Kolkata, the City of Joy, is known for its cultural significance. The 350-year-old metropolis boasts of a rich heritage and several popular landmarks that exude a distinct charm. The iconic Howrah Bridge adds to its charm to the city as well as to the river Hooghly. The Hooghly River is the main artery running through the history of Bengal. The long history of this province leaves a legacy of magnificent temples, buildings, and parks. Flowing from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, the holy Ganga river is connected by the Hooghly river to Kolkata.
During our last visit to Kolkata, my dad told me that we would go for a river cruise on the Hooghly river, traditionally called ‘Ganga’, which is an approximately 260-kilometre-long distributary of the Ganga River in the Indian state of West Bengal. Bengal was the richest province in India for a time, its lush soil producing indigo, opium and rice crops and its exquisite textiles were known as ‘woven wind’. This progressive, wealthy and cultured land drew people from all over the world – Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and Christianity all flourished here. It was through this river that the East India company sailed into Bengal and established their trade settlement, Calcutta, the capital of British India. People from other countries such as the French, Dutch, Portuguese, etc. all had their trade settlements by the banks of this river.
We booked for the evening cruise from Millennium Park to Belur Math and return. It’s a three-hour cruise. After some inquiry, we chose Vivada cruises.
The cruise started at 4.00 p.m. They served us a welcome drink and some pakodis and jhalmuri.
We sailed under the iconic landmark of Kolkata, Howrah Bridge, a massive steel bridge constructed over the Hooghly River. It is considered to be among the longest cantilever bridges in the world. Also known as Rabindra Setu, it connects Howrah and Kolkata. It carries daily traffic of over 100,000 vehicles and countless pedestrians and is as historic as it is grand.
This cruise took us along the Hooghly river and we were watching the city from a different perspective and experiencing the riverside view of the city with a series of ghats, Nimtala, Shovabazar to name a few and also some of the palaces of a bygone era.
Pathuriaghata Street is so named as it once led to a stone-flagged ghat on the Hooghly River. It is one of the oldest residential areas in what was Sutanuti. Even in the 21st century, the area is replete with colonnaded mansions. These merchant-princes built palatial colonnaded houses here, especially in the 19th century, in what was once known as Sutanuti, one of the three original villages comprising old Calcutta.
Amongst the oldest and most renowned residents of the neighbourhood were the Tagores. Joyram Tagore, who amassed a large fortune as a merchant and as Dewan to the French government at Chandannagar, shifted from Gobindapur to Pathuriaghata, when the British constructed new Fort William in the mid-eighteenth century. There is a road named after his son, Darpanarayan Tagore (1731-1793), considered by many as the founder of the Tagore family.
The above building used to host the legendary Natta company. It’s a folk theatre troupe from Bengal established in 1869. In the early years, the group used to perform in different Zamindar’s (landlord’s) palaces. As time passed on they started to perform in different villages, small towns and also in cities like Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta).
The guide accompanying the cruise was giving us details of the ghats and the building on the bank of the Hooghly river.
The cruise took us to Belur Math, known as the headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, founded by Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. The cruise docked at the Belur Math jetty and allowed us to half-an our visit of the math.
Built in 1938, the architecture of the building is very impressive. This temple is the heart of the Ramakrishna Movement. The temple is notable for its architecture that fuses Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist art motifs as a symbol of unity of all religions.
After offering our obeisance at the Belur Math, we returned to our cruise. As the cruise sailed from Belur Math, we were served with lots of pakoras, fritters and coffee/tea. We returned to Millennium Park watching the lights on both the banks as the darkness set in.
Howrah Bridge was the third longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, but now it is the sixth longest one of its types. It spreads about 1500 ft over the Hooghly River and is 71 ft wide. There is a total of 8 lanes of strand road, bicycles, and pedestrians. What makes this bridge unique is the fact that it was built without a single nut or bolt and is held together by rivets. The opulence of the bridge, however, comes alive in the night time as it is all lit up. But, we missed it as we sailed under it before the bridge was lit up.
To cruise along the Hooghly river in Kolkata is to get a sense of life in the extraordinary history of the city and its neighbourhood. It was a great experience and I would say that this cruise must be included in everyone’s visit itinerary in Kolkata.