Located in the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world. It encompasses approximately 839,000 square miles, and is bordered by India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.
Nearly a dozen different rivers feed into the bay, including the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna. The expansive delta created by these rivers is a diverse marine ecosystem that includes the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This massive mangrove forest is known for a wide range of Indian wildlife, including the Bengal tiger (India’s national animal), Ganges River dolphin, and estuarine crocodile.
Zegrahm’s new Bay of Bengal: Chennai to Yangon expedition (on board the 120-passenger Silver Discoverer) offers travelers an excellent opportunity to explore the rich biological diversity of the region. In addition to an array of land-based and marine mammals, the bay is also home to fascinating coral reefs, estuaries, and a wide variety of birds.
It’s also home to millions of people, with unique cultures that have been influenced by the wetlands, waterways, shifting islands, extreme weather, and other unique features the Bay of Bengal area has to offer. The bay’s coastal regions feature multiple sites of historical and religious significance, as well as significant sea ports.
Here’s a look at some of the cultural and natural attractions this part of India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar have to offer:
Bay of Bengal Wildlife
Wildlife of India
The Bay of Bengal region offers a broad variety of ecosystems, with a dense concentration of wildlife and birds.
Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha is a unique habitat of mangrove forests interspersed with numerous creeks and mudflats. It is the second largest mangrove forest in India (after Sundarbans) and has more than 60 species of mangroves.
The Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Odisha is another hotspot of biodiversity. It is home to a large population of giant salt water crocodiles and the world's largest, most important nesting ground for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle. Numerous wetlands are scattered throughout the sanctuary, and they serve as feeding grounds for more than 50,000 migratory birds during the winters.
Sundarbans National Park & Tiger Reserve is located in West Bengal in the Sundarbans delta, the largest mangrove forest in the world. One of the best national parks in India, this is the kingdom of the Bengal tiger and home to many other wildlife species, including the Indian grey mongoose, leopards, wild boar, flying fox, chital deer, pangolin, and more.
Wildlife of Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s landscape on the Bay of Bengal ranges from marshy forest and wetlands to glistening rice paddies and rolling hills full of misty tea gardens.
Despite being a small country, Bangladesh has more than 700 rivers, 17 national parks, numerous offshore islands, and one coral reef. Bangladesh is one of the 10 countries most affected by global warming and is extremely vulnerable to a rise in sea level.
Bangladesh shares the Sundarbans with India. On the Bangladesh side, the Sundarbans Reserve Forest is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s a magnificent area of scenic beauty, natural resources, and rich biodiversity, not to mention a breeding ground for numerous endangered species.
The Teknaf Game Reserve, near Cox’s Bazaar, protects some of Bangladesh’s few remaining wild elephants. Visitors will also have a chance to see other rare wildlife, such as the hoolock gibbon and Ganges River dolphin. A significant number of the country’s bird species can also be sighted here. Another highlight of the reserve is the Kudum Cave, which is also known as the bat cave.
Wildlife of Myanmar
Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal coast is a long stretch of palm-fringed, white-sand beaches. The country is home to a wide variety of ecosystems including rainforests, wetlands, coastal, and marine ecosystems. The entire country is rich in resources and enjoys a great diversity of flora and fauna.
The many rivers that flow through Myanmar are surrounded by mangroves, swamp forest, lakes, and marshes that provide a natural habitat for a large variety of marine and animal species.
There are more than 20 national parks and wildlife reserves spread across Myanmar, and quite a few of them lie in the Bay of Bengal region. Among the wildlife found in Myanmar are tigers, clouded leopards, Asiatic black bears, gibbons, and barking deer.
BAY OF BENGAL CULTURE
The Culture of India
India’s riches can often be intoxicating and overwhelming to visitors. The states on the coast of Bay of Bengal are no different. With a history stretching back millennia, and numerous traditional cultures living in the same time-honored way they have for centuries, the Bay of Bengal region is the home of numerous UNESCO World Heritage monuments and landmarks.
In Puri, on the coastline of Odisha, the sacred Lord Jagannath Temple (which is famous for the annual Rath Yatra festival) is a sight to behold. In fact, the word “juggernaut” comes from the force of the huge chariots that are paraded through town during this annual cultural festival.
Odisha is also home to the Konark Sun Temple, which represents the sun god’s chariot. It’s a 13th century architectural marvel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and arguably one of India’s finest historical treasures.
Among the many other superb sites you’ll find on the Bay of Bengal coast are the UNESCO-listed Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (which date from the 7th and 8th centuries), wondrous caves of the Jain religion, mystical and ancient Buddhist monasteries, and pre-historic paintings.
The Culture of Bangladesh
The Bay of Bengal region has a multifaceted cultural heritage, with its ancient mix of animist, Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic religions.
Bangladesh, which was part of India before achieving independence with the partition of the country in 1947, is the newest country on the bay. It’s a heady amalgamation of beaches, ruins, bazaars, boat rides, wildlife, and colorful cultural festivals.
The villages of Bangladesh mostly maintain their traditional culture, producing unique folk art that has survived for hundreds of years. On the country’s remote islands, you can find both traditional fishing villages and indigenous tribal cultures that make you feel you have stepped back in time. Here you can see locals extracting sea salt by traditional methods and experience a floating rice market.
Some of the more fascinating towns of Bangladesh include Cox’s Bazaar (which boasts the world’s longest beach, stretching more than 62 miles) and Bagerhat, which lies at the meeting point of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.
This ancient town was founded in the 15th century and is known as the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat, which has been recognized by UNESCO for the exceptional number of mosques and early Islamic monuments found there.
The Culture of Myanmar
Myanmar is often called “the Land of Pagodas” due to the fact that its landscape is dotted with distinctive tiered temples, including the oldest pagoda in the world. The country was formerly known as Burma, and has long been home to religious and cultural diversity (including 100+ different ethnic groups).
While the majority of the population is Buddhist, the country is also home to Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. Among the country’s most fascinating cultural delights, the ancient city of Bagan showcases a colossal complex of thousand-year-old temples.
Visitors can also canoe through the still waters of Inle Lake to see the locals fishing in a unique way– by balancing on one leg while paddling their boats with the other.
The capital of Myanmar was shifted to Naypyitaw back in 2005. But the former capital, Yangon, remains the cultural and commercial heart of the country. Among Yangon’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are numerous colonial-era churches and the tomb of the last Mughal emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar. –Mariellen Ward and Shubham Mangsinka
BIOS: Mariellen Ward is a travel writer and digital storyteller. She has a BA in Journalism and has been published in many leading online and offline publications around the world. Her award-winning travel blog, Breathedreamgo, is inspired by her extensive travels in India.
Shubham Mansingka is a professional travel blogger from India with an avid interest in photography, culture, trekking, and food. He loves listening to the stories of villagers and explores offbeat, unknown places and hopes to make you see more of this beautiful world through his experiences on his travel blog Travelshoebum.