Ratargul Swamp Forest: The Amazon of Bangladesh
It is an enormous forest where rows of trees are standing in a wetland dipping their waist under water. This woodland is so dense that even scorching sunlight cannot touch the water through leaves. That is why, major portion of this forest remains greenish in colour. Wherever you look you will see only water and trees, and high land is beyond your sight. It may seem to you that you are trapped in a submerged forest. It is not end here. There is danger everywhere. While wandering around this jungle, visitors may encounter snake hissing from adjacent trees and anonymous birds flying over the head. Except water drops and moving of wind, no other sound will come to your ear. Birds like eagles and vultures are waiting on top of the tree for their prey. Reading such description the thing that will come to your mind first is Amazon forest. However, you will be surprised to know that this narrative was about Ratargul Swamp Forest which is almost similar to Amazon. Because of its similarity, it is even called Amazon of Bangladesh.
You need to know the basic information about Ratargul Swamp Forest before making your trip. It is at the centre of attraction among tourists because it is the only swamp forest in all over Bangladesh. Another thing that allures people is that it is one of the twenty-two freshwater swamp forests in the whole world. In the Indian subcontinent, there are only two of them- one in Sri Lanka and the other is in our country. Water of this forest can be compared with crystal clear. Not only the shades of the tree fall into the water and give it green colour but also you can see the bottom layer. The Government of Bangladesh has conserved this forest under the Department of Forestry.
This forest changes its beauty with the change of season. That is why, it looks different in different seasons. Diversity of its nature attracts tourists all over the year, but the best time to travel Ratargul is during and after the rainy season.
Ratargul Swamp Forest is connected with the Gowain river through a lake named chengir khal. During the rainy season, the entire forest goes under water because at that time water, coming from hills of India, enters into the lake through river. This state of weather remains same from May to early October and temperature remains 32 degree Celsius which decreases to 12 degree Celsius in January. There remains 20-30 feet water in the monsoon period while the water level decreased to 10 feet deep during the rest of the year.
However, in winter season, we can see totally opposite scenario. Forest becomes dry at that time. Only water reservoirs dug inside the forest reserve water. It becomes a safe haven for migratory birds.
In order to see this marshland forest, travellers will have to go to Gowainghat upazila of Sylhet division. The country’s only recognized swamp forest is about 26 kilometres from Sylhet city. The size of the forest is 30,325 acres; of them 504 acres of land was declared wildlife sanctuary in 1973.
How do you go there?
If you live in Dhaka or other divisions of Bangladesh then you will have to go to Sylhet first. From there, you have to go to Ratargul. There are two main ways to go there. It is up to you which one you will choose.
Let’s first talk about the easiest way to go to Ratargul swamp forest. For that, you have to hire an auto rickshaw from Ambarkhana point of Sylhet city. It may take one and half an hour to reach Motorghat. From there, you can hire an engine driven boat or normal boat which may cost Tk 300-400 per person. After the visit, you will return to Sylhet in the same way.
The second one is costly as well as time consuming. If you plan on visiting Jafflong at the same time in the same route then you can go for it. This journey also requires two boats to travel the forest. You can choose either auto rickshaw from Ambarkhana point of Sylhet city or Jafflong bound bus from Sobhanighat as a means of transportation. Whatever transport you choose, you have to go to Gowainghat upazila which is about two and half an hour journey. After reaching there, you have to hire an engine boat two ways around on contract which may cost around Tk 1500. Boarding on this boat, you will have to go to Forest bit office of Ratargul. There you have to shift to small boats for getting into the forest.
Flora and Fauna:
Existence of various types of plants and animals has added extra attraction to this forest. Till now, it houses 73 species of plants which cover 80 percent of the forest with its upper part, also known as umbrella of the tree. While roaming the forest, visitors will come to see Banyan Tree very often. Apart from this, Millettia pinnata (Koroch tree), Barringtonia acutangula (Hizal tree), Sacred Garlic Pear or Temple Plant, Alstonia Scholaris (Chatim tree) can also be seen. Despite being a natural forest, the Forestry Department of Bangladesh has planted some watery plants like Calamus tenuis, Burflower Tree, Schumannianthus dichotomus etc.
After visiting Ratargul Swamp Forest, you may feel like swimming into the water. But do not dare to do this because this submerged area is the home to many venomous and hazardous animals and most of them live under water. Snake and worm snake are commonly seen in this water-drown forest. In the dry season, mongoose can be spotted. It is also the residence of monkey, water monitor, insects and different kinds of birds- Heron, Egret, Kingfisher, Parrot, Bulbul, Swan, Dove, Water fowl, Eagle and Kite. Winter season is the best time to see Cotton Pygmy Goose, migratory birds and almost extinct Vulture. It is also a source of various types of local fishes- Batasio, Rita, Pabda, Rohu etc.
This submerged forest is not a safe tourist place for those who do not know how to swim. Boats may collapse, causing the death of visitors. To avoid being drowned because of boat accident, you can use life jacket. During monsoon, water level increase and at that time, poisonous snakes take shelter in the trees. If you visit the place at this time, try not to touch the trees or water nonchalantly. For better precaution, you can also carry Carbolic acid.
Food and accommodation facilities:
There is no quality restaurant near Ratargul Swamp Forest. That is why, visitors are advised to collect whatever foods they get according to their need from Gowainghat bazaar. There are a number of quality hotels in Sylhet city. You can choose any of the hotels according to your demand and budget. It is heard that the Department of Forest is making a rest house for the tourists. No doubt, it will help provide the tourist accommodation.
In the end, I would like to request you all not to pollute the forest leaving empty bottles, packets of chips or biscuits here and there. We have to keep in mind that this is our asset. So, it is our responsibility to keep it neat and clean.