River confluences in India have an importance which is as ancient as the land itself. Considered quite holy, and scenic, the meeting of rivers gives rise to two interlinked developments which one can see; sprouting of temples around the river banks and the prolific growth of tourism.
As a result, an interesting mix of the crowd can be seen. The state of West Bengal, India, like the entire country has many such locations as the state has an incredible number of rivers, crisscrossing each other and giving rise to countless ‘Sangam’ (meaning confluence of rivers in Hindi) in the process.
One such place where we had planned to visit for a long time got finally realized and is called Gadiara. We scanned the tourist information of this place and found that a two days one night stay is usually preferred by visitors; however, a day-long trip can also be done anytime across the year. Our veteran highway eater, Swift was ever ready to take us and we filled her up to visit Gadiara, approximately 89 kilometres south-west of Kolkata.
One of the three major highways that fan out from Kolkata is NH-6. The road is, to a good extent comparable to anywhere in the world, if considered from road quality perspective and presence of driving signs that help a driver. We start early, as we always do to avoid local traffic, around 6.30 am IST, and hit NH-6.
We veered off to the left from NH-6 at Bagnan, with our odometer clocking 55 kilometres and headed south to cover another 34 kilometres. The passage was indeed very picturesque. Early morning meant the heat was absent, cool breeze flowed in through the open windows and the sun resembled the yolk of an egg. All we could hear was the muted hum of the diesel motor and the sound of the passing air.
The road at places was being repaired and it became quite narrow. We were following the sharp turns and at places, we saw vendors selling green coconut water. We stopped at one of them to quench our thirst.Momentarily, we thought everything stood still because of the quietness around. With the engine switched off, the birds could be heard squeaking as they flew from one tree to the other.
Occasional passing trucks punctured the silence with their tire sound as they approached and faded away as slowly the sound waned as the trucks vanished into the distance.
The road suddenly ended and we climbed the hump and we were face to face with a mighty river. The tree-lined river bank had few gaps through which we could see the wooden country boats bobbing up and down on the water.
The river was huge. We could not see the opposite bank. Far away we caught sight of big ocean liners chugging away. This meant that the river was definitely deep enough to hold these big passing ships.
The river where we stood after we parked was the famous Rupnarayan. This river after flowing a couple of kilometres away from where we stood met the southbound Hooghly river and the combined water headed towards the Bay of Bengal. This explained why we saw such a ship traffic as they were going towards, either Haldia, Kidderpore or Kolkata docks.
The tranquil place had a couple of shops, selling cigarettes, biscuits, and betel leaf which are very popular in India. They are called “paan” in India and usually taken after meals. They are taken with scented tobacco and one popped into the mouth, produced an aroma in the mouth which makes anyone ecstatic.
Far away the bank turned left and the point where it jutted into the river had a jetty where we saw a steamer or a big motor launch moving around in the water, held by its thick ropes.
We broke the silence as the tires crunched over the loose rocks and pebbles as we made our way along the riverbank road. The nearest tourist restaurant available was a tempting sight. As the day was nearing noon, not only we needed to have a quick bite, we also needed to park the car. The restaurant, an outfit run by the West Bengal government called, Rupsali was in a huge enclosure, an old building, of the 1930s’, well maintained was co-existing with a modern structure where the food was served.
Gadiara offers very delicious Bengali food at an extremely reasonable price attracting visitors in droves. Having had one, we walked around and wanted to see the area on foot.
The walk along the road which was a mix of dirt and asphalt took us to the jetty where we wanted to ride the steamer which was waiting for its afternoon passengers. On the way we stooped by to taste a couple of green coconuts; the coconut water was both sweet and delightfully acidic; nevertheless, in the light heat of the setting sun, the coconut water acted as an air conditioner.
A bunch of cocks and hens encircled us to peck away the coconut remnants.
These spent coconut shells are left in the open to get dried under the sun. After about a period of four months in that state, and getting completely dehydrated; these dried shells become the fuel for thousands of village homes to light fire in their kitchens.
The coconut trees are multipurpose and every bit of them has some use or the other for mankind.
We continued our stride on the reddish-brown soil of the bank and headed towards the ramshackle cemented pier. I felt like spending the full day sitting there and watch the daily chores of the nearby villages and towns. We saw a family with a couple of school children heading towards their school getting on the boat.
Another was seen carrying his cycle on the boat. Life went on just like the gentle river breeze, very laid back.
We climbed with the help of an iron stool and went into the hull or the ground floor. The passenger compartment shared the engine room and wooden planks formed the sitting arrangement which was comfortable enough for short trips. At the rear, a makeshift bathroom sat on the stern of the steamer.
The engine roared to life and the steamer reversed and set sail towards Geonkhali. The engine throbbed on and it was around noon when the low tide slowly came in and that reduced the depth of the river. During this period, the big ships did not ply and the smaller local steamers did brisk business by ferrying people to and fro between Geonkhali, Noorpur, and Gadiara.
We came across a large number of fishermen’s boats all around us and one even carried a cow, a handful of cycles with some human passengers. The fading rays of the sun were dancing over the river as the boats made waves over the surface.
Around the afternoon, the watch dial showed fifteen minutes past four, and the river traffic dwindled. The water started receding. We got back to Gadiara after a brief stopover at Noorpur. The water level was falling drastically and if the boats stopped, we would have had a tough time crossing the river as the car was parked on the opposite bank.
Luckily the water god was pleased with us and let the steamer crossover. We had a hectic day walking, crossing, riding the boats. When we felt tired, we sat on the stone benches facing the river and savored the wafting air and looked at the evening lights that started to glow for the night ahead. We saw a mobile tea vendor and he was offering lemon tea with a dash of masala or rock salt with which he served. Extremely tasty and within seconds our energy levels were restored and we headed back to our Swift.
We experienced the confluence of two mighty rivers, Rupnarayan and Hooghly which gave us the knowledge of their culture, and the natural beauty around them.
The diesel engine coughed into life, and the destination changed from Gadiara to Kolkata bringing an end to our short day long river life.