Written By Shravya NB (Grade 10)
The awe-striking sight of tigers relaxing in the brackish water, along with some wonderful sights of spotted deer, wild boars, otters, dolphins, in the enclosure of a thick mangrove forest and huge saline mudflats with a network of estuaries and tidal rivers make the land dense and marshy, this magical mangrove forest of Sundarbans is one of the many aspects of nature that makes India a diverse country.
The Sundarban forest lies in the vast delta on the Bay of Bengal formed by the confluence of the Hooghly, Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers across southern Bangladesh. The forest cover extends from India to Bangladesh, where the Indian part of Sundarbans is estimated to be about 4,110 km2, which includes the area occupied by water bodies in the forms of river and canals. The Sundarbans has a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of mangrove forests. The network of waterways extends throughout the forest, making it fully accessible by boat.
A wide range of flora and fauna are seen across the mangrove forest making it biodiversity-rich. There are about 334 species of plants found in the forest which includes algae and orchids. The Sundarbans flora is characterised by the abundance of sundari trees – which yields hardwood used for building houses, boats and furniture, gewa trees, goran and keora trees.
About 650 varieties of fauna are found in the forest too, which include some of the globally endangered species including the Royal Bengal Tiger, Ganges and Irrawaddy dolphins, estuarine crocodiles and the critically endangered endemic River Terrapin. It is the only mangrove habitat in the world for the Panthera Tigris species. The colourful bird-life found here includes – waterfowl, raptors, kingfishers and white-bellied sea eagle.
Sundarbans doesn’t just add to the regional diversity of the country but also to the cultural diversity. Many stories, poems and plays have been set in the forest of the Sundarbans. Bengali folk songs and dances are often centred around the folk heroes, gods, goddesses specific to Sundarbans (like Bon Bibi or the forest goddess and Dakshin Rai). The Bengali folk epic Manasamangal mentions some passages to be set in Sundarbans.
Much of the area has long had the status of a forest reserve, but conservation efforts in India were stepped up with the creation of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve in 1973. Sundarbans National Reserve Park, established in 1984, constitutes a core region within the tiger reserve; it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.
These forests also have some tragic stories. The women, whose husbands have been killed by tigers while they were fishing or collecting honey for their livelihood, are called the bagh-bidhobas or the Tiger Widows. Always challenged by natural disasters and human-animal conflicts, the people of these villages go to the core area without permits from the forest department making their work illegal. The tiger widows, therefore, cannot claim compensation and rarely inform the authorities about the tiger-linked deaths. However, the government is taking the required measures to protect them.
Nonetheless, Sundarbans entices its visitors with its wonders – it has a unique Tidal Phenomenon occurring twice a day. There are high tides formed when the water level rises and low tides when the huge mud land area lies flat. Visiting Sundarbans during the high tides will give you the opportunity to explore the forest and the wild animals by boat. Not just that, in a night safari at Sundarbans, one mustn’t miss sighting the Phytoplanktons – the small micro-organisms that reflect light in the dark new moon.
Sundarbans is one of the many wonderful aspects of nature that enriches India’s physical and cultural heritage. We must be proud of the diversity that India has and protect it as well!
Featured Image Courtesy – Indiatimes.com