Diamond Harbor, Hooghly’s last post and off to the sea

Readers have been traveling with us along the remarkable Hooghly river on our southward march to the mouth of the river. She has been circumventing her course around numerous small and big cities, towns across the state of West Bengal, in the southeastern part of India. She is born at the Farrakka barrage and has traveled almost 260 odd kilometres irrigating thousands of acres of human-inhabited land. River Ganges sheds some of her pristine waters to Hooghly when she is young by way of a canal before she becomes river Padma in Bangladesh.

After touching the lives of millions, she gets matured and in the process, has been quenching the ever-increasing thirst of countless living beings and helped them to survive and thrive for thousands of years. After crossing Kolkata, she has turned calm and remains flattened out; loaded with tons of natural debris, human wastes, and reaches Diamond Harbor.

Her roar is replaced by the gentle movements of her deep and murky waves.

The Ganges river, wide and slow moving at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India before meeting the Bay of Bengal by Gautam Lahiri
A fast-moving coast guard vessel cuts through the placid waters of Hooghly at Diamond harbor

Diamond Harbor (DH) is a jewel that twinkles in the form of a small town on the eastern bank of river Hooghly.  This is the point after which the river takes a slight right turn and makes her final southward journey before she disappears into the wave laden waters of Bay of Bengal.  

We saddle up our Swift and plan a day to visit, explore, and carry out a survey of this small town beside the huge water mass. The decision to start early paid off well as we covered the 53 kilometres from Kolkata through a plethora of man-made obstacles.

The NH-117 highway throughout stayed filled with traffic. 

NH117, highway from Kolkata to Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
NH 117 stretches in front of the bonnet as we zip through the building traffic in the early hours of the morning

As the road touches small to medium business towns, it acts as a feeder road to the most fertile and cultivated parts of 24 Parganas South. Almost, 24×7, trucks, buses, rickshaws, and people in great numbers bring their produce to sell in the adjoining markets.

The distressing traffic congestion spins the travel time of a motorist right out of the window. However, we hung on and made good progress.

NH117, highway from Kolkata to Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Rickshaws, trucks line up on either side of NH 117. The markets slowly open up for the day’s brisk activities

We were able to bring down the usual 3 hours to about 90 mins and reached (DH) at about 8.30 am. The highway touches the river bank at an angle so, after a short stint of a drive through a market, the marine drive or the main road suddenly presents the river in her full glory.

The river is gigantic and the sight of the cloudy blue sky touching the wide river simply takes the breath away… you are left to believe if you are looking at a river or a sea. 

The massive, and broad ganges river flowing past Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
The majestic Hooghly seems to be the mother of all rivers with her wide expanse of the water mass. As we watch in awe, a gentle and cool moist breeze brings that unmistakable smell of fish, fishermen, and boats that hover over a riverfront

Before long, we see one of many big ships, digging through the river’s water surface. If you want to see ships, the best time would be, between 6.30 am and 11.30 am at the full tide that day, reigned with the ships getting the depths to sail.

Huge commercial ocean liners pierce the massive, and broad Ganges river flowing past Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Loaded with containers from across the world, the ship chugs towards the Kolkata port

It is quite evident why the British renamed this town to (DH) before India’s independence. The natural beauty of both the river and the sky, are so unique that any passing ship on the river or a passing motorist on the road is bound to stop and bask in the glory of the place.

A chemical tanker making its way through the murky waters of Diamond Harbor
Huge container ships created waves as they ploughed through the Hooghly river

We stood there and every natural element just kept changing. The light breeze in minutes turned into the turbulence of speedy winds. Trees swaying and bending with a hissing sound, the water waves splashing on the bank and the next moment the area becomes quiet with all movements coming to a screeching halt.

We came across plenty of good food; like fresh fish, crabs, prawns. Most of them were being offered by every single eating joints. We did not have to visit any expensive place to quell our hunger.

We start our tour of both the land around the river and the river herself…

NH 117 became narrow and on the left, we saw the river and on the right the houses, restaurants with cars and bikes loosely parked at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
NH 117 became narrow and on the left, we saw the river and on the right the houses, restaurants with cars and bikes loosely parked

We drive into the deeper areas around the villages through the trees where the fishermen community stayed and farmers could be seen cultivating the paddy fields. Everywhere the area was wrapped in a green carpet of leaves, trees, and plants, soothing the tired eyes.

