Life's a beach
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- Published 15.06.10
Is Calcutta’s most populated beach getaway. Here, the Hooghly merges with the Bay of Bengal. It is best for people who don’t mind the crowds or for those who want to dig into Bengali cuisine.
How to get there: Board a train from Howrah — the Tamralipta Express leaves at 6.40am, the Kandari Express at 2.10pm and takes around 3.5 hours. A drive down would take a little over five hours. You can also board a bus from Esplanade. The only AC bus leaves at 7am.
Where to stay: Since this getaway is the most populated, there are an unlimited supply of hotels at Old and New Digha.
What to do: There’s pony-riding on the beach. Visit the Shiva temple at Chandaneswar, 6km from Digha. The local markets have more to shop for — hand-woven mats and cashewnuts — than at the other beach destinations close to Calcutta.
Things to remember: You can hire plastic chairs for Rs 10 an hour. It’s better to swim in the morning at low tide. The beach at Old Digha is rocky while the one at New Digha is smooth.
Traveller talk: “Whether you’re a bachelor, a couple or a family, Digha is for all. What you find at Digha that you don’t find elsewhere is the range of hotels to stay at... luxury or mid-range,” says lawyer Noelle Banerjee.
The easiest option on the impulsive traveller’s list. The beach is beautiful and the only one in this part of the world where you can drive as close to the water as you like.
How to get there: Start from Calcutta early. Buses leave from Esplanade every hour or so but the only AC bus leaves at 7am. No prior booking is required for the four-hour ride but do ask for a bus that doesn’t stop at Howrah because that adds another 45 minutes to the trip. Tickets cost between Rs 90 and Rs 150. The bus stops at Chawalkhola from where you can take a motor-gadi or a taxi to Mandarmani.
If you’re a free-spirited bird, go for the motor-gadi, which is an interesting marriage of the cycle rickshaw and the auto. Hang your legs over the side of the cart and let the wind blow through your hair as the driver tries to bypass every bump that you can barely see but definitely can feel. Or simply drive down in a car to cover the 180km stretch, which will also take four to five hours.
Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels and resorts bordering the beach, from luxury to comfort. While the Sana Beach Resort, Rose Valley and Sonar Bangla are popular (but overrated), smaller shelters like Candlewood Park, Eco Villa, Digante and Hotel Bijoy are better value for money. Some hotels will charge extra for a package with meals but you don’t want to be tied down, do you?
What to do: Wake up in time to watch the yolk of the sun rise from the waters. Splash in the sea. Eat at the shacks serving seafood (order at least an hour in advance). Visit the end of the beach where it meets the river to spot a scurrying carpet of red crabs!
Things to remember: Parking too close to the beach can get you fined a few hundreds. Electricity is a big problem and the whole township runs on generators. Almost all of the hotels are illegal, having violated the Environment Protection Act that bars any commercial activity within 500 metres of the maximum high-tide point. And the government makes its presence felt through its absence.
Traveller talk: “A golden beach and the deep blue sea, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, Mandarmani is a jewel in Bengal’s crown. When I went there last month, my friends and I played football and volleyball on the beach! And in the evenings we sat in our hotel verandah and just chilled,” said Andrew D. Rozario, teacher, Birla High School For Boys.
Located in Midnapore district, it is basically a small fishing village, cupped with casuarina plantations.
How to get there: Take a bus from Esplanade and get off at the Choddo Mile (14 miles in Bengali) stop on the Digha-Contai road. From here, board a trekker for the rest of the five out of 170km journey, which takes around 15 minutes. You can also drive down to your hotel destination in around five hours. Or board any Digha-bound train. From Digha, it’s a 30-minute drive to Shankarpur in a trekker.
Where to stay: The guesthouse of the West Bengal Fisheries Department (Matsyagandha) is recommended. Else, choose from the many hotels like Hotel Sandy Bay with sea-facing rooms or Hotel Nest, which is around a kilometre away from the shore but offers free, unlimited transport to the beach. Hotel Blue Sea is decent.
What to do: Splash around. Visit the Shankarpur Fishing Harbour Project. Watch the fishing trawlers head out in a row of twinkling lights as dusk sets. Snack on tea and biscuits from the many teashops or go healthy with daab. Shop at the local market for seashell knick-knacks.
Things to remember: The fishy smell is everywhere so learn to live with it. Stick to Bengali food.
Traveller talk: “The beach is a much better option than the Digha sands and can even match up to Mandarmani,” says 29-year-old IT guy Sootanu Maitra.
An exclusive and private getaway for those willing to loosen their purse strings.
How to get there: The best way to reach is by road. Ganga Kutir is an hour and a quarter away from Victoria Memorial. It takes about 45 minutes to reach from Joka. Just be on the lookout for signboards that lead you there.
Where to stay: Any of the 16 rooms, Deluxe, Premium or Presidential. Each of the rooms has a bed-like extension so you can lie down and soak in the view of the pool or the river or enjoy your morning cuppa. The room rents are between Rs 12,500 and Rs 18,500.
What to do: There are three things that one must do at the Ambuja resort. Relax in the Infinity Pool. Only 3.5ft deep, there is nothing more beautiful than watching the river flow by as you sink into the cool — and seemingly infinite — waters of the pool, sipping a Cosmopolitan, Sex And The City style. The food is fabulous, right from the seafood risotto to vegetable biryani. The portions are generous too. Finally, head to the library that boasts a great collection of books, from chick lit to art. A golf-cart ride away is the serene Anaya Spa for a nice hour (or two) of me (or us) time. And if that’s too much isolation for you, Footloose at the Ffort is where you can head for some gaming action.
Things to remember: Drive down between 1pm and 3pm to avoid the traffic. Carry your own swimsuit. And don’t forget to switch on the mosquito repellent provided in the room.
Traveller talk: “I like Ganga Kutir because of its serene surroundings. I’m always on the lookout for a quick weekend escape before I’m back at work on Monday. You almost feel like the resort is made for you. The Infinity Pool is beautiful and the spa is always on my agenda. And, even if you order a simple thing like a sandwich, it tastes different here because of its exotic toppings,” says Hemal Kapadia, who runs a graphic design studio.