seeing more of a wildlife and tiger during a safari.

  1. Backwaters of Sundarbans form rivers, canals, coves and creeks. Chances of seeing a tiger are more near the creeks than rivers.
  2. Sundarbans experience a unique phenomenon of tides. During high tides, mangroves along the channels of backwaters receive more incoming water and water level rises. Thus pushing the wlidlife more inwards into the core forest. So, wildlife safari at Sundarbans during high tides might not be a good idea.
  3. Most of the wild animals follow certain pattern in their daily lives. few of the reserve sub forests of Sundarbans like Sajnekhali maintains the record of when and at what time, how many tigers were seen at what places. If you can follow their timings and be there at those places, you might get luckier too to see a tiger.
  4. There are watch towers and sweet water ponds too where tiger of other wildlife animals regularly keep coming. Spend some hours at those places with patience. You can see a tiger as well.

sundarbans tiger swimming

  1. Making a lot of noises might shy away the tiger, so try to maintain a calm environment and contain the excitement.
  2. Carry a binocular. Trust me, Its nice to see the migratory birds which are colorful and of different sizes.
  3. Try not to plan the safari during the peak season. During peak seasons, There are lot of ships cruising and making noises in the channels of water which reduces the chances of seeing a tiger.
  4. Heavy rains and monsoon dampen the chances of seeing a tiger. So, avoid monsoons if you are planning a trip to Sundarbans.
  5. Also avoid peak tourist season of Sundarbans which is winter. Summer could be the best chance to spot a tiger.

Sundarban Eco Villages & Bengali Food Experience:

As the name suggests, eco villages are a kind of resorts cum cottages cum huts with adequate amount of luxuries and to let a visitor have a nice experience.

Eco village area:

Eco village is made over two acres of land just beside the backwaters. It has around 17 mud huts or cottages which includes double, triple and four bedded bedrooms. Mud huts are made up of alluvial soil of the Sundarbans. Alluvial soils are brought by the distributaries of Sundarbans river in their last course of lifetime.

Besides huts, due to high amount of silt, this soil is also perfect for paddy farming and making bricks etc. Paddy production is high because alluvial soils are rich in nutrients.

Village area around Eco village

Eco village as a whole:

  • Mud huts: made up of local alluvial soil and local materials
  • Ponds for fish farming: same fishes are served in dinner or over lunch and guests can take a dip too. However, do not expect too much from the ponds.
  • A community center: for watching local folk music in the evening
  • An open dining hall and kitchen: where tourist guests can see their meal being prepared in local falvour by local women and have dinner/ lunch under open thatched huts
  • Vegetable farms: farms are used to grow fresh vegetables
  • Solar panels: since there is no electricity, solar panels are used to light the eco village from ten in the night until six in the morning along with lanterns and oil lamps
  • Fresh drinking water facility: since Sundarbans has salty waters.
  • Authentic Bengali meals: meals are prepared in authentic Bengali style by local women. Try fish, they are expert in making good cooked fish.
Also Read:  Mandalpatti Travel Guide, Madikeri, Karnataka

Eco village, Sundarbans

Mud huts at eco village:

  • A big nice cozy and clean bed
  • Tiled floor for hygeine
  • Marbled toilets and bathroom: since the only source of underground water is Sundarbans backwaters, the water is saline and the same water is supplied in the bathroom
  • Lantern and solar lights and fans: solar lights and fans run from ten in the night until six in the morning making the stay more comfortable
  • Mosquito net: mosquitoes lay their eggs more around water. mosquito net really save the night.

Mud Huts, Sundarbans Eco village

 Food at eco village:

Personally I liked the meals be it lunch or dinner veru much. They cook fish/ mutton/ chicken in pure Bengali authentic way. That serves great to our taste because of the taste change and local food flavours. There is no boundation in services and fresh water is also available for drinking.

Authentic Bengali food at Eco village, Sundarbans

Around eco village:

  • Eco village is situated at the bank of backwaters
  • Sunset is really vivid and the ambience  is serene. Only noises which you hear are of birds, ships, waves of backwaters
  • There is another village behind the eco village. Tourists can take a walk and get to know the local lifestyle of the people living on the sundarbans islands
  • Eco villages are excellent for bird watching, photography, reading novels, spending lonely times, watching sunset etc.

village near eco village sundarbans

Sundarban Night Safari & Phytoplanktons Experience:

At first day of our stay, it was decided that we will go for night safari in the backwaters and through the creeks of
Sundarbans. I really wondered what possibly could we see on a night safari. On top of that sailing through the narrow creeks in an open boat made us more vulnerable to wild attacks.

It was well beyond eleven in the night. We, in a bunch of around 8-10 people, set out for the night safari quietly on the backwaters of Sundarbans. There were mainly two reasons a ship was not chosen for the night safari. First, the engine sound would have greater echoed repercussions at quiet night which was disturbing to the wild life. Secondly, it was impossible to sail a ship through the narrow creeks.

