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Old 6th September 2010, 12:03   #1
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Default Headed to Sundarbans in search of the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger

September is the time when I take my annual vacation. Last year it was Ladakh and this time we had zeroed in on Andamans http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...-andamans.html (Annual Vacation @ Andamans) . But unfortunately that trip had to be cancelled due to sudden demise of my friend's mother and since we had included meeting a few relatives in Kolkata, we decided to continue with the trip. Since we are nature lovers, Kerala was also in reckoning for a Driving holiday but after multiple discussions with HVK and considering the budget situation, we decided to stick with Kolkata and visit Sunderbans ( Sundarbans - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ), the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Since most packages from Kolkata were only for the weekends, we decided to plan ourselves. We wanted to stay in the Forest Rest House but multiple attempts to contact the Field director, Project Tiger's Office has been unsuccessful PROJECT TIGER RESERVES.

So finally we settled for WBTDC accomodation at Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge and booked it online through W.B.T.D.C . Booking is for 15th & 16th September.

Since we are going in the non-tourist season, I would like to know how to get to Sajnekhali. Also any guidance towards the areas to see in the Sunderban delta would be highly appreciated.

Since not much details are available online (TBHP & TravelMike included) for people wanting to make the trip on their own, I hope this thread can become a repository of all such info.

Thanks
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Old 6th September 2010, 12:36   #2
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A Bengali news channel reported last week that tiger count in Sunderbans might have gone up by about 100 as per the most recent counting concluded earlier this year. Thought it is not official yet (official numbers will come only in December), even if it is half-truth, it would be great for Sunderbans.


1. Do not go with an expectation to see tiger in Sunderban. It is the most difficult place in India to spot a tiger, not only for tourists but even for professionals. You can, however, expect to see a few pugmarks on river banks. You will surely see a few crocodiles, spotted deers and a lot of birds.
2. September is monsoon (weak though) in Sunderban delta. So, keep an watch on weather reports/predictions. Since the last leg of your transportation will be by boat, river and weather conditions will determine your mobility
3. There are many ways to reach Sajnekhali from Kolkata. Your first option is to check with the lodge people to see if they can arrange for the last leg of your transportation (the boat/steamer). If they can, then you only need to arrange for your ground transportation from Kolkata to the boat pick-up point. There are both suburban trains as well as other options to reach any of these pick-up points.
4. Sajnekhali tourist lodge is very basic. Don't have high expectation in lodging standards.
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Old 6th September 2010, 21:48   #3
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Hi,
How are you planning to come to Cal? Driving?

To see Sundarbans, you have to hire a boat/ launch for a day.

Regards
Sutripta
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Old 6th September 2010, 23:37   #4
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This promises to be an interesting one-of-its-kind thread.

Sutripta, how else with MileCruncher come - definitely in his Bolero!

Which is the most popular driving route to Sajnekhali?
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Old 7th September 2010, 10:56   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sutripta View Post
Hi,
How are you planning to come to Cal? Driving?

To see Sundarbans, you have to hire a boat/ launch for a day.

Regards
Sutripta
Sutriptada, Can you please guide me in terms of which areas would be accessible from sajnekhali and what all areas are a must visit ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
This promises to be an interesting one-of-its-kind thread.

Sutripta, how else with MileCruncher come - definitely in his Bolero!

Which is the most popular driving route to Sajnekhali?
No Sirs, this time I have decided to let someone else drive for a change - The Train Driver .

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Originally Posted by sabynag View Post
A Bengali news channel reported last week that tiger count in Sunderbans might have gone up by about 100 as per the most recent counting concluded earlier this year. Thought it is not official yet (official numbers will come only in December), even if it is half-truth, it would be great for Sunderbans.


