Bakkhali, where river, sand and sea play under the crimson sun

We have been following River Hooghly on land along with her twisting course on her way to her final fate, meeting the Bay of Bengal. She has splashed the banks of countless lands and washed the myriad souls of a civilization. She is a reservoir of life, replete with diverse culture, nourishing the living beings inexorably without any expectation. She has touched the historic Diamond HarborHaldia, and away she goes another 81 odd kilometres, skirts the Sagar Island on the right and blasts into the sea.

If we take a bird’s eye view from the top at this point and move south-east of this area, a beach has blossomed up called Bakkhali with a satellite town known as, Frasergunj.

At Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The Bakkhali beach, all you can see is miles of sea drenched white sand turning golden brown

Having been to Diamond Harbor, an inner cry was resonating to see the beauty and nature’s ever-changing mood of painting colors whenever a river met a sea.  We gear up again, and with a loving look towards our ever trusted travel companion, Swift, we start our seaward journey by land. Bakkhali is about 121 Kilometres away from where we stay and shares the same NH117 highway which we had taken to visit Diamond Harbor(DH). Most of it was known to us, the only difference is the extra 80 Kilometres, down south that connected (DH) with Bakkhali. 

My interest lay in the last leg where I heard that motorists have to take the car across a small creek or a canal. Guess what… using a large mechanized boat. After a 3-hour drive through the greenery of 24 Parganas, we finally reached around noon, the Namkhana jetty where we queue up behind a series of cars to cross, the river Hatania-Doania.

At Hatania-Doania, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
We wait for our turn to get on the bridge ahead and land on the barge which will take us to the other side of the river

Hatania-Doania is one of many rivers that connects the mainland with the sea. The river is extensively used by the fishing boats and as such, Namkhana, the town has become primarily a fishing harbor. 

Crossing the Hatania-Doania river at Namkhana using a car ferry on our way to Bakkhali

All we could see were tons of fishing boats, stacked up with big blue plastic tanks and fishing nets. A brisk movement prevailed as fishermen, tourists and officials all wanted to compete to reach Bakkhali. The air was redolent with fish smell.

At Hatania-Doania, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Fishing boats lay anchored with the muddy waters of the creek to guide them into the open sea

The final moment came and I was so excited to drive our Swift on to the boat. I parked the car on the boat with bumper-to-bumper vehicles and we were extremely lucky to get a chance after a wait of only 10 mins. The motorist on my right glared at me with furrowed eyebrows as he had waited a full one and a half hours. 

The barge only operates when there’s a load of fifteen to twenty cars along with small to medium-sized trucks to maximize its economic ride over the canal. We were the fifteenth car and helped the barge driver to finish his quota.

It was indeed a novel experience.

At Hatania-Doania, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The front part of the barge with her cache of cars and trucks as she set sail
At Hatania-Doania, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The rear end of the barge where we had housed our Swift

The boat will come back after an hour for the next load of vehicles, so we felt overtly joyous to have made it. Our hope of a good ride with the car came to an abrupt end as the passage through the river was very short-lived and barely after an eight minutes ride, the boat’s front end touched the other bank for the cars to drive away.

At Hatania-Doania, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
One more shot of the canal as the barge gurgled up tons of water over her propeller before we berthed

The beach town of Bakkhali has grown around big ponds and roads ran parallel to many small to medium reservoirs. Most of them were being used for fish culture and due to proximity to the sea, the humidity level was quite high and quite often we had to wipe our face to look sane. 

The color green was the preferred choice of nature here as the cultivation of paddy could be seen everywhere. Various shades of green across a wide array of trees and plants were prevalent.

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Green fields of paddy and ponds juxtaposed with the trees bordering the horizon
At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Paddy fields carpeted the ground around, and trees of betel nut or areca nut, coconut, mango, peepal could be seen grown in full glory on every inch of the land

All our travel trips are always unplanned, so we picked up hotels or lodges on the go and so far have been lucky to get a room for the night or two. We dumped our luggage, caught some refreshments, and started our exploration of the place.  

Not far away was the sprawling campus of the West Bengal government’s Bakkhali lodge. Well laid out cemented pathways with green-topped, off-white cottages lay for the tourists to select.

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
West Bengal government cottage at Bakkhali
At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
As we walked over the grassy area, a puppy with both its front feet filled with mud introduced us to the cottages with its short wagging tail. It was as happy as we were, as if meeting after a long time

We moved on to the local market that bordered the beach resort. Encircling the lodge boundary, long stretches of bamboo roofed small shops had sprung selling shell products.

