Tides of Colonial History

Cruise through the relics of Bengal’s bygone era on an eight-day long river voyage.
The Ganges Voyager I gliding across the river; (below, from left) temple at Kalna in West Bengal; view of the onboard suite
The Ganges Voyager I gliding across the river; (below, from left) temple at Kalna in West Bengal; view of the onboard suite

Going with the flow enthuses a new meaning when cruising the Ganga from colonial Kolkata to historic Murshidabad and back, aboard a luxury vessel called the Ganges Voyager I. Wrapped in comfort, the  eight day trip offers a luxurious stay while showcasing a panorama, much different from modern India. The 56m-long cruise has 28 air-conditioned suites to accommodate 56 guests.  Crafted with hand-painted murals, each of these spacious suites include everything that a plush hotel can offer.

Every corner of the tastefully crafted 2015 built vessel brings alive some of the bygone British colonial and Indian regal charismas. The smorgasbord of cuisine by internationally trained chefs served at the East India Dining Room located on the lower deck is another attraction.

The distinguishing feature of the shore-trips is halting at locations beyond the usual paths and providing a peek into the overlooked history of the land edging the river that flows between Kolkata and Murshidabad. A few hours north, from the buzz of Kolkata, hides a string of dusty towns, all created in the 17th century as distant trading outposts by the Portuguese, Dutch, and the French.

Though their legacies now remain more in the pages of history books than in bricks and mortar, excursions to see a Portuguese-built church in Bandel or a walk along the Strand in Chandannagar, a riverside promenade flanked by crumbling Indo-French styled buildings, testifies European tints of the past and creates a curiosity to know more about the colonisation of India.

When the Europeans were settling in as traders with territorial expansion in mind, Murshidabad was thriving as the capital of the Bengal Province. In 1757,  British Commander Robert Clive overpowered the 27-year-old Nawab Siraj ud-daulah by bribing his minister Mir Zafar in a mockery of a combat known in history as the Battle of Plassey. It ended in a day without a gunshot being fired.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in his book Discovery of India, aptly described Clive as having won the battle “by promoting treason and forgery”, thus marking a sordid start to two centuries of British rule in the subcontinent. What remains of Murshidabad is a shabby settlement. The landscape is full of ruined palaces, mansions, gateways and tombs. The tour is limited to exploring the tombs of Siraj, home of Mir Zafar, the grand old Katra Masjid and the British built Hajarduary Palace—now a museum full of Nawabi and British memorabilia.

Other stops included the 19th century Imambara in Hooghly, Hindu temples at Kalna and Baranagar, Hare Krishna temple at Mayapur, the global headquarters of ISKCON and Matiari, which is famous for handcrafted brass items.On-board, a lot of time is devoted to lecture programmes like one on the Ganga, cooking demonstrations, movies, musical soirees and dance programmes. Of course, one cannot ignore mingling with newly made friends during the trip over meals or at the cruise’s bar, after all we’ve shared a slice of history together. 

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The New Indian Express