The Outlying Beauty.
Sagardwip, Sagar Island or more popularly known as Gangasagar, is a small island on the continental shelf of the Bay of Bengal. It lies 100 kilometres south of the city of Kolkata, on the Ganges delta. A very important place of Hindu pilgrimage, Sagardwip witnesses thousands of pilgrims every year on January 14 celebrating Makar Sankranti or Maghi, a festival on the Hindu calendar dedicated to deity Surya i.e. Sun. Although this small isle of the Sunderban delta does not house as much vegetation or any tiger habitation as the rest of the Sunderban regions, it is home to the famous Kapil Muni Ashram and the Kapil Muni temple. The well known story of how Goddess Ganga descended the Earth revolves around this place. Apart from it's historical importance, Sagardwip is a wonderful destination for a small, relaxing and refreshing weekend trip. An isolated and ancient beach, it is the meeting point of the River Ganga and the Bay of Bengal, hence the name 'Gangasagar'. Due to the poor condition of roads and underdevelopment of the place as a whole, as well as the absence of Hotels, it is generally advised to return on the same day itself, or at the most the day after. The home to the second largest congregation is considered one of the most difficult pilgrimages from the olden times, mainly due to it's isloation from the mainland and also because of the lack of proper transportation facilities. However it may be, Sagardwip is worth one visit. Plus, for the photographer in you, you will get unique and alluring moments to capture.
There is an absence of descent Hotels in Sagardwip, but there a few places to spend your night. Dharmashala of Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Kapil Muni's Sangha and Sankaracharya Ashram, P.W.D Bunglow Zila Parishad Bungalow, tourist lodges and a Youth Hostel are some of the places you can stay at. Room rent varies from 581 INR to about 1200 INR for a night. A few descent hotels are available if you travel a few miles to Bakkhali.
The cuisine is mainly Bengali and may include a wide range of popular bengali dishes, starting from Aloo Posto to Dal, Rice or different Fish curries.
As tempting Sagardwip sounds, there are a few precautions one should take before visiting the place. One must carry mosquito and especially snake repellants as the mortality of snake bite is considerably high. Also, electricity is a big issue in Sagardwip. Although there is a 24 hour electricity supply during Gangasagar Mela, it gets only a few hours of electric supply in the evening during the rest of the year. So carrying emergency torch lights will be a wise decision.
How to reach
Sagardwip or Gangasagar is at a distance of 135 kilometres from the city of Kolkata. Since it does not have any direct connecions with the city, one has to cross the Hooghly River by Ferry or Launch to reach the destination. Buses, both private and government run to the points from which ferry or launches are available and again from across the river to help you cover the extra miles needed to reach Sagardwip. One cannot reach Sagardwip directly through trains or by flight, as there are no railway stations or airports located on the island. However, the state governement provides Helicopter facilities every Sunday. The easiest and most convenient way would probably be travelling by rental or if possible, private cars.
How to Reach by Flight
There are no aiports on this mini island. But one can avail helicopter services provided by the Govrnment of West Bengal every Sunday, to reach Sagardwip. The nearest airport is the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata. Rental cars, buses or taxi will help you reach the nearest ferry service from the airport.
How to Reach by Train
Direct trains to Sagrdwip are not available, since it does not have any railway station of it's own. One can get a train from Sealdah Station in Kolkata to reach Namkhana. From there the ferry service of Bakkhali will take you across the Channel Creek to reach Kachuberia. From there bus or trekker will take you to Sagardwip after an approximate journey of 30 kilometres.
How to Reach by Bus
One can get numerous buses from Esplanade to Harwood point, run by both private and the West Bengal State Transport Corporation. From there the ferry service will take you across the Channel Creek to reach Kachuberia, and bus or trekkers will take you to Sagardwip Once can also get on a bus to Namkhana, from where launch will take you across the river to reach Chamaguri. One would have to cover the ten more kilometres to Sagardwip from Chamaguri by bus or hired car. All the ferry services are mostly run by the State Government.
How to Reach by Road
Since Sagardwip is not directly connected with Kolkata, one has to cross the Hooghly River to reach Sagardwip. The car may go up to Harwood point, after which one has to hire a launch to take their car across, or may park their cars there and hire a ferry to cross the river. If one decides to ferry across the river, they have to hire a bus, taxi, cab, trekker or a rental car to reach Sagardwip. Parking for private cars are also available near the ferry and launch services. Also, parking facilities are available near the Kapil Muni Ashram, so you would only have to cover approximately 200 metres on foot from your car to the Ashram.
How to travel within
Sagardwip is a small island and it is best to cover it on foot. But, bus, trekker, rental cars and minibus, run by both private and the State Government can also be hired.
Sagardwip or Gangasagar is home to the ashram of Kapila Muni, son of Kardama Prajapati and Devahuti. Hindu mythological legends say that Kapila muni was born as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and a great saint. One day when he was busy meditating, King Sagar's sons entered his Ashram and interrupted his deep sleep. King Sagar's Ashvamedha horse had suddenly disappeared and when the King's son went looking for it, they found it hidden beside Kapila muni's ashram. Assuming Kapila as the thief, when they burst in, Kapila angered by the interruption burnt all but four of the King's son to ashes and sent them to Hell. Years later, having sympathy for them, he listened to the prayers of King Sagar's descendents. He agreed to set their souls free on the condition that the River Goddess Ganga would descend to Earth to perform the Last Ritual of mixing ashes with holy water. King Bhagiratha took this feat upon himself, after his and through deep meditation he pleased Lord Shiva and hence told him to send Ganga down to Earth. 60,000 sons achieved moksha and ascended to heaven, when Goddess Ganga came down on Makar Sankranti i.e. the day when Surya (Sun) enters the Makar (Capricorn) constellation.
The second largest Hindu congregation, the Gangasagar Mela, takes place here at Sagardwip. A huge number of people gather every year on the day of Makar Sankranti and take a bath in the holy waters of the meeting point of the Hooghly River with the Bay of Bengal. They offer their prayers in the Kapila Muni Temple in th hope of attaining salvation. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flood the island every year in this search for moksha. During the Gangasagar Mela, one can witness different types of people as well as the distinct ways of expressing their devotion. One can easily spot the Naga Sanyasis i.e. the Naked Ascetics, different religious groups carrying their own flags, numerous shops selling devotional items like Vermillion, flowers, Rudraksha, colorful beads, Conch shells as well as food item. Eight to Eighty year olds, everyone gathers together to behold the aesthetic rituals and traditions.
Visit the temple that has a prominent place in the Hindu Mythological Legends, the Kapil Muni Ashram and Temple on your first day. Then, give a visit to the breathtaking beach of Sagardwip, the place where the River Hooghly, traditionally known as River Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.
If you have an extra day to spare, you may visit the Bharat Seva Ashram or spend it on the beach itself, in complete isloation from the city life.