Just like the River Thames is the essence of London and the Alps of Switzerland, the seaside resort village of Mandarmoni is the essence of southern West Bengal.
Mandarmoni, situated in the Purba Medinipur district, gives the best view of the Bay of Bengal. For those visiting Kolkata and longing for a beach holiday, Mandarmoni, with its serene surroundings and gallons of peace, should beckon you.
Kolkata and its nearby destinations are popular among Bengalis for leisure and the beach getaways at Digha, Shankarpur and Mandarmoni are ideal for those who love water. And how could it not be? Residents of the coastal state don’t need to travel several thousand kilometres to give in to the lure of silted sand.
To head to the 22km long beach, said to be the longest motorable beach in India, I set out from southern Kolkata's glitzy neighbourhood of New Alipur. Rather than driving to the place, I decide to opt for local transport and go without the comforts of an air-conditioned SUV. When one drives, it is easy to miss the divinity and tranquility of the place.
I take a bus from Esplanade, the heart of Kolkata, that allows me a pleasant and painful view of the city as we hit the Kolkata-Digha road. Pleasant because it is heartening to see the early rush of people go about their jobs and painful because a
majority of them are poverty stricken.
Fresh air hits the face as the bus drives past vast agricultural fields. Looking out, I made sure not to miss the stop of Chawalkhola. Mandarmoni is approximately 10km from Chawalkhola, but the road shows no hints of a nearby beach.
At Chawalkhola, I get to experience travelling in an engine-powered cart, which are driven by the villagers. The driver of the cart grabs my bag from me and places it in the cart before offering his hand to help me on to it.
As we travel, he eagerly explains the beauty of Mandarmoni's waters and silt- coloured sand. He insists that I visit the delta if I was a sea lover.
He is talking about the magnificent Mohana – the converging point of the river and the sea. The site, with its picturesque fishing settlements, wears the look of paradise during sunrise and sunset. The scene draws thousands of tourists from India and other countries yearly.
Making up my mind to spend a good amount of time unravelling the beauty of the delta, I bear the bumpy ride. The cart follows the village road until it ends at a seaside village called Dadanpatrabar. From here, the cart takes a right turn along a narrow village road and travels down a hill before reaching Mandarmoni.
On the beach, what strikes one is the tranquility of the sea. The senses are pampered with the awe-inspiring view of the Bay of Bengal. Worldly thoughts vanish and the eyes focus on the boats moving on the water. Bengal couldn't present a better sight than this.
After lolling on the sand for a while and listening to the waves crashing on the shore, I walk the 22km stretch to gather memories and search for the delta.
Cars speed past me. Speed prevents the vehicle's tyres from sinking into the sand. Fishermen are seen laying out their nets or in knee-deep water catching fish and crabs.
Jamal Khalifa, a fisherman at Mandarmoni, says, ”The sea is our home. However, we do not have modern equipment for smooth navigation. Apart from that, we are hassled with weather problems. Sometimes, I set out for fishing late in the night with the help of a torch. We rely heavily on the lights of nearby resorts when it gets dark.”
I reach the delta before dark. It is about 6km from the heart of the beach, which is dotted with resorts. One can walk to the delta or hire an engine-powered cart.
Once the smell of dead fish hits you and you spot red crabs on the golden sand, you know the delta is near.
At the delta, one can see where the river merges with the sea due to the contrasting colours of the water. Gazing at the sea and watching the reflection of the sun gives a heavenly feel. Red crabs are spread on a large stretch of the beach near the delta.
One can explore the beach by heading out in the morning or afternoon before high tide sets in. Eateries offer delicacies of different varieties of fish, besides crabs. Lights from the beach-side restaurants and resorts keep the beach lit after dark.
To get the best out of your visit, venture out to sea when it's calm. However, visiting Mandarmoni without experiencing the view of the delta is like visiting Switzerland without exploring the snowy Alps.
Tourist attractions at the delta
Mohana is located at the end of Mandarmoni beach. On one side of the river there are dense trees, while on the other side is a fishing hamlet.
The silence and serenity of Mohana draws tourists all year round. One can find tourists enjoying on water scooters or riding the waves on gondolas. There are also adventure sports opportunities.