Vehicle: StingRay (Maruti WagonR) Petrol
Beyond the rush and roar of life,
where destiny stands still
and harmony strives,
wind whistles and waves chime,
where sea and sand waltz all
In such wilderness ‘O’ lord,
lies my kingdom of emptiness!
.... amitava / 2016
The above lines are true depiction of Bakkhali! (on a weekday)!!
Bakkhali had been on our travel agenda for quite a while.
Now that exploring West Bengal is one of the top priority, Bakkhali, was a perfect fit for the Independence day weekend. Just about 130Kms one way, made it an even easier choice.
Bakkhali is located on one of the many deltaic islands spread across southern Bengal. Most of the islands are part of the Sunderbans, barring a few at the fringes. This small island juts out into the vast expanse of the Bay of Bengal.
Many of our friends who had earlier travelled to Bakkhali had mentioned that WB Tourist Lodge is the best option to stay, and being closest to the beach made it logistically the best choice. We were just in time to make the bookings (mid July), as the on-line reservation system showed only one AC Cottage available at WB Tourist Lodge. Being just the two of us, we opted for the AC Cottage, decided to gift ourselves an added bit of luxury, though AC rooms available at the Tourist Lodge are pretty decent too.
|These spots on NH117 become busy and overcrowded early in the day |
|Fairly decent condition of NH117|
We set out early. The planned ETD was 6am, but eventually we set out at 7am.
Personally I like the early morning drive as not only you beat the crowd, it gives you ample time to stop by for tea breaks and you have ample time to handle exigencies if any. The drive to Bakkhali is pretty smooth, along NH117. The 133-km NH-117 originates at NH-6 that starts from Kona Expressway and goes on to connect Vidyasagar Setu, Diamond Harbour Road, Kulpi and Namkhana and terminates at Bakkhali.
Between end of James Long Sarani and IIM Joka the condition of the road is bad, due to Metro construction activity. Its manageable since its a small stretch and hopefully should get restored soon. Thereafter the road is smooth, and has a lot of greenery all along the way. The first major town / locality is Diamond Harbour where you drive along the Hooghly for about 100 meters, which is good break from the monotony.
|Marine drive, along the Hooghly at Diamond Harbour|
|The Hindu (Bengali) month of Shravan is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva, and devotees making their pilgrimage to Tarakeshwar |
National Highway 117, still remains a single carriageway all the way. There is no sign of a dual carriageway construction. The road condition is good, the only nuisance is that every time you cross a village or a locality (say every 6-7 km), it gets messy (specially mornings) with street vendors pouring on to the street with their stuff, and the bengali babu out on morning bazaar ritual is unmindful to start his daily chores right on a national highway. Nothing unique! its a culture which cuts across entire eastern India I guess. The rare thing we noticed is that in the suburbs, it was more women on the streets than men!! Not sure if matriarchal practices are in vogue.
Rash driving by Bus drivers is a plague that exists across India, and this stretch is no exception. Rash driving is more evident early in the morning, as bus drivers try to keep pace with time targets. Its a real menace and high risk. No wonder the road fatalities in India is the highest, and I am pretty sure public utility vehicles would be a major contributor. Realised pretty quickly that we better leave the right of way to the bus driver no matter what the rules say.
