Fortunately, we got lucky to have a guide with us on our journey. Though from the first day, I had seen varieties of mangroves in the region with their roots sticking out (often called breathing roots as these roots take oxygen from the air and not from the soil as is the case with other plants), our guide explained the things more clearly, thereby making the tour all the more enjoyable.
It is believed that "Mangrove" is a combination of "Mangue" (a Portuguese word) and "grove" (an English word). Mangroves are plants found in salty waters of tropical and subtropical intertidal areas of the world. The specific areas where these plants are found are called “mangrove ecosystem”. Sunderban is one such area. Our guide also told that the existence of mangrove ecosystems on coastline has saved lives and property during natural hazards like cyclones, erosion and storms. This could explain why some cyclones in the recent years passed without causing much damage to Sunderban while causing havoc in Bangladesh. (The Sunderban region, our guide told, was initially spread over 46,000sq. km. Out of this, India got 4262 sq. km while Bangladesh got the rest. However, what now remains in Bangladesh has decreased to even lower than India’s share).
Though I am very poor in Botany, the presence of our guide helped in the identification of various varieties of mangroves out of the 84 species that the place has. The ones that we saw were Sundari (Sunderban is believed to have got its name from these trees), Baen (Avicennia marina), Dhani grass (Oryza coarctata), Garjan (Rhizophora species), Goran (Ceriops species), Dhundul (Xylocarpus granatum) and Kankra (Bruguiera species).
While our boat was exploring the creeks, we were busy viewing the flora on the edges, enjoying an exciting ride at the same time. The few creeks that we visited were quite broad. So, our boat was choosing to be nearer to one edge at every turn so that we can have a clear view of the trees on that side.
We finally reached Sudhanyakhali Watch Tower at 9.30 a.m (Last tiger was sighted here on 15th March'08 @ 5.20 p.m) . We were told that this was the place where most of the tigers have been sighted. There is a pond of sweet water here where the animals come to drink water. We saw seven axis deers merrily eating grass on the edges of this pond. Another visitor who took a dip in the pond was a snake (goshaap, in local parlance) though some of the visitors mistook it to be a crocodile (sigh!!!). We stayed at the tower for half an hour but the tiger decided not to appear. So, we left. Though most of the tourists were very disappointed for not having seen the tiger, I wasn’t so sad coz my primary agenda had never been seeing the tiger (though I would have been happy to see at least one). Rather, I was interested to visit this World Heritage Site (the core area namely the Sunderban National Park has been given the status of a World Heritage site) and enjoy whatever the place has to offer. So, I was returning in a happy mood as I finally made this trip (there was a lot of uncertainty in the initial stages about this visit). My balance sheet reads viewing some monkeys, deers, snakes, honey-bees and varieties of mangroves.
However, if I get a second chance to visit the place, I would surely design my own itinerary, hire a boat and guide and explore the region sans the constraints of a package tour.
Postscript: I erroneously marked gosaap as a snake but thanks to Avra, I would correct it now. The "Water monitor" (gosaap in local parlance) isn't a snake. Rather, it's a member of the monitor lizard family.