Named after the Sundari trees, the Sundarbans is an area reaching from Bangladesh into India. 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. These animals however are very hard to see. 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.
During the three days we will spend here, Silver Discoverer will be mainly based in the Pashur River. We will be accompanied by local guides and rangers.
We intend 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 afternoons, 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.
Depending on where the Captain has repositioned the ship, we might again board Silver Discoverer near the Kokilmoni Forest Station, where the ship will stay overnight.
In the very early morning of our second and third day in the Sundarbans we will offer ‘first light’ Zodiac cruises into the mangrove forest. The narrow channels are known to have Stork-billed and Brown-winged Kingfisher, Oriental Magpie Robins, White Wagtails, and many other birds. During our cruises 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 late breakfasts we will return to Silver Discoverer and attend more lectures about the Sundarbans, while the ship repositions to Harbaria Forest Station or other points of interest.
At Harbaria we intend to 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. Not only will our botanically inclined guests love to take the boardwalk and pathways (groups are always accompanied by one of the rangers), but anybody interested in Nature will want to take this unique opportunity to walk through the world’s largest mangrove forest.