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Next weekend you can be at ... Henry Island

A long drive away from the city, Henry Island, near Bakkhali in South 24-Parganas, is a getaway fast gaining in popularity. Kilometres of empty beach, placid sea, clear sky and excellent food are some of the attractions of this island.

Bakkhali is about 130 km by road from Calcutta. There’s a ferry service at Namkhana to transport cars and buses across the Hatania-Doania creek, which is deep enough for ships to navigate. Bridges have not been constructed on the creek to keep the passage of ships clear.

The journey from Calcutta to Bakkhali takes about three and half hours. There are buses from Esplanade to Namkhana and from there to Bakkhali. There’s also a train connection to Namkhana. Henry Island is about 10 minutes from Bakkhali by a car. Cycle-rickshaws are also available for the journey.

Henry Island is named after a European who surveyed land in the area in the late 19th Century. Dense mangrove forest parted by numerous canals covered the area then. Wildlife such as tiger, deer, wild pig, crocodile and snake were common. 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.

The credit for turning Henry Island into a holiday hotspot goes to the fisheries department of the state government, which has set up a pisciculture project here. A government official said that the department has dug more than 50 ponds occupying over 25 bigha on 100-hectare land carved off the 500-hectare island. The department has planted trees like gora, kankru and palm apart from naturally growing sundari and hetal.

With the help of the state forest and tourism departments, the fisheries wing has recently constructed a rest house named Sundari, close to the sylvan beach in Sector II of the island. Only the song of birds accentuate the silence here. About 2.5 km away is the Sector I of the island, where the other government rest house, Mangrove, is located. On the west of Henry Island lies the Jetty ghat, the sea in the east and Bakkhali in the south.

In the fisheries department ponds, several varieties of fishes, like carp, lobster, shrimp, trout, tilapia, bele, parse and tangra are cultivated. The lunch and dinner menus naturally feature plenty of fish dishes. The fishes are caught and sent to Namkhana, Bakkhali and Frazergunj market for auction. Apart from cultivating the fish, the employees of the department maintain gardens and attend to tourists.

A dip in the sea is pleasant. Lazing on the sprawling deserted beach is even more enjoyable. The sun setting in the evening presents a lovely sight. The red crabs roll out a red carpet on the beach. The crabs, however, scurry away at the slightest sound of feet. The two-km road between Jetty ghat and Bakkhali is made up of bricks since the pollution control board has not allowed construction of metalled roads.

If you stay more than a day, go to Bakkhali and Frazergunj for day trips. A short ride on a bhut-bhuti (country boat with motor) will take you to Jambu Dwip, an uninhabited forested island out in the sea, from Frazergunj fishing harbour. There’s also a watchtower nearby that offers a breathtaking view of the Sunderbans.

Going

Take a bus from Esplanade to Namkhana. Cross the Hatania-Doania creek on a ferry. From the Jetty ghat, hire a van to Henry Island, about two kilometres away. Direct buses are also available. If you go by train, take Lakshmikantapur local from Sealdah. Get down at Namkhana

Staying

The two rest houses of the fisheries department are the only options. For reservation, contact: State Fisheries Development Corporation, Bikash Bhavan. Ph: 23376470

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