Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) 2017, Heritage Tour on the River Ganges
Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) 2017
Heritage Tour on the River Ganges
The Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF), created by the Oxford Bookstores, happens to be India’s only literary festival created by a bookstore. AKLF also happens to be the fist literary festival of Kolkata.
On 6 Jan 2017 the 8th edition of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) kicked off with a Heritage Tour of the River Ganges. I was invited, along with a host of fellow travel bloggers, to attend the Heritage Cruise by Candid Communications, media partner of AKLF.
The journey started from the Vivada Jetty on a beautiful cruise boat. Maina Bhagat and Anjum Katyal, Directors, AKLF welcomed us on the Heritage Cruise of Hooghly River.
As the directors spoke about AKLF 2017 I was busy exploring the cruise boat, which offered a magnificent views of the Howrah Bridge.
After the directors finished their speech the cruise boat lifted its anchor and started sailing south.
The boat sailed closer to the left bank and soon the Kolkata skyline became prominent. We sailed past the New Secretariat Building, crowned with the football shaped weather radar.
Next was the State Bank of India Zonal Head Office of Eastern India. It is a new building, which has replaced the old building of the Imperial Bank. The present building houses an interesting archive of Banking history, which is open to public but photography is not allowed.
We headed south with the spire of Kolkata High Court towering behind the State bank Building.
As we sailed south towards the Second Hooghly Bridge the structure that dominated the Kolkata skyline is the towering under construction structure of The 42.
The towering structure, with the official address of 42B Chowringhee Road, is the latest addition to the Kolkata skyline.
The 62 floor The 42 is located between the two other sky scrapers of Tata Centre and Jeevan Deep and is visible from all parts of the city. When complete it will attain a height of 252 metres (827 ft), making it the tallest building not only in Kolkata but in the whole of East India.
We went past the Sea Explorers Institute the unimpressive white building, with sloped roof, is the home of some of the most daring sea explorations of the ccountry.
Although founded in 1987 the Sea Explorer Institute activities dates back to 1969, when Pinaki Ranjan Chatterjee and Geroge Albert Duke sailed across the Bay of Bengal, in a tiny row boat from Kolkata to Port Blair (Andaman).
Today the Sea Explorers institute still continues with similar daring sea adventurers.
It also provides for scuba diving and kayaking. It doubles up as a research institute for marine and related research.
Next on the left is the Fort William, the new fort was built in 1758, after the old one (located near present day GPO) was destroyed by Siraj Ud Daulah’s army in 1756.
As we sailed fast the Fort William the tip of of white tower crowned with a ball came in view. Although it looked new it dates back to 1824, and was part of the semaphore line that connected Kolkata with Chunar.
Semaphore, popularly known as visual telegraph or optical telegraph, was a most popular communication technology in the pre – telegram days.
Semaphore was introduced in India by the British during 1816 – 1830 when series of towers were planned between Calcutta Fort William and Chunar Fort of Varanasi (Benaras). The line said to contain 70 – 80 feet high towers at an interval of 8 miles (13 KM).
Sadly with the advent of Telegraph in 1830s the Semaphore technology was scrapped but still today many of these Semaphore Towers still stands a mute witness to pre telegraph age communication.
The Fort William Semaphore Tower is no exception and in 1881 a ball was installed on top of the tower. it acted as a time indicator as the ball was raised at 12:55 pm and lowered at 1:00 pm every day, providing the exact time to the mariners. Sadly this operation has long stopped.
Just beyond the Fort William on the left bank is the Gwalior Monument. The 60 feet tall memorial is often referred to as the Peeper Pot, because of its distinctive shape.
The Gwalior Monument, serves as a memorial to the British soldiers, who died during the Gwalior War of 1843. The metal dome was casted from the guns captured during the war.
Now it is time to sail below the gigantic Vidyasagar Setu or the Second Hooghly Bridge.
With a total length of 823 metres (2,700 ft), Vidyasagar Setu is the longest cable–stayed bridge in India.
Immediately beyond the Second Hooghly Bridge, on the left bank, is the Lascar Memorial.
The 100 ft memorial built in the Indo-Mughal style has prows of an ancient galley projecting from each side and is capped by four mini minarets and a large dome. The towering structure built in the honor of 896 Lascars, who died fighting for the British Navy during the Great War of 1914 – 18 (First World War).
As we sailed further down the river we sailed past the Demerara Clock Tower, located inside the Port Trust complex. The dock adjoining the clock tower is no longer in used but it was once used as the point of departure for the Indian labourers heading for Suriname, Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa and Trinidad.
We are the forgotten children of mother India. Mauritius, Trinidad, Suriname, Guyana and Fiji celebrate Indian Arrival Day and have memorials for the Indian workers. But in India no one remembers them
David Sheoraj of Trinidad and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs)
A memorial plaque has been installed on the tower as a mute tribute to the thousands of Indian labours, who braved the high seas for a life on the other side of the planet.
Next we headed towards Metibruz, the residence of the disposed Nawab of Oudh (or Awadh) Wajid Ali Shah, from 1856 till his death in 1881. We sailed past the magnificent milk white BNR house.
Wajid Ali Shah was kept under house arrest in this building. In those days it was known as the Parikahana (house of fairies) and it was where the emperor was entertained by musicians, poets and dancers. Today the 1946 built building serves as the residence of General Manager (GM) of South Eastern Railway (SER).
As we headed past the Netaji Subha Dock, the blue and white clock tower of the docks became visible. Just beyond the passageway to the Netaaji Subhas Dock is the Suriname Memorial. A small memorial, which was almost invisible from the cruise, in built in memory of the 34.304 contract workers from India, who went to the tiny Dutch colony of Suriname, in South America, in search of a fortune.
Next was the Garden Reach Ship Builders (GRSE), the premier Warship building Company in India, under the administrative control of Ministry of Defence.
GRSE since 1960, has built warships for various roles, starting from state of the art Frigates & Corvettes to Fast Patrol Boats.
But the history of the ship building company dates back to 1884, when it operated as a private ship building company, it was named Garden Reach workshop in 1916.
The Garden Reach Ship Builders was the southern limit of the AKLF Heritage Tour on the River Ganges.
From where we took an U turn and headed north and this time we had the west bank of River Hooghly closer to us.
We sailed past the Shibpur Botanical Garden, housing the huge baanyan tree along with exotic and rare plant species from all over the world.
It reminded us of the story of the escaped tigress from the Wajidd Ali Saha’s zoo. She swam all across the Hooghly to attack a staff of the Botanical Garden. After the Botanical Garden we descended to the lower deck for a lunch. We enjoyed the winter sun as we had our lunch at the lower deck.
The attraction of the AKLF Heritage Tour on the River Ganges was nor restricted to the banks aand bridges only. On the water were boats and ships of all possible shapes and sizes.
From the humble fishing boat to long oil tankers and from the cargo ships to luxury cruise ships, the Hooghly River was probably the home for all sorts of water bound transport.