Spending our time untethering the mind, getting the fidgets out, exploring the in-between ideas, and learning kintsugi.

Two bridges on river Hooghly

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Boats on Hooghly

During a recent sojourn in Kolkata, an unexpected rainstorm has me heading to the banks of Hooghly. Where else but Outram ghat, the most popular river front destination for Kolkata folks. Named after Sir James Outram, an English general in India during Sepoy Revolution (1857), Outram ghat was a key port during the reign of British empire. Now, Sir Outram rests in the annals of Britannica and the ghat is a place for myriads of daily activities – boating, hawkers selling fast food, commuting, couples murmuring sweet nothings, bisarjan of idols after the puja ceremonies, and of course – adda, chatting, the activity Kolkata natives are most famous for.

A distributary of Ganges, Hooghly moves slowly in these parts on account of being not too far from the Bay of Bengal delta. Gold and orange hues of setting sun shimmer in the river waters. Floating barges go between the ghat and the ferries – maneuvered by ropes . Within sight are the two Hooghly bridges. Conceived in the same year and twenty years in making, the second bridge is my contemporary. It might even be the largest cable-stayed bridge in Asia. Hooghly’s clam water looks clear even though it has washed the garbage of hundreds of millions of people living on the Gangatic plane. That must be its holy power.

Maybe the noisy humdrum of humanity is the inspiration behind our great many meditation techniques. Standing on the banks, I can never meditate my way to quietness. Maybe the small boats can be rowed far out enough where the noisy madness of honking horns can be replaced by gentler sounds. These country boats look postcard pretty. For a moment, I imagine the boatmen sing folk songs in their melancholy voices, like they do in Ray’s movies. Not any customers for them yet, they are sitting together on their haunches, swigging at their bidis. I suspect that lovers will come when the night falls to romance under the starry sky nay cloudy sky. The clouds will veil them from boatman’s curious eyes.

Bengalis are food obsessed. They are either eating or planning a future meal. A trip to the ghat is never without the joys of mouthwatering roadside food. All along the ghat, hawkers are selling delicious fast food – fuchka , gol-gappa or pani-puri to Punjabis, small puffed crisp fried breads filled with tangy water; jhal-muri, Bhel-puri to Mumbaiwalas, spicy and savory puffed rice and steaming sweet tea in earthen cups. I think that Jhal-muri with tea will make a perfect in between meal – the spicy puffed rice will wake up the taste buds, and the sweet tea will subsequently soothe them down. I remember my upset stomach from a prior roadside indiscretion, so I reluctantly forego the jhal-muri.

A curious bisarjan ritual – immersion of clay idols of goddess in the holy river – typically associated with Durga puja, meet my eyes and has me furiously clicking away at my camera. Several groups of worshipers bring idols to the ghat but the ritual of immersion is left incomplete. The goddess idols, made in the mold of Durga but sitting on a donkey instead of a fearsome lion are left dotting the walkway. She looks grave and the donkey is baring its teeth. I dare not laugh. A worshiper tells me that she is indeed an incarnation of Durga called Sitala and is celebrated among the lower castes and villagers in Bengal. Legends say that she can’t swim and therefore she cannot be immersed in water. Her idol is left to disintegrate on the river banks – biblical dust to dust and all that – and in Bengal’s sultry summers, this process is indubitably short.

Goddess at the ghat

Goddess at the ghat

Groups of young and old people are sitting and doing what they do best – adda, some on mobile phones even. Bengalis are loud except when talking love. We argue loudly, we laugh loudly and pontificate loudly. IPL 20-20 cricket matches are the talk of the town – Kolkata Knight Riders are taking a beating after an initial spurt of winnings. SRK and Sourav are not on their friendliest best, SRK’s Bollywood style parties are wrecking our young brave knights…

As night close in, the lights on the floating restaurant look brighter. I can no longer see the litter on the train tracks. Lovers snuggle closer together taking the advantage of the darkness, a little privacy in a packed sardine can of a city. I head home contemplating my dinner – Ilish macher jhal, steamed hilsa fish coated with spicy mustard paste; and Dhokar dalna, fried lentil cakes in gravy.

Travel Note: If you are a tourist, this riverfront location is indeed a perfect spot to watch the natives. Situated right opposite Fort William, Outram ghat is a popular spot during late afternoons and evenings and any cab can get you here. Curb the jhal-muri temptation, natives are more used to bloody dysentery than you are.

Written by locomotoring

May 29, 2008 at 9:27 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] we decided to do a family outing to Outram ghat and threw in a boat ride. Last similar trip was in 2008. We had desperately needed the exercise but instead our boatman got some. The ghats along the river […]

  2. […] Walking along the banks of river Ganges (more) […]

  3. […] Best roadside food carts in Calcutta (more) […]

  4. […] Walking by river Ganges’ bank in Calcutta (more) […]

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