Cleaning the Ghats of Kolkata – Part 2

This is part 2 of the series. To read about part 1, click here.

In the part 1 of the series, we have seen how we have polluted the ghats of Kolkata, which had for many decades been the lifeline of the city, through its water transport, providing drinking water, and having historical and religious sites. However, we ourselves are responsible for not maintaining the ghats, leading them to be shabby and dilapidated, making them a place for garbage dump, and a breeding area of mosquitoes. However, as we are looking at the western world, how they are maintaining cities, some of which have been raged to the ground, awareness is spreading among the masses in and around Kolkata.

We have looked at how several committees within the city are looking forward to making Kolkata a cleaner and greener city. While the authorities have done a wonderful job in the Newtown and to some extent salt lake area, such could not be made possible without the awareness of the public around the crowded old town, which lies at the bank of the river. While a rich section of the society is aware about cleaning the ghats of Kolkata, most common people, especially those living near the river are not. It is up to the committees, to spread the news of keeping the environment clean.

Some committees like Y-East and Bouddi have initiated a cleanliness drive along the ghats of Kolkata. They have engaged over 100 local people to clean up some of the well-known ghats of Kolkata. For more information about that matter, visit https://www.y-east.org/diary/bouddi-and-y-east-begin-hooghly-river-clean-up-project-in-kolkata/ Y-East and Techno Main Salt Lake college has also organized a Plogging competition around the city, helping with the cause. Schools like Delhi Public School in Kolkata also campaigned to spread awareness to keep the Hooghly river clean. There are some Facebook groups and communities where like minded people come together to save the Hooghly river flowing past Kolkata. We all need to come together and make Kolkata a clean and green city to live.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Cleaning the Ghats of Kolkata (Part 1)

The Bhagirathi-Hooghly river flows through one of the most densely populated regions in India. Starting from Berhampore in Murshidabad, Nabadwip-Mayapur in Nadia, along the Hooghly industrial region of Bandel-Naihati, Chandannagar, Chinasurah, Serampore-Barrackpore, culminating at Kolkata-Howrah, the most densely populated region in entire eastern India. It is thus a hectic task to keep the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river pollution-free at least at the ghats. Though the ghats north of Kolkata are quite clean and well-maintained, the ghats around Kolkata are one of the dirtiest, with more space for garbage than for bathing.

The ghats along Hooghly, North 24 Pargannas and Howrah were quite poor until recently. However, almost all of them underwent extensive maintenance and renovation, as well as garbage removal. Now most of the ghats along with the river banks underwent redevelopment and brought under riverside beautification project. In Kolkata, though efforts have been made to beautify the Princep Ghat area, the other ghats still lie shabby, littered with garbage. The Millennium Park, which was expected to be the top recreational centre when inaugurated back in 2007, is now a disused place, with defunct rides and amphitheatre centres. The Babughat now has a footbridge over the ghat area, which is really clean and tourist friendly, but the ghat itself is still a garbage dump area. The stretch from Armenian Ghat to Bagbajar Ma er Ghat is worse with the riverfront being used as warehouse centres and slums. Within this stretch lies the Mallick Ghat, the largest flower market of Asia, the Jagannath Ghat, in the Burrabazar wholesale market area, Nimtala Ghat, the largest cremation centre in Kolkata, the Sovabajar Ghat, with many temples, and the Kumartuli Ghat, the area which is renowned for making Durga idols. The situation is not any better north of Bagbajar ghat in Cossipore and Baranagar. Only the Dakshineshwar Ghat fared well in northern Kolkata despite being the crowdest, attracting thousands of devotees each day.

If developed, the area could have been a major tourist hub and recreational centre. The whole Kolkata riverfront contains various tourist centres, like the Princep Ghat, the Eden Gardens Pagoda, the Metcalfe Hall and other building museums of BBD Bag, the Sarada Ma house, the Sarbamangala Temple of Cossipore, and Baranagar Ramakrishna Math. However, illegal encroachments, illegal parking slots, ill-maintenance by the municipality, lack of awareness, and most importantly, lack of our interest in our own city Kolkata is what is stopping it from developing into a Grand Strand that the cities of the West have.

