Home > Bengal Festival, General > Silk River, A Journey Down the Hooghly River

Silk River, A Journey Down the Hooghly River

Silk River

A Journey Down the Hooghly River

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Indian independence the ambitious project of Silk River explored the unique relationship between London and Kolkata through artistic exchange between communities along England’s Thames Estuary and India’s Hooghly River.

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Silk River Boat Sumangal with the Silk Scrolls at Bichali Ghat, Metiabruz (Kidderpore), Hooghly River

The Silk River project focused on 20 locations along the Thames starting from Kew Gardens to South End and along the Hooghly River it covered similar locations along the Murshidabad to Bata Nagar stress. Each of the 20 places along the two rivers were represented by giant scrolls made of Murshidabad Silk and drawn in Patachitra art form. Apart from that there were two similar separate scrolls representing the two rivers.

The Tames event happened between 15 – 24 September 2017 while the Hooghly counterpart was held between 6 – 16 December 2017. I joined the Silk River Hooghly on the 3rd day (8 Dec) when we sailed from Murshidabad to Maheshganj. Krishnanagar was part of the 4th day (9 Dec). I was back again on the 10th day (15 Dec) for the tour of Kidderpore and Bata Nagar. Finally on  11th day (16th Dec) I covered the Botanical Garden and the final closing ceremony at the Victoria Memorial.

Silk River India Day 3 (8 Dec 2017)

Along Hooghly (Bhagirati) River, Murshidabad – Maheshganj and Balakhana Estate

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A small boat ferries the participants to the main boat (Sarbajaya) at Murshidabad, Silk River

It was early morning and the silk river participants have gather at Khosbagh Ghat in Murshidabad well before dawn. A small boat ferried the participants to the main boat, Sarbajaya. Sarbajaya would be the home of the Silk River participants till they reach Kolkata.

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Ali Pretty (Artistic Director) (L) and Korak Ghosh (Artistic Director Silk River Walk India) (R) with their introductory talk on Silk River

The participants, most of them were from England, had already spent the last two days exploring the glorious histories of Murshidabad, Azimganj and Cossimbazar, but it is first time they are hitting the river.

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Fishing Boat in action, Hooghly River. Silk River

The 3rd day of the Silk River consists of a day long river journey along the Hooghly River from Murshidabad to Maheshganj. It was the first time the participants will get the real fell of the meandering Hooghly River.

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A luxury cruise boat on Hooghly River. Silk River

It was a early winter and a sunny day was expected, but it was not to be. The skies were overcast due to an unexpected depression way down in the Bay of Bengal.

Rain were expected but thanks to our stars it proved wrong but skies remained overcast throughout the day.

The gloomy day started off with a breakfast of hot puris.Over the breakfast we watched the local fishermen cast their nets from their tiny boats.

Then it was turn of Ali Pretty, Artistic Director, to introduce the concept of Silk River India.It was followed by another brief by Korak Ghosh, Artistic Director Silk River Walk India.

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Lunch on board Sarbajaya. Silk River

The talks were followed by a interactive discussion among the Silk River participants.

Almost all the participants agreed on more such actives. Also emphasis was given to increase the interactive nature of such projects, allowing more Indians to participate in the foreign projects.

Then it was my turn to introduce the river to the participants. I started with the geography of the  river Bhagiriti – Hooghly.

The Bhagiriti – Hogghly is a distributory of Ganga (Ganges) and is known as Bhagiriti till Nawadip and further south it is known as River Hooghly. I told them the third day of Silk River India will take them along River Bhagariti.

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Ferries across the Hooghly River. Silk River

My talk shifted to the river transport system with emphasis on the number of bridges and ferries across the river. Soon I was talking about the wildlife and the focus was centred around the Gangatic Dolphin.

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Buffaloes being scrubbed along the river bank. Silk River

My talk soon shifted to the spiritual aspect of the river and I stressed on the fact of how people worship and abuse the river at the same time.

My talk ended with the future aspect of the river and how locals are getting involved in the betterment of the river. My talk was followed by a much needed lunch break.

Meanwhile as the day progressed the activities on the river, as well as those along the banks changes.

The morning ferries were less frequent and carried a handful of people, most of when were children in school uniform. As day progressed the ferries became more frequent and were overloaded with passengers heading for their place of work.

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A Musical Session on boat. Silk River

Morning also saw people having their bath on the river banks and as day progressed farmers scrubbed their buffaloes along the river bank.

Along the bank school children, in uniform, cycled to school while their parents worked on the fields. There were also occasional office goers in their two wheeler.

