Reaching Sunderban takes a bit more time than usual tourist places especially if you are based out of Kolkata. However, once you do reach, it is often difficult to come back to the urban madness. Such is the ephemeral beauty of Sunderbans National Park. Nothing but water and jungles, as far as you can see, this tribal town is a REAL Experience. Thankfully, commercialization hasn’t spoilt it much. You will witness simple rural life and beauteous Nature all around.
Travelling with my parents, sister and two toddlers – this was a family trip where we ditched our respective husbands and travelled for the sake of old times with parents, only addition being our toddlers. We choose to travel from Delhi to Kolkata in Rajdhani Express during winter vacation in December. And, that was the biggest mistake or I must say a #travelfail
The train journey was never ending. Thanks to hapless incapability of our beloved railways to manage fog, the train was delayed beyond sanity. Bathrooms became stinkier and food lesser – Khichdi was served in Rajdhani for there was no food left. Oblivious to all this, our kids kept jumping around like the new avatar of monkey to a point where we gave up on maintaining hyped standards of hygiene like sanitizing hands and keeping shoes when feet falls on ground. Thus, began our Nature trail experience.
Finally we reached Kolkata, took a quick freshening up break as we hadn’t bathed for last 3 days and got into car to begin travel from Kolkata to Sunderban. Passing through villages and a good amount of unexpected traffic, we were anxiously waiting for Sunderban, constantly cribbing on the side that we should have chosen a different destination like Goa where it just take a 2 hour flight to reach.
Finally on the ghats of Sunderban, we had to wait for a while in the sun amidst crowd before our boat arrived and we settled into it.
The Calming Breeze & Authentic Bengali Food – Perfect Combo
However, the moment the boat began to chug and we left the crowds behind, the moist cold air of the water caressed our skin, the expansive greens soothed our eyes – all the stress & tiredness of journey simply melted away in a jiffy. Add to it, soul satisfying authentic Bengali food cooked, presented and served with love on the boat itself – bhaat (rice), moong-r-dal ( lentils), macher-jhol (fish curry, fresh like caught right away), aloo jhuri bhaja ( fine potato fries) and aam chutney (mango and jiggery chutney).
For the next three days we were not only in Nature’s haven but also food heaven – prawns, baby crab, luchi, and varieties of fish & chutney – foodgasm at its best! The best thing is that they cooked everything in the boat so you can supervise, suggest or order anytime. Our favourite was laal cha (Red tea -basically tea with leaves and a dash of lemon). No green tea can match this taste ever. And combine this with prawn pakodi, alongwith majestic view of Sunderban while you are slowly trailing away in your boat in the search of ever elusive Bengal Tiger.
Cruising All Day In The Boat
The complete fun of Sunderban trip was in the boat. You must hire a full boat to enjoy exclusively. A little expensive than the shared boat but a lot more fun! Shared boats were cramped, people sitting on chairs, standing in queue for food and using one tiny washroom. In Sunderbans trip, you are in the boat for almost 7-8 hours every day. The idea is that the boat takes you from one sighting spot to another. In a normal route there are about 4-5 such sighting spots. You get down from the boat, walk a little distance, climb a few stairs and try to spot some animals and then shop a few souvenirs on way back to boat.
Boat was super fun. We were all over it, clicked pictures from all angles, enacted all the cruise songs, chatted away mindlessly and relaxed being our own self.
The Eco Hotels
You have the option to stay overnight in the boat or be at the designated guesthouse when the boat is anchored in the evening. We chose for the guesthouse. Folk dance programs are arranged in the evening. Guesthouses are nothing like our typical hotels or resorts. Keep your expectations realistic. Rooms were simple, nothing swanky. A simple bed and breakfast kind of arrangement. However, the huge and open areas around the rooms compensated well. Be prepared for insects and flies. Keep a lotion ready.
Electricity is a problem here. Generator is the main stay here. We used bottled water for drinking. A bucket of hot water for bathing (heated manually on firewood) is given at your doorsteps. The water looked a bit dirty. We were told it was due to high iron content in water.
Well, all these small things didn’t matter to us for the rustic charm was far more appealing. The humming of cicadas lulled us to sleep and chirping of birds woke us in the morning. Do you think anything else matters beyond this luxury?
Did We Spot Tigers?
Nope. The Royal Bengal Tiger was not spotted at Sunderbans National Park. When inquired, I was told that the last time the guide faintly saw a tiger passing by in the jungle was a month ago. I lost all my hopes and enjoyed the crusie. The possibility of spotting a tiger is low compared to other parks as we never go into the jungle but see the jungle from the water in the hope that thirsty tigers might come to the banks.
Again, too many boats and the noise of the same keeps the tigers tucked away in deep jungles.
Well, seeing our sadness, the guide suggested that we go to a so-called Zoo where they have caged two tigers for people often complained of not being able to spot a tiger and so government came up with this plan to retain tourists.
You guessed it right. I didn’t opt for it. I didn’t come to see a caged tiger plus the queue was unbearable.
The other side of truths is that these very tigers have taken quite a few life’s. The tribal’s of Sunderbans usually get attacked by tigers when they go into deep jungle for picking honey, katha, woods etc. Lately such instances have increased because the jungles are being destroyed to build facilities of humankind.
Animals at Sunderbans National Park
One day our guide took us to Pakhi van (bird’s jungle). The boat was slowed on approaching close and all you could hear was chirping of thousands of birds, all coming together as a surreal melody. Totally mesmerized, we couldn’t believe that this was for real.
We spotted many crocodiles lazying around just like us J
Is Sunderbans worth A Trip?
Every bit it is worth a trip. If you love real places and real experiences then Sunderbans is for you. We went with family including kids and senior citizens and it was great learning and fun trip. The biodiversity of Sunderbans is unlike any other National Park in India and that makes it so much more intriguing and offbeat.
However, you must be ready for rustic charm and behaviour. Hope you know what I mean?