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 BeAlur 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.
As we sailed towards the landmark of Kolkata, Howrah Bridge, we could see the iconic Howrah station on the far side of the river. The huge, brick-red building is the second oldest station and one of the largest railway complexes in India. The first locomotive left Howrah on June 18, 1853 for the 37.5 miles to Pundoah. The first public departure from Howrah for the 23.5 miles to Hooghly was witnessed by great crowds on August 15, 1854. On December 1, 2018, the Howrah station completed 113 years. It was on this day in 1905, that the station with six platforms began functioning.
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.
Howrah bridge is a cantilever bridge with a suspended span over the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India. The length of the bridge is 705 meter and width is 71 ft with two footpaths of 15 ft on either side. The third-longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, the Howrah Bridge is the sixth-longest bridge of its type in the world. The construction of bridge was started on 1936 and ended in 1942. It was opened for the public transport on February 3, 1943. The first vehicle to use the bridge was a solitary tram.
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.
Amidst the dense forest, near the Hooghly River, stood alone Kali Idol, under a Neem Tree, with only a thatched roof to save the goddess from the vagaries of nature. The Nimtala Crematorium derived its name from this Neem Tree that bowed down towards Goddess Kali. The burning ghat was constructed in 1827.
It’s a great feeling to see the Samadhi Prangan (Memorial) dedicated to Kobi Guru Rabindranath Tagore at Nimtala Crematorium from the river. He became in 1913 the first non-European to win Nobel Prize in Literature. He renounced his knighthood in response to Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. He authored the National Anthems of India and Bangladesh.
Sovabazar is famous by the virture of Shobhabazar Rajbari. This is where Nabakrishna Dev started Durga Puja in 1757, where the custom drew local households, rich and the affluents to celebrate the glorious festival.
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.
Unlike the Jorasanko Thakurbari, this ‘The Tagore Castle’ is not related to Rabindranath Tagore. It was Jatindramohan Tagore who built it in 1895. This building is in shambles though, and this fading grandeur reminds one of the imposing structures that Kolkata has always boasted of.
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.
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.