The Sundarbans is one of Bangladesh’s must-see destinations. As the country’s largest tract of wilderness, it is one of the rare places where one can commune with nature in the country, in the presence of some of most majestic animals our planet has to offer. Over the Sundarban’s history, it has gradually shrunk to the 10,000 km2 that it now has, with 6,000km2 lying on the Bangladeshi side of the Sundarban. The status of Sundarbans is precarious: there exists a delicate balance between the urgent humanitarian needs of those who live beside it Sundarban and the animals who need as much habitat as possible to survive – particularly the majestic and well-known Royal Bengal Tigers.
One will find several tour operators now offering trips to the Sundarbans, but Rupantar Ecotourism is different from all the competition. The company originally had its start as a development organisation under the name Rupantar, which means ‘social transformation.’ The central idea behind its work is that development practitioners use local social/cultural media to encourage change among its client villages. In plain English, these are music performances where the villagers gather not only for entertainment but to hear stories about the difficulties some members of their society face and how they overcome those challenges. Given the low literacy rates and difficulties in transmitting information between the remote villages of the Sundarbans, Rupantar has discovered a unique, effective and culturally appropriate way to spread ideas. This is a novel approach and one that all development and tourism practitioners could learn from.
Rupantar Ecotourism is a new initiative of the organisation, one which now incorporates the potential of tourism into its development programs. The company incorporates visits to the local villages into their tours, and encourages interaction between the local villagers and the visiting guests. The villagers also put on a music and theatre performance for the guests – this is often done at a local home, where hundreds of people gather to listen and indulge their curiosity about the visiting guests. The villagers are not only entertained by such performances, but this is also an opportunity for Rupantar to encourage them to conserve the villages, and see that other people will come from across the world to experience the natural abundance which lies right next door to their homes.
In all these senses Rupantar Ecotourism embodies the idea of ecotourism in its most pure form. But because they are new to the tourism business, they still have much to learn when it comes to hospitality and guidance. Certainly, they are absolutely ready to receive travellers who have not only a genuine curiosity about the forest, but also have a real interest in supporting the nearby villages – those who are the real stewards of the forest.
Day 1: Depart Khulna (excluding Khulna) arrive, Mongla, Local village cultural performance
Day 2: Travel to Southwest Sanctuary of Sundarban
Day 3: Roam around Southwest Sanctuary: Kotka Mangrove Trail, Kotka Sea Beach
Day 4: Optional exploration: Kochikhali Wildlife Preservation Centre, Sundarbans mud flats, mangrove channel cruises.
Day 5: Return Khulna