“Is Sundarban safe” is the first phrase that strikes loud in the mind of most travelers visiting the region. After all, it is home to a species that has long been known to hunt humans – the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Sundarbans as a locale has its own rules. As a traveler you should abide by them at all times. The mangrove forests in the region along with the rest of flora and fauna are fascinating. In fact, this destination has off late become an eco-tourism hub. However, the pertinent question still remains – “is Sundarban safe ?”
In my current blog, I will address the safety of Sundarban forests in detail. I will elaborate on the travel insights based on my personal experience. I hope to address the concerns of all visitors who plan to visit the delta region in the near future.
Is Sundarbans Safe for Travelers?
I still remember my first time in the Sundarban forests. It was pitch dark outside, and the clouds started gathering pace. It was anticipated that it would probably rain heavily in the night.
Tiger Tales By Our Local Guide
Nityananda, our guide, an unruffled man was enjoying the evening pakoras (fried snacks). He started a conversation, “Dakhin Rai (Local name for Royal Bengal tigers) has become part and parcel of Sundarban daily life.
It was in my early childhood, that I saw a wild tiger. It was one night when I along with my father stayed in a watchtower. Early in the morning, I felt some telepathic vibes and felt that a tiger was nearby. Indeed, he was sitting right in front of the tower.”
Is Sundarban safe from tigers, crocodiles and king cobras when you enter their territory?
Tales of Nityananda gave us goosebumps. The rain had started pouring by then. The two boats anchored in the mid-river apparently seemed stout to challenge harsh weather. However, we were amidst dense mangrove forests, home to the notorious Royal Bengal Tigers.
We were anchored in a complex river system hosting the mighty salt-water crocodiles, and the muddy flats around – often abode to the venomous king cobra. The only concern on this rainy night was, “are we safe and is Sundarban safe as a locale we plan to explore?”
We found our answers in the next few days that we spent in Sundarbans.
MAN VERSUS WILD IN SUNDARBANS
With the mud-laden river on one side and thatched huts on the other, the only way to counter danger in this part of the world is by traveling in a large group. Demography is key for survival here. The local villagers residing in the region believe the same.
In years gone by, human being has been attacked by tigers, crocodiles and king cobras. There are families that have lost children to crocodile attacks as well. This is strange because officially, authorities believe that crocodiles don’t attack humans in this region. But if you talk to the natives, they have an entirely different story to tell.
Sundarbans is a land where the boundary between man and the wild has been blurred for decades now.
When calm prevails in the mangrove forests of Sundarbans, it is a warning of the approaching storm.
With the instinct of survival being key in the Sundarbans, both sides – humans and wildlife struggle with it. There are days when the humans triumph. At other times, the wild becomes all-powerful.
The co-existence flourishes here, but it is brutal and only the sharpest beings will outlive everybody else.
Key Factors Determining your Safety in Sundarbans
The key factor stressed upon by travel companies mapping out itineraries for touring Sundarbans, is getting to watch the Royal Bengal Tiger. It’s a huge cut-out of the trip. However, there are a lot of other things to observe as well.
As a traveler, knowing the essential aspects of safety for Sundarbans will be helpful for you. Therefore, let me mention below the various things to look out for in Sundarbans along with their level of safety.
|Tiger safari on a boat
|Getting close to animals
|Taking a hike in the mangrove forests
|Staying on houseboats overnight
|Going boating on your own
|Observing animals from watchtowers
|Venturing out on prescribed trekking routes
|Urging boatmen to sail in narrow creeks
|Interacting with the locals
Sundarbans has ample things to offer. Some travelers like to spend a good time with family, while others like to be on their own. Perhaps, wildlife and nature photography interests them more.
In general, touring Sundarbans is considered safe. The people are nice, friendly and helpful towards tourists. One should be careful to choose a good tour company.
In today’s competitive world, there are a number of tour companies that will try to lure you. However, do your background research first by reading reviews online.
Traveling with a less experienced team might end up with you paying more than the average cost. Therefore, making a reasonable survey is always a good idea.
Is Sundarban Safe for Taking a Tiger Safari?
