Prinsep Ghat – A photo story along the banks of Hooghly, Kolkata
Today, I will take you on a trip to my favorite place in my own city – the Prinsep Ghat, Kolkata. Join me as I stroll on the banks of Hooghly, watch the sunset from a boat and the majestic Howrah bridge twinkling at night.
“Kolkata is a beautiful city. Wherever you place a camera you get a vision”
– Pradeep Sarkar, filmmaker.
I was going through a writer’s block, or should I say blogger’s block for a while now. I was neck-deep in the office workload and couldn’t even decide what to write when I got the time. So I completely reversed my process of writing. I browsed through the pictures of my last trip to Kolkata, resized them and put them in the post. Then, I started writing what came to my mind when I saw the pictures. That’s the magic of Kolkata, a city that inspired a thousand works of art.
The city on banks of Hooghly
When the holy Ganges flows into the fertile plains of Bengal she is called Hooghly. On the banks of this river sprung up the charming city of Calcutta, that was discovered by Job Charnock 300 years ago. Some of the greatest cities in history have developed on the banks of a river. When you visit Paris you can see how the city’s architecture was themed around Sienne. Same goes of London on the banks of Thames, Amsterdam on the banks of Amstel, so on and so forth. It’s a pity that back home, rivers are considered sacred but have been left to die in the filth for decades.
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For a long time, Prinsep Ghat was just a lovely white monument on the bank of Hooghly. Even then it was a popular recreational spot for the locals in the city of joy. It was also the spot where dignitaries embarked upon when they came to the city. Thankfully after years of negligence, the banks of Kolkata came to the notice of authorities. Beautification of the banks begun and today if I had to show someone around my city, I’d proudly take them on a long walk on its riverfront. Well since I had no one to show around this time, I took my parents on this trip with me.
Enter Prinsep Ghat
A new addition to the park at Prinsep ghat is this elephant trio. Funny how they are put behind bars as if they could just walk away soon. Sad that people come to this beautifully maintained place for free, and feel like throwing their garbage here. Yeah, even behind bars the elephants are not spared from the garbage of humans. A closer look at the picture will reveal the effectiveness with which people have managed to throw plastic wrappers and bottles inside the small space. Next morning workers would come and clean the area, only for it to be littered all over again.
We moved on to the spectacular sight of the pristine white monument built with the second Hooghly bridge on the backdrop.
About James Prinsep and his memorial
James Prinsep was a versatile genius, who came to India in 1819, at the age of 20. He became the Assay-master of the Calcutta Mint. He also founded the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and deciphered the ancient Kharosthi and Brahmi scripts of India. In his short, yet illustrious life he achieved several remarkable feats in art, science, and numismatics.
He took a keen interest in architecture during his stay in Benaras (Varanasi) when he created an accurate map of the ancient city. He helped design the drainage system of Benares and restore the Mughal-era minarets which were in a state of decay. In Kolkata (then Calcutta), he continued the work on a canal connecting Hooghly to the Sundarbans in the east.
No wonder this renowned Indologist was loved by people. On his demise at the age of 40, the citizens raised a public fund of Rs. 12,000 to construct this monument in 1841. Since then this has been an important landing place for dignitaries who visited Calcutta.
Years passed by, Calcutta turned into Kolkata, and the monument was reduced to a shadow of its former glory. In 2001, the building was restored without loss of its original character and splendor. The white marble building is a bright example of Greek and Gothic architecture blended with Indian style.
At night when the beautiful Vidyasagar Setu (Second Hooghly Bridge) lights up, the splendid white monument shines against it. Prinsep Ghat is essentially Calcuttan. It’s simple, romantic and artistic. The place is as much for young lovers as it is for the solitary wanderers. Photographers, filmmakers, and artists flock the place in the evening for inspiration. The legacy of the polymath who loved the city lives in this ambiance.