1. Do not go with an expectation to see tiger in Sunderban. It is the most difficult place in India to spot a tiger, not only for tourists but even for professionals. You can, however, expect to see a few pugmarks on river banks. You will surely see a few crocodiles, spotted deers and a lot of birds.
I'm not going with the expectation seeing the Tiger. I would consider myself extremely lucky. But any particular areas that I should ask for the boat trip.
Quote:
Originally Posted by sabynag View Post
2. September is monsoon (weak though) in Sunderban delta. So, keep an watch on weather reports/predictions. Since the last leg of your transportation will be by boat, river and weather conditions will determine your mobility
I have been made to understand that its not raining in Kolkata much so I'mnot worrying much on that count.
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3. There are many ways to reach Sajnekhali from Kolkata. Your first option is to check with the lodge people to see if they can arrange for the last leg of your transportation (the boat/steamer). If they can, then you only need to arrange for your ground transportation from Kolkata to the boat pick-up point. There are both suburban trains as well as other options to reach any of these pick-up points.
What is the last ground point for Sunderbans and how does one reach there. Do you have Volvo's on that route? Or what train can I take?
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4. Sajnekhali tourist lodge is very basic. Don't have high expectation in lodging standards.
Will keep that in mind

Thanks a lot mate.
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Old 7th September 2010, 12:47   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
This promises to be an interesting one-of-its-kind thread.

Sutripta, how else with MileCruncher come - definitely in his Bolero!

Which is the most popular driving route to Sajnekhali?
Quote:
Originally Posted by MileCruncher View Post
Sutriptada, Can you please guide me in terms of which areas would be accessible from sajnekhali and what all areas are a must visit ?
Hi,
Bandh day in Cal. So the logging on during office hours! Aren't we lucky.

Train is good, in that you will not waste your time hunting out nonexistent secure parking in Canning or Basanti etc!

There are three access points:
Canning: both road, and local train. Not a nice drive, esp. if you get caught at the Baruipur LC.
Kakdwip/ Namkhana: both road and local train. Much longer drive. And not really nice.
Gosaba/ Basanti. Road only. The best of the drives. For selfdrive, I would say the only option.

The Gosaba road almost touches the other side of the river opposite Canning, from where one can take a ferry service to Canning.

No Volvo services. Local trains start from Sealdah South. As crowded as the Bombay locals.

There are some resorts outside the park/ core area. They will arrange for everything - for a fee. One of them has their own AC (I think) minibus for transport to Basanti, and then by boat to their resort.

My suggestion would be Canning because of better availability of boats for hire. The boat trip is going to take longer, but that is part of the experience. You have to haggle a lot.

Or get to the lodge as fast as possible (normal service, not a charter). And ask them to keep a boat waiting for you on half or full day charter for the next day. The first day you spend at the watchtowers etc. I am likely to be outdated, so better talk with the lodge people and follow their advice.

My personal opinion is Sunderbans as an experience could have been so much more with a bit of organisation.

Surprising though it may sound, I've found the boat crew remarkably ill informed about flora and fauna. And they cover it up by incredulous tales and 'folklore'. On the other hand, it is not possible to selfguide. You need a person who knows the lie of the land (and creeks and waterways ...). I feel one will profit immensely from the services of a proper guide:- if one can find one. The boat people will not let you disembark and let you explore on foot, and neither will I suggest it.

WB tourism runs an overnight Sunderban cruise. Did you try for it?

BTW how many people? Any birders?
OT: 17 Sep is one of two days when you'll maximum number of drunk drivers.

Regards
Sutripta
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Old 7th September 2010, 13:04   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sutripta View Post
Hi,
Bandh day in Cal. So the logging on during office hours! Aren't we lucky.

Train is good, in that you will not waste your time hunting out nonexistent secure parking in Canning or Basanti etc!

There are three access points:
Canning: both road, and local train. Not a nice drive, esp. if you get caught at the Baruipur LC.
Kakdwip/ Namkhana: both road and local train. Much longer drive. And not really nice.
Gosaba/ Basanti. Road only. The best of the drives. For selfdrive, I would say the only option.

The Gosaba road almost touches the other side of the river opposite Canning, from where one can take a ferry service to Canning.

No Volvo services. Local trains start from Sealdah South. As crowded as the Bombay locals.

There are some resorts outside the park/ core area. They will arrange for everything - for a fee. One of them has their own AC (I think) minibus for transport to Basanti, and then by boat to their resort.