The primary attraction in Sundarban mangrove forests is the Royal Bengal tiger. The mangroves are the place where they reside. These dense forests are interconnected with channels of water and muddy creeks. This makes it extremely hard to see a tiger.
However, this doesn’t mean that the tigers aren’t watching you. If you overstep your boundary, you will be attacked. So, make sure that you accompany yourself with a guide, and never move too close to the creeks. Also, never jump out. Never.
Be watchful of tiger attacks
The only chance of witnessing the majestic beauty of the Royal Bengal Tiger is while they are crossing a creek or the rivers, or perhaps when it is walking along the banks. The last option i.e. walking along the banks is your best bet. Going deep into the creeks and the river is not suggested.
It needs to be mentioned here that in Sundarbans, there is nothing separate known as ‘a tiger safari.’ In other words, all safaris here are the same. Safaris are made in swift-moving motorboats. As mentioned before, one must ensure that while taking a trip, a guide accompanies on the boat, a mandatory condition for touring the Sundarbans.
Safaris in boats are safe. One should be careful not to go too close to the edge while getting on and off. The jetty places around Sundarbans are often quite dodgy; constant high tide and splashes of saltwater make them slippery. The steps are also not well-built in many places.
The quality of staying calm in Sundarbans
When wild animals are seen, it is very important to keep calm. All the people on the boat coming to one side might cause trouble. It is also important to maintain sanity and not disturb the animals.
On many occasions, tourists urge the boatman to go closer to get a proper view. This is a dangerous idea. One should remember that tiger attacks in Sundarban are not rare. Your guide knows best about the forest, so keep faith in him.
Is Sundarbans Safe for People Hopping out of Boats?
Hopping out of the boat in the forest is illegal and can be fatal as well. Sundarban is home to venomous snakes like King Cobra, Vipers and Krait.
The danger of salt-water crocodiles and tigers has been already mentioned. Any boat allowing such activities might be forced to cancel its license. So, hopping off the boat for any adventure is not allowed.
Dipping one’s hands in the water can be hazardous at Sundarbans
The waters of Sundarbans host poisonous jellyfish. So dipping hands into the water during the boat safari can invite nuisance. However, there are some places like Sudhanyakhali, Sajnekhali and Dobanki where watchtowers are built and tourists are allowed to take a stroll.
The walking places are protected with strong nets and tourists are advised to keep to the trekking paths. Remember that you are inside a dense forest. So even in these protected areas, be careful of snakes and other reptiles.
Is Sundarbans Safe for Taking a Fishing Boat Ride ?
While touring in the motorboats in different parts of Sundarban, one might see several small fishing boats, doing their daily chores.
If you think having a ride on the small boats can be fun, you are horribly wrong.
Lives at risk daily in Sundarbans
Fishermen risk their lives every day to go deep into the forests for crabs and fishes. This is what they do for a living, and unfortunately, some fall prey to the man-eating tigers.
It is not a good idea to ask these fishing boats to give a ‘fun ride’. It is absolutely necessary to stay in the designated own group and follow the group’s guide.
Is Sundarban Safe if Travelers Bunk in Boats?
In Sundarbans, there are several options to stay. These vary from home stays to hotels to resorts and even staying on the boat. A common notion in this respect is staying on the boat overnight is unsafe. Now, this is a wrong notion.
The boats are well-built and can move swiftly. Moreover, the tourists leave the forests by 6.00 pm and the boats are anchored outside the forests near village areas. So, it is safe to stay on a boat.
The facilities are more than basic with mostly western toilets. The meals are sumptuous and well-served. The resting area is not luxurious, but quite good. During these stays, the stories and interactions between group members and the guide become memorable.
However, if you want a luxurious stay, or the visitors are mostly aged person, it is better to opt for the more comfortable resorts.
