Table of contents for Delhi - Kolkata - Delhi
- Summer Vacation – a wonderful run through NH-2 towards Ghats of Varanasi – Part I
- Summer Vacation – a wonderful run through NH-2 from the Ghats of Varanasi to Home – Part II
- Summer Vacation – A trip to Bakkhali, the Delta of Ganges & my childhood place
It’s a nice feeling to be at home after almost 16th months. If you are also staying out of home, where you spent your entire childhood, must feel the same when you reach home, as I am. It’s just not possible to forget those beautiful years from your life. Am I getting emotional? Cancerians are very emotional in nature, so am I.
Normally, we used to visit home in every six month, even if for few days only. But, due to Dad’s illness, treatment & regular medical check-ups, we couldn’t leave Gurgaon last year. My parents returned home in March and were very happy to see my son after a month.
We had a big joint family like most of us during our childhood. At any point of time, the number of members was 31 when we used to sit for dinner together. However, time has taken its toll and currently, only 3 members of our family are staying permanently, this number increased by two when my parents go there for few months.
Dasghara – My Home
This is a small town in West Bengal, ~ 70 km from the state capital Kolkata in Hooghly district. From NH-2, this place is approx. 14-15 km and the nearest important towns are Dhaniakhali (6-7 km) & Tarakeshwar (13 km). This is a rich agricultural area and you will find many big cold storages. Though rice is the prime crop of the district, the agricultural economy largely depends on potato, jute, vegetables, and orchard products.
Dhaniakhali is famous for tant (handloom) sari, along with Shantipur and Phulia. The Bengal cotton sari is a fashion statement, wherever it is worn and has a market all over the country. Many homes In Dhaniakhali block have at least one loom. The sari produced here is named after the place. The material for the Dhaniakhali sari is somewhat coarse and heavier than other textiles from Bengal and very popular. An ordinary Dhaniakhali sari takes a minimum of two days (10–12 hours each day) to be woven and the most exotic ones take four to five days to weave.
Tarakeshwar, one of the most acclaimed religious destinations in West Bengal of India. The prime attraction is the Lord Shiva temple, known as Tarakeshwar temple. The temple has an ‘atchala’ building structure with a ‘natmandir’ (Place for offering prayers) in front. This temple town hosts millions of pilgrims from all through India and also from foreign countries.
The weather is very hot, but this is the only time we can go home for a longer period of time; like most of us, our life also depends on our child’s school & holidays. Whenever we go home, most of our time spends on meeting everyone and we hardly had any time left for us to explore the places. However, since we had a car at our expense this time, we thought to visit few places as well.
Initially, we had a plan to visit Darjeeling, but with a heavy heart, we decided to drop Darjeeling from our list this time. The situation is not good for travelers. One of the best hill stations in the country is crying for the situation to be settled down permanently. We urge everyone concerned in the Government of West Bengal and the Indian Government, as well as all the people of Darjeeling to solve the problem once and for all. This will be good for everyone. We just can’t allow things to come to a stage where travelers scare to visit Darjeeling.
Finally, we decided to go to Bakkhali, a quaint little town by the sea in the Delta of Ganges in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. It 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. Some of these are joined together with bridges over narrow creeks. As there is a maze of many river branches, the area is difficult to pass. Most islands are only connected with the mainland by simple wooden ferryboats. Bridges are rare. Some islands are not yet connected to the electric grid, so island residents tend to use solar cells for a bit of electric supply.
This small island juts out into the vast expanse of the Bay of Bengal. Bakkhali has a 7 km long beach stretching from Bakkhali to Frasergunj, a twin beach, with gently rolling waves. These are twin towns now forming one continuous locality.
The Ganges Delta, the most populous river basin in the world, (also known as the Ganges–Brahmaputra Delta or the Sunderbans Delta) is a river delta in the South Asia region of Bengal, consisting of the State of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Approximately two-thirds of the delta is in Bangladesh. It is the world’s largest delta and empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is also one of the most fertile regions in the world, thus earning the nickname The Green Delta. The delta stretches from the Hooghly River on the west to the Meghna River on the east. It is approximately 350 km (220 mi) across at the Bay of Bengal.
A number of large rivers flow through the Ganges Delta, including the Padma (main distributary of the Ganges) and the Jamuna (main distributary of the Brahmaputra), which merge and then join the Meghna before entering the sea.
The Ganges delta has the shape of a triangle. It covers more than 105,000 sq. km (41,000 sq mile), and although the delta lies mostly in Bangladesh and India, rivers from Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal drain into it from the north. Most of the delta is composed of alluvial soils and has large amounts of minerals and nutrients, which is good for agriculture. Normally, people work in agriculture, and grow crops on the fertile floodplains of the delta. Fishing is also an important activity in the delta region.
