I wanted to see Kolkata through a different lens so I followed the river Hooghly from the Vidyasagar Setu and travelled up north to Belur Math. Join me on this one day’s journey and discover this historic city on your own.
In 1690, Job Charnock sailed down the river Ganga in Bengal and pitched tents on its northern banks. Thus was born the city of Kolkata. Since then the Ganga river or locally known as Hooghly has changed the history of this country and Kolkata was in the centre of it all.
To start my journey I de-boarded the taxi just under the Vidyasagar Setu on the southern part of the city and started walking towards the park which houses the multi-columned memorial to James Princep. An East India Company employee, James Princep helped introduce uniform coinage and weights in this country amongst his many other things contributions to the city.
Early morning one can young enthusiastic couples are posing for their pre or post wedding shoots alongside these tall roman columns. Local tea sellers are busy making a sale in the chill of the winter morning. At this hour a few locals have got their tourist friends also. I walked around the structure, clicked a few pictures and moved ahead towards the waterfront.
There’s railway track here it’s part of the Kolkata circular railway and runs parallel to the riverbank up north till Tala Bridge. I crossed the tracks and reach one of the oldest ghats of Kolkata, the Princep Ghat. Though built in 1841, this area has been recently redeveloped as a park along the river.
On the riverbank small wooden boats are anchored and the boatmen can be seen freshening up and cooking their morning meal. As I walked down the steps they waved out enthusiastically and offered me special rates for a solo boat ride. I declined the offer and moved back to the park and started walking northwards. There’s no ferry service on this ghat. After this I walked past Gwalior Ghat which is used for cremation purposes.
A 5-7 minutes walk along this route takes me to Outram Ghat, a busy passenger ferry dock. Right now it mostly attracts morning walkers. It’s the headquarters of River Traffic Police so most of it’s waterfront access is blocked. One can see many bathers early morning running up and down the slopes of the ghat.
Next up north on this route is Babughat, one of the busiest passenger ferry crossing on this side of Hooghly. The second oldest ghat of Kolkata, this place was built in 1834 by a local landlord’s wife. All ferries from here lead to Howrah so it’s one of the busiest docks on this side.
From here the riverfront walkway is still under construction so I had to go back to the main road to reach Fairlie ghat. This is a small jetty compared to Babughat but it’s the shortest river route to reach Howrah.
At Fairlie ghat the riverfront park’s gate was closed so I walked towards the station for a train ride. At BBD Ghat railway station ticket counter, the guy across the grilled window advised me to walk down to the next ghat instead of wasting money on a such a short rail trip. Thus I reached Armenian Ghat on foot but most of this dock is in shambles. Built in 1734 by the Armenians this ghat used to dock boats of wealthy jewellers and spice traders. Sadly none of the grandeur and the designed iron gates can been seen. But the steel structure of the Howrah bridge can be seen rising beyond all the old and new buildings. So I swiftly embarked on a taxi headed towards the bridge.
Across the river lies my one of my favourite destinations in Kolkata, Belur Math. This complex is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, a non-spiritual organisation which believes in social service and charity.
As I walk through the iron gates of the complex and walk past the office buildings, I head up to the waterfront again. This is one of the most picturesque places to enjoy the sunset by the river in Kolkata.
The main Shri Ramakrishna temple is an architectural mix of a Hindu temple, a mosque and a church. The front façade reminds me of the Buddhist stupa in Sanchi and the facades of the Ajanta caves. The main hall is long hall flanked by pillars like the south Indian temples. At the end of the hall is a statue of Shri Ramakrishna seated.
The evening prayer which is performed inside the Shri Ramakrishna temple draws a great number of crowds. Hymns are sung in chorus by the monks and the visitors based on the native folk tunes. The prayer hall is built in the Buddhist vihara style thus the music echoes and carries it across to till the ghat without using any electronic load-speakers.
Watching the sun set by the river while listening to the melodious tune coming out of the temple is the most relaxing thing to do. A perfect way to put a closure to the days journey.
The prayer ends at around 6:30 pm and it’s time to catch up on some street snacks so I picked up Jhaal Muri, puffed rice spice mix famous in Kolkata. Tossed with mustard oil and its topped with two slivers of coconut.
A leisurely 15 minutes walk towards the left of the complex gates through the residential area takes me to the ferry dock. Many passenger ferries are available from here to Howrah and or up north but my destination was down south towards Kolkata.
There’s a daily service from this ghat to BBD Bag ferry crossing close to Kolkata High court and it’s the last ferry from this dock. We were only 4-5 passengers at the dock to board this ferry. The boat sailed to the other side of the riverbank and stopped at a few more docks.
Suddenly the lights of the iconic Howrah Bridge was approaching in front of us. The massive floating bridge was buzzing with traffic at night. Meanwhile, all the phone cameras on board went flashing frantically as we approached the structure.
One of the highlights of my days journey was travelling under this 75 year old bridge. Built during the World War II this cable bridge was under the target of the Japanese army. Many of their bombs destroyed the city’s business district and several docks but the Howrah bridge has survived.
While it’s peaceful to travel by the riverside of Kolkata city and its also a very unique way to see the past and present of this city in a day’s journey.