My suggestion would be Canning because of better availability of boats for hire. The boat trip is going to take longer, but that is part of the experience. You have to haggle a lot.

Or get to the lodge as fast as possible (normal service, not a charter). And ask them to keep a boat waiting for you on half or full day charter for the next day. The first day you spend at the watchtowers etc. I am likely to be outdated, so better talk with the lodge people and follow their advice.

My personal opinion is Sunderbans as an experience could have been so much more with a bit of organisation.

Surprising though it may sound, I've found the boat crew remarkably ill informed about flora and fauna. And they cover it up by incredulous tales and 'folklore'. On the other hand, it is not possible to selfguide. You need a person who knows the lie of the land (and creeks and waterways ...). I feel one will profit immensely from the services of a proper guide:- if one can find one. The boat people will not let you disembark and let you explore on foot, and neither will I suggest it.

WB tourism runs an overnight Sunderban cruise. Did you try for it?

BTW how many people? Any birders?
OT: 17 Sep is one of two days when you'll maximum number of drunk drivers.

Regards
Sutripta
Thanks Sutriptada for the info. Now where can I get buses to Gosaba in Kolkata. Is it Esplanade or somewhere else?

As you suggested, I intend to start early morning to reach Sajnekhali by lunch time through bus /boat. That day intend to explore on foot/boat nearby areas. Next day would like to charter or share a boat for an extensive trip. 2nd day early morning again take a boat ride and then leave for CCU by afternoon.

WBTDC through its website has given me a pleasant surpise. Their tours start from October and that too are available only in the weekends.

So I guess when reach the GH, need to search for the elusive good guide before my search for RBT can start .

Cheers

P.S: Its only me and wifey. Any CCU TBHPians interested can also join us.
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Old 7th September 2010, 13:25   #8
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^^^^
I know some people who run a camp (social work, not tourism) in those areas. I'll give them a call tomorrow for more localised information.

Re: bus services, I'll have to check it out. Totally clueless about that aspect of local life.

Regards
Sutripta
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Old 7th September 2010, 13:31   #9
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Anirudh,

What do you think are your chances of tiger sighting by a launch or boat?

There are machans and hides there, find out if you can rent them or stay there for a few hours with prior arrangement, advance logistics will immensely help you about the tiger moment...area, time etc. or it will be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Sunderbans tigers are elusive and not at all friendly, if you know what I mean.

Sutripta's network is your best bet.
Regards,

Last edited by fazalaliadil : 7th September 2010 at 13:33.
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Old 7th September 2010, 14:14   #10
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MileCruncher, here's my 2 cents.

First of all, regarding your staying option. Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge is maintained by WBTDC and unfortunately, I will not suggest you to stay there. During my stay there in 2008, I found it to be in very poor shape, ill maintained and infested with monkeys. You can hardly keep your door open during day time. I am not sure if they have renovated in the last 2 years, but, I will definitely not go back there, to stay. There are a couple of other private operators, who run their tours professionally. You may try this:
Welcome to Sunderban Tiger Camp- Jungle Resort

Transport : There are multiple approaches as Sutripta mentioned. But, getting a decent boat and good guides will be a challenge. Most probably, during monsoon, the conducted tours of WBTDC remain closed. Again, its helpful, if you tie up with a tour operator. In case you insist to do the trip on your own, I would suggest that you travel upto Sonakhali and take a boat from there. You will have to take Basanti highway.

You must talk to the boatman about carry ration and other stuff. They are the persons who should be knowing the creeks best and which ones to go for.

Wildlife sighting : As mentioned, you will not be able to see a tiger, unless you are extremely lucky. However, you can see ample deers, wild boars and a few crocs. Its not about sighting, but the overall experience thats Sundarbans are known for. And if you are like to have fish, you can buy them fresh from fishermen while you are cruising and ask the cook to fry them for you


I would strongly suggest that you do this trip with a tour operator.

