Bengal’s Sunderbans to get women tourist guides for the first time

This is the first time that women guides will be placed on the boats that enter the tiger reserve with tourist guides. The Sunderbans, located at the southern tip of West Bengal is home to around 100 tigers. Around one million tourists visit the delta, which can be accessed only on boats, to see the tigers and crocodiles among other animals.
Bhaswati Kamila Sarkar, 34, is a former primary school teacher and has also worked as a trainer in a village self help group. (HT PHOTO.)
Bhaswati Kamila Sarkar, 34, is a former primary school teacher and has also worked as a trainer in a village self help group. (HT PHOTO.)
Updated on Sep 22, 2021 01:19 AM IST
Copy Link

Born and brought up in a remote village on a Sunderban-island located opposite to the Sunderban Tiger Reserve, 34-year-old Bhaswati Kamila Sarkar has seen it all – Royal Bengal Tigers, huge estuarine crocodiles, man-animal conflict, impenetrable mangroves in the world’s largest delta and devastating cyclones like Amphan and Yaas.

From October 1, she will have a daunting task of showing and explaining these things to tourists who visit the Sunderbans every year. Sarkar is one of the four women who have been selected by the state forest department to become tourist guides at the tiger reserve.

“If a woman can become a pilot, drive a train why can’t I be a tourist guide in the Sunderbans? Tourists often visit my village and I get to interact with them. So when I heard that the forest department was looking for female guides I opted for it. This will also make me self-dependent and I can earn something for my family,” said Sarkar, a resident of Dayapur, who had earlier worked in a village nursery school and as a trainer in a self-help group.

This is the first time that women guides will be placed on the boats that enter the tiger reserve with tourist guides. The Sunderbans, located at the southern tip of West Bengal is home to around 100 tigers. Around one million tourists visit the delta, which can be accessed only on boats, to see the tigers and crocodiles among other animals.

“We have around 60 – 64 male guides. There were some vacancies. So we thought why not give an opportunity to village women and see if they want to join. A two-day guide orientation training was organised to see whether the women would be comfortable. The four women who had come forward said they can do it and so we decided to go ahead. If everything goes well we can rope in more women guides for our team in future,” said S Jones Justin, deputy field director of the STR.

While the reserve has been closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic it is scheduled to reopen from October 1 ahead of the festive season. The peak tourism period in the Sunderban extends from November to February. Around 120 boats are allowed to enter the reserve every day during the peak season. If guides are available they are tagged to a boat.

Sprawling over India and Bangladesh the delta consists of 10,200 sq km of mangrove forests spread. The Indian Sunderban region, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, consists of 4,200 sq km of reserved forests. Of this the Sundarban Tiger Reserve is spread over 2585 sq. km.

Here river divide the habitat of tigers and villages. The Sunderban accounts for the highest number of people killed by tigers in India. At least 62 people were killed by tigers between 2015 and 2019.

“I have just passed my graduation and was looking for some job to support my family and myself. Last week when I heard that the forest department was looking for some female guides I opted for it. Even though I have been born and brought up close to the forest I would need some training to know more about the biodiversity and how to be a guide,” said 21-year-old Sumona Mondol, a resident of Bijoynaar village.

While her father and mother are farmers and often need to go to other states as migrant labourers, she stays back with her younger brother in the village. Her brother is studying in class 10.

“The forest department would impart them a training covering topics like the ecology and biodiversity of the Sunderbans, climate change and its impact, the importance of the mangrove and man-animal interface among others. They would also be given training on communication skills in Bengali, English and Hindi as they would have to speak with tourists not just from West Bengal but also from other states in India and many times international tourists,” said Justin.

The Sunderban with its thick mangrove has often proved to be the savior of Kolkata from the wrath of severe cyclones like Aila, Yaas and Bulbul. The mangrove forest acts like a bio-shield helping to reduce the wind speed drastically when the storm moves through the delta to reduce the impact of waves and the storm surge triggered by the cyclones.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Thursday, December 09, 2021