Sundarban’s mangroves form the world’s largest mangrove ecoregion, covering an area of 20,400 square kilometres (7,900 sq mi) in a chain of 54 islands.
I wanted to visit the place for a very personal reason. Though, I born in Dasghara, Hooghly, I spent my entire childhood in Lakshmikantapur (150 km from our home), which is very near to this place and my sister lives there. So this will give me an opportunity to visit my childhood & school friends after a long time as well. We planned to stay one day at my sister’s house and then proceed to Bakkhali, which is ~ 220 km from our home.
On May 30, 2012, we started our journey after lunch and hit the excellent NH-2 again within half an hour. Kolkata, the city of Joy, is ~80 km from our house. There is nothing to write more about NH-2 or Durgapur Expressway, except some pictures and the abandoned ‘Nano’ plant at Singur. This section witnessed one of the major agitations against land acquisitions for Tata’s Nano car (Y-2008) and the fate is disastrous for the State.
At Dankuni, NH-2 ends and we reached Vidyasagar Setu or Second Hooghly Bridge (starting point of NH-117) through Kona Expressway (8 km long), which links Kolkata to the Mumbai (NH-6) and Kolkata to Delhi (NH-2) sections of the golden quadrangle project linking the four metros of India.
The Second Hooghly Birdge was built in front of us, when we were staying in Shibpur, Howrah. We spent so many evenings with all of my friends over the bridge near Mandirtala, before it commissioned on October 10, 1992. One of the main points of discussions was by when both the sections would join. This is the longest cable-stayed bridge in India and an engineering marvel. I was driving down the memory lane as well, while still at wheel.
National Highway 117 (130 km stretch) is also popularly known as Diamond Harbour Road. The road journey takes about 3.5 hours and as much as 5 hours. It passes through some important places in West Bengal e.g. IIM Kolkata, Diamond Harbour, Kulpi, Kakdwip, Namkhana and finally terminates at Bakkhali. Since Metro extension work is in progress, crossing Kolkata section till Joka, took much time, than expected but once we crossed Joka, the traffic was smooth. Though it is a single carriageway, but the condition of the road is really excellent till the end.
By 4 p.m., we reached Diamond Harbour. Diamond Harbour (earlier known as Hajipur) is in the southern suburbs of Kolkata, on the banks of the Hooghly River quite near where the river meets the Bay of Bengal. This small town with a picturesque setting is the gateway to the south-western part of the district leading to such places as Gangasagar, Kakdwip, Namkhana and Bakkhali.
This charming place was named Diamond Harbour by the British. It was considered a safe resting spot for ocean going ships and offered a spectacular view of the river. After the Rupnarayan River joins the Hughli, the river bends south and widens out to form a huge expanse of water. A little further down, the Haldi River joins it.
In earlier days Diamond Harbour used to be a stronghold of Portuguese pirates. The ruins of the fort of Chingrikhali can still be seen. It is believed to be linked with the Portuguese but some opine that the East India Company built it before they could establish themselves in Kolkata. There is an old lighthouse nearby.
We used to visit Diamond Harbour quiet often along with our parents, as this place is very close from where we were staying and it was our subdivision headquarters, hence has a very good market. I still remember those days, when during Durga Puja, we went there and bought our shoes from Bata, because they used to give us balloons along with the shoes.
We spent some time on the river bank and left the place at dusk to reach my sister’s place (~20 km from there). We took a detour from Kulpi and reached Lakshmikantapur (8 km)
Next morning, we planned to visit the place where I spent 17 years of my life till XIIth before moving to Shibpur, Howrah. My wife and my son had never visited the place before. It is just 3 km from my sister’s place. It was a second home coming for me in two weeks. Except, electrification in the village, nothing much changed from the time we left the place. We used to study in Kerosene lamp those days. One of our neighbours still stays there in the ground floor and the house is in dilapidated condition. One portion of the house had to be demolished completely. 1st Floor is still lying vacant, where we were staying. I took some snaps of my son playing there…was I thinking about me while taking his pictures in subconscious mind…may be yes…I used to be like him…may be I wanted to see myself through him…I wanted to go past through him only…I was able to meet few of my friends after a decade, with whom we played football, cricket and flying kites.
On our way back, we stopped at my school, which was just a minute walking distance from our house. My father was a school teacher in the same school, that’s the reason we were staying there.
I wanted to close my eyes and go back to those childhood days…so many memories…it is really difficult to hold your tears at time…men don’t cry…those were beautiful days in life..we were living a simple life…I had no idea about the future or the goals in my life…there was no role model around me…I was just sailing through life in a normal way… Little did I realize that struggle for life has already started along with the un-terminated journey towards the life of examinations and challenges?
