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Take a walk along the Hooghly

Calcuttans and tourists looking for a day-out option beyond the staple fare of Victoria Memorial and Alipore zoo can now enjoy a stroll along three tree-lined Hooghly riverfront walkways.

A Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) official said these abandoned public spaces have been reclaimed from forgotten Raj-era sepia photographs and given a makeover modelled on the touristy riverside promenades along the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris and the Nile in Cairo.

The CMC has been working over the past few years to beautify the walkway from Vidyasagar Setu to Howrah bridge to attract tourists as well as provide breathing space to the residents.

The civic agency plans a continuous 5km riverside walkway along this stretch.

At present, the missing link is a 100m stretch between Babughat and Floatel restaurant in Millenium Park where the government plans to build an overpass that will look like the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“Rivers were primarily used for trade and commerce. But times have changed and western cities like London and Paris have harnessed the beauty of the river and its banks to draw tourists. They have aesthetically moulded the rivers for a new role. Calcutta desperately needs open space. So a similar transformation of its riverfront is underway,” said conservation architect Nilina Deb Lal, currently doing her doctorate in heritage buildings of Calcutta.

The Hooghly riverscape looks rejuvenated after its Rs 35-crore beauty therapy. Metro strolled through the recently-restored stretches, soaking in some stunning sights of Calcutta’s landmarks.

Where: Prinsep Ghat to Babughat (near River Traffic Training School and Port Trust office)

Length: 2km

Cost: Rs 6.5 crore

What: This tiled walkway along Strand Road was the first to be restored and inaugurated by chief minister Mamata Banerjee in June 2012. Since then, it has become a popular haunt of adolescents and the aged alike. People can also enjoy leisurely boat rides from any of the three jetties along the stretch.

Swati Saluja, who had moved to Delhi 15 years ago after her marriage, was delighted to show off the Hooghly riverfront to husband Sanjay and children Aditi, 13, and Shivam, 7 — topping it up with a boat ride and phuchka.

“This is my first visit to Calcutta with the children and I wanted to show them how beautiful my city is. We loved the sunset from the boat… it was lovely and peaceful.”

Stretch your legs, take a stroll, laze on one of the garden benches along the promenade or simply lean on the white balustrade to watch the sun go down behind the imposing Vidyasagar Setu.

“I recently visited my son in Philadelphia and the beauty of the Delaware riverfront really impressed me. What I see here has pleasantly surprised me. I just hope they keep it clean,” said Asit Ray, a 73-year-old retired engineer.

Where: Fairlie Jetty to Armenian Ghat

Length: 600m

Cost: Rs 25 crore

What: The newest and the prettiest stretch, it was opened on February 7. Built from scratch, the pathway stands on pillars and juts about 10m into the river. It enables walkers to reach within 500metres of the Howrah bridge.

Subtle LED lights, a floor mimicking wooden planks, granite-top benches along the entire elevated stretch and soft Chinese grass: Hooghly rivals Thames here. “Good to see janitors cleaning the benches… does not feel like Calcutta. The place is more open than the Babughat-Prinsep Ghat promenade,” said Shiladitya Banerjee, 24, from Baguiati.

A fresh coat of paint and a clutch of creepers give the nearby warehouses a retro look.

Where: Howrah riverfront along Grand Foreshore Road

Length: 425m

Cost: Rs 2 crore

What: Like the Fairlie Jetty-Armenian Ghat walkway on pillars, Calcutta’s sister city got a similar one along Grand Foreshore Road from the Burn Standard and Co. factory to Ramkrishnapur Ghat.

The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) transformed a dilapidated dike along Foreshore Road, about a minute from Howrah station, into a promenade in 2012 with a balustrade, black-and-white chequered floor and granite benches.

Be there to see the Eden Gardens, the high court, the SBI headquarters and Fort William on the other side.

Next stop

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation plans to take the walk past the Howrah bridge and venture into north Calcutta, beautifying the path and ghats of Bagbazar along the way.

“The objective is to restore and rejuvenate the Hooghly riverfront without drastically changing its look,” a senior civic official said.

“When the design on the drawing board turns into reality in a couple of years, people can jog or walk down from Prinsep Ghat to Armenian Ghat, which is barely 500m from the Howrah bridge,” the official added.