South of Kolkata

To the south of Kolkata are the tidal estuary of the Hugli and the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. Famous for their population of Bengal tigers, the Sundarbans reach into Bangladesh, but it's possible to take a day trip down to the mouth of the Hugli or boat trips into the Sundarbans themselves.


Ganga Sagar Mela
is held in mid-January, attracting over 500,000 pilgrims each year who come to bathe and then visit the
Kapil Muni Temple
. The island has been devastated many times by cyclones. To reach the island catch a bus from Esplanade or take a taxi to Kakdwip and then take a ferry across to Kochuberia Ghat (Sagardwip). From there it is a 30-minute bus ride across island to where the Ganga meets the sea.

Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Sunderbans (pronounced Soonder-buns) is named after the Sunderi trees. The mangrove swamps are said to be the largest estuarine forests in the world. Improved management is battling to halt the loss of mangrove cover as it is exploited for fuel. Most villagers depend on fishing and forestry, while local honey gatherers who are active in April and May are said to wear masks on the backs of their heads to frighten away tigers, which they believe only attack from the rear! You will notice large areas of
for aquaculture. Prawn fisheries are the most lucrative and co-operative efforts are being encouraged by the government.

The reserve, a World Heritage Site, preserves the habitat of about 300 Bengal tigers (
Panthera tigris
). They are bigger and richer in colour than elsewhere in South Asia and are thought to be able to survive to on salt water (rainwater is the only fresh water in the park). Tigers here are strong swimmers and known to attack fishermen. Methods of improved
management include providing permanent sources of fresh water for tigers by digging deep,
monsoon-fed ponds, installing solar-powered lighting to scare them away from villages and electrifying dummy woodcutters. Spotted deer, wild boar, monkeys, snakes, fishing cats, water monitors, Olive
Ridley sea turtles and a few large estuarine crocodiles are the other wildlife here, particularly on Lothian Island and Chamta block. You may see deer, boar, macaque and birds but are unlikely to see a tiger. However, it is wonderfully peaceful.

The best season is September-March. Heavy rains and occasional cyclones in April/May and November/December can make visiting difficult. Take water, torch, mosquito repellent and be prepared for cool nights. You must be accompanied by armed forest rangers. Motor launches can be hired from Canning and Sonakhali (Basanti), but it is better to go down the narrow creeks in human-powered boats. You may be able to go ashore on bamboo jetties to walk in the fenced-in areas of the forest which have watchtowers (dawn to dusk only).


Digha was described by Warren Hastings visiting over 200 years ago as the 'Brighton of the East', though there is not a pebble for at least 2000 km. The casuarina-lined, firm wide beach is popular with Bengalis. The small
Chandaneswar Temple
, 10 km away, actually in Orissa, is an important Siva temple which can be reached by bus.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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