By Nishi Pulugurtha
When you want to take a break from the routine humdrum of life, it is difficult to take the weather into consideration. So what if it is still warm, what if the afternoon sun is blazing. The rain has been playing truant and, hence, the heat and humidity. Much as I would have loved to be on a long holiday, away from all cares, I had to be happy with a short one. A holiday is a holiday, short or long, a place near or far, a place unknown, not much visited, or one too familiar.
One September weekday, my short holiday began. The destination is a small beach in West Bengal. It is not Digha, the name that is bound to come up when one mentions West Bengal and the sea. But Tajpur, a beach not very far from Digha. We did not want a crowd and we did not want hawkers and shops crowding the seaside. We wanted a place to relax, a place to soak in our tired souls for a while, a place to rejuvenate, a place that would charge our spirits, so that when come back to the city we could carry on with our everyday life again. I had heard about Tajpur from friends and acquaintances. Tourists who make a beeline to Digha usually make a day trip covering Shankarpur, Mandarmoni, and Tajpur. We make all necessary arrangements – accommodation and travel – quickly. And then it is time to set off.
One early Thursday morning, we board the Tamralipta Express at Howrah station. The new complex of Howrah station is filled with the usual crowd and hawkers, interspersed with muffled announcements. The occasional trains blare horn, the locomotives chug in, and the newspaper vendors and chai sellers go about their job. The very sight of the Howrah Bridge spanning the waters of the Hooghly River provides a sense of relief – to me, the sight of the bridge is always the beginning of a train journey. On one side stands the brick red colonial building of the Howrah station; on the other side, the buses, the crowds, and the taxis surge ahead, even as the traffic sergeant tries his best to steer the traffic. The chaos of the place holds a charm for me.
It is a comfortable three hour train journey to Ramnagar. We were told that a vehicle would pick us up at the station and take us to our resort. Even before we alight, the driver calls up to say that he is at the station waiting for us. Ramnagar is a small station and the train stops for a minute before making its onward journey to its destination, Digha. Our driver picks us up. He is a friendly person, who tells us that we should reach our destination in about 20 minutes. We pass through the town of Ramnagar, cross 14 Miles, Choddo Mile (which is where one takes a right if you need to reach Shankarpur). We travel a little further down when we see a bent road sign that announces that we need to take a right turn to reach Tajpur. As we travel by the road, on both sides we see bheris, which are large pools of brackish water in which prawns and shrimps are cultivated. Our driver tells us that these aquafarms belong to the state fishery department. Our road is actually an embankment built to hold the water from entering into the ponds of the nearby villages. The lush greenery, dotted with water all around, is a beautiful sight. The feel of salt in the air announces that we are very close to our destination.
As we enter Tajpur, we come across resorts and hotels all over the place. I do not see the sea. Our driver tells us that we need to walk down for 5 minutes to see it. We check in and decide to hit the beach. It is hot and the blazing sun does not deter us from venturing into the sea. The beach is vast, the tide gets low, and the warm water from the Bay of Bengal lashes against the sand. We enjoy the sea for a while before deciding to shield ourselves from the sun. In the evening, we come back to the beach. As the water recedes quite a bit, the beach offers an amazing vastness. The beach is filled with small pools of sea water. Red crabs scurry all over the beach and enter small holes on the beach that is their home. A walk on the beach reveals the vast horizon stretching far in the distance and a view of Mandarmoni across the bay. A few casuarina trees stand in the distance. The beach is with dotted with shacks and sea shells on the sand. The beach fills our senses with a cool breeze and a clear sky.
As the dusk sets in, the colours of the setting sun add a charm to the place. We sit down at a shack for a refreshing drink of fresh coconut water. The woman manning the shack tells us that more tourists visit Tajpur on weekends and holidays. As she works, her little nephew plays. We see a couple of younger girls playing hopscotch on the sand. We come to know that they are twins: Ganga and Jamuna. Their parents run another such shack. They play on the beach every day after school, climbing into the boat, running around, riding bicycles that are too big for them. Sitting in the shack as darkness descends, we lose all sense of time as we lounge in the hammocks there. We soak in the fresh sea breeze.
Night endows stillness to the place. We get back to the beach early next morning, splashing in the waters. Though the waves are small, we feel a strong current which rhythmically lashes the shore and recedes. Fishermen have put nets in the beach, hoping for the tide to bring in fish. They work hard at tugging in the nets and soon they catch prawn seed. The lady manning the shack and the men in the family disentangle the prawn seed from the nets and separate them. These seeds, she tells us, are sold to the prawn farms that we have seen on the way to Tajpur. She stops to make tea for us and then gets back to work. In winter, her husband and sons go out to the sea in the boat standing on the sand close by.
We come back to relax at the beach again in the evening. As we sit there enjoying a gentle swing on the hammock, we watch the children play and the elders talk. The breeze induces a languor, a languor I wish would last for a longer period of time. On the morning of our departure, we make a quick dash for the beach, one last time, before we head back. As we begin our return journey, our driver wants us to soak in as much of the sea we can and takes us by a road that parallels the sea. We move through Shankarpur as the Bay of Bengal keeps us company for some more time.
We carry back home memories of the sea, the vast beach, the red crabs, the sound of the waves lapping on the beach, the breeze, the clouds, the vast horizon, the simple lives of the locals, and the joys of the children at play.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor, Department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She is an academic with varied interests and writes on travel, too. Twitter: @nishipulu
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