Conks, necklaces, human figures, earrings, all made of shells were on display. Bags adorned with small shells of the colorful pattern were on sale. 

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Shops lined the road where we came across multiple designs of shells, ingenious and artistic
At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Shell items of various designs ornamented the local shops

We asked the local people for directions for a place called, Henry’s Island. As the fable goes, a European surveyor visited this place years ago, and ever since then a major effort has been pumped towards the prolific growth of pisciculture or fish farming. 

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Huge water bodies that are used for fish farming were strewn across the landscape
At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The narrow village roads towards Henry’s island snaking away amidst lush green paddy fields; were immensely pleasing to the eyes

We climbed a watchtower, with the fellow visitors and had a commanding view of the entire area around. As far as our eyes could scan, small to big, man-made lakes were present and each being used for fish harvesting. 

The officials have also created at places sitting areas with a cover for the tired tourists to rest and explore this unique place that was about less than a kilometre from the sea. 

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Henry’s Island and the fisheries that kept the fish ecosystem in balance
At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The slender brick road that brings tourists to the Henry’s Island; a view atop the watch tower

We were getting impatient. The air was laden with salt. The afternoon sun threw long shadows and that meant if we could overtake the sun reaching the west, a good view of the beach is in store.

Our Swift had taken as far as she could and after parking her, we set a foot trail.

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Heading towards the Henry Island beach, mangrove and sundari trees lined the road on either sides

The road took us through a dense growth of mangrove and other countless variety, not known to me. They engulfed the entire pathway. It made an interesting view of dried as well as the wet clayey muddy surface. We found poodles of water where mud-skippers and small red crabs where jumping around.

Mud skippers at Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Muddy trail and mangrove bush weaved an interesting pattern around us as we trudged on towards the sea

Through the flowing branches, we walked on until we were presented with an opening and we saw the sea.

Perhaps the umpteenth number of times I have seen the sea; however every time I have seen one after a while, sheer excitement filled me and it happened again.

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The sea could be seen finally after a kilometre of walking over the mud splattered terrain

The Henry Island beach looked hard and flat. A car or a motorcycle can be driven over it. Unlike the yellowish color, we had seen in Puri, Odissa, or blackish gray in Digha, West Bengal, where the sand was white. Traces of brown and yellow sands could be seen in patches. These patches were hiding the dry sandy mounds of tiny holes. These holes are the refuge of small red crabs; they can be seen in millions across the beach.

Cool waters of Bay of Bengal soothed us at Henry Island

A long line of mangrove forests went all the way to the horizon on our left. In a few places, the casuarina trees were also present.

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Henry Island beach, quiet and beautiful. Few bird calls and hiss of the trees as wind unruffled them punctured the silence

We sat on the sandy beach, at first listening to the gentle sea waves. The cold water of the sea lost speed as it ran on the sand and touched our outstretched feet. The cold water was so soothing and we just could not resist the temptation to hit the water and got fully wet after a while. I kept thinking about the sea water that was touching me. These waters may have been waded through by lethal sea creatures, like sharks, whales; the waters may have bumped against countless ocean liners that may have passed through them from far away countries. The water had multiple sources, formed from the rivers and creeks across the country, got naturally treated by sand and creatures. Same water was on me and I was submerged till my waist. I felt like I have seen the entire world. Had on me the watery touch of everything on the planet. We felt like staying there for hours on end. 

The sun was in the western sky by now and had dipped. The sea started to look menacing, with the bluish water turning deep gray with the fading light; however, the sand under the setting light of the sun was exquisite. 

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The cool breeze along with the gushes of cold seawater wetting our feet under the sun made us drowsy and calm 

The night was approaching and we were tired too. We had one more day at Bakkhali. Having soaked the splendor of the area,  we wanted to have a head start, very early, the next day; so drove back to the hotel. On our way back, I wanted to drive over the sandy beach but hesitated as the front wheels spun in two places and the sand layers were quite thick. I did not really want to get stranded with the car on a beach at night which was fast losing visitors.

We parked on the road edge and went for a round of hot tea. The tea tasted very different; perhaps a few drops of seawater had flown in making the tea, both saline and sweet.

At Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Bakkhali beach in the evening. Rows of mercury lamps lit the beach area. Vendors were seen making every effort to pacify the visitors at a nominal cost
Hash brown at Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
A typical seaside, vendor selling the unmistakable Bengali fast food, the “Aloor chop” or the mustard oil fried Hash brown of Bengal, they sprinkle it with a special mix of rock salt and chili powder. Very very tasty and you have to carry paper napkins to douse the extra oil that comes with it

While traveling, we keep the dinner light and as we were visiting the sea, sea fish was the preferred choice and the dinner comprised of white rice, prawns, a couple of fried pomfrets, cooked under low heat, with a smattering of finely chopped onions, ginger, and chilies. I added a dollop of tomato sauce. It was very tasty. 