We managed to beat all odds, and reach our first major 'ferry' cross over point on Hatania Doania River
at Namkhana. We had heard many stories about the experience people have had crossing the river. The anticipation of cross-over in itself was exciting, a totally new experience for Runa; I had the undertaken similar crossings in Assam across Brahmaputra in my childhood and recently in Goa too. There is a road over-bridge construction in progress, but going by the progress made it seems to be atleast 2 years away before completion and much awaited relief to travellers. So for the time being, you head on to a diversion off the national highway, and keep going in hope that you will reach the right place. As you get closer to the ferry ghat (jetty), chaos precedes everything else. For the locals it is business as usual. Most of the narrow lane is occupied by e-rickhsaws that are parked to pick up alighting passengers who come off the Ferry service, and in the little space that is left you have to manoeuvre your vehicle with the oncoming convoy of vehicles crossing from the other side. And then finally you come to your place on the queue where all kinds of carriers (from diesel phat-phati -a larger variety of tuk-tuks used as passenger and goods carriage, trucks, bus, hand pulled rickshaw vans all are lined up to cross over. On asking the driver of the truck ahead of our car as to how long this wait is gonna be, he says 'Oh! this will take a long time, we need atleast 20 odd trucks before we are allowed to cross'. Not satisfied, I walked up ahead of the queue to enquire, was politely told to wait your turn will come, all are in queue. I trudged back to our car, and the two of us decided to utilise it as a breakfast halt i.e. sandwich and coffee which Runa had smartly packed, while awaiting our turn. Finally a short little guy came and waved at us to bring our car out of the queue and to embark the vessel (barge) for crossing !! Bravo ! just went ahead and zoomed into the barge, the rest of the guys ahead of us jealous ofcourse. Thereafter it was clockwork, we were guided into a spot on the barge, so that 3 cars of similar size could get stacked up in a row, and I guess in all there were about 4 - 5 rows behind us!
|On the Vessel ready to sail |
|Manoeuvring into and out of the Ferry |
|The Barge with its load of vehicle begins its crossing 3 cars per row X 5 rows |
There are two types of barges that operate normally. One is the large Barge wherein you drive in and drive out straight in the other smaller barge you drive in straight and reverse out (exit)t. Both the barges operate in tandem, one after the other. I opted to skip one trip so that we could ride the larger barge.
|Vehicles coming out of the smaller Barge (you exit in reverse)|
When you get on the the barge (ferry vessel) you get to realise the importance of the location, its almost like a major railway junction. The river is a busy point for water transport and a major hub of fishing trawlers. The sunderban delta has many such islands made by the tributaries of hooghly. Fishing and agriculture is the main livelihood of the people in the region.
|The river crossing on Ferry ... its hub for fishing trawlers|
|Fishing Trawlers await their next fishing trip|
All these boats are out in the delta catching fish everyday, and they bring in pretty decent catches. No wonder some of the exotic fishes (such as hilsha) are nearing extinction. The nets catch old and young fish and thereby creating an imbalance. I don't think anyone cares about extinction and its impact on future livelihood. Hopefully people will realise the impact of such large scale mechanised fishing before its too late!
|The Jetty at the other side of the river|
|A fishing trawler getting ready to sail |
Once across the Ferry point, the road journey is smooth and the scenic beauty is even more pleasant. Its 25Km to Bakkhali from Namkhana. Our total time to cross over on the Ferry was about 30 minutes including our breakfast break. The ferry crossing cost us Rs 190/- (Rs 30/- Government tax + Rs 160/- one way crossing fee).
|Driving is immense pleasure in such a scenic setting .. doubt if any other state offers such a beauty|
|Approaching Frazergunge en-route to Bakkhali|
It took us barely 20 minutes to cover the distance from Namkhana to Bakkhali after the ferry crossing. By 11 am, we were at the reception of West Bengal Tourist Lodge.
|WB Tourist Lodge it boasts of the only Restaurant with a Bar! Drinks are not served in the bar any longer. You only get it as room service !!|
|Like all other Government establishment, it has significant space, but lacks maintenance. While the staff are good and helpful, it is an abode of happy go lucky culture. There is huge scope of improvement in all departments. |
|The AC Cottage, where we stayed. Value for money. But can be better.|
Being a Friday the occupancy was low. The front desk told us that starting next day i.e. 13th, the Lodge is choker block until 21st August.
By 1130 we were in the cool comfort of our Cottage.
The next priority was to order lunch before hunger set in. So lunch was ordered, the high-point being the variety of fish preparations. We ordered an elaborate lunch, perhaps a little more than what we could chew. The preparation was much inferior than our expectation. It appeared that they cook one curry and dump everything into it .. vegetables, fish, egg, or chicken into the same bloody curry. Lunch was sumptuous but quite disappointing in terms of preparation and cost. Perhaps street food would have been a better alternative. But then it was not worth the risk specially in the monsoon season.
After a short relaxation we headed out to the beach. That was awesome!
