Bakkhali is an island on the southern tip of West Bengal. The Hatania-Doania river separates it from the mainland - the southern side of the island faces the Bay of Bengal. It is also near the Sunderbans and is home to a 5+km beach that stretches from Bakkhali to Fraserganj. It has some mangrove forests – however, no tigers. It is not overrun with tourists - that makes its beaches wonderfully empty. The beaches of Bakkhali and Fraserganj are not the best in India – Goa, Andamans and Maharashtra have perhaps better beaches – but if you have had your fill of Goa and Andamans, Bakkhali is the way to go. In some way the wide grey beaches and the grey water is unique – something you may not find elsewhere.
During our stay, we went to two parts of the beach – Fraserganj and Bakkhali. The beach is long, wide, grey (looks muddy – but clean) and slopes gently into the Bay of Bengal. The water is also grey – guess because its near the mouth of the Ganges. The Bay can be rough between April and October - so be cautious. Though most parts of the beach is firm, there are some spots that are soft and if you stand for long you tend to sink. When we had visited (Mid April 2006) the Fraserganj area of the beach was under rennovation. We saw trucks plying on the beach – so it must be quite firm in that area. We found the Bakkhali beach nicer and cleaner – possibly the Fraserganj beach would be as nice after its done up.
The army of red crabs are a huge attraction in Bakkhali – they dot the beach by hundreds and vanish into their holes as you go near them (see picture).
Going to Bakkhali:
By Bus – The lone bus starts from the Esplanade State Bus Terminus in Kolkata (the one from where the North Bengal State Transport buses ply) at around 7am. West Bengal Surface Transport Corp runs this service – check out the latest times from their counter inside the terminus and book early. The Bus is not very comfortable - especially in summer (when we went) - and crowded – stops almost everywhere and takes 5+ hours to reach. The Bus drives into the ferry – the ticket cost includes the ferry ride.
By Car – Drive south from Calcutta through Diamond Harbour Road – after Diamond Harbour drive further south to Kakdwip and then Namkhana. Before the Namkhana Bus Terminus – the road veers left and goes to the Ferry Jetty on the banks of Hatania-Doania River. Buy a ferry ticket for your car and drive into the ferry when your turn comes. Be warned that the wait may be long – the ferry doesn’t ply between 12noon and 2pm – so time your trip. Calcutta to Namkhana should take less than 4 hours. After crossing the river – travel further south – you first hit Fraserganj – and 15min later Bakkhali. Overall the roads were good – not bumpy – but narrow.
We stayed in the Aircon cottages of the Benfish Hotel complex at Fraserganj. The room was dirty and plasters were falling off. The toilet was very dirty – black mossy floors and cockroaches crawling all over. The staff was however, friendly. But that didnt compensate for the horrors inside the toilet. To reach this hotel you need to turn right off the main road at Fraserganj. The hotel is a few kms away from the main road behind the fishing harbour. There are other hotels to stay in Bakkhali – like Hotel Deepak - not sure how they are.
The shacks near the Bakkhali beach serves tea, snacks and local food. Drink only bottled water – Kinley and Aquafina are widely available. The food in Benfish hotel had very very limited set menus (ironically serves only carp and no other fish). Expect Bengal cuisine in hotels – vegeterians shouldn’t have any problems.
While you can use your car if you have travelled in one – strongly recommend rides in Van Rickshaws (see picture). They are comfortable, open on all sides so you can feel and smell the place – but you need to board in sequence. Those who sit in front board first – then those who sit in the back. Avoid the sides.
Places in / near Bakkhali
Fraserganj: North of Bakkhali – this place gets its name from Andrew Fraser – who tried to develop the area as a resort in early 1900s. He never completed the job – as every time he built houses on the beach, the waves would wash them away. You can see the ruins of his offices by the beach. Fraserganj is also the location of a 1MW Wind Energy Farm. This project I understand is soon to be expanded to generate 2MW. Power from this plant serves the Bakkhali Island.
Henry’s Island (North East from Fraserganj): Its a riverine island formed by narrow creeks - and hence can be reached by road. The many lakes in this project are used for fish cultivation and research. There are some nice mangroove forests inside – though no tigers. That is actually good because you get to roam the forests without fear. To reach here take the road to Namkhana from Fraserganj or Bakkhali. A few miles north of Fraserganj turn right onto a brick road that leads to the Henry’s Island Fish Farms. The best way to reach and see this place is to hire a Van Rickshaw. That way the Van Rickshaw driver will double as your tour guide.
Jambu Dweep (Jambu Island) : A boat ride will reach you to this Island. It remains under water for some months – hence uninhabited. Fishermen build temporary houses when the island comes out of water.
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