Tuesday, 25 March 2014

RV Rajmahal on the Hooghly River, West Bengal. Shore excursions

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 Street scene along the Hooghly River in Murshidabad, India. (R Eime)
Shore excursions: 23 March, 2014

As one day blends seamlessly to the next, Rajmahal follows the ancient Hooghly River downstream from Farakka, through the historic lands of the Nawabs, Moghuls and British Raj.

Ornate terracotta temples and crumbling colonial palaces interspersed with vast irrigated plains make up this rich and fertile country. Fruit, grain and livestock paddocks stretch out in all directions from the banks of the Hooghly (also spelled Hugli locally) with both tiny villages and minor towns dotting the landscape as we serenely sail past. The current helps us on our way as villagers washing, bathing and fishing pause for a moment to wave, the children crying out delightfully 'ta ta! ta ta!' as they jump and and down with the hands in the air.

Our first introduction to the surrounding antiquities is the former Sultanate capital of Gaur, a hair-raising two hour drive from our berth in Farakka. The excitement never stops as our vehicle negotiates the swerving overloaded trucks, terrifying taxis and teetering trishaws that share every inch of the highway, which itself alternates between a honeycomb of savage potholes and a smooth dual carriageway. The concept of the divided road seems to escape the understanding of some motorists as a speeding SUV comes hurtling toward us in the overtaking lane. Straddling the centreline is, it appears, the standard practice for keeping one's options open while dodging the constant threat of errant traffic, wandering livestock and suicidal pedestrians.

Crumbling palace harks back to lavish colonial times. (R Eime)
At Gaur, our little convoy leaves the highway and heads onto the backroads where the landscape is interspersed with ruins and monumental structures like the Baradwari Mosque, dating from the early 16th century. The earlier (mid-15th century) Salami Darwaza (gate) once stood imperiously against all comers, now it's power is is purely cosmetic and the surrounding moat converted to fish-farming. The Firoz Minar, the Qadam Rasul Mosque and Fath Khan's tomb make up the balance of our enrichment. In between, we pass through tiny villages momentarily interrupting their daily rituals as we exchange greetings delivered in a kind of universal sign language.

Our guide, who enjoys the nickname of 'Nemo' progressively reveals himself as a patient and good-humoured companion with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of local history.

After a pause for lunch at a roadside café, our exciting tarmac journey continued, rejoining the relocated Rajmahal at Jangipur.

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