Boat safari and the night at Sundarbans:

It was a moon night. There were no traces of light anywhere except the dimly lit horizon. We all sat on the boat
maintaining the balance. Before the boat left the bank, we were given some instructions.

No matter what happens. Do not ever leave the boat or jump into the water. Do not make any noise. Sit peaceful as if you were already a part of the wild world, not a guest.

Dimly lit horizon at Sundarbans

Dimly lit horizon at Sundarbans

The boat man, pushed the muds with a long bamboo and with a soft nudge and light splash we were sailing on the
backwaters of Sundarbans on the new moon night. I have been to many treks in the western Ghats. Many a times, I have spent lonely nights sitting outside my tent beside the campfire when everyone would sleep.

But, I never experienced the kind of silence that i was experiencing sitting on the boat sailing slowly over the water. At the peaks, flapping raincovers or tarps in the high winds or crinkling burning woods always pushed aside the silence.

The sky was studded with the twinkling stars. a quarter of the moon was shining to our left. There was a big golden
halo around the moon. Whole Farther the stars were from moon, brighter they looked. The sky appeared like a slowly swaying dark silver blanket with a handful of mica spread all over.

Wherever I saw, my eyes reflected a twinkling star from the sky. Visibility was limited to a few feets. It would have been harder to percept the spatial position, had not been there a dimly lit horizon in the background. We were almost in the middle of the river. We had started to feel the cold breezes. There would be a splash sound at regular intervals when the boatman pushed the boat with a long bamboo.

Boating at night safari, Sundarbans

Boating at night safari, Sundarbans

After sometime, it was evident from the solar light of the eco village burning dimly at the bank we had set off that we
were almost in the middle of the river. From one side, forests appearing black in the foreground of dimly lit horizon were apparoaching us and another side which housed our stay was lazily floating away.

Once deep turquoise during day, water wore the filmsy golden layer under the moon light. The reflected moon appeared like a light-weight golden disc skiming over the ripples and gradually moving along with the boat at the same time. Each of the ripples carried a part of the reflection.

They all combined to give a bigger shaking reflection of the moon on the water.  Engulfed in silence, our gaze was fixed on the other side of the river. We sat like a bunch of statues without any
movement at all.

Narrow creeks of Sundarbans:

We take a narrow creek from here,” It was the organizer’s voice breaking away the silence.

We were almost at the other side of the river. Far villages and faded lamps could be seen from there. We left the main
steam and our boat creeped left into a creek. That was narrow, dense and darker. The boatman who was standing
while crossing the river, was now sitting and rowing the boat at the slow pace.

The moon was shining mild at our back. Someone sitting at the front lit the flash light on the instruction of the boatman. We were just checking if that was a high tide or low tide. During high tide, the water level rises and the flow of the water goes from river into the creeks.

So, it becomes easier to go further deeper into the creeks during high tide. I could imagine how harder would that be to go deeper during the low tides when the scantier water could not support a heavy boat.

The lit flash light fell over the water. The water looked yellowish and murky. It was the same water which looked deep turquoise during the day. The reality was burning under the lights. But that was a high tide and that meant we could go deeper and futher.

Guys, it could be a tree crab. So please be careful if something falls over you,” we were warned.

I didn’t know what a tree crab looked like and was neither in a mood to know either. Hanging branches from the
mangroves trees made it difficult to sit straight. Everyone was either covering their faces with their hands to avoid
being hit by a tree branch or trying to hide behind the person sitting at their front. In these circumstances, rowing a boat at nice pace was almost close to impossible. Moreover, there were sharp turns and twists. The boat, sometimes, came to stand still while on turns.

Also Read:  Pondicherry: Chunnambar backwaters Boating & Paradise beach

Boating on a dark night on Sundarbans backwaters:

Some of us turned on their mobile lights or flash lights. However, there was no much success in seeing except for a
few feet. Anything which resembled a round shining object, always reminded me of tiger’s shining eyes under the light. Later, I realized that I was making a fool of myself when I saw just a single shining object.

The probability of finding an one-eyed tiger was lesser. So, I decided not to get scared of single shining object. Later I also assured myself to not to get scared of even a pair of shining objects if they are not moving in a pair, close to each other.

After sometime, I got my breathings back. I was comfortable. I also switched on my flash lights. It was first time, I was seeing mangrove’s swampy lands from so close. Wet alluvial soil looked charcoal color in the dark, almost like the color of a wet grey charcoal.

Opposite to my thoughts, swamps were full of breathing roots of mangrove trees. That’s what I had always imagined of typical sundarbans- swamps covered with mangroves; dense creeks with trees’hanging breanches; murky waters touching the banks and breathing roots filling up the swamps like dead roots of a tree. But those also formed a perfect vantage point for a tiger to take the leap of death for us.