For the entire course of our river journey we were accompanied by rafts of water hyacinth, which accompanied us along the meandering rivers past the huge ox bow lakes. A luck few even spotted a couple of the highly endangered Gangatic Dolphin, sadly I was not so lucky.  Groups of cormorants and few occasional kingfishers is all the wild life I spotted.

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Ferry on Bhagirati (Hooghly) River, with Mayapur Temple in background. Silk River

Lunch was followed by a musical session of Bhatali song. Bhatali is a folk song of boatmen of West Bengal of Bengladesh. Pranesh Som was the singer and was assisted on the dhol by Pom and do – tara by Bachu.

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Maheshganj Estate Balakhana, Heritage Homestay, Maheshganj. Silk River

After the musical session, as we had our evening tea we sailed past the towering Maypur ISCON Temples (both old and new, under construction one).  Soon after the ISCON temple our eight hour long boat journey was over as Sarbajaya anchored at the Maheshganj jetty.

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One of the rooms at Maheshganj Estate Balakhana. Silk River

Soon we are out of the water and a toto ride through the winding streets of chaotic traffic brought us to the Maheshganj Estate Balakhana, a Heritage Homestay. The French Styled bungalow building once served as a Nil Kuthi (Indigo House). Indigo was a cash crop that fulled the British fortune till the mid 19th century.

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Ranodip Palchowdhury narrating the history of Balakhana. Silk River

But in 1870s with the introduction of artificial dyes indigo lost much of its ground and the then owner of the Nil Kuthi, Henry Nesbitt Savi sold it to the present owners the Palchoudhuris in 1875.

Only in recent time the age old Nil Kuthi has been transformed into a heritage homestay by the present owner Ronodip Palchowdhury.

Presently 3 AC and 2 non AC rooms are available for the guest and the homestay is complete with large French beds, billiard table, antique furniture and grand fire place. The Maheshganj Estate, Balkhana, Heritage Homestay is located on the southern banks of the Jalongi River and is surrounded by a beautiful landscape garden.

The long balcony on the southern side has a long verandah decorated with antique chair and tables. This is where Ronodip Palchowdhury narrate the history of the family and also that of the Nil Kuthi.

Silk River India Day 4 (9 Dec 2017)

Krishnagar

 

Day 3 was spent on the boat and on the Day 4 morning I got up to see several of my fellow Silk River participants engaged in yoga session on the deck of Sarabajaya.

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Yoga on board Sarabajaya. Silk River

The skies have been overcast all night and as soon as we settle for breakfast it started to rain.

But the rain was not enough to dampen our spirits and we walked through the rain to board a bus.

The bus  would take us to Ghurni, the hub of Krishnanagar’s clay idol makers. The trip included visits to shop and workshops of the idol makers.

The shops sale a varieties of clay idol representing both worldly and heavenly figures. From Lenin to Mother Teresa and from array of gods and goddess to the latest cartoon figures the shops exhibit everything under the sun.

But the figure that stands out is that of Gopal Bhar court jester of  Maharaja Raja Krishnachandra (1710-1783), the-then king of Nadia. who ruled from his capital Krishnanagar.

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Silk River Procession with Silk Scrolls, Krishnagar. Silk River

Even though the rain continued it was time to start the silk river procession and downpour was not enough to dampen the spirits of the residence of Krishnanagar. A band accompanied the flag bearers along the the road bringing the chaotic traffic to an abrupt stop. A complex maze of wires forced the flags to be lowered during most part of the procession.

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Krishnanagar Rajbari. Silk River

The rain continued but the grand spectacle created a lot of interest among the locals and mid way the students of Krishnanagar Academy joined in fancy dress complete with flags of India and Britain. The procession ended at the Krishnanagar Municipal Hall.

From there we headed for the grand Krishnanagar Rajbari on bus. The rajbari (or royal residence) is approached through a impressive gateway studded with turrets. A path leads through a landscaped garden past scattered cannons to the rajbari gate. It leads to a large hall hall filled with chairs of many styles and colours. There are many intriguing objects on display including several leopard skins, a revolver, a bowl of old bullets.

Saumis Chandra Roy, descendants of the Maharajah Krishnachandra, and his wife Amrita welhcomed us into the rajbari andprovided us with a brief on their family history.

Leaving the rajbari the Silk River participants continued with other cultural activities but I had to leave for Kolkata and again join the Silk River walk on Day 10 (15 Dec 2017) to explore Kidderpor and Bata Nagar.

Silk River India Day 10 (15 Dec 2017)

Kidderpore and Bata Nagar

After almost a week I was back again. I joined the Silk River team on a different boat called Sumangal. After breakfast we set sail southwards along the River Hooghly. We were accompanied by boats of ferry service but the large ships dominated the river scape (see also: Heritage Cruise of River Hooghly).

