Bangladesh: Adventures in the Sundarbans – Part 4

We’re Going on a (Unlikely to be Successful) Tiger Hunt.

Part 1 – Intro & visas
Part 2 – People & Dhaka
Part 3 – The rocket
Part 4 – Tiger hunting in Sundarbans

Contrary to the name of this site, it’s not possible to explore the Sundarbans without a guide, but sometimes to see unusual places you just have to suck it up, and play by the rules. This means that once you’ve arrived in Khulna, your next step to begin your hunt for the elusive tiger will be to organise a tour of the Sundarbans with an agent.

Khulna - Bangladesh

Tiger sighting in Khulna.

There are a few different styles of tours you can arrange. The most typical is a 3 day tour on board a sort of small cruise ship (similar to the Rocket) with cabins for 20 or so tourists. The normal itinerary is to spend much of the first day sailing to the deepest, most southern tip of the Sundarbans, the second day doing forest walks and nature watching, and the third day is the return to Khulna. Most people book this type of tour before they arrive in Bangladesh, as they don’t depart every day. You can expect to pay around Tk. 15,000 per person.

If the option of a group tour is making your skin crawl, you can of course organise a private tour using a much smaller (but arguably cosier) boat. A typical 1 day itinerary starts at Khulna, heads out to Koromjal (a mini zoo with deer and crocodiles, jam-packed with Bangladeshi tourists) then heads deeper into the Sundarbans to Herbaria forest station (where you can walk in the forest with armed guard) then finally back to Khulna. Herbaria forest station is one of the best places to spot tigers, but if you were really serious about seeing one you should extend your trip to two days and spend the night there.

private boat - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Our private boat for the tour – every bit as sea worthy as the Rocket.

muddy forest - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Exploring the Sundarbans – prepare for mud.

Another two day option is to include a night spent in a village eco-home stay, then the next day visit the UNESCO world heritage sights of Bagerhat before returning to Khulna. I was sceptical of the village stay at first, as I generally find children excited by seeing a foreigner overbearing rather than endearing, but I have to say it turned out to be the highlight of the trip. The countryside is beautiful, lush and green, and it was a huge contrast to see how people in the villages live compared to the cities.

rice paddies - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Glorious green rice paddies.

village - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Life on the edge of the Sunderbans at dusk.

We spent a peaceful evening wandering around the villages on the edge of the Sundarbans, for the most part left to our own devices as people busied away at their work. Even though the villagers were poor and life there was clearly tough and unforgiving, it was quite easy to romanticise the simplicity of their traditional life-style compared to the capitalistic, urban hell hole of Dhaka (and frankly, my home of London).

The eco-cottage was spic and span, and an all round pleasant place to stay. The meals served were the most delicious food we ate in Bangladesh (OK the competition wasn’t stiff on that front). On day two we woke at dawn to have a rowing boat tour of the tiny Sundarban canals, which is how my imagination pictured myself exploring the swamps and is definitely the most atmospheric way to get up close and personal to the forest.

canal - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Exploring the Sunderbans canals just after dawn.

As for finding tigers, during our trip, we saw monkeys, monitor lizards, snakes, deer, crocodiles, crabs, birds, even an otter, but not a whisker of a tiger.

The closest we got was a tree in Herbaria forest station, which had been used extensively as a scratching post, and if you’re lucky you’ll see a paw print, but the odds of seeing one of the 100 or so prowling tigers in the area are not at all in your favour. Luckily, other wildlife is plentiful and the unique forest is reason enough in itself for the trip.

Tiger scratching post - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Tree mauled by a tiger.

monitor lizards - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Tiger? Nope, monitor lizards.

We paid Tk. 21,000 for the two day trip (so, Tk 10,500 each). We haggled to get this price down from the original offer of Tk. 30,000. You could push it lower by excluding the side trip to Bagerat, as you can easily do this on your own by taking a 1 hour bus from Khulna. The most expensive part of the trip was the addition Herbaria forest station as it requires additional permits as you start to get deep into the forest, but it’s worth the additional cost as it is the closest you will get to tigers and far more organic than the crowded, zoo experience of Koromjal.

As for tour operators, they’re not mentioned in Lonely Planet, but I would recommend Arranger Tours. We turned up in their office wanting to go to the Sundarbans the next day, they talked us through all the different options we could include in the trip, had a sensible discussion of the price, and then delivered on absolutely everything as agreed. Our guide was a young and friendly guy who originally came from one of the Sundarban villages, and took excellent care of us throughout, including paying all the necessary tips along the way (a welcome respite for us from baksheesh).

Happy tiger hunting!

monkey - Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Also not a tiger.

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