For anyone at Kolkata, who wish to have a secluded yet economic weekend beach holiday, Bakkhali is an obvious choice. The beach is located at one of the 50 odd island clusters of Sunderban area – famous for its mangrove trees and the Royal Bengal Tiger. Although there are enough mangrove trees at Bakkhali, thankfully there are no tigers roaming around.
On a lazy afternoon, one can just sit at leisure at Bakkhali beach sipping tea from earthen pots enjoying the breeze whilst the low waves caress the feet. The sea at Bakkhali is not ideal for swimming as there are no large waves here. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that many tourists do not visit this place often. However, the accommodation facilities are very cheap. You usually get a decent accommodation at a very reasonable price without any prior booking.
One can also take an extended morning walk through the long stretch of sand to the town of Frazerganj. A cycle rickshaw van ride through the rural landscape takes you to the Frazerganj fishing harbour. Add to it a visit to Henry’s Island – the latest holiday spot at Bakkhali developed by the fisheries department jointly with the ministry of tourism.
Although the waves are much smaller than Digha or Shankarpur, the sea at Bakkhali can be dicey. There are occasions when a tourist can be deceived during high tide, especially when the person concerned have taken a long walk in the sea during low tide. It is perfectly safe to wade in the water within a reasonable distance, with a caution to not take the sea for granted at Bakkhali.
I took the easiest way to reach Bakkhali. With two of my friends, I boarded the West Bengal State Transport’s bus which leaves from Esplanade bus depot of Kolkata at 7 a.m. The journey to Bakkhali is via Diamond Harbour, Kakdwip and Namkhana.
At Namkhana, we crossed the Hatania-Doania creek to reach the other side of the river – Naryanpur. There is no bridge in this river as it is a thoroughfare of ships. One has to cross by a floating barge (popularly known as “vessel”). This river separates this island cluster from the mainland and all vehicles cross the river sitting pretty on this “vessel”. The fare of the vessel is included in the bus fare.
From Naryanpur, it is one hour drive to Bakkhali. The plan was to stay at Henry’s Island the first day and then come back and explore Bakkhali. After a sumptuous lunch at Bakkhali with rice and fish, we headed for Henry’s Island in a cycle van rickshaw. A brick road of 2 km just before Bakkhali leads to the Henry’s Island. It is not exactly an island but an extension of the Sunderban Forest region. The fisheries department has set up a Fish culture project here, where different varieties of fishes are cultivated.
Henry’s Island is named after the European Surveyor Henry who surveyed the area in the late 19th century. The area used to be then covered with dense Mangrove forests infested with many tigers, deer, wild pig, crocodile and snake.
There are two parts of this Island. One is Sector I which houses the first Government guest house – Mangrove. We passed that and after a cycle van ride of another 2.5 km, we reached Sector II, where the other guest house Sundari is located. Named after the trees that infest the mangroves around, the building of Sundari have a watch tower on its top from where you can check out the area. There are huge water bodies on one side of the lodge and dense mangrove forest on the other side. We saw a paddle boat in one of the water bodies.
After a quick round of tea, we headed for the Kiran beach through the narrow path infested with mangrove trees. The beach is a vast affair of sand with isolated trees scattered on the beach. The sea looked quite far and as we headed for it, we saw a long red horizontal stretch moving near the sea. On closer look we found it to be red crabs in huge numbers moving over the beach. The red army fled as we approached them.
As it was nearing sunset, the sea started progressing fast inland. The silent and sudden high tide movement caught us unaware. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by water. It was difficult to walk as the silt mixed with the sand made it sticky. There are several canals inland which pours silt regularly in the sea beaches. After some instances of near fall, we managed to come to safety. During high tide, the waves actually progress inland faster than most of the popular beaches. The dinner at Government lodge was another gastronomic “fishy affair”. It may be worth mentioning here that you need to order much before about the specific fish you wish to have in dinner. Without prior intimation, you may end up with the choice of only simple Rohu fish or egg (that too of duck).
Next day we were back to Bakkhali by 11:00 and promptly checked into a hotel. For a three bed Non A/C room we were charged Rs 700. In the afternoon, we strolled on to the Bakkhali beach. There are a few shops selling seashell souvenirs on the way to the beach. On the way, we paid a visit to the crocodile breeding centre which was a disappointment. However as we waded through the shallow waters at the beach, the cool breeze refreshed our mind instantly.
