Sundarban tour is not all about tigers, wildlife, mangroves and adventure. It has also got a touch of divinity, literally. And the seat of aesthetics is Sagar Island, around 100kms from Kolkata, where more than20 lakh devotees congregate in January for the holy dip.
Though a part of the Sundarban, Sagar Island is distinctly different in its features. There’s no mangrove, no wildlife and no creeks here. But still, the island is an integral part of Sundarban tour packages and is thronged by hundreds of thousands every year.
Though the island is a favourite halting place round the year for tourists on Sundarban tour, it is Gangasagar Mela that has made the place famous worldwide. The annual event, which is held every year on the day of Makar Sankranti (a harvest festival that falls on the last day of Bengali month Poush), is one of the biggest congregation of pilgrims in the world. In terms of attendance, it stands second only to Kumbh Mela. While Kumbh Mela is held at several locations across the country every four years, Gangasagar Mela, held annually, is exclusively held at the tiny island at the southernmost tip of West Bengal.
The centre of attraction of Gangasagar Mela is the Kapil Muni ashram. Though the temple was built only in 1973, the fair has a mention in ancient Hindu mythology. There are references to Gangasagar Mela in The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.
Gangasagar Mela is a perfect picture that depicts the religious side of India. The temperature falls to sub-10°C when the fair is held, but devotees brave the chill and take a dip in the Ganges early in the morning. The lighthouse that stands tall in Sagar Island gives a picturesque view of the fair ground. Another attraction of Gangasagar Mela is the Naga Sanyasis, who visit the fair in hordes, all smeared in white paints and ashes. Also famous are the sweetmeats made of Noten Gur and jiggery — sweet memories that devotees take back home from the fair.
The West Bengal government has started taking pro-active measures to turn Gangasagar Mela an attraction of Sundarban tour and make it a unique experience. Every year on Poush Sankranti, the government sets up a number of green toilets for pilgrims. Hundreds of makeshift rooms are also set up for accommodation of thousands of tourists. Special arrangements are also made to take tourists from Kolkata to Sagar Island.