Essential Points to Remember by all Travelers
Now that you know about staying overnight on a boat and about the boat safari, it is time that you understand what is best for you and what is not.
|Positives of staying on a houseboat at night
Enjoying the forest on a boat is fun
Food and a decent stay are readily available
Flexible to visit nearby villages and watchtowers
|Things to be aware of at all costs:
Never go close to the edge of the boat
Always be careful while getting on and off
Slippery and make-shift jetties need to be tackled well
Don’t touch the water by dipping your hands or feet while a boat ride
|Things not to do whatsoever:
Getting off the boat anywhere
Urging the boatmen to travel to narrow creeks
Going close to the forest
Taking a ride in small fishing-boats
Always listen to your guide and boatman
Never venture on a boat by yourself
Is Sundarban Safe from Tiger Attacks?
It is a very good idea to have knowledge of a place before you visit. Absorbing the essence of the place can be worthwhile. It should be kept in mind that unlike tigers in other national parks in India, tigers at Sundarbans are notorious.
Tiger attacks in Sundarban are not uncommon. But most incidents occur when a hungry tiger encounters fishermen or honey collectors.
The theories behind tiger attacks in Sundarban are debatable and perhaps, beyond the scope of this blog. Although a tiger attacking a tourist boat is improbable, it is not a good idea to go too close to the forest – ever.
If you interact with women from nearby villages, you will realize that not many adorn themselves. This is because, over the years, many of them have lost their husbands to ferocious tiger attacks. These women are now known as ‘Tiger Widows.’
Tiger widows haven’t just lost their husbands but also their identity. They face active discrimination by their clan. They are subjected to the slur of swami khejo (husband eaters) as they are considered responsible for the death of their spouse by an animal attack.
They are also burdened with numerous ritualistic practices to keep Bonbibi satisfied. Bonbibi is the Goddess of the mangrove forests.
Due to overpopulation, the territorial boundary between forest and human habitation is confusing and diffused. Unfortunately, neither the animals nor humans actually understand it.
This causes ‘unpleasant’ tiger visits to the bordering villages, ultimately resulting in the loss of either human life or a tiger.
NGOs are constantly working towards developing a better understanding of this boundary. Huge nets are applied to mark the protected area. This is done so that animals don’t cross over to the nearby villages. But a perfect situation is far from realization.
Taking a Hike Around Sundarbans
If you want to take a hike, head to the nearby villages and not the forest. The villages around Sundarban are good places for taking small walks.
During the stay, one can visit village markets. These are places with lots of activities and one can feel the pulse of life. It is even better if you get a chance to visit a village fair.
It is, however, advisable to respect the local life and culture.
Understanding one’s limits as a traveler in Sundarbans
Some people might dislike if you are photographing them, while others might volunteer to give a pose. So, act accordingly. You can also learn about tiger attacks in Sundarbans from the locals if they agree to talk to you.
The villages are also a good place to watch bird activities. Since these are located on the fringe of the forest, a good number of species of owls and flycatchers are available.
It is better to take a local person along. Again, be careful of snakes and reptiles when you are inside a forest.
Knowing a Local is a Good Idea
It is always a good idea to take a reference from somebody who has already visited Sundarban, and contacts a local before you travel.
It is even better to contact a referred local who is a guide or hosts accommodation in one of the islands around Sundarban.
|Positives of the local Sundarban folks
Nice and friendly people
They can help you with customized trips
Good homestays and hotels are available around their villages.
|Things to be aware of as a traveler:
Fraud (or less experienced) traveling companies
Make a good survey before taking a trip to Sundarbans
Try to make acquaintance with a local
Is Sundarban Safe for Travelers from Abroad?
As a travel destination, Sundarbans is popular not just with Indians but also with travelers from various regions outside India. Let us find out if Sundarban is safe for foreigners.
Sundarbans is quite safe for travelers from abroad. I have come across foreign tourists visiting Sundarbans and their feedback on the place was super positive.
Since people from a different country will be unaware of the locale, I suggest that they either book a tour from the government tourism site (the West Bengal government hosts a number of trips to the Sundarbans) or plan the travel with a local group.
Unpredictable weather conditions & predictable local guides
If you are coming from a place not so hot and humid, you might find the weather in Sundarban uncomfortable. In that case, avoid the summers and do carry well a good sun cream.
As told before, the locals are friendly. Theft or robbery is rarely reported, but again having a good guide is always a plus point.