The beach floor is firm as there is a mix of silt with the sand – perfect for a long morning walk or a game of beach cricket. The beach is devoid of any kind of hawkers pestering you. Only few tea stalls are there who also provide chairs to sit on the beach at Rs 10 per hour. We walked a bit until we reached an embankment. Sitting over there we saw a golden sunset while kids played cricket in front of us.
Being an early riser we got rewarded next day with a pictorial sunrise and various activities of fishermen on the beach. While walking on the beach towards Frazerganj, I noticed that although the sand looks dirty it is actually very clean. The mix of silt with the sand makes it looks dirty. As we neared the Frazerganj beach we could see the giant windmills looming behind the fishermen’s huts and casuarinas trees lined on our right. The windmills generate power for a small section of the locality. A motorbike raced beside us on the beach.
Lt-Governor of Bengal, Andrew Frazer fell in love with this beach 100 years ago and constructed a house at Narainitala – the nearest village. There is also a story about Frazer falling in love with a local lady named Naraini. Nothing remains except his name in Frazerganj. However, we came across a run down house near the beach, which locals described as the house of Andrew Frazer. We were doubtful, as the bricks and constructions did not seem to be that old.
Unlike its beach, Frazerganj harbour is always bustling with various activities. Apart from people being busy piling up fish, breaking down ice chunks or handling boats, the one activity which attracted me most was the way the fishermen sat in unison and was busy repairing green coloured huge fishing nets. Local boatmen were pursuing us to take a 2-hour rough sea journey to the inhabited island of Jwambu Dwip, which we politely refused.
Back in Bakkhali, we took a new route to the beach in the afternoon. This was through a local fisherman’s village. We reached the beach nearing dusk when one of my friends suggested that we visit the local deity Banabibi’s temple. It was a brief walk to the left of the beach and then another walk through the trees. The small temple housed deities like Banabibi and Bishalaksmi.
It was nearing sundown when we strolled back to the beach. Three of us sat down on the embankment and sipped tea observing the sea basking in golden colour courtesy the last rays of the setting sun. I have seen similar sights at other sea beaches and it never fails to impress me. The ocean looks like a huge mass of molten gold and no photograph can actually describe its true beauty. We sipped tea silently and gazed on until the sky became totally dark.
The beach is lighted with Sodium Lamps and you can sit there up to 10:00 in the night.Good thing there are guards at the beach, so some security can be expected. Gazing at the starlit sky, I was not at all interested to board the Kolkata-bound bus the next day morning.
How to Go
a) By Non-AC WBSTC buses from Esplanade Bus depot at Kolkata departing at 7 a.m. & 8 a.m. The journey is of about 5 hours with many halts. The distance between Kolkata to Bakkhali is 130 km. One way fare costs about Rs 100 and can be booked even 1 month in advance
b) By Car. It takes around 3.5 to 4 hours. You have to pay a fee of around 200 (including toll) at Namkhana to avail the floating barge services. The floating barge service is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. One should reach latest by 11:30 a.m. as during lunch hour between 12 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. there is no ferry service. On Holidays like 15th August, when tourists hog around every corner of the state the wait for vessel can be as much as 3 hours unless you start real early like 5 a.m. in the morning.
c) By Train: Namkhana is the nearest railhead. There are direct trains to Kakdwip from Sealdah Station with link trains to Namkhana. From there one can take a cycle van to the jetty. The river is to be crossed either boarding a bus crossing over on the vessel or boarding one of the overcrowded boats paying Rs 1 for a one-way fare. On the other side, there are private buses and cars for hire.
Where to Stay
Bakkhali has plenty of accommodation facilities of all types including a West Bengal Tourist Lodge.
Bakkhali Tourist Lodge
(West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd)
Tourism Centre (Kolkata)
3/2, B.B.D. Bag (East), Kolkata – 700 001
T : 033-22436440/ 22488271
Frazerganj has lesser accommodation facilities out of which Hotel Deepak has better facilities. There are accommodation facilities near Frazerganj harbour which is the property of Benfish.
Hotel Deepak, Frazerganj
T : +91 03210 225277
M : 98301 15885/ 97326 04833 (Hotel)
T : +91 33 2464 0081/2463 3203/2419 762
Henry’s Island has only two accommodation facilities
(State Fisheries Development Corporation Ltd)
Located near Sea Beach
2. Mangrove Lodge
(State Fisheries Development Corporation Ltd)
Bikash Bhawan, North Block, 1st Floor, Kolkata- 700091.
T: Board line (033) 2358 3123
T: Guest Houses Booking (033) 2337 6469