A day trip with my bestie, to one of the less, frequented site in the suburbs of Kolkata, Bakkhali. Known for its pristine beach, Red crab islands, Fishing jetties, Mangrove and magnificent Islands, this is a must-visit for a weekend or maybe for a few more extra days if you fall in love with this place.
Our trip started early in the morning as we boarded a local train to Namkhana. This 3hour journey was an experience by itself. We communicated with daily passengers who travel long distances every day for a living. Seeing us fully armed with backpacks, scarves and dark glasses a few commuters thought we were Doctors on our way to the district for a Health camp. A bright sunny day, acres and acres of green lands flashing by the window every second only to offer more of agricultural lands in every hue of green. Farmers busy tending to their lands, women washing clothes in yellowish-green ponds and little children running along the train tracks and waving their hands with big smiles. My heart swells up seeing the innocence and simple life of people living just a few kilometres away from the metro. Unaware of the chaotic life back in the concrete city they enjoy every moment.
As our train chugged slowly to enter Namkhana, we were greeted by an immaculate, clean and organised train station. We had two options to cross the Hatania-Doania creek to reach the next milestone, one was by ferry and the other by road over the newly constructed bridge. We opted for a motorised locally made van which dropped us to Namkhana Bus stop. The local buses were quite regular and took 45 minutes to drop us to Bakkhali bus stop, which is 2 minutes from the beach. Being a weekday, the area looked calm and quiet with just a handful of local tourists.
We rested at a nearby food stall to have a relaxed lunch staring at the mighty ocean ahead. The water seemed to be quite far away due to the tides and tourists were enjoying the warm summer breeze bathing in the sea. Rice and egg curry along with locally made ghugni garnished with onion and lime juice was our menu for lunch. After a quick lunch, we headed towards our next destination. When two women travel, can shopping be kept at bay? No……Plenty of stalls selling various knick-knacks and souvenirs made out of seashells, corals and pearls were on display.
A drive along the lanes and bylanes of Bakkhali made way to Frasergunj. Lined with huge windmills looming over little houses overlooking the sea. The windmills were strategically built to capture the strong sea breeze and convert it into precious electricity. Sir Andrew Fraser was far-sighted in discovering this part of the sea and developing it to a fishing community. The scenic Frasergunj beach looks surreal with fishing boats and nets lined on one side and food stalls on the other. A partially demolished house stands on the seashore lashed by the waves time and again. Trees growing out of the crevices of the cracks have witnessed many a tale. A group of local women were busy untangling the fishing nets and getting them ready for their men for the next catch. After spending a few Aha moments on the beach we proceeded towards our next destination, Frasergunj Fishing Harbour, managed by Benfish.
The harbour was a hidden gem amidst the ocean. As we crossed the entrance lined by mangroves on either side, we witnessed a colossal affair, a Huge number of trawlers had arrived to unload their catch after a week of sailing on a rough sea. The harbour looked ceremonial with tons of fishes being unloaded, shifted, segregated and stored for consumption. Inbetween our photo sessions I engaged a group of fishermen into an interesting conversation. The group returned to the shores after 10 days of fishing on the high sea. They sounded happy for their catch was extremely lucrative which would fetch handsome money. I parallelly figured a sense of insecurity and fear as they do not have enough gadgets or systems in place which they could use as signals when in danger at the middle of the sea. The GPS, hooter and the emergency alarm system planted on the roof of the trawler seems to be defunct and repeated complaints to the officials fetched no results. Precious lives on risk!!
Orange coloured crates with fishes in every shape and size were carried from the harbour to the cold storage post segregation. As the trawlers poured tons of fishes in the harbour, more boats were waiting their turn to unload. A senior fisherman stepped into every boat in the harbour to ring a bell and blow a conch to offer prayers to the sea goddess. The men were working hard and toiling their sweat for a better tomorrow and a brighter future. We crisscrossed several fishing villages which looked like images straight from the folk tales. Mud houses with a thatched roof, little granaries to store the harvest for the year, ponds covered with water hyacinth with occasional fishes popping up. Little munchkins running along with puppies and chicks and quickly lifting their loose knickers lest it falls off. Our next destination was Henry’s Island which is a mere 15 minutes from the harbour.
A beautiful little piece of paradise on earth with pristine white sand and aquamarine water. The Island starts with mangrove on either side and a little park done up by the local authorities. The special draw of the island is the 162 water bodies that are used for Pisciculture using modern techniques. A drive through the many water bodies in a Toto was not only breezy and soulful but a treat to the eyes. The area was dotted with several species of colourful birds and insects which happily thrive in their natural habitat. It was interesting to witness that the water body for cultivating prawns was very different from the one that cultured Rohu or other local fishes. As we arrived, a ramp made way further inside which could be accessed only by feet. The entire area is enveloped by mangroves with occasional Hetal trees, which are planted to ward off snakes.
We crossed a little bamboo bridge and were greeted by a lush canopy of trees leading to the serene and tranquil beach. Fine white sand, a calm sea and a watchtower guarding it all. A scene straight out of a Bollywood movie minus the characters grooving to the latest numbers. It seemed like a painter had used his best strokes to paint the sea with every shade of blue ranging from aquamarine to cerulean. As the bright sun was sliding down and turning to richer hues, we called it a day and proceeded homewards.