Nowadays, several programmes are held to train the guides so that they can interact with foreigners. Therefore, most of them can communicate with foreigners. Although English is not grammatically correct, it serves the purpose.
Official Trends Showing Increasing Foreign Visitors to Sundarbans
A table showing increasing trends in tourism in Sundarban for both Indian and foreign visitors
|The year 2003 -04
Indian tourists: 59,225
Foreign tourists: 636
|The year 2009 -10
|The year 2014 -15
Source: “Ecotourism revenue in Sunderban Tiger Reserve” by Abhijit Mitra, Techno International Journal of Health, Engineering, Management and Science, Vol 2, Page 29.
Is Sundarban Safe for Solo Travelers?
Security-wise, I don’t find any reason to state that solo traveling unsafe in Sundarbans. So is Sundarban safe for solo travel? Yes!
In fact, I have seen friends who travel alone with a guide to avoid ‘unnecessary’ company. Photographers also travel alone to work in peace and for smooth documentation.
Having said that, one should remember that solo travelling is hefty in the pocket. The cost that is eventually shared in a group of 7-10 people, has to be paid all by oneself.
Apart from this, there are no disadvantages. Particularly if you have traveled the place before, solo travel to the Sundarbans can be enjoyable.
Is Sundarban Safe for Women Travelers?
Many women visitors are known to work in the region for several NGOs. Also, women photographers and conservation workers constantly travel to Sundarbans for their projects. So is Sundarban safe for women travelers ? Yes!
I must mention here that local women in the region are very hardworking. I have seen some of them rowboats along with men. I do not feel there are any security issues for women while traveling in the area.
Again, it is advisable to have a good guide along with. If you are traveling for the first time, traveling with male partners or female partners in groups is a better option for the remoteness of the area.
There are unavoidable situations, which can be better resolved if there is a group.
Do’s and Dont’s for Visiting Sundarbans
Sundarbans is a mysterious land. It is better understood if you travel with some knowledge of the place.
There are obviously some strict rules of the government that must be followed during the visit. Apart from that, there are some ethical and logical ‘lines’ that must not be crossed.
Ultimately, what you want is an enjoyable trip. To abide by the rules.
A quick look at the check-lists of major dos and don’ts –
Carry your photo ID proof and photocopies.
Choose a good travel company or guide, who has a previous reference from anyone.
Carry a good binoculars, a camera, a first-aid kit and anti-mosquito creams.
Carry enough cash since it might be tough to find an ATM.
Wear dark or dull-coloured clothing during forest safari. Loose fit clothes are good considering temperate weather. Winter nights can be cold.
After entering the forest, make all the official formalities by visiting the office at Sajnekhali.
Do hire a guide with you and listen to him.
Do not book a trip with an unregistered guide who assures you to make a tour illegally.
Stay away from the river water during the safari.
Do not urge the boatman to go near the forest or inside narrow creeks.
Do not play loud music in the forest.
Wear dark-coloured clothing.
Do not try to go out of the protected area at any point.
Do not throw plastic and other synthetic wastes in the river or open areas in the forest
I hope after reading my current blog, you’ve gathered enough inference on the region, its people and its species.
My Last Thoughts on Sundarbans as a Locale
“The sun was setting in the west. The muddy flats and the fishermen drawing their nets made a spectacular landscape.
The glistening sunlight reflected in sandbanks and the mangrove water. Souvik, a well-known folk singer was with us. He started a local folk song. His voice amazingly blended with the ambience.
Looking at the setting sun and at those hard-working men, the feeling of the good day in the mangroves lingered on.”
Sundarban is a cherishable memory that travelers tour for as a region. It’s a fresh dose of something magical. People often equate traveling to Sundarban with spotting the tiger. Well, it’s not just about that.
It is a land with its own charm and the tiger is one of its creations.
In the end, ‘Is Sundarban safe’ is a question that is up to you. If you are within the laws and limits, it is absolutely safe and a wonderful place to travel. But as ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, ‘similarly, ‘safety lies in the actions of the traveler’.
Happy wayfaring 🙂