How we can develop the ghats of Kolkata is being covered in the second part of this article.

Saraswati – A Lost River (Part 2)

The NDA Government was particularly keen on reviving the lost river, Saraswati. As most of the evidence points out that the Ghaggar-Hakra channel was most likely a perennial river, presumably the Saraswati, the Centre is looking for ways to revive the Ghaggar-Hakra river. Today, the Ghaggar Hakra river is merely like a sewage drain, flowing only during monsoon season, and creating big pools during winter. The encroachments along the river poses another problem as the river has a very flat bed, and any increase in water volume will flood the banks up to a long way.

Even if the river is revived, from where will it get enough water? Though it is proved that Sutlej was the principal river flowing through the Saraswati, the nearby Yamuna has a better chance to be diverted. Yamuna and its streams are snow-fed, and can sustain water all the year round. Also from the technical perspective, diverting water from tributaries of Yamuna possesses less environmental damage. After extensive study, it has been decided to construct the Adi Badri Dam on Somb river, a tributary of Yamuna. This project is supposed to be a joint venture of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and the Centre. The Adi Badri Dam at Himachal border with Haryana will provide fresh water to Himachali villages, while the Haryana farms will get benefit from the water diverted to Ghaggar-Hakra river all the year round.

More than the religious perspective, the revival of Saraswati river could help the farmers of Haryana and Rajasthan with irrigation. Most of the basin of Ghaggar-Hakra channel is today a desert, and if revived, the channel may sustain agriculture in both the banks. The region may become prosperous and fertile as it was during the Indus Valley Civilization. This may also revive the groundwater, which has been running dry in major parts of North India due to excessive usage. Diverting water may affect the water level of the Yamuna river, though the benefits outweigh the losses.

As per latest reports, the project is expected to cost ₹215.35 crore, involving 77 acre of land for the Adi Badri Dam. The project also earmarks 61.88 hectare-metre of water per year to be supplied to Himachal Pradesh for drinking and irrigation purposes. Till now, there is no mention of when the project will actually start, or its completion date. The people of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan are eagerly waiting for the project as it will not only boost economy and prosperity of farmers, but will also kick off various welfare schemes and tourism sites along the Adi Badri dam and the Saraswati river.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Saraswati – A Lost River (Part 1)

The mythical Saraswati river has long ceased to exist a long time ago. But the river still exists in our minds as the spiritual Saraswati river, which sustained early Vedic ages, and has been praised for providing water to early Vedic Civilization. Saraswati river is mentioned in Rig Veda as a perennial river flowing through between the Indus and Ganges basin, and flows directly into the sea. It is being worshipped by the Vedic people and the source of life and agriculture in arid landscape. However, no such Saraswati river has been found in India till recent years.

The exact location of the Saraswati river can not be ascertained from Rig Veda or the Vedic civilization, as Vedic civilization was rural by nature, and lacked important cities or ruins along the river channel. However, if we go back a few hundred years earlier, we can find the flourishing Indus Valley Civilization, which is predominantly urban in nature. The Indus Valley Civilization grew up not only on the course of the Indus river, but lay scattered across far flung places which lie beyond the Indus basin. Starting from the north, we have Ropar in Punjab, Rakhigarhi in Haryana, Kalibangan in Rajasthan, Dholavira and Lothal in Gujarat. With the exception of Lothal, which is a sea-port and has access to the sea, the other sites lay far from any navigable rivers. Hence, many historians and archeologists have come to the conclusion that a large river existed at the sites of Indus Valley Civilization in India. The large river can be a perennial one, probably the mythical Saraswati river, though this theory is debated.

A seasonal stream named Ghaggar-Hakra channel flows starting from Ropar, through Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan and ends at swamps of Dholavira. In early years of research, the scientists have found evidence of an exceptionally wide river bed at some places. This led them to believe that a much wider river, with a huge discharge previously flowed through the channel sometime in the past. Many scientists have thus claimed the existence of a large perennial river, presumably the Saraswati river to have existed in the channel of Ghaggar-Hakra channel in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

Now the question arises is from where so much water would have come. Scientists have found no headwater source between the Satluj and Yamuna rivers. The Ghaggar-Hakra river is entirely seasonal flowing only during monsoon, and there is no possibility of a perennial snow-fed source in the Himalayas. The scientists have collected bed-rock sediments in the river bed, and have made extensive studies on their characteristics. As late as 2019, the researchers found that the bed-rock sediments in Ghaggar-Hakra channel matches only those of Satluj river, a major perennial source of the Indus river flowing from Lake Manasarovar in China. This led to a final conclusion that the Sutlej previously flowed through a different course, possibly through the Ghaggar-Hakra channel.

