During this stay in Kolkata, I decided to spend every other weekend exploring the surrounding area. This mainly involved beach hopping along the south coast (Bay of Bengal), as it was too hot to do much else.
My first two trips were to the neighbouring state of Orissa, firstly to a popular beach town called Puri, where I arrived in the early morning after a difficult overnight trip on a sleeper coach, trying to control my stomach after eating (what I found the next morning was) raw chicken. I had been in a rush to get the coach the night before and had clearly made an error asking for super fast preparation of this meat for my takeaway dinner.
The beach scene which greeted my weary eyes at this early hour felt surreal. Half the population of India appeared to be crowded together between lifeguard huts, with brightly decorated donkeys and camels prowling the periphery saddled with flowery bed sheets, tinsel and glittery pom-poms dangling in front of their eyes. It was absolute chaos, with big family groups splashing about fully clothed in the surprisingly large waves, taking selfies, praying and squealing. The sari (in my humble opinion) is not well designed for swimming, but instead works excellently as a trip hazard, and drenched grandmas were being rescued by laughing family members left right and centre. And at the back, chilling under the shade of chai and coffee stands, lay the holy cow, winking at the camels and philosophically surveying the madness.
My second trip was the complete contrast to the first. It began when I arrived at my hotel in the middle of the night and looked out from the balcony to a field of sleeping cows – not quite the sea view I was expecting. The next day I found that this sleepy seaside town of Chandipur, famous for a “vanishing sea”, remained fast asleep with an almost empty long sandy beach which “vanished” as much as 5km at low tide. Here I watched scenes of domestic bliss from the local villages as families fished peacefully together in the shallow waters, mother and father holding either end of the net or turning over huge piles of sand for their children to search through for creatures. Sadly I also saw the mound of plastic accompanying the fish retrieved from the nets, and wondered what their catchers made of this.
My final trip was to lesser known Tajpur within the state of West Bengal and was my favourite for two reasons; firstly because it was the most stereotypically beautiful, and relatively untouched, with long white sandy beaches lacking in people, but instead often covered in carpets of red crabs scuttling sideways with pearly white eyes standing to attention. The second reason was that I was beginning to feel a tad lonely undertaking all these trips on my lonesome, but here finally I made some new friends as well as being joined on an impulsive visit by my office mates from Kolkata. That weekend I woke up on Sunday morning with a well overdue hangover and sat on the beach watching the waves, drinking sugary coffee, eating freshly caught seafood whilst having my head massaged. Not bad.
My return journey added a yet another dimension to this trip. Rather than pay the overpriced hotel taxi to take me to the bus stop, I decided to walk with the idea that I might try to hitchhike. My luck was in and two young Kolkatians drove past and offered me a lift not only to the bus stop but all the way back to Kolkata! This road trip with a soundtrack of blaring bengali music was an adventure in itself as we stopped off to enjoy the nature of the surrounding villages and another famous beach location Mandarmani where we witnessed the local fisherman sailing (yes with sails!!!) into the shore and running up the beach with their catch, to be auctioned off as soon as it touched the ground.