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Ships on Hooghly River. Silk River

We sailed beneath the might Second Hooghly Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) as I engaged myself in narrating the story of the river. The stories covered a range of topics from the fearless Lascars (Also see: Lascar Memorial) to the sad tale of the Indenture Laboures (Also see: Indenture Labour Memorial).

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Silk River Scross at Sahi Imambara (Sibtainbad Imambara). Photo: Ashis Adhikaray

We sailed past the Botanical Gardens, our next days destination,  and on wards to Garden Reach, as I narrated the tale of the disposed Nawab of Oudh Wajid Ali Shah (Also see: In the footsteps of Wajid Ali Shah).

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Silk River Scrolls at Suriname Memorial

Finally we got down at the Bichali Ghat in Metibruz and walked up to the Sahi Imambara (Sibtainbad Imambara).

This is the resting place of the last Nawab of Oudh Wajid Ali Shaw. The large courtyard was an ideal place to display the silk river scrolls.

Next we made our way through the crowded Metiabruz area to the obscure Suriname Memorial (See Also: Suriname Memorial and Dutch Plaque at the Suriname Memorial).

Built in 2015 as a joint initiative of India and Suriname government the memorial is built in honour of those Indian contract workers who migrated to Suriname, the small country located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America, from 1873 to 1916. The open space in front of the memorial served as the place for displaying the silk river scrolls.

After the Suriname Memorial we were back in the boat for a lunch after which we took a bus to the Bidya Bharati School in Kidderpore. The students of the junior section of the school were engaged in cultural perperfonces, most of which was related to the history of Kidderpore and the River Hooghly.

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With smaller flags at Bidya Bharati School. Silk River

Our next stop was Bata Nagar, which houses the Bata Shoe Factory. Incidentally Bata Shoe Factory is also located on the banks of Thames River in England. We took the raod and at Bata Nagar we were greeted by a band along with girls and boys of Scouts and Guides.

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Procession with the Silk River scroles at Bata Nagar. Silk River

After a short stop at the school we visited the Bata Shoe Factory and it was followed by a cultural program. Sadly the program had hardly any connection with the Hooghly River and we never got a glimpses of the river from Bata Nagar.

Silk River India Day 10 (15 Dec 2017)

Botanical Garden and Victoria Memorial

The final day started with a visit to the Botanical Garden, officially known as Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden. As time was short we had to restrict ourselves to only the few well known exhibits of the Botanical Garden.

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The Silk River group at the Botanical Garden.

Obviously it started with the Great banyan Tree. It was followed by the Canon Ball Tree whose fruits represent cannon balls. Then it was the Mad Tree, whose every leaf was different from the other. The giant water lily leaves, which can carry a weight of 50 kg. The palm tree with multiple branches and last but not the least the Kyd’s Memorial, in memory of Robert Kyd, the founder of the garden.

It was back to the boat Sumangal for lunch and finally it was at the Victoria Memorial for the grand closing ceremony. All the 22 scrolls representing 10 places each along the Hooghly and Thames, and one each representing the two rivers, were paraded through the Victoria Memrial complex.

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The Silk River Scrolls at the Victoria Memorial Ground during the closing ceremony of the Silk River Walk India

The English team was accompanied by a bagpiper band while the Indian counterpart was accompanied by a band who made music out of junk! Following the giant scrolls were the the smaller flags complete with dhakis (drum beaters). The procession converged at the Eastern Quadrangle of the Victoria Memorial, where the stage was set for the closing ceremony. The Silk River India walk finally came to an end with cultural programs and speeches from the organizers with the giant silk scrolls in the background.

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The Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu) and a pedestrian bridge (right), Kolkata. Silk River

Special Thanks:

  1. Ali Pretty and Kinetika team for the wonderful idea and its proper execution
  2. Ruchira Das and Think Art team for the wonderful idea and its proper execution of the India leg of Silk River
  3. Korak Ghosh (Artistic Director Silk River Walk India) for the wonderful idea and its proper execution of the India leg of Silk River
  4. Priyanka Chatterjee of Wild Strawberries for introducing me to the Silk River Project
  5. The Silk River support and production team in India and England
  6. All the partners and individuals involved in the Silk River Project
  7. My fellow guides and all the participants of the Silk River Project.

Note:

  • Official website of Silk River
  • This is a personal blog and the opinion and facts expressed in the blog are solely personal
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  1. December 23, 2017 at 12:59 PM

    Seems like a very interesting cultural experience

    • December 29, 2017 at 10:12 PM

      A true cultural exchange. Looking forward for more such events, with more participation from the Indian counterpart.

  2. December 27, 2017 at 3:46 PM

    Thanks for sharing the post with us. Really enjoyed it keep sharing!!!

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