We knew long ago that before returning to Europe, especially in time for winter, we’ll want to spend some time on the beach. Over 3 weeks we visited 3 towns on the east coast of India, in the states of West Bengal and Orrisa. Here’s what we found there.
First stop, the small town of Mandarmoni, 150km south from Kolkata (which was a surprsingly nice place, with excellent food and even sidewalks on most streets!). Praised by every Indian we mentioned it to as a really beautiful place, we naturally arrive with big expectations. The town itself is one narrow street, lined on both sides by hotels and shops and full of tourists from Kolkata. We immediately sport our swimwear and run for the promised beach. And what a shock do we receive when we get there – the even and long beach is buzzing with dozens of cars, motorbikes, jeeps, tractors and other forms of motorised vehicles! In fact, we’re one of a handful of people on foot. And we gotta be careful where we step too, for the young West Bengal tourists are much too busy leaning out of the windows and waving arms to keep their cars going straight, let alone at a reasonable pace. The engine noise drowns the sound of the waves and the sand is rainbow-spotted with patches of oil…
This was not our scene, so we left the state of West Bengal and arrived in a small fishing village of Chandipur, in Orisa state, hardly 120km down the coast from Mandarmani. This place, full of local tourists on the weekend, is pleasantly quiet and peaceful on Monday morning. Room prices went down too; we checked-in to a better hotel. This is much more to our liking. Chandipur is famous for the insane distance the sea recedes during low tide – as far as 5km on some days, you can hardly see it glittering on the horizon. The seabed left behind is nice to walk on and its popular to go and meet the sea coming back on the high tide; it moves surprisingly quickly. We spent 9 seriously lazy days here, reading books in the tea shop by a sand dune covered in pine trees and observing the rhythms of the tide. Nearby we discovered a beach inhabited by hundreds of red crabs, so I spent time trying to frame them with my camera, while Gerda collected many smooth seashells, which she later made into ornaments.
Next stop – Puri, several hundred kilometers south. Puri supposedly was comparable to Goa as recently as 15 years ago, (i.e. a full-on hippie beach town), but these days it doesn’t see too many foreign visitors and the local businessmen have turned their attention to car and busloads of Indian tourists pouring in from West Bengal. For this reason the western-tourist area feels scruffy and abandoned; a feeling exaggerated by the numerous old villas left from the colonial times. Only some of these have been converted into cosy hotels, but most are left to fall apart in ignorance. The beach itself, while full of packs of dirty dogs and sprinklings of rubbish, does have some charm, being wide, sandy and lined by many tea shops with palm leaf roofs. The sea is incredibly wavy here and everyone is warned of the powerful undercurrents, but if someone does get into trouble, one of the local private lifeguards are on service. These guys, or, more accurately, grandpas, are recogniseable by their pointy hats and an inflated motorbike tube under the arm. One of them tells us proudly that in his 7 years of service he saved 12 out of 17 folk from drowning. “You only pay me after I pull you out”, he quickly adds, to reassure us that he’s no scammer. Just north of Puri lies a traditional fishing village. Its a nice enough place to walk around in, see the daily life of the fisherman families and marvel at the excellent bamboo-frame houses, with walls and roof out of palm leaf. Watch out for the beach on the edge of the village though – the area is used as a toilet for the entire population, so the sight, smell and amount of thousands of human faeces, rolling up and down the beach with the waves, is revolting. So that’s what all the children and old men casually squatting on the sea front are up to…!
In conclusion, India is still India, even by the sea – expect to see both beautiful and shocking things whichever place you visit! :)