“Bistar hain apar, praja dono par
Kare hahakar, nishapda sada
O ganga tum ganga behti ho kyun?”
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Bistirno Duparer oshonnkho manusher
hahakar shuneo nishobde nirobe
O ganga tumi ganga boicho kano”
…To be continued