Summer Vacation: A beautiful river and a few Necklaces – IV

“Bistar hain apar, praja dono par
Kare hahakar, nishapda sada
O ganga tum ganga behti ho kyun?”

Burha luit tumi Burha luit buwa kiyo?

Burha luit tumi Burha luit buwa kiyo?

The Ganges begins the journey at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers. The Bhagirathi river rises at the foot of Gangotri glacier, at Gaumukh. At Devaprayag the Bhagirathi meets the Alaknanda to form the river Ganges. The Ganges then flows through the Himalayan valleys and emerges into the north Indian plain at the town of Haridwar. It travels a long distance through various cities and finally meets the ocean at Ganga Sagar in West Bengal.

In Bengal, it is known as river Hooghly, as it is one of the distributaries of the river Ganges, the other being river Padma which passes through Bangladesh before merging into the Bay of Bengal and together they form world’s largest delta Sundarbans, the home of the royal Bengal tiger.

Most of the world famous cities grow around a river. London developed around the Thames, Paris around Siene, whereas Rome has Tiber, Danube for Vienna or Nile for Cairo and the list is endless.

It’s the river Hooghly for Kolkata, the lifeline for the people of West Bengal. It was a main trade route in the past.  East India Company took this route to come here and established their trade settlement and ruled the country for nearly 200 years. People from other countries like French, Dutch, Portuguese also had their trade settlements by the banks of this river.

The city of Kolkata has its’ own perennial problems, but let me take your through, as a guide to the city, some of the places which will definitely attract people to come to the city again & again.

‘Chal ek bar Gangasnaan kore ashi’.  [“Let’s go and take a dip in the Ganges”.]

As a child I used to accompany my grandmother for Gangasnaan and always wonder as to what made her go through the travails of cold winter mornings traveling in a rickshaw.

Kolkata, one of the largest cities of India, has a long riverfront which is the lifeline of the city since time immemorial. Whenever I go home, I never missed a chance to spend some time, if not the entire day, in the river Hooghly to relive those bygone days as well as to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Hooghly river.

A long riverfront and the skyline

A long riverfront and the skyline

Let’s start our today’s journey from Howrah station. Howrah station is the oldest station and the largest railway complex in India. Howrah is situated on the West bank of the Hooghly River, linked to Kolkata by the magnificent Howrah Bridge. There are three more intercity railway stations serving Kolkata i.e. Sealdah Station, Shalimar Station (Howrah Distt.) and Kolkata railway station in Kolkata.

Howrah Station

Howrah Station

After the establishment of the Howrah Station, the British Government felt the necessity of a bridge that connect the main city to the station. Due to the continuous increase of traffic across the River Hooghly, a committee was appointed to inspect the pros & cons of constructing a bridge. In 1862, George Tumbull, Chief Engineer of the East India Company, was entrusted with the job. After 12 years, in1874, the bridge was completed and opened to the public.  The bridge used to be unfastened from time to time to allow big vessels etc. However, by 1905 it was felt that the bridge was not efficient enough to cater to the increasing load of traffic and Port Commissioners started making plans for a new improved bridge in 1905.

The white necklace

The white necklace

The Howrah Bridge is a cantilever bridge with a suspended span over the Hooghly River. The bridge is an engineering marvel. It doesn’t have nuts and bolts but formed by riveting the whole structure. It consumed 26,500 tons of steel, out of which 23,000 tons of high-tensile alloy steel, known as Tiscrom, were supplied by Tata Steel.

The bridge was commissioned in 1943, after replacing the previous pontoon bridge at the same location linking the two cities Howrah and Calcutta. Since then it has been taking the weight of a daily traffic of approx. 1 lakh vehicles and more than 1.5 lakhs pedestrians, which makes it the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The third longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, it is currently the sixth longest bridge of its type in the world.

Traffic at Howrah Bridge

Traffic at Howrah Bridge

The bridge was renamed as Rabindra Setu, after the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian and Asian Nobel laureate on 14th June 1965. However, it is still popularly known as the Howrah Bridge.

The Howrah Bridge

The Howrah Bridge

The bridge has become an iconic landmark and symbol of Kolkata.  This is worth coming across Kolkata to see.  The bridge has been shown in numerous films, such as ‘Howrah Bridge’, ‘Amar Prem’, ‘Yuva’, ‘Parineeta’, ‘Kahani’, ‘Barfi’ just to name a few, as well as numerous Bengali Films.

One can enjoy the beauty of this white necklace through ‘Ferry service’. It will also a good idea to avoid tiresome traffic jams. Ferries run from Howrah to various ghats. It is one of the lifeline for the office goers. So, let’s buy tickets and enjoy the beauty of the river and the iconic landmark of the city.

