On the verge of completing a somewhat opportunistic three-month ban on tourism in the Sundarbans, there is a growing buzz within the travel and tourism community over the opportunity to return to, or experience anew its unique wonder and tranquillity.
The Bangladesh portion of the world's largest mangrove forest, also the country's first World Heritage Site as designated by Unesco, is set to reopen for tourists from home and abroad on September 1 (Thursday).
Earlier, the Forest Department had imposed a three-month ban on tourists from June 1 to August 31 in the Sundarbans, to coincide with what is the peak breeding season for most animals in the forest.
It came on top of the various limits and restrictions that piled up over a period of two years during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Forest Dept. was probably able to announce the tourism ban during the breeding season this year due to the already depressed state of the industry.
Now with the ban set to be lifted, to go with the world reverting fast to its pre-Covid state, prospective tourists from home and abroad are looking forward to the first tourist season in the Sundarbans, that usually lasts from October to February, since 2019.
There is also what can only be described as the "Padma Bridge effect". Tour operators have taken all-out steps to welcome visitors in large numbers, as they are expecting a high number of tourists due to the smooth communication on offer by road between capital Dhaka and the country's south-west, where the Sundarbans sits, since the opening of the Padma Bridge.
Meanwhile, sources at the Forest Department are even keen to play up the apparent success of the 3-month tourism ban. They say the animals were able to move about freely during this period and safely engage in breeding.
Officials say the number of wild animals has increased while the animals like deer, monkeys, pigs, snakes, pythons and birds were seen roaming the forest fearlessly. The famous Royal Bengal Tigers were also heard roaring from deep inside the forest
The unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity of the Sundarbans has always attracted tourists, especially the beautiful scenery of Karamjal, Harbaria, Kalagachia, Katka, Kachikhali, Dobeki and Heron Point areas.
While visiting the Sundarbans, travellers can easily go for a daylong tour of Karamjal, Harbaria and Kalagachia.
There are some 450 small- and big-sized rivers and canals inside the Sundarbans.
It is home to 334 species of trees, 165 species of moss, 13 varieties of orchid, and more than 375 species of wild animals.
The tiger is at the top of the food chain, and according to the last completed camera survey, there were 114 Royal Bengal Tigers in the Bangladesh part of the forest.
Muhammad Belayet Hossain, Divisional Forest Officer of the Sundarbans East Zone, said the authorities concerned imposed a three-month restriction on the entrance of tourists and fishermen in the Sundarbans from June 1 to August 31, so that the animals could enjoy their breeding period safely.
"It will be opened for tourists from September 1 and all necessary preparation has been taken to welcome the tourists in the Sundarbans. After the opening of the Padma Bridge, people can easily visit the Sundarbans with a daylong programme," he said, adding he expects a huge number of tourists.
Azad Kabir, an official of the Karamjal Wild Animal Breeding Centre that met with great success in breeding baby crocs recently, said the facility is eager to not only welcome tourists, but also to pursue working relationships and research opportunities with others in the field of life sciences.
Mizanur Rahman, general secretary of the Boat Association as well as proprietor of The Southern Tours and Travels based in Mongla, said already 70 tourists have completed their booking for a three-day trip in the Sundarbans through them, for which they will be paying upwards of Tk 8000 each.
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