Well, it wasn’t meant to be like that, but after a night of heavy monsoon rain, the streets of Kolkata were flooded. I was due to meet with Jay from Walks of Kolkata at 6am outside my hotel and we were to head to Old Kolkata for a walk through the markets and ghats. I was up and at it at 5am, and out at the hotel gate just before 6am …. to the sight of flooded streets. I mean water up to your shins flooded. Not a pleasant sight. My photos did not do the floods justice so I found these online, take a look and you now get the dilemma! I wondered if my walk would go ahead at all. So I waited and sure enough there was a phonecall from Jay, he was trying to get into Stuart Lane but the water was too high. What to do?? Two workers from the hotel came out to assess the situation. A man-pulled rickshaw through the water to the Jay’s car at the end of the lane was proposed, then we saw another man walk through the water and it was ‘only’ up to his ankles on that section ….. so Jay drove in, I hopped in and off we went.
We still did not know at this point if the walking tour would take place but Jay was keen to see if he could make this work. He had already traveled over 25km to get to the city, and had left his wife Swati (who is also co-owner of the business) and one-week old baby girl at home – so he wanted to make this work just as much as I did! We headed for Old Kolkata and hoped for the best. With some weaving through streets and traffic, we avoided the flooded sections and finally made it onto the Howrah Bridge – a cantilevered bridge built in 1935 which spans a section of the mighty Ganga (locally referred to as the Hooghly River). For security reasons (and there is a police hut on the bridge to ensure compliance), no photos are allowed to be taken from the bridge. So here are a few from Mulik Ghat, looking back towards the bridge.
From the bridge, I took this photo of a portion of the flower market at Mulik Ghat, before we headed down the steps.
The glorious colours and aromatic rush of the fragrances was a joy to witness. The market was a hive of activity. People (mostly men as far as I could see) live and work in their little raised stalls, each stall having a specialty – flower arrangements for puja ceremonies and for gift giving, some stalls only sold the green foliage used to garnish the bouquets, bundles of lotus flowers that after a day, are coaxed open so that a garland of lotus flowers can be made. I wondered at the dedication of weaving flower after flower into the myriad of garlands made for taking to the temples, for wedding ceremonies and other happy occasions – such detailed work and all done before 6am in the morning …. and not a coffee shop in sight! But tea and snack stalls abound to feed the hungry workers.
We soon left the flower market, and headed down to Mulik Ghat itself, just in time to meet one of the wrestlers cleaning his teeth (as you do of a morning) and before he did his daily training in preparation for a wrestling match at 6am tomorrow morning. The wrestlers earn their money from donations. There is no betting according to Jay (I find that amazing), the wrestling is for pure entertainment. Apparently this wrestler has been featured on the Discovery Channel. I could pay 2000 rupees to see him wrestle tomorrow but I think I will decline.
We left Mulik Ghat and made our way to Nimtala burning ghat, where bodies of loved ones are cremated by the Ganga. This was an interesting experience for me because I had never been to a burning ghat and I secretly hoped there would not be a burning body when I got there. My wish was granted. The five burning areas were empty, the burnt embers of one cremation were just being cleared away as we arrived. Unfortunately for Jay, he attended the cremation of his father in law at this very ghat just two months ago so it was a little raw for him, returning to Nimtala burning ghat.
And so ended my walking tour with Jay, a truly great experience.