Ferry Service at Howrah

Ferry Service at Howrah

A Steamer, the lifeline of many office people

A Steamer, the lifeline of many office people

You can have Lunch or Dinner at Floatel, a 4 Star Luxury Hotel over the Ganges and enjoy the sunrise or sunset, beauty of the river, as well as Howrah Bridge.

Flotel, a 4 Star luxury Hotel

Floatel, a 4 Star luxury Hotel

Once we get down at ‘Babu Ghat’, one can visit the famous Maidan or Moidan, the lungs of the City. Some of the landmarks of the city are also in walkable distance such as ‘The High Court’, ‘The Eden Gardens’, ‘Bidhan Sabha’, ‘Raj Bhavan’, Writers’ Building, the Secretariat building of the State Govt. of West Bengal at B.B.D Bagh  or Esplanade, the Heart of the City.

I already spent a couple of hours in the Maidan in the morning. It started raining heavily, as soon as I came out of Eden Gardens and took shelter at a bus stand. After waiting for half an hour, I decided to walk towards the Vidyasagar Setu or popularly known as the Second Hooghly Bridge. It’s still drizzling and I was enjoying the lovely weather. It was a pleasure walk for me in a rain filled day. I love rain and, ofcourse, I am in holiday mood…I managed to find space in my busy life to get out on the road for a walk. My only worry was my camera, but I packed it nicely in a waterproof bag.

A pleasure walk

A pleasure walk

Except a few KMs, the river is either made out of bounds by hideous rusting warehouses that are housed on its edge, or inexplicably hidden behind a high wall. However, among the most beautiful and happening places in the City-of-Joy is the Hooghly riverfront.

There is a plan, to beautify a 12-km-stretch of Hooghly River bank both on the city side and on the side of the Howrah district, including a Ferris wheel named Kolkata Eye similar to London Eye.  All the 48 ghats are planned to be renovated and given a modern look. A two kilometer stretch of the beautified riverfront from Princep Ghat to Baje Kadamtala Ghat has been opened for public last year. The beautified stretch includes, illuminated and landscaped gardens and pathway, fountains and renovated ghats. You wouldn’t know that you were in the middle of a large metropolis.

The Pathway

The Pathway

The beautified river bank

The beautified river bank

The squeaky clean stone pathway is perfect for an evening stroll with a view of Howrah on the other side of the river. You can catch the sun setting in the horizon and the two bridges (Rabindra and Vidyasagar Setu) framing the cityscape. The circular railway, another lifeline in the city along with Kolkata Metro, runs along the river bank. You can enjoy your outings with street foods and feel secure to see several police posts throughout the pathway.

Boats in the Ganges overlooking the Howrah Bridge

Boats in the Ganges and the Howrah Bridge in the background

The Vidyasagar Setu - 'the second Hooghly Bridge'

The Vidyasagar Setu – ‘the second Hooghly Bridge’

To reduce the increasing load of Howrah Bridge, construction of another bridge linking the cities of Kolkata and Howrah, over the Hooghly River was planned in 1972. However, construction began on 3 July 1979, and the bridge was commissioned after 22 long years on 10 October 1992 by the Hooghly River Bridge Commission. The bridge is named after the 19th-century Bengali educationist reformer Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. It is also known as the Second Hooghly Bridge. It is the longest cable–stayed bridge in India (823 metres; 2,700 ft) and one of the longest in Asia.

It connects the city directly with the other major cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai through the national highways located close to the bridge.

The Vidyasagar Setu

The Vidyasagar Setu

You can also enjoy the boat ride

You can also enjoy the boat ride

This trip will not be completed without mentioning the magnificant ‘Prinsep Ghat’.

The versatile Indologist James Prinsep came to India in 1819. He joined as the Assay-Master of the Calcutta Mint in 1829 and simultaneously took charge of the Asiatic Society of Bengal as Secretary. During his tenure, some of the important works are preparation of scripts of Brahmi and Kharosti, introduction of uniform coinage of Company’s rupees, reformation of weight and measures and construction of canal connecting the river Hooghly and the Sunderbans.

After his demise, the citizens of Calcutta raised public fund of Rs.12,000 and constructed the monument in 1841 on the eastern bank of the river Hooghly in his memory. The Prinsep Ghat became an important landing place for all those dignitaries who came to Calcutta by Sea.

Princep Ghat

Prinsep Ghat

There are two other bridges on the Hooghly River connecting Kolkata with Howrah district: Vivekananda Setu built in 1932, (road-cum-rail bridge) and Nivedita Setu (named after Sister Nivedita), which is 50 metres (160 ft) downstream of the old Vivekananda Setu and was commissioned on 4 June 2007.

