Water – a river, a lake, the seashore – adds atmosphere to a city. Calcutta, or Kolkata as the city’s official name is, proudly hosts River Hooghly. And where there is water, there might be a bridge, such as Howrah Bridge. One of my favourite spots in Calcutta is the beach close to Howrah, where life unfolds in many ways.
According to Association for Asian Studies, “The Hooghly weaves through the Indian state of West Bengal from the Ganges, its parent river, to the sea. At just 460 kilometers (approximately 286 miles), its length is modest in comparison with great Asian rivers like the Yangtze in China or the Ganges itself. Nevertheless, through history, the Hooghly has been a waterway of tremendous sacred and secular significance.”
The river is also a major waterway providing a year-round water supply to the plains of West Bengal. Its water is used for irrigation, as well as consumption by both the public and the surrounding industries.
I first came close to Hooghly after a visit to Mullick Ghat, the city’s renowned wholesale flower market. After walking through this fabulous place, I stepped through a gate and the Hooghly appeared just in front of me. Many of the people who inhabit the area are engaged on various sacred rituals, the river being the centre of many ritual activities in the Hindu life. Others carry out work related to the flower market, some are simply taking a bath or washing clothes. The atmosphere always seems relaxed void of the usual Indian commotion. In contrast, I have walked along the river bank on a busy, narrow road trafficked by colourful trucks, taxis and auto rickshaws, and the bustling life is also marked by shops and stalls – not at least chai stalls.
The Hooghly has a large traffic flow, both commercial traffic and that related to the tourist industry. You may, not surprisingly, go on midnight cruise, or other types of boat rides.
Right: Many people try their luck with the fishing rod.
Several bridges go across Hooghly river, but the Howrah Bridge, opened in 1943, is one of the iconic landmarks in Kolkata. Howrah Bridge is a cantilever bridge with a length of 705 meter – It claims to be one of the longest cantilever bridges in the world. It’s said to carry 100,000 vehicles and countless pedestrians daily.
I have been one of those pedestrians as well, watching countless people walking fast across for so many reasons. The traffic rumbles in two directions and the barbed wire reminds us of what bridges sometimes must endure – thus the precaution.
My most intriguing memory is that of a man who sat on the railing towards the traffic reading a newspaper. There must be so many other places to sit down and read, my first thought was. But maybe he found the backdrop relaxing …
Howrah bridge connects Kolkata with Howrah, located on the western banks of the river. The two cities are known as twin cities. Howrah is an important transportation hub and gateway to Kolkata and West Bengal through its magnificent railway station.
Hooghly river is also known as the Rabindra Setu, named after the great Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.