Pristine clear beach as far as you could see. The sun almost calling it a day, provided the twilight tinge to the sea and sand.
There was hardly any crowd on the beach max 10-15 people across the whole beach. This was such an exalted feeling, such a serene sight!
|What a serene setting, chairs are available @Rs10/-hour. |
|Bakkhali being on the southern most tip provides a Sunset & Sunrise view which is awesome|
Unlike the other more popular beaches in West Bengal, Bakkhali, in my opinion, is perhaps the best. It has a very charming and calm sea front, the beaches extend as far as you can see. If you like to walk along the beach you can go on for miles altogether and enjoy the tranquillity & composure. Or you could simply sit with your feet soaking the cool sea while you contemplate and/or meditate. On a normal weekday (crowd less day) it could be closest to paradise.
|Soaking the breeze and the sea|
|In the shadow of pine trees by the beach|
While the evenings & the early morning were devoted to the equanimity of the beach. Equally important were the plans to explore Bakkhali & Jambu Island (deep). Jambu island is uninhabited island and owned by the Forest department. The government is in the process of launching a nature trail to Jambu Deep. Boat rides in motorised country boat is available, but you need atleast 15 passengers for the trip. Our bad luck we could not muster enough explorers for Jambu, and thus decided to give it a pass this time.
Next day we planned to tour Bakkhali and Jambu Dweep (island). Instead of taking our car, we decided to hire an e-rickshaw. We were lucky to have spotted a young local young lad 'Sudip' who became our chaperone and guide. He offered to take us through by-lanes of connecting the villages and gave a commentary on the location, culture & history.
|Our Guide - SUDIP (+918116920028) |
showing us some of the exotic locations in and around Bakkhali
|We really liked his enthusiasm and eagerness to serve. An attitude which will be of immense value for Sudip in the long run.|
Sudip had to abort under grad studies and start earning. I do believe folks like Sudip do not need a formal degree. He is well read has undergone a photography course, is quite aware of internet and google, has invested in a e-rickshaw (toto). The kind of guy he is, we realised, that everyone in and around Bakkhali seemed to know him personally. I would like to highly recommend a person like Sudip (+918116920028) to take you around next time you visit Bakkhali.
I am sure you will admire his camaraderie and guidance.
|Fishing vessels arriving at the jetty with their catch|
|Through the bylanes of Bakkhali ...... roadwork in progress|
|Tree plantation and road repair in progress|
|Village home setup in lush greenery with personal pond|
We had a chance to visit Henry Island as per Sudip's itinerary. The beach at Henry Island is equally impressive and extremely serene. The place is famous for fish farms created by the fisheries department (WB Government). There are numerous large size fish ponds (bherries). Its quite an impressive sight.
There was no one from the fisheries department to take us around and show us the place. had it been any other enterprising setup they could easily organise a conducted tour. Which could not only be educative, in addition also help earn some revenue, since a large number of tourist visit Henry Island, I am quite sure there would be many folks of the fisheries department capable of conducting such a tour.
|Mangrove around Henry Island|
|The trail to Henry Island beach|
Final destination was the crocodile & cheetal deer breeding unit, maintained and managed by the WB Forest Department. Once again, though they charge Rs10/- per visitor, one could see complete apathy and negligence. Needless to mention the opportunity to educate and earn better revenue is immense.
The road infrastructure is good, we did witness huge influx of tourist on 13th & 14th August.
In a nutshell, before signing off, in my honest opinion, Bakkhali has huge potential for tourism.
Imagine the potential, if you could organize - sea faring sailing trips, nature trails to some of the islands, boat rides into the tributaries and back waters. The list is endless and opportunities galore!
Some of the other species that we could capture on camera
By the way the return journey was smooth, and we did stop by Diamond Harbour for some mouth-watering fish delicacies on offer on the roadside restaurants! Fabulous to say the least!!
Hope you liked reading this travelogue! Please do share your comments. If you liked it, we will sincerely appreciate if you share within your network.
coming soon with updates from our next episode.......
Kudos to the simplistic way of essaying the adventure which made me feel that I was in the back seat of your car.
The blend of pictorial essaying is an USP you have proven. - Manish Pal