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By boat, a pilgrim’s triangle

A river route for the pilgrim’s progress. Belur Math, Dakshineswar and Kalighat will soon be connected by a ferry or boat service, announced the tourism department on Wednesday. Devotees and visitors will also have a more scenic trip in store, with the department revealing plans for a facelift of the Dakshineswar and Kalighat temples.

Tours on launches or mechanised boats of the three pilgrimage sites will be available. After Belur Math and Dakshineswar, the vessels will take the Adiganga, off the Hooghly, to Kalighat.

Tourism minister Dinesh Dakua announced in the Assembly that the state department would receive support from the Centre for the Rs 98-lakh project, to be implemented in association with the public works and irrigation departments. Jetties will be built at each of the three stops. Though the tourism department will initially run the service, private operators will be allowed to ply the route after a while.

Pilgrims are also in for a “more pleasant and comfortable ride”, as the plans include the strengthening and beautification of the river embankment and restoration of heritage sites along the way. The illegal encroachments on the waterfront are to be removed. Shops, markets and parking lots, adequate and colourful lighting in and around the temples, drinking water, bathing ghats, changing rooms and an efficient garbage disposal systems are also on the cards.

The project comes after years of allegations against the behaviour of the pandas, especially at Kalighat. Illegal stalls and structures have also cropped up, adding to the chaos of the busy south Calcutta temple.

“Apart from the pilgrims who flock to Belur Math, Dakshineswar and Kalighat, thousands of tourists also visit the sites round the year, including foreign visitors,” said Dakua.

“To make this belt more attractive to tourists, we have to ensure that the prime attractions are clean, beautiful and disciplined,’’ he added.

The Calcutta Port Trust has agreed to participate in the project. “For smooth passage between the three destinations, dredging will be required at some points on the Hooghly,” explained the minister. The Port Trust is the authority in charge of the upkeep of the river and its embankment. The embankments will also have to be strengthened, for easy movement of vessels and to check erosion along the riverbanks.

Dakua also said that the state government had asked for cooperation from the Centre for its projects related to the promotion of pilgrimage tourism. The Centre has, the minister said, committed to provide “one-third” of the funds required for the project on hand.

With West Bengal failing to attract large numbers of tourists, this may give a boost to the industry. “We have already started working on a comprehensive project for the overall uplift of the Kalighat temple, as proposed by a group of non-resident Bengalis based in the US. They have agreed to bear all the costs of the project,’’ the minister informed the Assembly.

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