Vivekananda Setu

Vivekananda Setu

These are some of the places of Kolkata, which you may like to visit if you travel to the city. There are good and there will be bad things in any city. There are plenty of examples or perception to believe the city is not worth a visit or a second look. Whatever I find attractive, may not be as attractive to you. Everyone has their own rights to judge things differently. However, there are so many places around in any city, not in Kolkata alone, to come and explore. I just tried to give you a glimpse of some of the beautiful places in the city, where you can spend your time whenever you are in the city. It was a long tiring day for me, walking since morning. As the sun is about to set on the other side of the river, I take your permission to stop here to enjoy the beautiful sunset over the river Hooghly, with a promise to come back to you with few other places and I am sure by the end of these posts, there will be some interests amongst you to visit the city to see all these places, yourself. Have a wonderful weekend.

It's time to return home

It’s time to return home

“Bistirno Duparer oshonnkho manusher
hahakar shuneo nishobde nirobe
O ganga tumi ganga boicho kano”

…To be continued

24 Comments

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Nice information. Wish I can visit one day.

  • Great and unique post about my beloved Calcutta. Your pictures indicate that Calcutta has been made better and clean. I visited there last time was 12 years ago and it was filthy and extremely crowded. Still I loved it and used to walk everyday from near Sealdah station to Gurdwara in Bara Bazar and then further to Howrah station after walking over Howrah bridge.

    Your post took me back to good old Calcutta.

    • Thank you Praveen.

      If you take the same route even today, you will have the same feeling – it is almost the same on MG Road. We used to take the same route every time and just to cross this 4-5 KM distance would be a nightmare…numerous times, we started walking the distance and perhaps reached early than a bus or even a taxi. Some of these places are still the bottleneck and will remain the same it seems.

      But, yes, still we love the city. There is a change gradually…Oh no!…I am not mentioning the gimmick or so called ‘Poriborton’ here…we hope for a better tomorrow for the city.

      By the way, we are missing your stories…

  • venkatt says:

    Wah ! A great city covered beautifully through its marvellous bridges. Great info. on the green spots of Kolkata.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx Venkatt for liking the post.

      The objective of this post to spread awareness about citi’s not so common attraction points to a traveller and what else could be the better way than the river Hooghly and it’s bridges…who by therir own right are world famous…and engineering marvels.

  • ashok sharma says:

    this river bank looks better than that in London.Kolkata seems to be different and much attractive through your eyes.very good photographs.

    • Thank you Sir for the compliment.
      Once it was considered as the London of East…though never visited (yet!) but heard and seen a lot through my friends and their practical experiences. Let me admit Kolkata may not be as beautiful as London but these places can attract lots of travellers to the city.

  • Rakesh Bawa says:

    Amitava Ji , a very nice post indeed. I,ll raise certain points here. Kolkatta is a beautiful city as I,ve observed as it has got a great cultural value that no other city boasts of still what I fail to understand is the perception of this city of joy and overall Bengal as the places which are prone to hartals, bandhs, trade unionism and sluggish economy. This city of joy as seen by Dominique Lappiere should always have a right image also.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Prof.

      I wish to answer all your queries to the best of my capacity…though personally I feel this is not the right forum…I can only wish you to go there once with an open mind, whenever time permits and explore the city…there is more to know & understand the city than a ‘City of Joy’ of ‘Dominique Lappiere’

      I am glad you liked the post…

      • Rakesh Bawa says:

        Amitava Ji I,ll definitely explore this beautiful city as I am not only impressed by Kokatta but by Bengali cultural trousseau. My fav. movie of all the time is CHARULATA that I watched a long time ago subtitled but was impressed by the way Madhabi Mukerji handled the movie. It can,t be better.

        • Amitava Chatterjee says:

          Wish your trip will be as interesting as you love to go there.
          Do contact me, whenever you will plan to go there…

          It is a masterpiece of the Master.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Rain drenched walk and the pics are soothing to the eye and the soul. We were there in April 2012 and it was muggy, still we tried best to be out on the road till about 12 in the noon and then again in the evening. I have been longing to be there.

    The opening song is an all time favourite. :-) Here is a recording I could find. It seems to be from a live performance – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cl4wt2EbqG0

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      It was a wonderful day for me, all alone…in some of the places where I was frequent at some point of my life…there was no humidity and it was raining throughout our stay this time…it was also 15-June-2013 and we all know what happened in UK at night/next morning.

      Was it personal or business trip? What all did you see last year? So, now you have a local friend to take you around. Have you tried street foods…it’s awesome in Kolkata and a paradise for non-vegetarian…only you should know from where to go & pick.

      All three songs, Hindi, Bengali and Asamese are my all time favourite…I can produly tell my grand children that I saw Dr. Bhupen Hazarika & Shri Manna Dey in a live programme…
      Here is the first stranza of Asamese version for all of you (Hindi & Bengali already there in this post):

      “Bistirna paarore Axonkhya jonre
      Hahakar xuniu Nixobde nirobe
      Burha luit tumi Burha luit buwa kiyo?”
      – Luit is another name of Brahmaputra river.