So, does it mean that the Indus Valley Civilization died with the changing course of Satluj? On the contrary, scientists say that the Satluj meandered long before the Indus Valley Civilization came into picture. The drifting began at least 16000 years ago, and the migration would have completed by 9500 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization dating 3000-1500 BC may not have received Saraswati river up to its full potential. However, many historians opined that Saraswati would have still contained a lot of water by the Harappan era, catching water from run-offs from the Himalayas, which is enough to sustain a civilization, but insufficient to cause disastrous flooding. The basin also was thought to receive more rainfall than today, until the expansion of the desert and catching of the run-offs by the Sutlej and Yamuna at the time of Vedic era.

Today, the Ghaggar-Hakra channel is almost non-existent except during monsoon season. The desert has expanded to the whole basin, choking any water streams that flow from the north. There are plans by the Indian Government to revive the Saraswati river to its full glory for both religious, as well as irrigation purposes. How the Government is planning to revive the river in the middle of the desert is being covered in the second part of this article.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Offbeat Cruise Routes in India

Cruise is fast becoming one of the prime activities of tourism. Though travelling by road or rail seems far better in enjoying the landscape, there are several cruise routes in India where beauty is breathtaking. Inland cruise is an excellent option to explore the rural beauty of our country. Cruise is one of the best options when it comes to spending a leisure luxury travel with little to arrange on our own.

Let us now explore some amazing routes that India has to offer.

1)Mumbai to Goa Cruise :

Jalesh Cruise operating between Mumbai and Goa

This is one of the most popular choices of a cruise in India, among nationals and foreigners alike. It is a sea voyage parallel to the Konkan coast that takes around 12 hours. Several luxury world-class ships operate in this route. More than the natural beauty, this cruise offers a high degree of luxury that boasts of providing you with everything you aspire to while travelling. The route passes through the ruins of Maratha forts by the sea, which has been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site tentative list.

2)Kochi to Lakshadweep Sea Voyage :

Kochi to Lakshadweep MV Kavaratti Cruise

This is an excellent deep sea ride to the coral islands of India, the Lakshadweep. The pristine beauty of small coral islands, dotted with coconut trees, white sandy beaches, and brilliant blue water, will attract a huge number of tourists. The journey lasts 14-18 hours. However, the ships here are more for transportation of the locals and yet to be made ultra-luxury to attract the rich tourists.

3)Kerala Backwaters :

House Boat in Kerala Backwaters

Boating and staying at houseboats of Ashtamudi and Vembanad Lakes offer breathtaking views of the landscape of God’s Own Country, Kerala. House boating is famous in Alappuzha, which is known by the name Venice of the East. The ancient port city of Kollam also provides staying in a luxury houseboat. Houseboats of Kerala are luxurious and affordable at the same time.

4)Sundarbans Cruise :

Kolkata to Sundarbans Cruise

Cruise inside the world’s largest mangrove forest is itself an enchanting experience. While motorboats are affordable to the locals for daily transportation, there are also small but luxury ships that take you through the mystic water channels deep into the forest. Chances of seeing tigers, crocodiles, and deer are high from watch-towers and also from the cruise itself. The journey starts from Kolkata and lasts 2-4 days, depending on the tour package.

5)Brahmaputra Ride :

Assam Cruise through Bramhaputra River in MV Mahabahu

River cruise through the majestic Brahmaputra river no doubt offers an experience on its own. The stretch between Jorhat and Guwahati is navigable all year and is frequently visited by tourists. Majuli island, the world’s largest river island, and the Kaziranga National Park fall in the journey where the tourists can enjoy the rich biodiversity in north-east India.

So, which cruise are you thinking about next? Do let us know in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul