When Arundhati suggested that we visit the second most well-known sea beach in West Bengal during my rare weekend off recently, I didn’t feel excited because of my experience in the most popular sea beach in the state, Digha. Digha is possibly the dirtiest and the most disorganised seaside resort in the world and I didn’t expect much from its less illustrious cousin, Bakkhali. But in our house, I decide only important matters that could change the course of history. All minor decisions are taken by my wife. So last Saturday, we were off in our middle-aged car driven by a young Bubai.
We went along NH 117 which is reasonably good, although only two-lane for most parts. Intermittent rains and the small towns on the way slowed us down repeatedly and the one-hundred-and-thirty-kilometre drive took five hours. To make things a little more complicated, we had to take a ferry across a narrow river. When we reached the filthy banks of Hatania Dewania River teeming with brightly painted fishing boats, the men who run the only barge to transfer vehicles across were having lunch. In Bengal, we have stopped asking meaningless questions like why people who run an important public service should take breaks at a fixed hour like sarkari babus and shut down a highway in the process. Or why a two-hundred metre river on a busy national highway can’t be connected by a bridge in the twenty-first century.
But after reaching the sea-beach, we felt that the less-than-smooth journey was a blessing in disguise. Even in a Saturday afternoon, the place hadn’t been taken over by relentless fun-seeking city dwellers playing Sunidhi Chowhan songs. Shacks selling trinkets and small eats hadn’t encroached every square inch of the beach. There were visitors, but the beach was pristine and the pace was relaxed. Push carts were selling fried fish, corncobs, and bhelpuri. Some enterprising villagers were renting out plastic chairs to tourists, something that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
We hired two chairs from Ms Ankita Basak @ Rs.10 an hour. As we watched the monsoon clouds change colours in the setting sun, the sea was moving towards us in the high tide. We lazily hung our feet and waited for the waves to reach us. But before the sea could, a gust of rain from the Bay of Bengal dashed towards us.
Back in our overpriced but under-maintained hotel, we decided to play Scrabble sitting down in the second floor balcony looking into darkness. (My wife had forgotten to take the umbrella and medicines for emergencies, but luckily, I hadn’t left our Scrabble set behind!) Mother Nature possibly knew about our trip and decided to make it a full moon night. As we listened to the rustling sound of sea breeze blowing through trees, the moon played hide-and-seek with clouds. If there was heaven on earth, it was here, it was here, it was here.
We went to Henry Island next morning. Surprisingly, to reach this island you don’t cross any water body. The entire area is under the Fisheries Department of the state government. Entry is restricted and so there is no one there except for government employees who run the establishment. Their main job is to help fishermen and they maintain huge sweet water ponds to hatch fish. They also run two tourist lodges in one of which we had excellent luchi and alur dam for breakfast. More bliss!
From the entrance of the government property, a road leads to the sea through marshy lands with huge fishing tanks all around and deep green mangrove trees with their roots sticking out of ground. The land beneath our feet is soggy, thanks to many months of rains. Time seems to have stopped flowing here. Crabs and snails live their unhurried lives in peace with the universe. As I watch a snail undertaking a trans-continental journey, I recall Grapes of Wrath, where Steinbeck has given a graphic description of a turtle crossing a highway. The description runs into pages and as you read it you actually see the turtle.
We cross a colourfully painted flimsy bamboo bridge to reach the seashore. If only we didn’t have to go back! <>
Kolkata / 13 August 2014