|Pictures by Madhumita Bhattacharyya
It may not be as popular a destination as Digha, but Shankarpur is far more attractive as a weekend getaway. Roughly 180 km away from the city, it is just up the Midnapore coast, a stones throw away from Digha. Yet, the 14-odd kilometres are enough to shake off the busy bustle of that overcrowded, often unpleasant beach.
There is little to do or see in Shankarpur, apart from a wide beach, which is precisely what makes it perfect for a day or two away from the city. There are four or five decent hotels, and even when they are full, the beach is sufficiently empty, and surprisingly free of litter.
Parts of the shore are more clay than sand, which can be quite slippery. According to local residents, the sand is swept away during high tide, while it covers the clay when the water recedes.
It is unfortunate that so little care is taken to promote tourist destinations in the state. Remains of embankment built long ago lie on the beach, demolished by the waves and time. Once built to protect the shoreline from the tide, it is now a heap of bricks and an eyesore. There are also pieces of broken earthen pots that scatter the sand.
Another relic is the beached ship Deepak that lies rusting upon the beach. But this, on the cleanest stretch of beach around, connected to the forest department complex, also adds charm to the otherwise unexciting sands.
The area was originally developed as the Shankarpur Fishing Development complex, and one of the most cosy places to stay is Matsagandha, the fisheries department lodge. You can watch the fishermen go out to the sea, and see the ships docked nearby.
Rumours abound that travellers have avoided Shankarpur for years because the beach was used as a burning ghat.
Rest assured that you are not likely to chance upon any unsightly sights while strolling down the beach now. In winter and during the Pujas, the area does find favour with escapees from the city.
If you have anything in mind apart from a brief tumble in the waves the water is cloudy, but basically clean this is not the place for you. Alternatively, you could stay at Shankarpur and visit nearby destinations as well, like Haldia, Digha or the nearby Kapal Kundala temple.
The good news is that if the road trip puts you off, next year is scheduled to see the start of train services connecting Digha to Calcutta. The roads are good, but patches where construction is on slow down the journey. The best part complete divorce from the world at large for cell phones are useless here and phones unreliable. Enjoy!
How to get there:
By road. Apart from your own conveyance, you can take a bus from any of the depots in Calcutta to Digha, from where it is another 14 km. Or take the train to Kanthi, Mecheda or Kharagpur and take the road route from there
Where to stay:
There are a handful of decent hotels. The best of the private lot are Hotel Nest (03220-264074/964 and Sandy Bay (03220-64693), with room rents ranging from Rs 300 to Rs 1,000. Best to book beforehand, through travel agents in the city.