Classic Trip to the Sunderbans for over 10 years, this leading local operator has been operating boat-based tourism to the Bangladesh side of the World Heritage-listed site at the Sunderbans. While the Indian Sunderbans experience features accommodation based beside the Sunderbans, in Bangladesh the experience is very different as it is entirely boat-based: well-serviced vessels park in smaller river channels of the massive mangrove forest and all meals are taken on board. This makes for a more intimate experience of the Bangladesh largest and most pristine wildlife sanctuary and far more opportunity to spend time inside the wilderness itself.
Several stops are frequented by most tourist boats visiting the Sunderbans. Your trip operator typically takes its guests to Kotka and Kochikhali, where nature walks, beach walks and morning cruises are the activities on offer. Kotka has a particularly empty and private beach, where guests normally have the rare opportunity to wear a western-style bathing suit and play in the gentle shallow waters of the Bay of Bengal.
Overnights are all taken onboard one of the operator’s three Sunderbans vessels. Accommodation is always twin-share, typically in bunk bed arrangements. Each vessel has an enclosed dining area as well as sitting spaces in the open air, although these tend to get hot during the day and make much better places to sleep in the evening with a mosquito net. The company has a reputation for sending its guests home heavier than when they came, which does say something about the high quality, freshly prepared food served on board.
Wilderness lovers, peace seekers, families and travellers should all consider a visit to the Sunderbans and especially with this operator, although the price of an organised tour might make it prohibitive for those on a tight budget. To catch a rare glimpse of a Royal Bengal Tiger is an experience very few visitors have had on these tours, so its best to come with an open mind, seek out other more easily viewed wildlife and also expect a lot of peace and quiet onboard the boat.
Environmentally-speaking, there are only a few pristine wildernesses left in the heavily populated country, and because of this they absolutely require conservation. This operator has proudly supported conservation initiatives throughout its operations. The only strike against them in this respect is that they have yet to incorporate the welfare of the residents surrounding Sunderbans into their activities in an explicit way, although they are actively involved in the region’s affairs as it relates to their operations (i.e. through the forest department).
Finally, there are sometimes special opportunities to join a special departure to the Sunderbans which is meant to experience the ‘honey-hunting’ phenomenon inside the Sunderbans. This is a very unique experience in which guests can travel with the local mawali, to see the honey being collected from the forest. The profession is slightly dangerous, given the presence of tigers in the forest and the need to deal with a horde of confused bees very carefully. But to see the collection with ones own eyes is indeed a very unique and unforgettable experience. While the current review describes a ‘classic’ Sunderbans trip, one need only inquire at the office a few months before early April to see if there will be a special departure of the honey hunting tours.
Day 1: Dhaka to Khulna
Day 2: Khulna to Kotka
Day 3: In and around Kotka
Day 4: Explore Kochikhali
Day 5: Back to Khulna and then Dhaka
How this trip makes a difference?
As a nature and wilderness tour, the local operator has done very well to promote the last large wilderness reserve that Bangladesh has to offer. By designing boat-based tourism that goes deep into the Sunderbans, visitors get a very intimate and up-close experience of the forest. This is also low impact as no accommodation is housed inside the forest, plus all the activities necessary to support a tour are hosted on the boat itself. Meanwhile, the operator has also done quite a lot to support conservation in the Sunderbans. Its boat captains are trained to note dolphin sightings and provide that information to local conservation projects, plus the company often interacts with the staff of the Sunderbans Tiger Project in its efforts to promote conservation of this most majestic animal.
Guides, staff and travellers all benefit from this eco-friendly approach to travel in the Sunderbans, and most Bangladeshis would agree nowadays that conservation of the nature reserve is in the interest of the country as the wildlife that it houses. By choosing to only visit the permitted areas of the Sunderbans, disturbance to the forest is kept at a real minimum.
Running a responsible tourism business
The local operator, by nature of its boat-based tourism, uses a relatively low amount of energy in order to accomplish the Sunderbans tours. They only use generators in the evenings when lighting and fans becomes more of a necessity for our guests, and only until a certain hour as to not disturb the wildlife in the forest. In the office itself, only energy-efficient bulbs are used, and AC is only turned on when absolutely necessary or in the areas where guests are consulting with their tour planners.
Everything in Bangladesh is recycled and reused until it becomes absolutely unusable, and that goes for their waste recycling as well. Paper recycling is encouraged.
Something quite unique to this company is the presence of many women staff in the office. As the staff accumulates more experience they are gradually given more responsibilities. One of their recent initiatives is to allow the staff to travel and plan trips themselves. This year their staff retreat is going to be to Darjeeling; this is one of the best ways to provide incentives to their staff and encourage loyalty, and they have an excellent retention rate and opportunities to learn the business. In previous years, the operator was at the forefront of organising tourism fairs that served as networking and educational opportunities for their staff.
- Moonlit starry nights spent sleeping on the deck of the boat is by far the most memorable experience I’ve had while in the Sunderbans.
- Seeing hundreds of spotted deer, known as chital in Bangladesh.
- Contemplating the life of those whose livelihoods are dependent on the forest and the risks they face while collecting honey, wood and other materials from the forest (which they mostly do in a sustainable way).
- Eating too much good food! It’s a real problem when most days are spent in various sedentary positions on the boats.
- While catching a glimpse of the elusive tiger is what attracts most visitors, it’s the peace, quiet and serenity found inside this pristine wilderness that makes some guests come back again and again. DON’T expect to see a tiger.
