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If you are a photographer, the Ganges are a sight for sore lenses. The presence of a waterbody, for all its placidity, adds a lot of dynamism to the milieu of an urban settlement. The steps and slopes that take you closer to the flow of water in these ghats witness a plethora of action amid everydayness.
The space where waves meet land is a fertile one for human interaction of all sorts — some centered around livelihood and sustenance, others around ritual or recreation, and then some others, quite happily purposeless. Strolling along the riverbank from Babughat in central Calcutta to Kashipur in the North reveals a wide range of such visuals.
At times, the most common path to the Hooghly doubles up as a cricket pitch (where not a few googlies are bowled, no doubt). While the riverbank acts as a natural boundary on one side (where diving catches might be common), and the city forms the ambit on the other, the area spanning the left and right of the wicket make the arena as vast as some of the biggest grounds in the world.
Nothing like a dip into the holy, howsoever-muddy, waters in the middle of or after a day’s work. Diving is a common sight along the shores of the Ganga, albeit mostly monopolised by the working class living along the river or working around it.
Knowing how to stroll purposelessly like a flâneur is essential if you want to really discover the depths of a city. In the process, one is bound to imbibe its unique sights and sounds and smells, and witness how the city lives, eats, sleeps, sells, socialises, fights, and halts on its ghats.
The history of Calcutta is inseparable from the advent and expansion of its jute industries. Most of them have shut down by now, but vestiges of its mammoth operations remain, the skeletons of jetties jutting into the river.
Certain cities carry the look of being old and congested as though multiple layers of paint and plaster have peeled off at the cracks to reveal the bricks of its past. Cracks that are pushed wide open by intervening roots appropriate the role of organic threads that provide support to the crumbling structure — succumbing-yet-surviving buildings and storehouses are common on the banks of the Hooghly, attracting many a traveller in the market for a visit to the unkempt back stage.
The potter’s quarter in Kumortuli near Shobhabajar ghat is where thousands of clay idols are being made in jhupri s (shacks). The artisans are particularly busy just before the Durga Puja, working nonstop, racing against time, fighting off rain and humidity.
Manikghat presents a magnificent view of Howrah Bridge, which acquires even more splendour when silhouetted against the fading evening light.
In the evening, as the sun sets along the Howrah-horizon — that’s the best time to wade across the river in a ferry and experience the physical sensation of floating along on the fabric of Time.
A boat ride from Principe ghat to Kashipur would take a few restful hours and allow you to see hundreds of other ghats along the way against the backdrop of quaint storehouses, old mansions, and factories, along with some new high-rises challenging the sky-line of the city.
Despite the massive siltation it has undergone in the last few decades, the river continues to be an essential transport lifeline. Sand, jute and light cargo often take the riverine route, creating footprints of labour along their path.
As you approach Nimtala Ghat, you feel a pall of sombreness, though it is usually crowded throughout the day, abuzz with cremation rituals, the river ferrying its citizens on their final journey. If you listen carefully, you can hear the wise words of Tagore, who was cremated and memorialised here, echoing in a whisper, walk alone ...