Tigers in the Sundarbans: India's Best-Kept Secret
One of the most enigmatic national parks in India, the Sundarbans is the largest delta in the world, with saline mud flats and thick mangrove forests teeming with wildlife, of which the Royal Bengal tiger is the most exotic inhabitant. Spanning around 4,264 sq. km (1,663 sq. miles) in India and an even larger area in neighboring Bangladesh, and surrounded by the Ganga, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 but remains one of the least developed parks in Asia, as access is only via water. Although there are affordable government ferries (West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation; tel. 033/2248-7302) offering overnight trips, it is a bit of a slog just to get to the ferry itself, as it involves several switches between cabs and smaller boats, and accommodation is below par. However, for the enthusiastic, Vivada Inland Waterways (tel. 033/2463-1990; www.vivada.com; firstname.lastname@example.org), offers comfortable accommodation in boats, as well as relatively easy access; packages vary, but be prepared to shell out in the region of $735 to $885 for a 4-day luxury cruise, and of course with no guarantee to sighting anything bigger than a Kingfisher. The Sunderban Tiger Camp (tel. 033/3293-5749; www.sunderbantigercamp.com) offers a cheaper alternative with its range of river-side accommodation (huts, tents, cottages, A/C cottages; non-A/C doubles from Rs 2,750) set in the midst of gardens teeming with waddling ducks and geese. While the watchtowers and museum are in a sorry state, the cruise along the silent mangroves is quite lovely.
Cruising Down the Ganges
Great mountains spawn great rivers. No surprise then that from mighty Himalayas flow two of the world's longest, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Meeting in Bengal, a province now split between India and Bangladesh, their combined flow enters the sea through the world's largest delta. The Ganges in particular has always been the highway of empires -- Hindu, Buddhist, Moghul, and British -- and a cruise along it and the Hugli (its westernmost branch through the delta) is a journey through history. Regular steamer services ended before World War II, but now Assam Bengal Navigation is running cruises of 1 to 2 weeks both along the Hugli from Kolkata through rural Bengal and, from 2010 onwards, along the Ganges proper as far as Patna, with its associations ranging from the Buddha's life on earth to the East India Company's opium trade. Cruises also take in the scene of Robert Clive's victory at Plassey, the medieval ruins of Gaur, and Murshidabad, the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal. The ships are intimate (no more than 24 guests), air-conditioned and comfortable, with knowledgeable guides on board to elucidate the complexities of the region's long history ($350 per person per night).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.