After lunch, we left for Bakkhali around 1:30 p.m from my sister’s place. It will be ~ 70 km from there. We hit NH-117 again at Kulpi (8 km), an important town in South 24 Pgs. The Government of West Bengal proposes to construct a minor port at Kulpi with facilities for handling containers. As large ocean going ships with full load of goods cannot enter the river ports at Kolkata and Haldia, the need for a seaport in the area has been felt for a long time.
Kulpi is the place where I, along with some of my school friends, used to travel in our bicycle to see the river Hooghly and spent so many hours on the banks of the river. There are many brick kilns and it is a delight to see fishermen catching fish. I promise to show the place sometime later to my son and move on.
We reached Kakdwip at 2:20 p.m. If you are going to Ganga Sagar, you need to leave NH-117 from here and reach Harwood Point or Lot No. 8 (3 km), take a ferry service to Kachuberia (~ 45 mins). Ganga Sagar is another 32 km from Kachuberia. Bus, Taxi services are available to reach there. However, we drove straight towards Namkhana which is ~ 15 km from there.
We reached Namkhana at 2:30 p.m. There is no bridge across the Hatania Doania creek at Namkhana. Now our car needs to be transported across the Hatania-Doania creek in a special ferry. The creek is not very wide, just about a hundred metres or so, but is considerably deep allowing the movement of ships from Kolkata to ports in Bangladesh. The creek reduces the journey-time for the ships. Because of this, it is difficult to construct a bridge across the creek. An ordinary bridge will hamper movement of ships and a high bridge is a costly proposition. The ferry service is available from 7 a.m. -11 p.m. except from 12 noon till 1:45 p.m. (lunch hour). The fare for crossing a Car/Jeep is Rs. 160 + Rs 30 toll (including loading/unloading).
Your estimated wait time could be nearly an hour, if you are not very fortunate to catch the vessel on your arrival. Frazerganj (20 km) is 20 minutes drive from the other side of the creek and Bakkhali is another 3 km from there.
Fraserganj & Bakkhali
Named after Lt-Gov. of Bengal Andrew Frazer, Frazerganj is about 3 km from Bakkhali.
The main landmark of the Frazerganj beach is the towering wind mills. Exactly 100 years ago, Lt-Gov. of Bengal Andrew Frazer fell in love with a beach at one end of the Sunderbans. He was so drawn to that stretch of sand that he built a bungalow at Narayanitala, the nearest village.
We had already booked two rooms in West Bengal Government Tourist Lodge. A very nice place to stay. Bakkhali and Frazerganj have also a number of hotels and you can see many new constructions of hotel sites.
Bakkhali beach is one of the few beaches in India, which offers a spectacular sunrise and sunset. The sun rises and sets along the edge of the sea turning both the water and sand into a bright shade of crimson. Unfortunately, we couldn’t experience neither sunset nor sunrise during our stay over there, as the sky was cloudy and raining most of the time. However, that was not a hindrance for both the children to enjoy the sea, including us. Initially, he was very scared to see the waves, but, after sometime, it was difficult for me to pull him out from there. It was his first experience with sea and I think he fell in love by now.
The beach of Bakkhali is safe. There is nothing much to do in Bakkhali expect laze in the beach. There are nearby fishing villages and fresh fishes are sold straight out of the fishermen’s net. In the evening tea stall lets out plastic chairs @ Rs.5/- per hour and one can sit for hours munching on endless plates of Bhelpuri, Jhalmuri, Pokoras gulping it down with cups of tea.
When it comes to food Bakkhali is a favourite hunt for the fish loving Bengali tourist. Promfret, Bethki, Ilish, Pabda along with prawns and crabs are available at a throw away price at the roadside eateries. These eateries also cook the freshly caught fish purchased from the sea beach.
You can also try the various road side shacks for lunch and dinner. They come a little cheaper but the food can be sumptuous and tasty. However, because Bakkhali doesn’t have a steady flow of tourists, most restaurants don’t have a steady menu of lunch or dinner. You have to place an order for lunch / dinner few hours in advance.
You can also visit the Crocodile Park and Mangrove forest just beside the Bakkhali Bus stop. The entry fee is Rs 2. It also doubles up as a crocodile breading centre with crocodiles of different ages kept in different reservoirs.
The walk over the beach from Bakkhali to Frasergunj is a pleasant experience. The rickshaw van is the only transport available locally.
The value of these cycle vans can’t be measured unless & until you stay in rural Bengal, in particular South 24 Pgs. These are the lifeline for common people for local transport, as well as many families are dependent on this for their livelihood.