With one swig of the remaining orange juice, we retired for the night.

Bay of Bengal at Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Very early, around 5 am, the sun was nowhere to be seen; however, the glow of the light had made the sea and the beach both dull gray. I was amazed that so early, a fishing boat far away had started  its morning hunt

The next day, we set off early and made our way to the beach to check how the rising sun painter had thrown its brush strokes around the sea. We drove to the beach from one end to the other to catch all the glimpses of the beach and what we were presented by nature was a marvelous collection of light and shade.

Sunset at Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
A lone fisherman pulls his net and float across the breaking waves to catch morsels of fish and crab. The sun rays flashed a dancing pattern over the moving waves

As we were turning back after a healthy seawater wash, a unique machine caught our attention. We saw a Hovercraft of the Indian Coast Guard. The machine was parked on the edge of the beach, ready to start its patrol. It can travel at the same speed, both over land and water using an air cushion column created by its giant fans that lift the machine over the surface. 

We spent about an hour ambling across until the machine started and disappeared over the waves in a burst of spray and mist.

Hovercraft at Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The Hovercraft, parked on the sandy beach, making arrangements for its journey at a moment’s notice. Curious onlookers could n’t figure out what it was like the rubber skirt which contained the compressed air flipped in the sea breeze
With a gush of compressed air, the hovercraft blasted off from the sandy beaches to the sea

We started to the nearest town called Frasergunj. Our main objective was to chance upon a boat ride from the fishing harbor, if possible to visit a place called Jambu Dwip, “Dwip” meaning an island in the Bengali language, my honey-sweet mother tongue. The local roads around the town were very well maintained, and our Swift made no qualms on a few stretches of unevenness. The place looked quite technologically advanced too as huge windmills could be seen at intervals; created to harness the constant sea breeze to generate electricity.

Wind mills at Henry Island, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Windmills stood tall and functional on the Frasegunj landscape

The road winded its way around the water bodies that were huge in number and after covering 5 kilometres, we reached the Fishing harbor at Bakkhali. The mixed smell of fresh and rotten fish had smothered our olfactory system. 

It was a circuitous route to the fishing harbor from Henry Island as planned to go to Jambu dwip


We parked near one of the colorful trucks that waited for its fish load. Good roads were replaced by muddy and jagged ones, broken off by the heavy pounding of the truck tires. 

Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Frasergunj parking space bustling with activities, fishermen, tourists all crowding towards their respective destinations
Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Fishing boats with spread out nets moored on the muddy river bank

We make our way to the cemented jetty where fishing boats were being offloaded of its midday catch. Hard-faced, dark-skinned labor force with varied loads of ice boxes, baskets full of fresh fish was scurrying across the quay. It was a different world for a resident of a modern-day city. We were panting with the little effort we did of climbing, walking under the sun.  These men day in and out carried loads under the relentless sun with ease.

Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Swaying in the river, the fishing boats unloading the fish and another gets ready with loads of ice

We were walking on the dockside, when one of the fishing boats was dumping, a pile of fish, several of them were still jumping around. I had never seen such a big cache of fish, right out of a boat.

I looked on transfixed.

Loads of sea fish at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Fresh fish unloaded and getting sorted out by the fishermen and middlemen who were haggling with the price

Baskets, hard plastic crates of wide-ranging dimensions were everywhere and all contained pounds and pounds of fresh fish. 

Interestingly, the smell was nonexistent may be because of being fresh.

Loads of sea fish at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Fish of various kind could be seen in each boat. Caught by human nets from their natural habitat to feed the ever-hungry human population
Loads of sea fish at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Reams of fishing net being loaded to catch the fishes of the creek, river, and sea
Loads of sea fish at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Fish being hauled up from the deep hull of the fishing boats. None of the person manning the activities had the time to speak; they were busy with their catch and wanted to get rid of it at the highest price before they become stale

We were glued to the fish world and looked on, and only when a long “toot” broke our stupor, we realized that a big steamer had berthed. yes, the one we were waiting for to visit the far away “Jambudwip”. The boat which we were looking at and was supposed to take us looked right out of a history book. probably, forty years old, with hardly any maintenance. The boat was already listed on its port side by 10 degrees. It came back from one trip and about a hundred or more passengers were disembarking. 

