CRUISING SLOWLY UP THE HOOGHLY

The era of cruising is upon us with more and more retirees booking holidays on gargantuan ocean liners. Competition is stiff as cruise companies try to outdo each other with waterslides, bowling alleys and robotic baristas to mix your cocktails. Such gimmicks do not appeal to me and the thought of 3000 passengers fills me with horror. Having sailed around the world on cargo ships in my younger days, my idea of a cruise is a small ship plying an inland waterway, mooring here and there to visit historic sites and observe village life. And scouring the internet I found the perfect one. A seven day cruise up the Hooghly River from Kolkata on the RV Rajmahal carrying 50 passengers accommodated in 18 twin and 4 single cabins. There was no single supplement – a bonus for the solo traveller – and as luck would have it, we were just a small group of seven accompanied by an excellent tour guide.

50 METRES LONG, THE  RV RAJMAHAL OPERATED BY ASSAM BENGAL NAVIGATION, BEGAN SERVICE ON THE HOOGHLY IN 2014.
OUR CAPTAIN AND FIRST OFFICER ON THE BRIDGE OF THE RV RAJAMAHAL
HERE WE ARE LEAVING KOLKATA WITH THE ICONIC HOWRAH BRIDGE SPANNING THE HOOGHLY. 100,000 VEHICLES AND 150,000 PEDESTRIANS CROSS IT DAILY
Tender from the Rajmahal moored in Barrackpore, Bengal
THE HOOGHLY IS SHALLOW NEAR THE RIVER BANK, SO WE TOWED A TENDER, HERE MOORED IN THE OLD BRITISH CANTONMENT OF BARRACKPORE.
OVER COCKTAILS EACH EVENING, WE HEARD OUR SIGHTSEEING ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE FOLLOWING DAY
Chandernagore, old French town on the Hooghly
A SCENE IN CHANDERNAGORE, A FORMER FRENCH POSSESSION WITH TRADITIONAL COLONIAL STYLE ARCHITECTURE AND AN 18TH CENTURY CATHOLIC CHURCH.
IN KALNA WE VISIT A UNIQUE SHIVA TEMPLE MADE UP OF 108 SHRINES. THE OUTER CIRCLE WHERE WE ARE SITTING HAS 74 AND THE INNER ONE A FURTHER 34.
IN THE VILLAGE OF MATIARI WORKERS BEAT OUT BRASS WATER POTS, TRAYS AND OTHER ITEMS USING METHODS LITTLE CHANGED FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS
VILLAGERS IN MATIARI HAVEN’T HEARD OF COAL OR WIND POWER. COW DUNG IS COLLECTED, DRIED THEN USED FOR COOKING AND WARMTH
BENGAL IS CHILLY ON WINTER MORNINGS AND SOME ANIMALS WEAR COATS. AMONG THIS GROUP WAITING FOR A DRINK WAS A SMALL BLACK GOAT WEARING A FROCK
A  RURAL WOMAN ROLLING BIDIS, THE CHEAP CIGARETTE SMOKED BY THE POOR MADE FROM TOBACCO FLAKES WRAPPED IN LEAVES FROM THE INDIAN EBONY
MINIATURE TERRACOTTA TEMPLE IN BARANAGAR CARVED WITH GODS FROM HINDU MYTHOLOGY AND SCENES OF LIFE IN THE MID-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
VILLAGERS CROWD ONTO A FERRY TO CROSS THE HOOGHLY AT ITS BROADEST POINT. THE RAJMAHAL IS VISIBLE THROUGH THE RIVER MIST.
EITHER SIDE OFTHE HOOGHLY ISCULTIVATED WITH DATE PALMS, TURMERIC AND MUSTARD. HERE FISHERMAN LAY NETS NEAR FARAKKA WHERE I DISEMBARKED AND CAUGHT A TRAIN BACK TO KOLKATA: 560 KILOMETRES.
ASSAM BENGAL NAVIGATION OFFERS THE 7 DAY CRUISE TO FARAKKA WHERE THE HOOGHLY JOINS THE GANGES, OR A 14 DAY VOYAGE ON TO PATNA IN THE STATE OF BIHAR.
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