To egg you on for this trip, here's a pic I took during my last trip :
Headed to Sundarbans in search of the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger-life-goes-large.jpg

Last edited by Saurabh M : 7th September 2010 at 14:17.
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Old 7th September 2010, 14:29   #11
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Hire a tele lens for your DSLR if you can MC. Such a trip deserves such an accessory. Once you're done, then maybe you can decide what type lens to invest in too.
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Old 7th September 2010, 15:33   #12
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@Saurabh_M: Thanks for the suggestion but somehow I have already booked in WBTDC and now don't know if I can cancel the booking. Since this is more of an adventure trip, we don't mind slogging it out a bit. But as Fazal stated earlier, I would be interested to find out the details of staying on night in a machan to night view of the forest

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Hire a tele lens for your DSLR if you can MC. Such a trip deserves such an accessory. Once you're done, then maybe you can decide what type lens to invest in too.
Can you guide me where can I get such lenses for hire?
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Old 7th September 2010, 15:45   #13
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Can you guide me where can I get such lenses for hire?
You can try V.G.Chimalgi on RP Road, Secunderabad . Even if he doesnt offer the service, I'm sure you'll get 100% reliable info on the source. I cannot recall, but if you posses a Nikon, then maybe you can request Avi and the other Nikonians in our group .

At best, maybe the quickest solution is to purchase a 2nd hand one from Chimalgi and then return the product after usage with a nominal loss.
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Old 7th September 2010, 15:50   #14
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Originally Posted by absynthguzzler View Post
You can try V.G.Chimalgi on RP Road, Secunderabad . Even if he doesnt offer the service, I'm sure you'll get 100% reliable info on the source. I cannot recall, but if you posses a Nikon, then maybe you can request Avi and the other Nikonians in our group .

At best, maybe the quickest solution is to purchase a 2nd hand one from Chimalgi and then return the product after usage with a nominal loss.
I guess I'll get in touch with Guru Chimalgi for a used lens. What are your suggestions regarding manual lenses.

BTW I have a Canon so none of the Hydeez can help. Only ray of hope is Hyderabad Photography Club. Lets see what comes out of it.
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Old 7th September 2010, 15:53   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fazalaliadil View Post
Anirudh,

What do you think are your chances of tiger sighting by a launch or boat?

There are machans and hides there, find out if you can rent them or stay there for a few hours with prior arrangement, advance logistics will immensely help you about the tiger moment...area, time etc. or it will be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Sunderbans tigers are elusive and not at all friendly, if you know what I mean.

Regards,
Quote:
Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post
MileCruncher, here's my 2 cents.
......
I would strongly suggest that you do this trip with a tour operator.

To egg you on for this trip, here's a pic I took during my last trip :
Attachment 419818
My take. If success is going to be measured by ticking off a checklist of wildlife spotted, a two day trip to Sunderbans is going to be a failure.

The chances of spotting major wildlife from a boat are close to zero, and I fully agree that waiting in a hide is going to be more productive. Ideal would be to use the boat as a transport media to go from blind to watchtower to ... But things there are so disorganised that I don't think it can be organised in two days on the spot, or over phone from afar. The concept of a professional guide there does not seem to exist.

If we take the fact that we are not going to see tigers, then the other thing is the experience. What separates Sunderbans from other WLSs is the fact that it is a river delta/ mangrove forest. The experience should highlight that. Hence the emphasis on the boat part.

(OT re: wildlife sightings. Have visited Simlipal innumerable times. Never saw a tiger there. But that did not take away from the experience. Ever.)

@ Saurabh.
A couple of years back, one of my old friends from Assam, who is now settled in Delhi, wanted to show his daughter a glimpse of the life he used to lead. Assam being Assam had to have a series of bandhs just then, so he had to cancel his Assam plans. I set him up with one such tour operator for Sunderbans. He came back livid. Not because of problems with the comforts of life, which were pretty OK. But because of what he said was intellectual dishonesty. However, the rest of the group, mostly city people, first visit to the forest, were quite satisfied.
So can you recommend a tour operator who can understand what you want and deliver accordingly.

Regards
Sutripta

Last edited by Sutripta : 7th September 2010 at 16:00.
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