The Sundarbans, the world's largest natural mangrove forest, braces for footfalls of greater number of visitors owing to the newly opened Padma Bridge that has brought the famed tourist destination in the south-western region closer to the rest of the country.

Travel to the region will be smooth and fast, according to tour operators and forest officials.

The forest department is already gearing up to welcome the rush of tourists by opening four new ecotourism centers close to the forest, which is shared by Bangladesh and West Bengal in India.

Tourists will now have direct road access to the forest and its adjoining areas Mongla in Bagerhat.

Md Belayet Hossain, divisional forest officer (DFO-east) of the Sundarbans said, "The new tourism centres will be built at Andharmanik in Chandpai range, Ali Banda in Sarankhola range, Sheikher Tek at Satkhira range and Kalabogi under the Sundarban Ecotourism Project at the cost of Tk 25 crore. The four new ecotourism centres will be added to the existing seven at Koromjol Herbaria, Kotka , Kochikhali, Dubla of Chandpai range on the eastern part and Hiran point and Kalagachia of west division."

In these centres, gazebos, foot trailers, public toilets, watch towers and walkways will be built for tourists, he added.

"Due to undeveloped connectivity many tourists felt uninterested in coming to the Sundarbans. As the scenario has now changed after Padma Bridge opening, hopefully more tourists will be attracted to visit the forest," said Golam Rahman Bitu, a Sundarban tourism dependent trader.

Dr Sheikh Faridul Islam, chairman of Save the Sundarban Foundation said, "Locals are ecstatic over the opening of the bridge as most of their livelihoods are connected with the Sundarbans tourism. Establishment of new infrastructures and good connectivity will also be good for the tourists."

DFO Belayet said, "In the fiscal year 2021-22, one lakh 20 thousand (1.2 lakh) tourists visited the Sundarbans and a revenue of TK 25 lakh was earned from this sector. With the inauguration of the Padma Bridge extensive changes in the forest will come and as the number of tourist increases, so will the revenue,"

Azad Kabir, officer-in-charge of Karamjal Wildlife Breeding Center in the East Sundarbans, said, of the 6,017 sq km of the Sundarbans 1874.1 sq Km of water area is in Bangladesh which is 31.15 per cent of the total area. The forest has 315 species of wildlife including tigers, deer, monkeys and 334 species of plants including Sundari, Bain, Garan.

"Basically, tourists from different parts of the country come every year to see this biodiversity. But as the communication system was poor, the number of tourists drops sometimes even during the peak season. Now with the bridge, the revenue from this sector of the Sundarbans will increase four to five times." he added.

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