A walk in the ….. floods

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.

Howrah Bridge itself

Howrah Bridge itself, considered to be one of the busiest cantilevered bridges in the world.

Traffic on the bridge with some works from the nearby flower market, bathing in the early morning.

Traffic (vehicles & pedestrians) on the bridge with some workers from the nearby flower market, bathing in the early morning.

View across to the city of Howrah, where one of the busiest train stations in India is located ... the station I will catch my train to Varanasi from.

View across to the city of Howrah, where one of the busiest train stations in India is located … the station I will catch my train to Varanasi from.

From the bridge, I took this photo of a portion of the flower market at Mulik Ghat, before we headed down the steps.

This is the uncovered section of the market, where the lesser quality flowers are sold.  the top notch flowers are sold from the covered area stalls.

This is the uncovered section of the market, where the lesser quality flowers are sold.The top notch flowers are sold from the covered area stalls.

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. P1040849 (757x1024)

Lotus flowers

Lotus flowers

Garlands swaying

Garlands swaying

Preparation underway

Preparation underway

P1040855 (766x1024)

Marigolds

Marigolds

Delicate fragrant petals for weddings, cast over the bride & groom

Delicate fragrant petals for weddings, cast over the bride & groom

Tea & snack stall

Tea & snack stall

Another food stall with built in burners against the side of an old warehouse

Another food stall with built in burners against the side of an old warehouse

At Mulik Ghat, this man was chopping up some branches and giving small bundles to kids.  The kids would then sell the bundles as toothbrushes,

At Mulik Ghat, this man was chopping up some branches and giving small bundles to kids. The kids would then sell the bundles as toothbrushes.  Anything for a few rupees.

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.

Wrestling enclosure with dirt floor.

Wrestling enclosure with dirt floor.

The famous wrestler of Mulik Ghat

The famous wrestler of Mulik Ghat, with one of the chewed on branches to clean his teeth with

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.

First off, you register the cremation at this office, pay the fee and are given a receipt.  The receipt is given to the wood providers close by, and they are the ones that prepare the funeral pyre - bed of wood, lay the shrouded body on top, then another layer of wood.  The oldest son has the privilege of lighting the funeral pyre.

First off, you register the cremation at this office, pay the fee and are given a receipt. The receipt is given to the wood providers close by, and they are the ones that prepare the funeral pyre – bed of wood, lay the shrouded body on top, then another layer of wood. The oldest son has the privilege of lighting the funeral pyre.

the five burning areas at Nimtala Ghat.  you can see one man hosing away the remaining embers from a recent cremation.

The five burning areas at Nimtala Ghat. you can see one man hosing away the remaining embers from a recent cremation.

The bricked area is where the funeral pyre is set up.  It's costly to use wood and continue the traditional way of cremating your loved one, so only wealthy families can do it now.  next door is an electric cremation option which is cheaper and an option used more by the poorer inhabitants of Kolkata.

The bricked area is where the funeral pyre is set up. It’s costly to use wood and continue the traditional way of cremating your loved one, so only wealthy families can do it now. Next door is an electric cremation option which is cheaper and an option used more by the poorer inhabitants of Kolkata.

Tagore and other dignitaries were  cremated at Nimtala Ghat, so this makes an auspicious ghat to  be cremated.  This photo depicts Tagore's monument.

Tagore and other dignitaries were cremated at Nimtala Ghat, so this makes an auspicious ghat to be cremated. This photo depicts Tagore’s monument.

I spotted this guy and had no clue what he was doing.  Jay told me take water from the Ganga and then faces the morning sun, and slowly offers the Ganga water to the sun.  There were other men also doing this, and two men with pails, bringing the holy water of the Ganga to their homes.

I spotted this guy and had no clue what he was doing. Jay told me he takes water from the Ganga and then faces the morning sun, and slowly offers the Ganga water to the sun by dripping the water to the ground from the pot held over his head.. There were other men also doing this, and two men with pails, bringing the holy water of the Ganga to their homes.

And so ended my walking tour with Jay, a truly great experience.

About Kate Coffey

After 25+ years in the investment management industry, I packed in my job and spent 2014 living and working in Nepal and Bangladesh, and visited some other places in between. It took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and it's people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Sanga foothills. Since 2014, I have continued my warm relationship with SIRC and worked closely with my friends there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes to date. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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2 Responses to A walk in the ….. floods

  1. bkmiec says:

    Thank you for taking us on this day walk with you, Kate. I imagine words cannot capture the many feelings you experienced during this obviously rich day. My god. The marigold strands are magnificent, the lotus blossoms so elegant but simple, I love the photo of the champion wrestler. The flower stall owner in the pin-striped shirt, the story of the man offering drops of water to the morning sun. All so fascinating, teeming with life. And death. And hope. And, and, and……

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