Rivers have always played an important role in birthing and shaping civilisations and the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganga (or Ganges), is no exception. Kolkata stands on the banks of the Hooghly. Further up the river, on the other bank, once stood four European colonies — Serampore (Danish), Chandernagore (French), Chinsurah (Dutch) and Bandel (Portuguese). Also along the river stands the British cantonment of Barrackpore.
The best way to explore the colonial splendour and local heritage along the Hooghly is by a combination of bus and ferry. Seeing the potential of this tourist circuit, the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) has recently come up with a two night-three day tour along the river called ‘Experience Ganges’. Here is what you can expect…
The tour starts at 9am from the WBTDC centre at BBD Bag by bus. A packed breakfast was provided on board before reaching Barrackpore cantonment at 10.30am. The first stop was Annapurna Temple.
Annapurna Temple in BarrackporeRangan Datta
Built in Nabaratna (nine-pinnacled) style, the temple bears a remarkable resemblance to the famous Dakshineswar Temple. The complex houses a natmandir, six Shiva temples and two drum houses (nahabatkhana).
Mangal Pandey Udyan
The next stop was the Mangal Pandey Udyan, named after a sepoy of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry who rose in rebellion against the British to mark the start of the Great Revolt of 1857. Today, Mangal Pandey Udyan is a landscaped park on the banks of the Hooghly and houses a bust of the martyr.
Barrackpore Governor House
The Barrackpore Governor House dates back to 1801 and has been extended and modified several timesRangan Datta
Being a British cantonment, Barrackpore has its fair share of colonial architecture. The Governor House, which once served as a weekend retreat for viceroys and governors general, has been beautifully restored and converted into a museum. The structure dates back to 1801 and has been extended and modified several times. The museum provides an insight into the colonial history of Barrackpore and a small documentary on the settlement is screened for visitors. The museum also houses an arms gallery and two other rooms feature a grand piano and colonial furniture. The garden is beautifully laid out with fountains and a sun dial. Behind the compound is a huge banyan tree with numerous hanging roots. It is believed that Mangal Pandey was hanged to death from this tree.
Tomb of Lady Canning
Lady Canning’s tomb is not accessible to the general public, but WBTDC arranges permission for the guests of the tourRangan Datta
Lady Charlotte Canning was the wife of Lord Canning — the last governor general and first viceroy of India. She died in 1861 and was buried in Barrackpore, where a beautiful tomb was built in her honour. Later, the tomb was moved to the compound of St. John’s Church in Kolkata and a similar, but less elaborate, tomb was rebuilt over her grave. Barrackpore Governor House and Lady Canning’s tomb are not accessible to the general public, but WBTDC arranges for permission for the guests of the tour. However, the Flagstaff House complex is not included in the tour.
Mangaldhara Tourist Complex (formerly Malancha Tourist Lodge)
Next stop was the Mangaldhara Tourist Complex (formerly Malancha Tourist Lodge). After checking in and lunch, it was time to hit the road again for Belur Math and Dakshineswar Temple. The highlight of the trip was the ferry ride connecting the two pilgrimage spots. The evening was spent at the tourist complex enjoying a cultural programme, followed by dinner and night stay.
The next day began with an early start on the ferry, going all the way to Chandernagore. Breakfast was served on board with tourists enjoying the beautiful scenery along the banks. From Rani Ghat, Chandernagore, a bus was availed and the first stop was the Tomb of Susanna Anna Maria.
Tomb of Susanna Anna Maria
The domed, octagonal tomb of Susanna Anna MariaRangan Datta
Little is known about Susanna Anna Maria other than she was Dutch. She died in 1809 and lies in eternal rest beneath a beautiful, domed, octagonal tomb.
The Imambara was completed in 1861Rangan Datta
‘Imambara’ literally translates to house of Imam. It was built in memory of the great philanthropist Haji Muhammad Mohsin and was completed in 1861. The building is centred around a rectangular courtyard decorated with fountains and pools. But the prime attraction of the Imambara are its two 85-feet-tall towers, which offer great views of the river with the two bridges spanning across it.
Bandel ChurchRangan Datta
Built in 1599, the Bandel Church is the oldest Christian church in Bengal. Sadly, the original façade is gone. The church has been reconstructed and given a modern look. A stairway leads to the top balcony, where devotees light candles in front of the Our Lady of the Happy Voyage statue.
Birthplace of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
This was a bit of a detour to Debanandapur. A statue of the great author welcomes visitors to his birthplace. Apart from a few photos, there is nothing much inside.
The magnificent Hangseshwari Temple in BansberiaRangan Datta
The next stop was Bansberia, which houses the magnificent Hangseshwari Temple and an elegant Ananta Basudev Temple. The ek-ratna (single-pinnacled) Ananta Basudev Temple dates back to 1679 and has elaborate terracotta works. Next to it is the towering Hangseshwari Temple — one of the most unique temples of Bengal. With lotus bud-shaped pinnacles, it looks more like a Russian church than a Hindu temple.
The elaborate lunch aboard JaloshreeRangan Datta
Next it was time for lunch and Jaloshree, a floating restaurant at Rani Ghat, was the venue. The elaborate thali consisted of luchi, polau and rice coupled with sabzi dal, jhuri alu bhaja, beguni, mochar chop and chicken chop. Also included were mixed veg curry, dim kosha and chicken curry. The meal ended with papad, chutney and payesh.
Walking tour of the Chandernagore Strand
The Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat on Chandernagore’s StrandRangan Datta
A walking tour of Chandernagore’s Strand was the best way to digest the heavy lunch. The walk went past Chandernagore Court, clock tower, Sacred Heart Church, Dupleix Museum and Patal Bari. The Dupleix Museum and the church was closed due to Covid, so tourists had to be satisfied with external views only.
Sacred Heart ChurchRangan Datta
Finally, it was time to take the ferry back to Barrackpore. It was a beautiful journey with darkness descending and some light illuminating the banks. It was the final day of the tour, and tourists spent the evening singing and dancing, followed by dinner. Next morning, it was time to head home. After breakfast, it was a bus trip back to Kolkata.
- The Experience Ganges tour can be booked from the WBTDC website
- Package with deluxe river-facing rooms costs Rs 8,599
- Package with non-river-facing standard rooms costs Rs 7,899
Rangan Datta is a mathematics and management teacher by profession and a travel writer and photographer by passion. He has been addicted to discovering off-beat places since his undergraduate days at St. Xavier's College. Blogging and contributing to Wikipedia are his other passions.