The beach between Bakkhali & Frazerganj is lonely and there are several fishing villages and you are quiet likely to come across fishermen mending their boats and nets, with their children playing in the beach.
Frazerganj is a hub of fishing activities. It is common to come across fishes being unloaded and packed with ice.
Frazerganj harbour is also the launch pad for trips to the uninhabited Jambu Dip, a small island approachable by a short but rough boat ride in high waves. It is an ideal place to enjoy the beach all to yourself. However, since it was time for high tide and we have two small kids, we didn’t take a chance to go there. Apart from a few temporary fishing huts Jambu Dip has no permanent settlement.
After a full 3 hours in the sea and breakfast, we went to visit Henry’s island (2 km) – a must visit place. During 1980s, the West Bengal Fisheries Department took the initiative of turning Henry’s Island into a tourist spot. More than 50 ponds were dug under pisciculture project, occupying over 25 bigha on 100-hectare of land. Fresh fish and shrimps straight out of the ponds are a must try for the visitors. Trees such as gora, kankru, palm, naturally growing sundari and hetal have been planted.
Located on the western edge of the Sundarban, this place is fast developing into in West Bengal’s favorite Beach Resort. Named after a British surveyor, who surveyed the area about a century ago, Henrys Island is one of the numerous island that form the Ganga – Brahmaputra delta, the largest in the world. Crisscrossed by numerous rivers, Henry’s island offer an interesting mix of beach and mangrove forest. The island was only an extension of the Sunderbans and the surveyor could not have dreamt that it would become a human habitat in little more than a hundred years.
You need to pay Rs 5 per person as an entry fee and for car Rs.15. You can also use the rickshaw vans as well. There are 3 guest houses on Henry Island. If you wish you can stay there too. The lodges are named Mangrove, Sundari and Bani. Bani has a watchtower on the roof and is very close to the sea beach. You can enjoy a good view of the surrounds from there. From the watch tower you can view the entire Sunderban area. It is a splendid view. On one side you can see the Bakkhali Beach in the far distance and on all the other side the green expanses of Sundarban.
A further 10 minute walk from Bani lodge, through a stretch of mangrove jungle accessed by crossing a small bamboo bridge, takes you to the Kiran Beach. The Kiran Beach is a mixture of sand and clay and is lined with casuarinas plantation with occasional mangroves. You are quite likely to have the beach all to yourself along with a company of red crabs, turning the beach into a red carpet.
It was a nice outing for us after a long time. We left Bakkhali around 1 p.m. and returned home by 7 p.m. Like all good things in life, my vacation was about to over in a few days time.
After spending a very good seventeen days, on June 4th, started my return journey at 7 in the morning. However, there was no one to accompany me, no one to set the small cabin on fire with his naughty things, no one to ask me to drive fast to reach a Hotel for his chicken dish…dropped Madhumita & Anjishnu at Uttarpara at my in-laws place and hit the NH-2 at 10 a.m. For a long time, I wanted to have lunch at the famous Khalsa Hotel in Dhanbad – heard a lot about them, but found it to be just an average and nothing special. It was a mindless driving since morning. At midnight, exactly 101 km before Kanpur stopped for dinner at ‘Sapna Dhaba’. I was there along with few truck drivers, sitting in the open on ‘Charpais’, watching the stars, sharing my experiences with them, as well as to know about their life on road; it was a completely different atmosphere, which we come across very rarely. It was also nice to see the hospitality of this non-descript dhaba, which may not be your next stop, but can beat any good city restaurants with their behaviour and excellent preparation of food. I Left the place at 6 a.m. after having morning tea and Paratha, which was offered by the Dhaba owner.
Finally, at 2:30 p.m. on 5th June, from the ‘City of Joy’ reached the ‘City of Millennium’ – the place where I am working, but my heart lives somewhere else…the place has grown up along with me, but there is no basic infrastructure in place…the place where your parents don’t want to come to stay with you for long but most of the time, we don’t have any other option…why can’t we create an atmosphere at every States so that people don’t need to move to other States for a living anymore…we started living our life but missing many things which can’t be measured by material things…
Once you are driving out, your journey will only complete when everyone come back at the same place…all the way, I was thinking about that & also our journey, just a few days ago…finally, the journey ends on 21st June when I picked-up everyone from Railway station, including my parents and reached home at 1:30 p.m. We have covered 3900 km, paid Rs.2,280/- on Toll and spent Rs.15,760/- on fuel.
It was a good summer vacation to remember for my son, including both of us. Yeah, I am now planning for our next long trip together to cover some other parts of India. Thank you all for encouraging and reading this write-up. This is not going to be my last write-up. See you soon, Take care of yourself, bye.