In 1780, Governor General of India, Warren Hastings, wrote to his wife about a small beach in Beerkul village of Bengal, which he dubbed the ‘Brighton of the East’ (Brighton is an English seaside resort town, south of London). According to popular records, around 1923, a British traveller, John Frank Smith, wrote in praise of the same casuarina-guarded beach located on the Bay of Bengal, and reportedly, later persuaded West Bengal chief minister Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy to develop the place as a beach resort. Thus began the journey of Digha, Bengal’s first beach town, around 200km by road from Kolkata and also well-connected by rail.
Perched on the Bay of Bengal, the southern part of West Bengal has several beaches, mostly scattered over the Midnapore region and the South 24 Parganas delta. Most of them are tranquil destinations, with an understated beauty.
Easily reached from Kolkata, with a drive time of four to five hours, these are popular weekend getaways, especially during winter. Hence it is always advisable to book your preferred accommodation in advance if you are travelling during peak season. Also remember, the food is typically Bengali in most regions, with a smattering of north Indian and Indian Chinese dishes available at the more popular destinations. But if you are a seafood lover, a trip to the beach destinations of West Bengal is a must.
Digha of course remains the favourite among all the beaches of Bengal. The area around which the first few hotels came up, now known as Old Digha, remains the most popular corner, with hotels, shops and restaurants, banks and markets dotting the area.
Although bathing is allowed in the sea, the area is an erosion prone zone and you will see guard walls and boulders separating the sea from the town. It is advisable not to venture far away from the popular bathing zones as some of the areas have quick-sand. The beachfront remains animated almost round the clock, thanks to the innumerable souvenir and food stalls. In the evening, you can enjoy crisp fried sea food off the wok. The landscaped Biswa Bangla Park, especially when lit up in the evening, is also a popular attraction.
Travellers who prefer to stay away from the day-tripping crowd, will find New Digha–an extension of Digha beach, well-guarded by casuarina trees, about two km away, a better option. There is also a promenade along the beach connecting the older part with the new. Families with children in tow may visit the Marine Aquarium (closed on Tuesdays), the Digha Science Centre and the Amaravati Park. One can also make a day excursion to Talshari Beach located across the Bengal-Odisha border in the neighbouring state. One the way, you can also pay a visit to the Chandaneswar Shiva Temple.
The popularity of Digha has encouraged the opening of other beach retreats that are now strung along the coast to the east of Digha, across East and West Midnapore districts, to the south-west of Kolkata. Relatively less crowded than Digha, these beaches include Shankarpur, Mandarmani, Tajpur, etc.
Usually, people visit Shankarpur (about 185km from Kolkata) along with Digha, the two separated by a distance of about 15km by road. The Champa River meets the sea here. You may choose to take a dip in the sea or simply sit in the shade of the casuarina trees. Temporary kiosks sell green coconut water and light snacks.
About 40km from Digha and 145 km from Kolkata is Junput, a picturesque retreat that originated as a centre of aquaculture research. Junput has to be reached through Contai. The state fisheries department runs a museum and a pisciculture unit here. However, avoid the areas where the local people dry fish, as the stench may be uncomfortable. Neighbouring Bankiput beach is yet to find a place on the tourist map, largely because of paucity of accommodation. You may also make an excursion to the Dariapur Lighthouse and the fishing harbour where the Rasulpur river meets the Bay of Bengal.
Those who want to shun the crowd, can avoid Digha altogether and head for Tajpur and Mandarmani. Around 200 km by road from Kolkata, Mandarmani can be reached through Chaulkhola village via Contai. The long stretch of hard sand beach lapped by the waves of the Bay of Bengal is a pleasant getaway. Rows of hotels and luxury resorts lie along the other side of the beach. Tajpur, about 170km by road from Kolkata, is for those who simply want to stay put, far from the urban din. The luxury resorts are set back from the beach, which gives you an opportunity to take short walks in between long hours of siesta. You may also adventure sports opportunities; but do check if they are licenced operators.
Although the deltaic region to the south of Kolkata is better known for the Sunderban Tiger Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there a few beaches in the area that are good for quick getaways from the city. Bakkhali, about 132 km from Kolkata, is the most popular of all. Earlier, one had to leave one’s car at Namkhana and cross the Hatania-Doania River to reach the other side. But now one can drive across thanks to the barge service. The main road ends at the edge of beach which fans out on either side. There are plenty of budget to mid-budget hotels here. Lying in the inter-tidal zone, the beach offers an insight into the local marine fauna. There is also a crocodile breeding centre here.
From Bakkhali, you may visit Frazergunge, with a seven km long tranquil beach at the edge of the fishing village. Travel like the local people, in a rickshaw van, through typical Bengal countryside. From here, you may take boat ride to the Jambu Dweep. The island is popular with birders, especially during winter. Henry’s Island, located at the end of a diversion from the road to Bakkhali, is known for its beach and a watch tower that offers a panoramic view of the countryside and the sea.
Information: Apart from West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation and State Fisheries Corporation Development Limited, there are plenty of private hotels, from budget to luxury. Winter and school holidays are popular seasons. Carry your medicine, insect/mosquito repellent and sun protection gear. Winter is mild but early or late in the day, temperature may dip. For more information: visit WB Tourism.