India // Kolkata and West Bengal //

Sundarbans Tiger Reserve

The cluster of mangrove-covered islands known as the Sundarbans or “beautiful forest”, lie in the Ganges Delta, stretching east from the mouth of the Hooghly to Bangladesh. They are home to the legendary Royal Bengal tiger, which has adapted remarkably well to this watery environment, swimming from island to island and covering distances of as much as 40km in one day. The region has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its abundant wildlife also includes saltwater crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins, otters and monitor lizards. All the half-million or so people sharing this delicate ecosystem, regardless of religion, worship Banbibi, the goddess of the forest, and her Muslim consort Dakshin Rai, supreme ruler of the Sundarbans.

Along with a crocodile and turtle hatchery, the Project Tiger compound at Sajnekhali also houses a shrine to Banbibi. There is a watchtower here, but others like Dobanki, where an aerial walkway skirts the top of the mangroves, and Netidhopani, which sits near the ruins of a four-hundred-year-old temple, are far more attractive. As getting to the Sundarbans on your own is a laborious process, you might want to opt for an all-inclusive package tour. Be aware, though, that tiger sightings are rare.