Fishing nets strung at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Coconut trees share the same land with other trees like Neem, and Peepal. They form an umbrella over the small water ponds that are strewn across the area. Fishermen have strung the fishing nets across them to dry before their use for a fresh catch
Fishing villages at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A narrow village road ran wild through the trees skirting the small houses both having thatched and concrete roofs depending on the economic condition of the owner

Local livestock ran helter-skelter and few rested under the tree shadows. We came out of the village into the open fields. We saw nets plugged into the muddy ground encircling a specific area. These nets were used to catch small crustaceans, shells, fishes or other reptiles from reaching the paddy fields.

Fishing villages with green paddy fields holding the nets at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Nets holding fort to catch small fishes and crabs that dare to swim through couple of inches of water that reside near the roots of the paddy fields

Most of the land beside the river looked the same and we played hide and seek through the undergrowth and big trees when we came on to a long piece of the opening where the fishermen have kept their long winding nets on the ground..probably to dry and get ready for the afternoon catch.

Fishing nets strung at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Long fishing nets splayed over the moist ground just beside the river

We were coming back to the river and wanted to find the fishermen’s life on and off the great river. A makeshift road, mostly broken made its way to the riverfront. We bumped across and found a small and compact open field along the river. The land was a part of an abandoned fuel station.

Now it was being manned by the grazing cows and few stray road dogs that loitered in the vicinity.

Fishing boats moored around the village petrol pump where we had parked at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Parked the Swift over the grass that carpeted the ground of an old fuel station

I felt extremely excited at this point. Having parked, I made my way towards the pier that overlooked the wide river. A long metal walkway made its way to the river, wide enough to use it for loading and unloading crates that housed the fishes from the trawlers. Also present were large capstans which made perfect places to sit.

A long and broad oil tanker was going to the Kolkata docks from the river mouth. It looked like a small city

We were planning to trap the knowledge of the river life and walked on through the mist from the frothy water that smashed against the riverbank that landed on us.

The mighty passing ships created enormous waves that tossed the small fishing boats like dancing bubbles
Large fishing boats moored on the banks of river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
These boats used by the fishermen as told by them are specially built to pick up speed when catching “Hilsa (Ilish)“, the most loved fish in Bengal and Bangladesh and perhaps, few other places, the world over
Fishing nets remained coiled up on the harbor floor at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A huge stack of coiled up net lay on the pier. The entire lot would be moved to the waiting boat which was jumping about besides the makeshift dock

We saw a large fishing boar getting ready to set sail. She was waiting for an approaching large ship to sail past towards the sea before she could start.

A large fishing boat sets off from the banks of river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A fishing boat gets ready for her afternoon trip to catch fishes before the evening settled
We gazed on with awe as the crew of a local fishing boat made preparations for the fish catching journey into the deep waters of Diamond Harbor

A couple of big ships roared past, passing each other in opposite directions, the waves that got waked off their bow created a sudden storm of waves that tossed all the boats that were moored on the river bank.

So, mighty was the power of a big passing ship. It was a sight that is etched in our memory.

A large oil tanker cuts through the river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A ship making her way towards the sea from the Kolkata docks
A large oil tanker cuts through the river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A huge oil tanker from Hong Kong passed the point where we stood, took a full 3 mins to pass us, perhaps at 18 to 20 knots

When the ships moved out into the distance, the fishermen started jumping on to their boats to make use of the mad rush of water and waves created by the ships to push their boats into the cauldron and starting the engine when they had floated in the middle of the river.

A large fishing boat sets off from the banks of river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Fishermen guiding the boats as the waves created by the ships were being used to propel the vessel into the deeper waters

The sun was right on top and although it was very hot and sultry, the river breeze was making us comfortable, whipping water off the surface and creating a pattern of hot air and cold water particles. The ship traffic reduced considerably and we could see why; the water level went down.

A small fishing boat sets off from the banks of river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A lone boat using its sails to catch the wind and cross over to the other bank. Far away, the industrial settlement of Haldia could be seen spewing out smokes that melted into the clouds above

We had our sumptuous lunch in a nearby restaurant. The menu included, two pieces of Hilsa or Ilish and tiger prawns with a dash of lime, fried pulses and ended the lunch with green mango chutney. We never take chicken or mutton when we are around rivers and sea…Fish becomes our only choice.