- It does take the better part of a day to reach the southern end of the Sunderbans on this operator’s vessels, which means for one whole day of passing time. This is great if you’re also here to relax but the cruising is what pushes up the trip costs for fuel, etc.
The company’s founder is one of Bangladesh’s longest-serving tourism personalities, getting his start in the industry when he led tours for a Swedish company. He would later found this business, which is today one of the most established and professional tour operators Bangladesh has to offer — and there aren’t that many that deserve that title.
The founder likes to think of his work as “seeding fertile ground.” The former agriculturalist was studying in the United States when he met a Swedish gentleman who, at first, employed him as an impromptu tour operator and fixer. He would later become the father of Bangladesh’s embryonic tourist industry, after that same Swede employed him around South Asia and gave him all the background and experienced he needed to set up his local tour company in 1989. Today he is the president of the Tourism Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB). He has now stepped back from the day-to-day operations of his company and is working for the development of the industry and its operators with TOAB.
“It was April 1989,” says the founder of this company. “I thought, let me plant a small tree and if it becomes big, it will provide shade, many people can come around and take shelter.” Several years later, that tree is still growing and Bangladesh’s domestic tourism industry is now growing steadily. “I have proven that it is possible to have a tourism business and survive in Bangladesh,” he says.
“In Bangladesh, rumour has it that Royal Bengal tigers have acquired a taste for human flesh. Cyclones are to blame, so the story goes; the terrible storms sweep across the Bay of Bengal and send dozens of fishermen to a watery grave, their bodies later washing up on the region’s beaches where they become an easy and habit-inducing meal for tigers…Independent travel is not easily organised in Bangladesh. This company is one of two established tour operators.” CNN Traveller, “Man-Eaters of Bengal”, by Mikey Leung, May 2007
Ideal For Whom
Nature travellers would enjoy knowing they’ve experienced the tide country of the Bangladeshi Sunderbans and the boats are spacious and well-enough equipped to keep even the most active of children occupied and exploring the different corners of the vessel. Individual budget travellers might find it a little more difficult to plan a departure as they will probably need to join an already departing trip in order for it to become economical. But for the experience of being able to penetrate deeply into the forest, travelling by boat is a must.
When To Visit
The early winter season (November-December) is the best time to visit because of clearer skies and cool evening temperatures. January to March is still good although it starts getting stiflingly hot in late April and especially into June. July-September is not suggested due to the erratic and more unpredictable weather.
The tour operator is also trying to arrange special departures during early April in order to experience the phenomenon of honey hunting in the Sunderbans. These are special departure tours that offer guest a literal ‘taste’ of the Sunderbans’ most valuable export product – its honey. Please check with us for special trips.
Things To Bring
Torch, towel, umbrella or raincoat, binoculars, suitable Clothes, camera & film, mosquito repellent, sun tan lotion, walking shoes & sandals. Also bring swimming gear, reading material, and some board games.
The main gateway to the Sunderbans lies at Khulna, the divisional capital of the country’s south-western Khulna Division.
Dhaka has the nearest major international airport. For those with the means to do so, flying to nearby Jessore and then transferring to Khulna is the fastest option to reach the boat docks. Most of the airlines offer a transfer service for an extra Tk150. The ticket cost is somewhere between $60-80 USD but sometimes there are flight specials on which cuts the price below $50 USD.
An overnight train is also available from Dhaka’s cantonment railway station. While not the fastest way to reach Khulna, it is certainly the most comfortable and offers the best value, if compared to the hairy bus journey and ferry crossing required to reach Khulna by bus. This is also an efficient use of time as you can sleep on the train. The schedule is as follows:
Departing from Dhaka Cantonment Railway Station:
No Destination Train name Off day Dep time Arr time
726 Khulna Sunderbans Provati Thursday 06.30 17.00
764 Khulna Sunderbans Nishitha Monday 19.20 05.55
Green Line, Shohagh and Eagle are the main bus companies offering A/C overnight or daytime service to Khulna. You can buy tickets from the Russell Square bus counters in Dhaka (ask to go to Russell Square near Dhanmondi). The tickets cost Tk650 and up depending on the quality of the bus (Green Line and Shohagh have the newest busses). This route also involves a ferry crossing at Aricha/Goalando Padma river crossing, and usually takes 1.5–2 hours to make the crossing (including loading and unloading of busses).
For those coming on the overland route from Kolkata, you can easily get transport from Jessore to Khulna all day and night, and if you’ve managed to book a trip ahead of time with the operator then you can show up and join a tour.
Normal Payment Policy: At time of booking a deposit of 25% is charged to your credit card in Euro equivalent by Travel To Care on behalf of the operator. The rest of the payment must be made 3 (three) days prior to the start of the tour. If this payment is not done on time, your booking is liable to be cancelled.
Normal Cancellation Policy: For all cancellations, the initial 10% deposit is non-refundable. In addition, if you cancel your tour 3 (three) days prior to the start of the trip only the actual cost incurred by us will be charged. If it is cancelled less than 3 (three) days and more than 2 (two) days before the start, 25% of the tour fee will be charged as cancellation fee. If cancellation is done less than 2 (two) days and more than 24 hours before the start, 50% of the tour fee will be charged as the cancellation fee. If cancelled less than 24 hours before only 25% of the tour fee will be refunded.
Payment Options: MasterCard and Visa accepted for deposit and balance payments.
Period(s) tour is not operational: Between April – September, tours are subject to weather conditions. Please inquire well in advance.