The cross-border world heritage lies in the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra in the Bay of Bengal. It is the largest contiguous mangrove forest area on earth and is one of the most important retreats for the Bengal tiger. The wetland is also the habitat for great ganges dolphins, estuarine crocodiles, Indian otters and many other animal species.
Sundarbans National Park: Facts
|Official title:||Sundarbans National Park|
|Natural monument:||since 1878 forest reserve, since December 1973 Sundarbans Tiger Reserve of 2585 km², since 1984 national park; in the mouth of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna with the branches of the Hooghly River in the west and Tetulia River in the east; Delta area of about 80,000 km², mangrove forest area of about 2320 km²|
|Country:||India, West Bengal|
|Location:||southeast of Calcutta, mouth of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, Bay of Bengal|
|Meaning:||significant ecosystem adapted to high salt concentrations with the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world|
|Flora and fauna:||36 species of mangroves in an area of 10,000 km²; additional tree species such as Sundari (Heritiera fomes), Goran, Gengwa (Excoecaria agallocha), Dhundul (Carapa obovata), Keora (Sonneratia apetala) and Kankra; Habitat for around 270 Bengal tigers, as well as Ganges dolphins, saltwater crocodiles, Indian otters; Axis deer, macaque; 260 species of birds, including 98 winter guests such as redshank and Mongolian plovers; also collar, cap and brown leash, three types of kingfisher, silver gape, black-necked stork, ibis, spoonbill and darter; Reptiles such as hybrid and Batagur turtles, as well as spotted monitor lizards and tiger python; Spawning area for 90 species of fish|
In the labyrinth of deadly dangers
Narrow fishing boats with billowing sails glide silently over the sluggishly flowing brown water. A narrow strip of dark bush forest lines the fairway on both sides, the monsoon clouds tower high, lending the monotonous landscape sublimity, timelessness and treacherous peace. According to franciscogardening, over a width of more than 200 kilometers in the border area of India and Bangladesh, the two great rivers of Asia, Ganges and Brahmaputra, pour their water masses into the Bay of Bengal and deposit suspended particles that they washed out of the mountain ranges of the Himalayas on their long way.
The rivers branch out into innumerable arteries, of which only the biggest have names, and form a wilderness of water with numerous islands in which a stranger can quickly become disoriented. The unique “amphibious landscape”, which is exposed to the pulse of ebb and flow and is regularly hit by typhoons, is hardly a suitable place for human habitation.
The islands in the tidal delta are overgrown with a dense, low forest dominated by the Goran, a hardwood that can even withstand termites and salt water. Occasionally, higher trees rise up from this impenetrable undergrowth, sometimes dense into groves and include strange, salt-compatible species such as Keora and Garjan. The best-known plant, however, is the mangrove, which is called »Sundari«, »tree with red wood«, and which gave the delta its name. From their main trunk, the mangroves sink countless arched aerial roots into the muddy subsoil. The plant develops its lance-shaped seeds on the mother plant. When they are ripe, their tips drop into the soft mud and quickly begin to germinate. The mangroves make an important contribution to the change in the delta,
Under the surface of the water, the stilt roots offer small fish a safe refuge from the greedy kingfisher, which does not miss any movement and which waits patiently for its chance. The brown mangrove snake goes on a hunt in the branches of the mangroves. If danger threatens, it curves into an S and strikes at lightning speed. Wild boars and axis deer roam the somewhat drier hinterland, but above all the king of the beasts, the Bengal tiger.
The tigers of the Sundarbans, about 270 still around, are considered to be extraordinarily dangerous because, probably for lack of other prey, they have made humans part of their diet and do not avoid contact, as is usually the case. Although the islands in the delta are not populated, lumberjacks and honey collectors repeatedly venture into the wilderness. Since tigers prefer to attack their prey from behind, people have switched to putting on masks that look backwards and protecting the shoulders and neck with metal plates from the fatal bite. Nevertheless, over 100 people fall victim to the big cats every year. Since the animals are very good swimmers, they have no problems negotiating the channels between the islands and even attacking the fishermen who sleep in their boats at night.
But there are other dangers lurking in the Sundarbans, such as the highly poisonous king cobra or the up to 6.5 meter long tiger python. And if you feel like taking a refreshing bath, you should think twice, because the saltwater crocodiles that live in salt and brackish water also find people a great food. Only in the Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project can you look into the throat of the no less dangerous, giant swamp crocodile without danger. Far more harmless than its appearance, however, is the large Bengal monitor, which seems to have escaped from Jurassic Park.
Only when you return to the seething cauldron of Calcutta does you realize that you may have returned from a peaceful world completely subject to the laws of nature.