Living on the banks of a Legendary River


“It’s a Nullah (Indian for a traditional canal ).” People would warn us as we shortlisted a place to stay in Calcutta, about the tiny water body running alongside the house.

“Terrible smell from it on certain days”, we were told.

Considering it a temporary arrangement, we went ahead to begin unpacking.

Disregarding the stench, sometimes overpowering enough to close the doors, gradually the place grew on us. The Pipal tree would give refreshing air night and day. The mango tree would be abuzz with butterflies and birds. A hot favourite was the Red Silk Cotton tree (bombax malabaricum) which was conveniently located right behind the house and viewed from all back rooms. The squirrels would scamper on it all day. Spring would bring red flowers and birds of all colours; the yellow canary, flaming orange woodpeckers, Black Asian cuckoo bird and many more. There was one incident where we even spotted a family of Civets, confirmed by the fact when one of their members, smelling food on the table, made way right into our home and was chased by the cat.

In the afternoons, the loud drilling of a boat at the boat factory across the shore (if I can call it that.)  The late evenings, sometimes one can hear the horn of a patrol boat.

I was told this was the Tolly’s Nullah. During the British colonization of India, a gentleman called Tolly got the area cleared up of silt at his own expense  in the late 1700s. He has the nullah and a prominent colony to his name.

I might have forgotten about this back area, had it not been while reading Swami Vivekanand’s  memoirs (year 1899) that I chanced upon the mention of Tolley nullah again. He spoke about how the Holy Ganges was divided into “Hooghly” and “Padma” river before they deposited into the mouth of the bay of Bengal. He mentioned that “…the present “Tolley’s Nullah” represents the ancient course of the Ganges, and is known as the Adi ganga.” He also mentioned that foreign trade was carried out through a port called Triveni ( modern day Tribeni ) near the port city of “Saptagram”, on the river Saraswati. Triveni was the diverging point of three rivers during that ancient time, the Ganges, the Saraswati and the Yamuna.  It’s also known as Muktaveni to distinguish it from Allahabad Triveni.  Over time, the mouth of the rivers got silted. He further described how the gradual silting of the river course, led conquest forces to shift the port further and further. He also described how ships sank in a matter of minutes without a trace while trying to navigate these silted rivers. This is all estimated to have occurred over a time period of 400 -500 years from now.

At this point I mused how scholars are essential to our understanding of history and ourselves as a human race. Scholars such as Vivekananda provide a bridge between the present and the ancient times. So different from today’s scholars who selectively search and are given strict assignments. Swami Vivekanand mentions living in “modern times”, which of course from the future point of view, is history.

Coming back to the present times, Adi Ganga today is a forgotten mess. After it breaks away from the main Hooghly river, settlements over its banks, encroaching its soil with concrete homes of a few million plus. It traverses the side of Taj Bengal, but before that it accumulates all the waste and filth from Kidderpore market, and human and animal excreta from the poor living on its sides in Orphangunj. When we will stop mistreating the natural resources our country has been so abundantly endowed with? Wonder whether this silk cotton tree and its birds would remain part of the ecosystem in another 100 years or be gulped down by the insatiable human greed of land and forces of politics.

It also connects the city into two parts, one the side with Victoria memorial and the ultra rich Alipore, where once Warren Hastings had a sprawling estate, which is now a national library. The two were connected by the Zeerut bridge sometime in the British era.

There is another historical fact associated with this area. Less than an hour away from Tribeni and right on top of these ancient fertile banks, is the village of Singur. If you are wondering where you have heard about it, it is the place where the Tatas in connivance of the state government and under aegis of an archaic 1894 act, planned to set up a car factory for the world’s cheapest car called Nano, in 2007. An activist then stood up for the river, the fertile land and the people it supported and didn’t allow the plan to succeed. The rich man lost and was forced to shift the factory to the west part of the country. This activist is today the chief minister of West Bengal. Her name is Mamta Banerjee.


Ten things you can do in under $1 in Calcutta.

When I first came to Calcutta, I was told how “cheap (read inexpensive)” this place was. People were beaming at mention of shopping and it’s many markets. In the first few months I felt nothing so. Everybody seemed out to fleece me. The taxi cab would charge Rs 200 ( 4 times the rate) to get me home, in-spite of the “no refusal” printed boldly on the side of the car. Maybe they meant that the commuters can’t refuse the fare, else you won’t be driven? The app cabs and app food came to my rescue. Gradually I found my way around and located the bargain spots.

Here I have compiled a list of things you can certainly do in under $1 (or Rs 50) in Calcutta. Hope you enjoy them too!

Walk in Victoria memorial lawns ( Rs. 10)

A morning walk or evening walk in the lawns of Victoria Memorial. Victoria memorial is a lovely quiet place with a few gardens and built up ponds. If you don’t mind the few couples that are snuggling around, I am told you can have a good walk in the morning hours. You might even bump into some movers and shakers of the fading economic industry of Calcutta.

Sharma ji ki chai ( Rs. 10)

Once you finish your walk, the next stop is the lane of tea vendors in the nearby Princep Ghat. Once an alighting point for river vessels, now the riverfront has a neat promenade to walk and you can see howrah bridge in the distance. To curate, I have selected sharma ji tea vendor, known for his piping hot ginger tea served in quaint mud vessals.

Enjoy Jhal muri ( Rs. 10)

After Bombay, I would say that Jhal muri is a close second to the famed bhelpuri. It’s a mix of puffed rice, garnish and spices. Ten rupees can get you a small packet to enjoy while you take in the river view.