The Beautified riverfront
As soon as you leave the building and walk towards the river you will notice lyrical tunes of Rabindra-sangeet floating in the air. Nothing could compliment the essentially Bengali atmosphere near the river better than that. It was not in place when I last visited back in 2013. So it’s a fairly recent development. Normally I would consider the idea of having music played on speakers here a bad idea. But the soft tunes blend into the ambiance with the sound of the birds and the ruffling of leaves.
To know more about Rabindranath Tagore and his gigantic body of works, visit Jorasanko Thakur Bari in Kolkata. It is the ancestral house of the Tagores which now houses the Rabindra Bharti museum.
Prinsep Ghat is also a platform which is a part of the Kolkata circular railways. You can board a train just to enjoy the beautiful views of the riverfront if you are not up for a long walk. Otherwise, cross the railway tracks and reach the walkway.
The walkway is beautifully maintained and thankfully clean. There are dustbins all along the sides, so honestly, there is no excuse of littering here. From here you can walk to Babughat, followed by Millenium Park, all the way up to Howrah Bridge. It’s just 3.9 km but try walking in a hot summer evening with reluctant parents. I let it pass and instead, convinced my parents for a boat ride. Not the steamer, or speed boat but the real wooden boat with no motors.
Boat ride in Hooghly
A glance at these colorful boats would entice anyone to take a ride. I went up to the boatmen and asked the tariff. They quoted Rs. 300 for 3 people for a thirty-minute ride. Having stayed outside Kolkata for so long I was taken by surprise at the really low price quoted by the boatmen. I am used to starting bargaining at ridiculously higher prices even in the offbeat remote destinations of Karnataka.
As the boatman rowed us towards the bridge we expected some respite in the cool breeze of the river. And here comes the sad part. Kolkata is a beautiful city, but it has the most irritable summer in the world. Kolkata’s humidity is sheer horror in the months of May to July, and global warming is not helping it either. There was greenery all around but not a leaf moved as we sailed into the depths of Hooghly. If you plan to visit Kolkata, choose a different month. Winter is ideal with an azure sky and marvelous weather. You can also visit in September or October during the festive season to enjoy the grand Durga Puja of Kolkata.
But once you start sailing the sights and sounds around are enough to make you forget the weather. It’s like a piece of rural serenity at the heart of an over-crowded city. There is a small fan in the boat for the comfort of the passengers. I think about the boatmen who row against the mighty waves throughout the day for a livelihood. Does the golden hour stir their soul the way they do ours? Maybe not. Maybe a day at my air-conditioned office sitting on a cushy chair in front of the laptop would sound like a holiday to them.
The silhouette of the second Hooghly bridge provides the perfect backdrop for the Prinsep Ghat. It is indeed a photographer’s delight. It is also called Vidyasagar Setu in the name of the 19th-century Bengali scholar and reformer, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. With a total length of 823 meters, it is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the country. The bridge is illuminated at night offering a visual spectacle.
On the other side, you can see the first bridge that was built on the river, the beautiful Howrah bridge. It is the only cantilever bridge in India and the sixth-longest in the world. Ever since its inception in 1943, it has been the lifeline of the city and the unofficial icon of Kolkata. No trip to Kolkata would be complete without taking a picture of the Howrah bridge. In 1965, it was named Rabindra Setu after the first non-European Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. But I am a resident, who traveled on the bridge countless times. So naturally, I don’t have a great picture of the Howrah bridge.
Places to visit near Prinsep Ghat
This is where my photo story of the Prinsep Ghat ends. This is the heartbeat of the city and it is speckled with edifices of colonial architecture. Before taking a walk along the riverfront you can visit the scintillating Victoria Memorial and St. Paul’s cathedral. You can also see the majestic Fort William only from outside, as it is now a property of the Indian Army. There is another walkway nearby called Man-O-War jetty which commemorates the role played by the Port in the Second World War. This is a walking map for a walk along the beautified banks of Hooghly.
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