The sea is not that far away from Kolkata, the city of Joy. There are quite a few places which are excellent for short weekend trips. The one I chose to travel last month, Bakkhali, is in the southern part of the state of West Bengal in the South 24 Parganas district.
Bakkhali is around 124 kms from Kolkata and a straight south bound drive via Joka, Kakdwip, Namkhana to the Bay of Bengal. Bakkhali is a Gangetic delta island on the Bay of Bengal and is part of the Sunderbans. It is separated from the West Bengal mainland by the Hatania Doania creek at Namkhana.
The journey to Bakkhali from Kolkata in a privately rented car took around four and half hours after an early start, out of which nearly an hour and half was spent to cross the Hatania Doania creek at Namkhana on a barge (locally called vessel) to reach the island.
There is normally a queue for the vessel to cross the creek which takes just about 5-10 minutes in itself. Cycles, motorbikes, cars, buses, lorries and people are all carried on the barges across the creek. Once on the other side of Namkhana, it is another 29 kms drive to Bakkhali town centre.
Where I stayed
I chose to stay at the West Bengal Government operated Bakkhali Tourist Lodge which is just around 500 metres from the beach. It was a decent place to stay for the weekend or short breaks. There are rooms as well as cottages including AC rooms. There is a restaurant within the Tourist Lodge complex where lunch and dinner can be pre ordered. Room service is also available in the tourist lodge. Breakfast is included for 2 people within the room charges. Rooms can be booked online on the West Bengal Tourism website.
What I saw and experienced at Bakkhali and nearby
- Bakkhali Beach
The beach at Bakkhali stretches around 7 kilometres to its twin town of Frasergunj. The beach I was told is suitable for driving or cycling but there are areas of quick sands too.
The water at Bakkhali beach is linked to the tides and recedes for kilometres when it is possible to literally do a sandy hike to reach the waters of the Bay of Bengal. But it is better to be careful and stay within the safe marked zones.
On the beach, there are plastic chairs than can be rented on hourly basis if you like to sit down and enjoy the beach. Local vendors sells various snacks like gol gappa, bhel puri on the beach. There are stalls with display of various types of fish, which you can select and get it fried to consume as a snack.
There are also a number of small shops selling handmade shell articles near to the beach. Only few articles I was told were made locally, rest all comes from other places in India.
- Spotted Deer Breeding centre
Near to the Bakkhali bus station, just a short walk from the Tourist Lodge is a crocodile park which also houses a spotted deer breeding centre. It is a park managed by the Forest Department, well maintained and quite clean. There are areas marked as crocodile ponds but I was not lucky enough to see even a single crocodile.
I was about to give up hope of not seeing any animals, but then spotted a herd of spotted deers cooling off in the shades. It was afternoon time and with the sun shining high up, no wonder they were lazing around in the shades.
The area is filled with mangrove trees and swampy lands and this attracts a variety of birds in this area. I spotted a few quenching their thirst in the water and some up on the trees.
Within the park are there are places marked for sitting and enjoy watching the birds and the deers. It was nice to sit, feel the breeze from the trees in the park and spend some time in the park.
- Henry’s Island
Henry’s Island, around 15 minutes drive from Bakkhali is a quite area mainly covered in mangrove forests. The West Bengal government has set up some lodges in this area and there is also a pisciculture project for breeding of prawns and other fishes.
The famous attraction of Henry’s Island is it’s beach. The walk to Henry’s Island beach is spectacular and you have to walk on a path that cuts through a mangrove forest and as you walk you can hear the sea and then suddenly you can see the wonderful view of the sea.
As you walk on the beach you’ll see innumerable red hermit crabs, but as soon as they sense any foot steps, they dive into their holes.
The water at Henry’s Island beach also recedes with the low tide. I reached there mid morning and waited for around 2 hours enjoying the tranquil beach and waiting for the water to come forward with the high tides. It was wonderful to watch such a natural phenomenon without any worry of the world. There were hardly any people in this beach as I noticed most people came, saw there was no water, took some photos and moved on.
I thought, in today’s world, we too do not have the time to wait for the tide anymore.
There is also a Watch Tower on Henry’s Island which offers spectacular view of the sea and surrounding areas. There is a restaurant in this area for snacks and lunch.
- Jambu Dweep
Jambu Dweep is an island on the Bay of Bengal, towards the west side of Bakkhali. The best way to reach Jambu Dweep (island) is by local fishing boats from the Fraserganj Fishing Harbour. You can book an entire boat or share it with other tourists if they are available when you reach the harbour.
Travellers are not allowed to disembark on Jambu Dweep, you can see the island from the boat and take photographs. It is a protected area and is supposed to be home to various types of birds and is covered with mangrove trees.
The boat ride to and from the island takes around 2 hours. Opting to rent a bigger boat is a sensible thing to do, given the waves can be quite high. On the way back to the harbour, it was calm and with the setting of the sun, the water glistened and created a tranquil environment and the fisherman were going to the seas with hopes for a big catch.
This twin town of Bakkhali is famous for this fishing harbour and the fish auction market. Frasergunj is named after Andrew Fraser, an early 20th century Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, who is credited for discovering this place.
There are also quite a few windmills around this area but they are no longer in use. The beach in the Frasergunj area is not very clean and filled with rubbles.
On the last evening at Bakkhali I went back to the beach to watch the sunset and also realised with the setting sun that it was time to head back to the usual world from my short and relaxing break.
- Places to stay – WB Tourism managed Tourist Lodge is ideally located within 500 metres from the beach. There are also lot of local hotels.
- Places to eat – Local eateries are abundant. As long as you eat hot cooked food, there is no problem at all.
- Credit card is accepted in the Tourist Lodge, but you’ll need cash to use in local shops and for entry tickets to local attractions, parks or boat rides.
- Local transport is in the form cycle vans which are quite comfortable and you can enjoy the local roads and sights as you travel through the narrow town roads.
- For those interested in fishes, there is an auction of local catches that takes place every morning at the Frasergunj Fishing Harbour
- If you prefer travelling by train, the nearest rail station to Bakkhali is at Namkhana, which can be reached from Kolkata by rail.
- Sunglasses, an umbrella to block the bright sun and binoculars for a view of the Bay Of Bengal are good to have items in your packing list.
The Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project in the Sunderbans is a crocodile-breeding farm that have crocodiles from newborns to adults. From Namkhana, travellers can reach the crocodile project by a ferry.
Another famous place of interest nearby is the island of Gangasagar also known as Sagar Island where the River Hooghly meets the sea and considered an auspicious place by the Hindus to take a dip in this location specially during the time of Sankranti (mid January). Gangasagar Mela during this time attracts pilgrims from far and wide. There is a temple dedicated to Kapil Muni (sage) at the southern tip of the island. From Kakdwip, travellers can reach Sagar Island by local ferries.
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