See Victoria Memorial from inside ( Rs. 20)

Once you are done with the breakfast, its a good time to see Victoria memorial from the inside. No photography is allowed inside and any morning, but of a holiday, is a good day to visit. I have visited that place thrice with visitors, but you can’t be in for too long, its very restricting and the airflow is not the best. Fifteen minutes is the maximum time you need here, unless of course you want to see the statues and paintings in detail, early oil paintings.

Watch 3D science on a sphere show in science city (Rs. 15)

The last time we visited science city, this was the only show that had tickets available during holiday time. After a wait of over 45 minutes int he queue we were told that everything else, time machine (Rs. 20) the most popular, the cable car ride (Rs. 20) were sold out. I had quietly asked the overworked boy at the counter whether they had online system of reservation.

Understanding my anxiety, the boy answered pointing at the crowds around,”If we raise the tickets to say 40 or 50 rupees, all these people wouldn’t be here. But we can’t.”

Entry to Science city ( Rs. 50)

I almost forgot to mention, that to enjoy the above treat the entry fee to this very kid friendly science based park is Rs. 50.

Take a walk in Agro horticultural society ( Rs. 20)

There is another place to relax and also enjoy peace and calm. It’s the agro horticultural society established in the late 1800s. For Rs. 20, you can get an entry of an hour for a walk or jog in its small compound. Pick also saplings from its nursery or enquire about its gardening classes from its quaint office.

Visit Alipore Zoo ( Rs. 20)

I hear the Asiatic lion roaring each night. The alipore zoo, also established in the 1800s, has the royal bengal tiger, a white tiger and an asiatic lion as its inhabitants. The state of the other animals is rather sad, but if you do want to look around, the ticket is a pocket friendly Rs. 20. Avoid visiting between 24 dec to 24 jan.

Eat a sweet sandesh (Rs. 15)

Bengal is also known for its sweetmeats. A rich sweet made of palm jaggery ( called nolen gur) and loads of creamy milk is called a sandesh (pronounced shondesh) . You can try some at any local sweet shop.

Eat a Rossogulla (Rs. 10)

Ending with the sweetest thing to eat in Bengal, its the Rossogulla. Bengalis have taken this humble dish to an art form. It is available plain or in many forms, some of which are jaggeried, flavoured with strawberry, baked, and even dipped in vodka!



Cab stories

This is a city you can’t move around without cabs. Is it long unconnected stretches you ask? Too much traffic, you get the answer. One way traffic at different times on different roads. So if you are new and caught on the wrong side of the road, heavens bless you or the miraculous stop to traffic by a friendly traffic policeman.

While the yellow cab is on its way to be phased out, you can’t but help noticing the “No Refusal” printed on its side. Its refreshing, up to the time, you actually reach the cab and are told various reasons why you should not be traveling by the cab to your destination.

Enter Ola cabs and Uber. Taxi hailing turns pleasant and air conditioned. You wait, and wait and wait for your “one minute away” cab. The one minute distance showing in Ola is perhaps by Air. The roads and the cabbies are a different story.

Municipal building in Bombay


Adjacent to the Central Line Railway station is the municipal building. If you remember my post where I saw this building, I was amazed at the architecture from afar. Go closer and you tend to rub shoulders with others on this busy intersection at evening time while cabbies line up to hurry commuters home.

Only one wish. Wish it was lit better to enhance the architectural detail.

A Bridge on the Sea

Almost middle of the month, I wonder if its the last April here. Being a traveller, everything looks new. You notice the lovely intricacies on pillars that others miss. You stare the Edwardian styled windows at the traffic signal. And you feel amused, not angry when you see women jostling for space trying to catch the evening train, while you walk slowly at a leisurely pace. Then one Sunday, while everyone is fatigued and tucked away home or the neighborhood mall, you take a drive and the empty streets wearied by the daily rush, welcome you. You get moments to admire the Bandra Worli Sealink and see what Bombay is all about if it were empty.


You start on the bridge and to the left you see the buildings on the other side of the coast, the sea in between.Sometimes there are a few shipping boats anchored here.

sealink_02 copy

As you cross the heart of the bridge, the strong supports engulf you and then seem to disappear behind you, although you are going at 50 kmph.The sea is below you.


Midway, when you are in the heart of the bridge, you get a steel cage, are you invincible or are you vulnerable now?

You move further and the “Town” part of the city welcomes you.

Cafe spotting in the centre of the south


This wasn’t a history tour today nor was it site seeing. I had ten seconds to take this picture from my smartphone before hopping into the cab standing infront that took us home. We could’ve walked, it being a beautiful day. What is this building? It’s the central railway station. A longer post about Victoria terminus is here.

When you are not in a hurry like the average “mumbaikar” ( Bombay-ite) and its not yet peak traffic time,( and the weather is fine), its a pleasure to be here. With the crowds shifting to the suburbs, the south island of Bombay is an island of peace on the weekends. We learned last evening  to our dismay, that our favorite ice-cream shop had shut shop. Ditto with a food chain we had just discovered. Now the nearest we can go for an ice-cream, is near this monumental structure. And if you be nice to the taxi-wallah, he is very well behaved too and will drop you wherever you want. Being a local-ite has its advantages. You learn more than one way to get to the destination. And all the bylanes too! People recognize you when you go for a walk. And chances are that even in a so called crowded place like Bombay(south) you can still run into friends or neighbors. Maybe in some ways unnoticed, South Mumbai is shrinking.