Will you believe me that there’s a serene white sand beach flanked by mangrove forests waiting for you just a four-hour drive from Kolkata? It’s not Digha or Mandarmani that I am talking about. It’s the exotic Henry’s Island in the south 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. It is one of the numerous isles in the world’s largest basin – the Sundarbans delta. A poor man’s Andaman, the island lacks the infrastructure of a tourist hot-spot, but it charms you with its raw beauty.
It’s one of the numerous islands in the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta – the largest in the world. The unique ecosystem crisscrossed by rivulets houses a large variety of flora and fauna. In 1980s, Benfish, the Government fisheries department of West Bengal took over the island and turned it into a successful eco-tourism project.
Our Trip to Henry’s Island
Nothing was right about the plan. It was a trip on a hot summer day with a 1-year-old and elderly parents. It involved driving the SUV through narrow mud-roads followed by a 500-meter-walk through the forest lane.
The ideal time to visit is early morning or towards the evening. The gate to Henry’s island closes at 5pm, so keep that in mind while planning. Walking a short distance in this beautiful setting should be a cakewalk but the summer heat made it uncomfortable, especially for the baby.
The good thing about the timing however was that we got the entire island almost to ourselves. However, a warning sign for not going to the beach kept us away from the true gem. It’s really silly that they warned us from stepping into the beach, in an island!
None of the travel blogs I had read earlier had this information and I had seen some spectacular pictures of the beach before visiting. I guess, people go there despite the signboard. Like the young couple who just returned from the beach when we went there. We’d know what the reason was had there been anyone around to ask.
But we enjoyed the view, nonetheless. The raw nature was breathtaking.
Also read: The best beaches in India for families
Highlights of Henry’s Island
The mangrove forests are an essential aspect of the beauty of Henry’s island. The trees, called “sundari” in Bengali are typical to the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta. Aside from lending the place its unique charm, these trees stabilize shorelines and protect the land from destruction during cyclones. Much of these forests were destroyed by Amhan, a disastrous cyclone of 2020 but it’s heart-warming to see the recovery.
Ofcourse the best thing to do here is to do nothing in the beaches. Just sit and marvel at the impeccable beauty of the sea. You can take a stroll and walk towards the rivers. There are like thousands of red crabs that you can find here and in the mangroves.
The Pisciculture lakes
In the mesh of many rivulets thrive atleast 164 “bheris” – ponds for pisciculture. These are artificial freshwater-bodies cut out for the fishing project of West Bengal government. You can find many of these in Frasergunj area, but Henry’s island has the largest concentration of the same.
The Sundari lodge
The entire complex is mainstained by the government’s fishery department. They have a resort called the Sundari lodge where you can stay in individual cottages. Even if you don’t book your stay at henry’s land you can explore this resort and climb the watchtower for panoramic views.
How to Reach Henry’s Island
By Rail: The nearest railway station is at Namkhana about 25 km driving distance. There are frequent local trains (EMU) services between Namkhana and Sealdah Station via Lakshmikantapur and Kakdwip. Ticket cost is of Rs. 25.00 and the journey takes around 3 hours. From Namkhana you can hire a cab to Henry’s Island. No long-distance train or express train runs in this route. The nearest railway head is in Kolkata (namely, Sealdah, Howrah and Kolkata Railway Station), it is about 125 km away from the Henry’s Island.
By Road: Henry’s Island is located around 125 km away from Kolkata and is easily accessible by road. You can take a bus from Esplanade or Korunamoyee to Bakkhali. There is frequent WBSTC bus service to Bakkhali. Henry Island is around 5 km from Bakkhali. You will get Toto or Machine Van from Bakkhali to reach Henry’s Island. It may cost Rs. 150.00 to Rs. 200.00 for full reserve. Otherways, you can ask the bus conductor to Jetighat Stoppage, 4 km before Bakkhali, and then another 1.5 km journey but the availability of transport is very uncertain. Alternatively, you can travel by car to reach at Henry’s Island from Kolkata, it is around 4 hours road journey.
By Air: The nearest airport is at Kolkata, which is about 150 km driving distance from the Henry’s Island.
Visit the Frasergunj Windmills
Frasergunj is named after British lord Fraser who used to live there. You will enjoy the serene rural landscape in this historic place.
Stay overnight in Bakkhali
After a fulling trip here, you can go to Bakkhali beach nearby. Bakkhali is just 4km away from Henry’s Island, and the nearest spot in the mainland. You can stay overnight at one of the many hotels and resorts there like Hotel Dibney.
I highly recommend the Balutot tourism property owned and operated by the West Bengal Tourism department. Next day you can explore other beautiful places in Bakkhali.
A trip to Jambudweep
The elusive island of Jambudweep is crowded by flamingoes in winter. 8km away from Henry’s island you can take a boat ride to the island.
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Henry’s island is a unique offbeat destination in India. It’s also an eco-sensitive zone and tourists should be mindful of their impact on the surroundings here. Respect the nature and the people who live there almost at the frontline of all the cyclones emerging from Bay of Bengal.
The best time to visit Henry’s island is in the winter when the weather is pleasant and migratory birds abound the place. This is not the place to bathe or indulge in water sports. It’s a place to walk around and be in awe of the nature. Do not litter, support the local vendors and abide by the rules laid down.