Ratargul Swamp Forest
Ratargul Swamp Forest is the only freshwater swamp forest in Bangladesh and one of the most popular tourist destinations. Located near the city of Sylhet, the forest is called the “Sundarbans of Sylhet”. There are only 22 peat swamp forests in the whole world, one of which is Ratargul. As a result, Ratargul tops the list of destinations for tourists visiting Sylhet.
Biodiversity of Ratargul
Ratargul is not a littoral forest of being only a reservoir of swamp trees, it is also a reservoir of various creatures, swamp and marsh animals, swamp fish and natural beauty. Numerous old plants have been submerged up to the waist for hundreds of years across a wide area. The branches of these trees are so dense and elongated that the sky is almost invisible. It is like a wide green natural canopy made of foliage. Monkeys are hanging, squirrels are jumping, and snakes are crawling over that natural canopy. In the dry season, foxes, mongoose, lizards, mink swamp and other terrestrial animals can be seen. You may notice that the green heads of some trees have turned white with the color of herons. Ratargul wetland is a sanctuary for various species of birds such as wild ducks, gannets, vultures, waterfowls, doves, storks, kingfishers etc.
During the rainy season, you’ve to ride a boat to enter the forest. These are small dingi or canoe boats. The deeper you go, the thicker the green, the more intensive the nature. A strange interplay of light-and-shade. The green canopy is reflected in the water mirror. As if it looks like the greenish darkness. You’ve to go forward moving aside the branches with your both hands. Seeing this primitive nature of the forest, Ratargul is compared to the Amazon great forest. Although there is no need to compare. Ratargul Swamp Forest is unparalleled with his own beauty. Because there are only two such forests in the whole Asia continent: one in Sri Lanka and the other is our Ratargul.
Ratargul's natural Beauty
The Guaine River flows through the northern end of the Ratargul Swamp Forest, and is surrounded by two haors (wetlands / marshes) on the other three sides of the forest. These haors are ‘Shimul Bil haor’ and ‘Neowa Bil haor’. When you enter the forest, you almost can’t see the sky. If you look up, you’ll see a green canopy of the foliage. In fact, 80 percent of Ratargul’s sky is covered with trees. The forest is full of innumerable plants, it seems a green darkness all around. To the south are the dense high bushes of Murta and Jalibet, like impeccable walls. Just water and water all around, the watery forest in the middle raises its head like a peaceful green island.
Plants in Ratargul
Milletia pinnata (Koroch / করচ গাছ) is the most widely grown tree in Ratargul Swamp Forest. Koroch is a perennial, fast-growing, evergreen plant with dense stalks. It looks a lot like a banyan tree. Old Koroch trees are full of crooked roots and are extremely twiggy. In summer, these trees bloom in small clusters of reddish or light purple flowers. Then the whole forest blossomed and became colorful.
More than 80 species of swamp forest plants are found in Ratargul. Notable among them are banyan (Ficus benghalensis), Hijal (Barringtonia acutangula), Barun (Crateva religiosa), Arjun (Terminalia arjuna), Chatim (Alstonia scholaris), Jam (Syzygium cumini) etc.
The Origin of the Name Ratargul
‘Shital Pati’, in the greater Sylhet region, is a traditional mat made of plants. The plant from which it is made is called Murta. This Murta is also called ‘Rata’ in some areas of Sylhet. And in Farsi, Urdu and Pashto, the word ‘Gul’ means rose. Since Farsi was a predominant language in Bangladesh during the pre-colonial period, the word ‘Gul’ is commonly a known word in this country. For example, a rose garden or rose forest is often called ‘Gulbag’. Thus, with the passage of time, the meaning of the word ‘Gul’ in the mouths of the common people has changed somewhat verbally, to be used in the sense of ‘forest’.
There are lots of Murta bushes in Ratargul wetlands. Noticing this, the locals named this forest Ratargul, meaning the forest of Murta.
Area and Climate of Ratargul
Ratargul, the submerged freshwater swamp forest, occupies 3,326 acres of land on the south bank of the Guaine River near the city of Sylhet. Of this, 504 acres of dense forest was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1973. Ratargul, one of the few wetlands in the world, is protected by the Forest Department of the Government of Bangladesh. During the monsoon, the forest goes submerged under 20-25 feet of water. The rest of the year the water depth remains average 8-12 feet. On the other hand, the canals that flow out of the forest all the way around, in winter they become footpaths. Then the water rolled down and landed on the marshes, which the forest department had dug. And aquatic animals take refuge there.
Ratargul is located in Fatehpur union of Gowainghat upazila of Sylhet district, south of Guaine river. The distance of this forest from Sylhet city is only 26 kilometers. Ratargul can be reached in half an hour by a CNG autorickshaw from Amberkhana in the city.
How to go to Ratargul
From Dhaka to Sylhet
If you would like to travel to Ratargul, you’ve to go to Sylhet city first. You can go directly to Sylhet from Dhaka by road, train and air. Sylhet can also be reached from Chittagong directly.
A total of 5 trains leave Dhaka’s Kamalapur railway station for Sylhet every day of the week. Among them, four are intercity trains and one mail train. However, some trains have off days. The following article will suffice for you to know more about Dhaka to Sylhet train schedule and ticket price: Dhaka to Sylhet Train Schedule 2020.
Buses leave Sylhet from Dhaka’s Fakirapul, Saidabad and Mohakhali bus stations. AC buses of Green Line Paribahan, Saudia S Alam Paribahan, Shyamali Paribahan and Ena Paribahan run on this route. Rent 800 to 1100 taka. Besides, non-AC buses of Shyamali Paribahan, Hanif Enterprise, Unique Service and Ena Paribahan go to Sylhet, fare is 400 to 470 taka. The buses of Ena Paribahan go to Sylhet via Tongi Ghorashal. Read Dhaka to Sylhet Bus: Ticket Price & Contacts for more details. The article includes the amount of fare and the phone number of each bus counter.
From Sylhet to Ratargul
From the Amberkhana or Mazar Gate in Sylhet, you can reach Motorghat near Ratargul in half an hour by CNG autorickshaw. If you reserve a CNG autorickshaw, you’ll have to pay 300 to 400 taka. The CNG autorickshaw will drop you off at Motorghat. You will find small boats at Motorgaht. These boats take you around the entire Swamp Forest Ratargul. You can rent a boat for 400 to 800 taka to explore the whole forest.
Ratargul can also be reached from Sylhet Amberkhana via Gowainghat. In that case you’ve to take a CNG autorickshaw from Sylhet city to Gowainghat Upazila Sadar. The rent will be 450 to 500 taka. Trawlers are available from there. If you reserve a trawler from Goainghat to Ratargul, the fare will be 700 to 800 taka. Then you’ve to reach Ratargul forest and take a small boat.
The best time to visit Ratargul Swamp Forest is during or near the rainy season. However, since there is deep water all around in this forest, you’ve to be careful about some things while traveling.
You should keep eyes on everything while traveling in this forest. There may be snakes in the branches of forest trees. There are leech infestations in the water. It is important to keep a life jacket with you if you don’t know how to swim.
Also take with umbrella or raincoat and a sun hat. Keep with a drinking water bottle. The boats here are very small. Don’t get more than five people in one boat.