Sundarbans Mangroves at night

Sundarbans Mangroves & living roots at night

Lost in my thoughts while looking blank at the small portion of the mud lit by my flash, I was sitting awestuck. I felt
nothing at all. Everything around me had suddenly vanished in the dark air around me. I was feeling no cold and no
warmth. Flash lights in our hands were like magic wands propelling away the darkness in the maze of creeks, just
sufficient enough. Part of the forests yet to be rowed through had opened their mouth like dark monsters and part of the forests we already had rowed through appeared like zombies waking up from their graves.

Too true to be believed, there was no check on time. Everyone was just lost in their world. Everyone must had felt
together yet alone from inside. The amount of dreamy adventure I was going through was even more than my
imagination. It was hard to contain the emotions inside when I had to sit silent.

Finally came a point from where no further rowing was possible and we had to retract. It took sometime to the boatman to turn the boat around in a narrow creek. Now, we were facing the moon. Venturing into the dark adventure had come to an end.

Even though it was almost the same amount of darkness, still everyone felt relieved for some unknown reason. Epochs while venturing into the dark had trimmed down to a few minutes while returning. As we had started to return, I started hearing some breathings then little murmur too.

As we approached nearer to the river and when the dark mangroves were standing a few meters away, I felt like I had returned to a safer zone. And then, the murmur turned into chitchats and within no time into loud conversations. Our boat was not lesser than a war zone returning fleet. Everyone had their own story to share.

Returning to eco village from night safari, Sundarbans

Returning to eco village from night safari, Sundarbans

The boatmen, I would say the frontiers, looked the most relieved person. He lit a cigarette as soon as the boat had
landed into a safe zone. It was harder to recon which luck had more worth: Feeling lucky not to see a tiger from so
close or feeling unlucky not to see a tiger in the dark?

There were certainly two worlds. Where we were then was peaceful almost like a dreamy world and the one we then had left behind was too scary to even remember. It surely gave me goosebumps. However, everyone felt relieved.

We were back in the golden backwaters glazing under the moon light. Darkness still prevailed. The boatman sailed the boat with an oar. Until then, I didn’t know that Sundarbans were also known for the phytoplanktons in the water. Distant solar light of our eco village was hazy at the other bank.

The Phytoplanktons of Sundarbans:

I was sitting at one of the ends.

“Guys! see the phytoplanktons but do not put your hands inside the water,” said the organizer.

He churned the water a bit and there was a cold firework over the water. There were a thousand sparkles at the moment and they died off very fast too. For the first few times, I could not believe my eyes. I was trying to reason myself that what I saw was true but my mind refused to accept that.

Initially I thought those were the reflection of moon over the water. But after a few times, those sparkles over the water looked like a small fireworks. That really was sparkling water. people will churn the water and phytoplanktons will sparkle for a very short moment. That was so amazing to see and reminded me off the movie “Life of Pi”.

Phytoplanktons at night, Source-internet

Phytoplanktons at night, Source-internet

After alsmost half an hour, we were back into the mud hut to sleep after a night safari which was too aweful  to forget in  lifetime.

Sundarban latest news on Houseboat:

West Bengal tourism is coming up with the idea of Sundarban Houseboat like houseboat in Kerala. This news has come after the inclusion of houseboats at Pondicherry backwaters. Looks like all the state tourism are following the footsteps of Kerala in terms of houseboats.

Sundarbans is famous for serene backwaters canal and a labyrinth of rivers merging in Sundarbans. Beside these backwaters, there are chances of sighting the tigers, mangroves and wildlife like Kingfisher bird, macaque monkey, deer, eagle, crocodile etc. in the indo-gigantic plain.

Sundarban houseboat

According to the Department of Tourism, Govt of West Bengal, the Suburban houseboat would comprise of two-bed rooms with attached bath and toilet facilities along with a conference room with sitting arrangements for 20 persons. The West Bengal tourism is working over identifying the new places for houseboats existing tourism spots.

WBTDC is going to procure eight houseboats for the Sunderban. These houseboats would be maintenance free as those will be fibre reinforced plastic. These houseboats facilities will be launched at the different places in the Sunderbans. Besides Sundarbans, they will also be launched in the creeks of the Hooghly river in East Midnapore district. West Bengal government is paying more attention to tourism these days. These tourism are mostly based upon the backwaters tourism.

These days West Bengal tourism department is doing a lot in making tourism more attractive in West Bengal. The news of inclusion of houseboats at Sundarban is the third major news after the news of Eco-Tourism coming up at Nayachar Island and Nandigram and Digha to be the Next tourist destination in West Bengal.

apart from the bedrooms and toilets, there will also be a facility of a bar, kitchen, restaurant, lounge and four bedded rooms. There will also be an open space available on the deck of the houseboat. These facilities are mostly, I think, to facilitate a visitor during Sundarban safari.

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About trekkerp

Author of The Girl from the Woods and a Travel writer from India looking forward to collect quirky tales from around the world

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