Red Crabs on White Sands: Henry Island, West Bengal, India

With the famous Sunderbans on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other, Henry Island is a pristine island in Bakkhali, West Bengal, India. The island has stories that will engross a traveller who seeks to explore the lives of coastal dwellers. One can spend a day in mindfulness exploring its beach and counting numerous baby crabs that populate the white sands as red starlings. Unlike most beaches in India, the beach on Henry Island is a secluded one despite its popularity owing to its distance from Kolkata. So, the next time if you are planning to fly to India, or if you are already living in India, you should add this venue to your bucket list. I can vouch for this place as I have been there with my Chinese delegates celebrating the river beds of the world through poetry and prayer flags.

Best Time to Visit

You can visit Henry Island throughout the year. If you love rain, the island is delightful during monsoon. Else, the weather is mostly cool because of unpolluted sea-breeze. I would recommend a visit to this island between September and April. As per the local fishermen, during this period, the island is at its epic best.

Travel Route

From Kolkata International Airport, it takes four h 50 min (88.35 miles), you can book a car and travel via Bankura – Beliator – Sonamukhi – Khandaghosh – Nischintapur Rd/Diamond Harbour Rd and NH34. Once you book a vehicle, you can use Google navigation to reach the destination. Your command over location despite being a foreigner, will save you from intentional detours and high car fare. I cannot comment on the availability of Uber or Ola as Kolkata’s taxi union often calls for strikes over demand-supply issues.

Other than the road, you can also travel to Henry island by train. A train ride may not be as convenient as a car-ride, but if you are on a budget trip, the train is ideal, more scenic, and less travel time. So, for the train, you travel from Kolkata Station to Namkhana station. From Namkhana station, you can take a bus for a stretch of 15 miles to reach the jetty. From the jetty, you are just another mile and a half to Henry Island. Once you cross the creek, you can take a local motorised rickshaw called ToTo to drop you at your hotel. 

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Travel Miscellany

If you are not from Kolkata, do not take the risk of travelling to Henry island in one day. My Chinese delegates and I, we went from Hyderabad, Southern India to Kolkata, Eastern India by train for over 28 hours by Falaknama Express. In Kolkata, they stayed in a hotel for a day while I rested in my house. With plenty of time to relax, we were ready to take the long journey to the island crossing villages, local markets, and the ferry, to eventually reach our private lodging by the beach. We set out around 6 am, so that we could reach our destination latest by 11 am while avoiding traffic on city roads. For the trip, we booked a six-seater car for INR 5000 return fare, and at the hotel, we paid INR 800 on a twin-sharing basis. I am sharing this to suggest a group trip would be fantastic if you look at it from a budget point of view. If not, take the train, followed by the bus, followed by crossing the creek, and then board a ToTo.

Things to Eat in Henry Island

Now that you have finally reached the destination, you breathe in the rustic air to fill in your lungs with happiness. But air can only fill your lungs; you would like some food for your stomach. After all, empty stomach we can hardly enjoy anything. So, here in Henry Island, you have both vegetarian food and non-vegetarian food. If you have booked a modest hotel, you can make friends with the hotel manager and walk into the kitchen to check out or cook for yourself stuff you would like to eat. Remember this is the coastal area where you can enjoy a variety of sea-food. As non-vegetarians, both my Chinese delegates and I opted for sea-food over chicken. 

Sunset by the Sea

Henry Island is going to be a spectacular experience for you. I remember having to cross slippery mud dunes covered with long ears of weeds and mangrove forest. We took our slippers in hand and cautiously walked over the dunes interspersed with streamlets running inward from the sea beach. Soon the white beach was in front of us. Ahh, the beauty! And here you are on the white sands and stardust of red crabs. My friends ran amok the infinite stretch of the beach summoning the Mississippi to meet the Bay of Bengal. Their joy benumbed me. We hung prayer flags and staged poetry on the sands facing the immense water body.

The Watchtower & Wildlife

Many people visit the island on a sudden whim. Because of that, they do not take the watchtower to account. But since I have been there, I can assure that this tower cannot be missed. The view of the place from this watchtower is breathtaking. Since you will not forget your camera, do remember to capture your best views of the beach, the grove, and the ash-blue waters. No, you won’t see tigers here. They are all immured in the Sunderbans for which you may look for a special permit. But, I can assure you about birds! In the groves, you’ll experience such colourful tropical birds that you would start missing them as you leave.

What Else?

If you are still not done, and you are in a group, try sports on the beach. If you are alone and good at swimming, you can try so but with caution. Do not go too far into the waters because the waves are highly unpredictable. There have been times when high tides washed away coastal dwellings, and therefore the local people would always warn you about the fury of the sea. There are also lifeguards on the beach for emergency; you can keep them in the know. If swimming is not your thing, and you are done taking selfies, you can visit the homes of the fishermen; have a warm cup of tea and video-record their lives for great documentaries. 

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