We waited for our turn. I was skeptical of the seaworthiness of the vessel we saw.

Creeks at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Our vessel for “Jambudwip’ patiently waited to jettison its passenger load as the next lot waited. We were too excited and the fear of this boat capsizing mid-sea had evaporated

With a prayer to the all mighty, we boarded the rickety floating mechanical device that looked like a steamer. She turned on her port side, a full 180 degrees, and headed out to the sea. I scanned the boat for some life-saving devices and found a torn tire, probably ten or more years old, so securely tied to the boat that if this goes down, the tire will go down too.

Boat ride on Creeks at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Excited passengers pointing cameras and smartphones to catch the passing mangrove forest that lined the creek through which we chugged merrily 

About 30 mins on, the boat had reached the “mohona” or the point where the creek met the sea, mouth of a river. Both, the sea and the river looked placid and only one movement of the boat surging through the water could be felt.  

Our rickety steamer set sail from Bakkhali fishing harbor to Jambu dwip for a spin over the Bay of Bengal

Seagulls in large numbers were flying around us.  Few of them were diving around the wake of the boat if they could pick some jumping fish.

Boat ride on Creeks at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
We approached the mouth of the river in our ramshackle vessel,  confident to battle the sea waves which the boat, I am sure was accustomed to; however, a numbness persisted with mixed excitement
sea gull on the Creeks at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
A gull taking a sharp right turn over our boat, closing in fast to check the city inmates onboard the slow-moving vessel

The Bay of Bengal looked extremely calm and we overtook a lone fishing boat which eventually caught up with us at the Jumbudwip where we circled twice.

Fishing boat in Bay of Bengal at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The fishing boat mid-sea, loaded with fish turns in towards the creek as we head out to a distant island
Fishing boat in Bay of Bengal at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Sea of calmness all around us

We had kept our eyes peeled for any sea creatures that may suddenly leap out of the sea. The boat’s front end slashed through the calm waters and soon enough, the Jambudwip loomed in the distance. When you are at sea, and all you hear the slap of seawater on the boat hull, and a constant hiss of the salt-laden wind that hits square off the face, the beating sun, the nature for a moment feels harsh, it also puts you in a meditative state. You seem to be completely alienated from the present world where you belong. I felt exactly the same and trust me, it was like meeting the creator. 

The rhythmic beat of the engine, at the rear, was only one human connection that kept me awake as I looked on at the straight line all around us.

Jambudwip in Bay of Bengal at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Jambudwip, a wavy to flat sandy island, with zero human habitation. All we saw were millions of red crabs and in the distance, a long line of casuarina tree-lined land mass

Nothing exceptional happened..we visited an island, crafted by nature and we turned back. Even then, the delight inside was palpable..everyone was happy. The pure bliss of nature. We, humans, take so much pain to come near to nature; but by Joves, this pain is far relishing than the nagging one we feel, when walking into a meeting room in a corporate plush surrounding and talking the same management claptrap which slowly saps us within.

With full confidence, the age-old boat reached us back to the fishing harbor from where we had started. It was almost after 1 pm in the afternoon and we saw a few fishing boats neatly parked, and all the morning activities had subsided. 

The daily business deal had finished, the fishes were on their last leg, on their way to the cities and towns.

Fishing boat in Bay of Bengal at Frasergunj, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
The fishing boats await another 12 hours for their engines to start and head out to the sea for their next catch

A memorable sea tour for us. We saw firsthand the fishing community and their daily toil for which we can eat daily, the deliciously cooked, and neatly served lip-smacking fish cuisines. 

We drove through the sedate countryside and reached Hatania-Doania ferry covering the 23 Kilometres of excellent road, climbed the barge and touched the mainland that took us back to Kolkata.

Car ferry at Hatania Doania, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Our car reaches first and snugly parked at the edge of the barge that took us to the mainland. A series of returning passenger wait their turn

After crossing, we waited till the last of the fading rays of the setting sun could be seen reflecting off the creek water. 

We drove right on to the huge ferry with other cars, and crossed the five minutes journey and landed on the mainland to steer towards Kolkata
Car ferry at Hatania Doania, Bakkhali beach, West Bengal, India near Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
Hatania-Doania creek at Namkhana under the setting sun, a water highway that runs one of the ancient business on earth – the fish industry

Filled with real “fishy” memories, we settled fast, secured the seat belt and hit the NH117 Northbound highway. 

Namkhana faded away into a dot as I looked at the rear-view mirror.

One thought on “Bakkhali, where river, sand and sea play under the crimson sun

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