Sunderbans – an enthralling place derives its evocative name from the Sundari tree – a specie of mangroves found in these forests. The largest delta in the world, it primarily falls in Bangladesh with around a quarter of it in Eastern India.
With flora that spans across four kinds of water logged forests – swamp, saltwater mixed, brackishwater, and littoral, connectivity is maintained through a complex network of waterways. The nature of vegetation is a botanist’s delight – the place being an ecological evolution in action.
The fauna is equally rich with home to the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger and to the equally exotic pangolins and flying foxes, macaque and spotted deer. The aquatic world is not to be left behind with the estuarine and saltwater crocodile and the endangered Gangetic dolphin. Looking over these are the visual delight of birds like the kingfisher and the white bellied eagle.
The sparse human population lead a life largely untouched by modern amenities and technology. Both Hindu and Muslim inhabitants worship the Bonbibi appropriated as Bondurga or seen as Fatima – the daughter of Prophet Mohammad, according to their faith. Poetically – our own Noah’s Ark, the Sunderbans is a heritage site declared by the UNESCO.
However, the spurt in human settlement and extensive clearing of the forests have threatened to disturbed the delicate and complex biodiversity in these forests. Poaching also has claimed its victims with tigers and dolphins being the most vulnerable targets.
The vagaries of nature that subject several parts to tidal floods more than once a day also highlight its ecological frailty. Yet like the resilient resident mangroves that filter the salt and sustain on the freshwater and breathe through roots above the ground, the Sunderbans inspires us to evolve with the times.
So plan a rendezvous with this amazing archipelago – a beautiful space that abounds in vegetation where land and water meet, a syncretic blend of Hindu and Islamic faith, where wildlife and human habitation co-exist – fascinating, fragile … simply sundar.