      Thank you for sharing the link…just watching the same in ‘You Tube’…found one more link (live concert of the Legend…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9C3_MYqDjk…you may like to hear Asamese & Hindi version together (8:13 mins)

      • Nandan Jha says:

        Personal trip. We were visiting Baidyanath Dham (Deoghar, Jharkhand) for ‘Thread Ceremony’ of my niece’s son and decided to visit Kolkata. We visited India Museum, Victoria, Esplanade, that handicrafts shopping complex thing (missing its name, it has shops from various states), few other markets and were generally on-road. Yes, I would fall back on your expertise when we plan next.

        And yes, we tried a LOT of food and were totally blown away by the prices and the quality. At that hygiene level, getting that kind of food is simply not possible in NCR.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Amitava,

    Kolkata is getting prettier with every post. The riverfront looks beautiful. I just hope the telephone people do not wake up saying they have to put new lines under the tiles.

    Barfi had his barsati overlooking the Howrah bridge!

    I remember taking the long way so as to take a ride on the Vidyasagar bridge in rain. It was awesome.

    Does the Floatel Hotel actually float?

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Nirdesh.

      So, do you think so :-) My pleasure…it’s a beautiful city and we need to look at her differently.
      The picture has some amazing shots…I too wanted to take some night shots but everyday it was raining so heavily – I didn’t have a chance to take shots…otherwise, it will be a treat for your eyes too.

      I really have no idea about it – but once people were surprized to see that Floatel was no longer there few years back…I heard it in the news – it is actually a ship-cum-hotel or hotel-cum-ship…it’s only one such hotel in India till date…they have close to 48+ rooms and good restaurants…

  • Shankha Chakraborty says:

    Very nice blog, keep on going, post new places of interest of the old calcutta. I am also a paddler, but of a different kind. I am a kayaker

    • Thank you Shankha.
      Nice to know about your interest…yes, it’s different…just wonder whether you have developed your interest in Kolkata or some other countries…you must have tons of experience which a normal person can’t even think of – would be happy if you do share some stories with all of us here…

      Yes, my journey will continue…and I will try to share as much as details with all of you.

      Thank you…I do have a dream of cycling around the country…

  • Vipin says:

    I could not help immersing myself into the magical voice of Bhupen da just after reading the opening lines…Wow! A sudden craving has developed within to wander in this lovely city (in monsoons)…may be next monsoons with you, Amitava da…:)…am just speechless…relishing it word by word, impression by impression…thanks for bringing it out so differently & so vividly..:)

    And yes, i would like to be your companion (if you allow me to be the lucky one) on your cycling trip across this amazing land…:)…May this dream come true sooner or later!

    • That’s the magic of his melodious voice Vipin…and you can say I just tried to pay a tribute to one of my favourites.

      Thank you so much Vipin. It will be my pleasure if you agree to wonder with me…keep few days free in May next year (3rd/4th week) or in December this year, probably.

      That’s in my dream…for a long time since when I was in Class VII. We used to receive monthly magazine from USSR (I forgot the name of the magazine) – In the last page in one such magazine, there was a story of Mr. Ganeshan from Chennai, traveled many countries in his bi-cycle – he was my idol since then…and I still have that paper cuttings with me. Very soon, I am going to buy a bi-cycle for me…again, it will be my pleasure

      Thank you

  • Bidisha says:

    Like the rest of the posts, I loved this one too. Kolkata food can drive all foodies from all across the world crazy and wanting for more. I feel simply the food can be an inspiration for anybody to visit Kolkata. :) Yes, through the beautiful pictures you indeed painted Kolkata to be glamorous, absolutely and gloriously neat and clean. But I wish it were so…

  • Thank you Bidisha.
    I do agree with you and it’s a paradise for foodies.

    Unfortunately, I differ with you about the last part. All the places covered and all the pictures in these posts were taken to showcase the city in right perspectives. It’s to spread an awareness to a newcomer in this city. What to expect while on tour? I just can’t ask anyone to travel to Posta market or MG Road while he/she is in the city to see the famous ‘Jam’, unless they want to be specific to see those things also. There must be some expectations about the city and it’s interesting places while we visit any city.

    This is a different path I had taken, which may not be possible always for everyone – but whoever will follow the same path or choose to cover these places, will definitely find the city as it is shown above or in some other posts and definitely will agree with me. I did miss many such places and would love to bring them out here in future.

    There are many to show the city in bad light…for them India is still a country of snake charmers…it is not difficult to paint any city unglamorous, even the capital of our country can look like hell if you cover settlements at Yamuna Bank or many such places. It is extremely difficult for anyone to paint Howrah Bridge or Victoria as glamorous piece of architecture…don’t you think so?

    I just want to share my thoughts and just want a healthy debate – Hope you won’t mind – I would love you to read other posts as well and look forward to your comments.

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