Having left India behind, we will clear into Bangladesh in the Sundarbans. Named after the Sundari trees, the Sundarbans is an area reaching from India into Bangladesh. While the Indian part is a National Park, Bangladesh’s part consists of three Wildlife Sanctuaries. The Sundarbans ecosystem is quite unique: spreading over an area of approximately 10,000 square kilometres, it is the largest halophytic mangrove forest in the world. It represents the largest mangal diversity in the world with 81 mangal plant species and it provides habitat for the threatened Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). The Indian core area (Sundarbans National Park) has been designated as a World Heritage site in 1987; the three Wildlife Sanctuaries in Bangladesh were inscribed in 1997.
The whole area has the largest amount of the famous Bengal tigers –an estimated 350 of them roam the Sundarbans. Other wildlife species present are macaques, Indian grey mongoose, leopard cats, Ridley sea turtle, wild boar, jungle cat, flying foxes, and spotted deers (Chital). The mangrove ecosystem of the Sundarbans is considered to be unique because of its immensely rich mangrove flora and mangrove-associated fauna. It is also unique as the mangroves are not only dominant as fringing mangroves along the creeks and backwaters, but also grow along the sides of rivers in muddy as well as in flat, sandy areas.
Covering 133,010 ha, the area is estimated to comprise about 55% forest land and 45% wetlands in the form of tidal rivers, creeks, canals and vast estuarine mouths of the river. About 66% of the entire mangrove forest area is estimated to occur in Bangladesh, with the remaining 34% in India.
During the two days we will spend here Silver Discoverer will be mainly based in the Pashur River. We will be accompanied by local guides and rangers. Although wild boars are the main prey species of the Bengal tigers, the national park wants to make sure that our hikes and Zodiac cruises are conducted in a safe environment.
On our first day we will go ashore at Hiron Point for natural history walks and possibly an exploratory Zodiac cruise. This is where we will pick up local rangers. After our first impressions we will head back to Silver Discoverer to escape the mid-day heat. During the late morning, while the ship will reposition to Kokilmoni, attend an informative talk about the Sundarbans by one of the local lecturers.
During the afternoon we will take to the Zodiacs to look for aquatic mammals that frequent the tidal waters, including the Ganges dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise, while on land we might see wild boar, spotted deer, and rhesus macaques. Birders will be on the look-out for White-bellied Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites, Intermediate Egrets, Indian Pond Heron, as well as Collared and Black-capped Kingfisher. As the best time for wildlife observation here is around sunset we will stay out until late.
We will again board Silver Discoverer near the Kokilmoni Forest Station, to where the ship repositioned and where the ship will stay overnight.
In the very early morning of our second day in the Sundarbans we will offer a ‘first light’ Zodiac cruise into the mangrove forest. The narrow channels around the Kokilmoni Forest Station are known to have Stork-billed and Brown-winged Kingfisher, Oriental Magpie Robins, White Wagtails, and many other birds. During our cruise we will take time to drift, which will permit us to hear birdsong all the better. We might also see some of the local fishermen active on the river. In time for a late breakfast we will return to Silver Discoverer and attend more lectures about the Sundarbans, while the ship repositions to Harbaria Forest Station.
At Harbaria we will offer a combined Zodiac cruise and natural history walk. Well maintained boardwalks will permit us to enter the mangrove forest without engine-noise. Rhesus macaques are regularly seen, but this walk will give a great opportunity to see the different plant species our lecturers talked about: cedar mangrove, cannonball mangrove, sea holly, sea mango, blinding mangrove, nipa palm, and Phoenix palm. Our botanically inclined guests will love to take the boardwalk and pathways (groups are always accompanied by one of the rangers) and even if plants are not your favourite subject you will surely enjoy this unique opportunity to walk through such a mangrove forest.