The tide started to rise and we knew a ship would be seen and we did not have to wait for long as a big handsome looking container ship whizzed passed us at speed towards the sea.

A large container ship cuts through the river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
The afternoon deluge of ship traffic began and we were content with a day’s sightings of large ships..a far cry for a person who stays amidst the concrete jungle of an overgrown city
Crabs caught by the fishermen at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
As we waited on the pier, one of the many fishing boats returned with their catch..I peeked into one and found a bucket full of crabs

The fishermen could be seen using the ropes and tackle to fasten the boats to the capstans that dotted the pier. One person was using a hand net to catch a few more crabs before he could take the catch back home.

A large fishing boat sets off from the banks of river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Fishermen pulling the boat with the help of a rope as another walks on a bamboo, using it as a walkway and how effortlessly he crossed over on the dancing pole
A large fishing boat gets tossed around by the passing ships near the banks of river Ganges at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
The tossing boat over the rush of waves as the ships crossed. Hooghly was making us aware of her enormous strength before which we humans, stand nothing in comparison

It was afternoon and the time was ripe enough to look for a shade from the sun, and to catch the breeze to dry the sweat away and sip tea and munch some local delights. Vendors of all kinds could be seen along the riverfront.

We picked one and settled on a concrete seat with a Date palm tree as our shade and looked at the river which has turned blue by now.

Hooghly river turning blue as the sun advanced towards the west at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Hooghly turning blue as the sun advanced towards the west

We were having our afternoon tea when a blast of wind came rushing towards us. The boats wanted to cash on this wind to pick speed as they sailed on. The day-long heat made the land very hot and the air over it rose high and the cool breeze over the water came in.

Fishing boats passed by the river bank as the big ship traffic slowed down due to receding of water
A boat spears away through the Hooghly water as the late afternoon wind drives everything away at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A boat spears away through the Hooghly water as the late afternoon wind drives everything away

We saw a water monitor, plenty in this region moving surreptitiously towards a waste bin to lick clean whatever morsel it could find from its human neighbors; it thanks to the untidy humans for their generous untidy habits of throwing foodstuff good for them to enjoy.

A water monitor on the lookout for food and homes in on the spent shells of few eggs that lay around at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
A water monitor on the lookout for food and homes in on the spent shells of few eggs that lay around

We walked back along the riverside road and came across the most astonishing site that every Bengali, like me would love to see. All those boats that we saw for hours doing all their water acrobatics have paid off.. we saw a man with the fresh catch of Hilsas or Ilish fish.

Sparkling in the afternoon sunlight and we felt like buying the entire cartel on display.

There were two sizes that were on sale, medium-sized ones which were less expensive and the other one, bigger and had a light pinkish glow which attracted everyone’s attention, including ours. The big ones were just out of our wallet capacity, so we looked at them with reverence from a distance.

Medium sized Hilsa or Ilish fish with a bunch of prawns on display for the evening strollers at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Medium sized Hilsa or Ilish fish with a bunch of prawns on display for the evening strollers
The large Hilsas, with perfect reddish pink eyes, I wonder how would they taste when smoked with mustard and served hot with little bit of white rice... with every bite, I would approach the strata of heaven with its sheer taste at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
The large Hilsas, with perfect reddish pink eyes, I wonder how would they taste when smoked with mustard and served hot with little bit of white rice… with every bite, I would approach the strata of heaven with its sheer taste

We just could not resist the temptation and bought one large, especially the bulging fat bellied which meant there was caviar in it or eggs. The ones with eggs cost less too.

With a big smile on our achievement and the date with Diamond Harbor slowly coming to an end, we look back at the setting sun on the river.

Setting sun on Hooghly ..a boat makes its way under the cover of the cloud at Diamond Harbor, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri
Setting sun on Hooghly ..a boat makes its way under the cover of the cloud

Completely bewitched by the river’s beauty, her interplay with the sun, cloud, and temperamental wind, our soul was content and also a bit tired. Very delicately with ice packs, we kept the Hilsa fish in the Swift’s dickey or the rear luggage compartment and set a course due north towards Kolkata.

We bid farewell to the mammoth river and disappeared over the NH-117.

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