State: West Bengal
Location: West Bengal
Area: 2608 sq. kms.
Best time to visit: September to March
Nearest Town: Calcutta
Situated on the lower end of the Gangetic West Bengal, 22.00° N – 89.00° E, is this world’s largest delta covered by mangrove forest and vast saline mud flats. A land of 54 tiny islands, crisscrossed by innumerable tributaries of Ganga, that was once infested by Arakanese and Portuguese pirates is now the abode of varied flora & fauna population. An area of 9630 sq. km., where 70 percent is under saline water makes the life of commoners, mostly honey-catchers, prawn-catchers and fishermen, very difficult. This is Sunderbans, the world’s largest estuarine forest.
Sunderbans is the largest estuarine delta in the world and the biggest colony of the Royal Bengal Tigers. These evergreen mangrove forests pulsate with myriad forms of life, which hide during hide tide and the ebbing tide reveals them on the glistening mud flats. The land is split by numerous rivers and water channels all emptying into the Bay of Bengal. It is believed that Bonbibi, the goddess of the forest, protects the woodcutters, honey-collectors and fishermen on their hazardous missions through the forest. For, as the local saying goes, `here the tiger is always watching you'.
Project Tiger was implemented here in 1973 and later the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve was demarcated over an area of 2,585-sq km. The core area of 1,330 sq km has been declared a national park and a world heritage site. The reserve has a tiger population of 287(1984 census). The only mangrove species, the tiger here has adapted well to its habitat.
The Sunderbans provide important habitat for a variety of reptiles including river terrapin (Batagur baska E), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea E), estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus E), monitor lizard (Varanus flavescens), water monitor (Varanus salvator) and Indian python (Python molurus V). The only species of turtle known to nest in the Sunderbans is the Olive Ridley but hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) has also been caught in fishermen's nets. The creeks are spawning grounds for some 90 species of fish, 48 species of crabs and a large variety of molluscs.
The region has a tropical climate with hot summers and cold winters. Maximum and minimum temperatures during the summer are 42°C and 37°C respectively. In winters, the maximum and minimum temperatures are 29°C and 9.2°C respectively.