Kalna & Chinsura

Inside the 108 Shiva Temples at Kalna, West Bengal, India. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My cruise along India’s Ganges River with G Adventures has been one of constant surprise and wonder, despite the fact that each day is crafted with the same basic structure: breakfast, tour. Lunch, tour. Briefing, dinner.

Good morning! A look at what’s on-tap for our second-last day with G Adventures on the Ganges. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Yet it is that structure that makes things manageable. Tours are just the right length, and during the course of the cruise I haven’t felt that anything has run too long, or has been cut too short. Typically, by the time our morning walks have come to an end, I’m ready to go back to the ship and put my feet up. Afternoon tours seem to all avoid the heat of the day as much as possible.

More than that, everything we’ve embarked on has been remarkably fun.

Sometimes, getting ashore requires a little ingenuity. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Zipping around town by motorized rickshaw. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Things got off to a great start today, as we disembarked Varuna and went ashore in Kalna, India. Known as the “Temple City”, Kalna houses so many temples and monuments that, at first, it’s hard to take them all in. The 108 Shiva Temples complex is across the road from the Lalji Mandir and the Pratapeshvara Mandir complex.

What’s fascinating about the latter two is that, on the western faces of the temples, the intricate terracotta carvings are missing. Looking like they’ve been crudely sandblasted away, their disappearance is a result of the wet monsoon season, when lashing winds typically blow the rain down from the west. As such, the western faces have been literally eroded away from the structure.

Kalna is a town of immense beauty…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…thanks to its spectacular collection…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…of well-preserved temples. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The 108 Shiva Temples complex is arguably the most impressive. Arranged in two circles, the innermost ring contains 34 temples, while the outer ring has 74. It’s an amazing sight from the ground, and it’s one of the most predominant features from space if you pull up a Google Map of the area. In a world that’s also dusty, dirty and frequently covered in grime, the 108 Shiva Temple complex is spotless. You could eat off the ground. Almost. I don’t advise it. But it’s that much cleaner than, say, the main streets of Downtown Kalna.

Intricate carvings…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…are all but missing from the western walls of most temples, eroded away by monsoon season. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In fact, that holds true for every temple complex we visited this morning: they’re spotless. No garbage, no waste, not even a stray cigarette butt. Stepping out onto the streets is like low tide at the pier, but the reverence that locals have for these historic monuments is plain to see by the complete lack of refuse anywhere on the grounds.

Inside the magnificent 108 Shiva Temple. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Daily life on the outside. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Look, kids! The circus is coming to town! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

That’s another facet of India that I truly admire: reverence. Indians have a beautiful appreciation for their heritage, even if it is sometimes an inconvenient one. British occupation is spoken of candidly, with a sort of matter-of-fact, “It Happened”, tone. Our G Adventures CEO, Karan – or “K” as we’re calling him – gave us a fascinating talk on Hinduism, explaining that his Hindu gods may be different than those of his Hindu friends, family and colleagues – and that’s okay. “Hinduism is very adaptable,” he’d say. Adaptability is a very Indian quality, and I admire their ability to combine that with their reverence for the past. Nowhere is that more apparent than at monuments like these, where history, religion and the very soul of the Indian people merge together.

Exploring Chinsura, West Bengal…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…by cycle rickshaw. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, we explored Chinsura. Or Chinsurah, Hooghly-Chinsura, or Hooghly, depending on what source you reference. In fact, that’s one of the big issues facing travellers to India: simply finding out where you are can be horrifically problematic once you leave bigger cities – and even then, expect to find plenty of references to past and present names like Kolkata/Calcutta, Mumbai/Bombay, and the like.

En-route to…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…the Dutch Cemetery. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

First, we explored the historic Dutch Cemetery – but to get there, we’d use cycle rickshaws. If you ever want to feel bad about yourself, take a cycle rickshaw: a man twice my age and half my weight hops on this old rusted bicycle and strains to get going. I thought I was relatively healthy and in good shape, but this guy was huffing and puffing like I was Marlon Brando. Not young Brando; Island of Dr. Moreau-Brando.

The Dutch Cemetery is peaceful…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and picturesque. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Maybe a long-lost ancestor? Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

But Rickshaw did get us up to a good pace, and I continued to sit on the back seat and feel guilty, like some sort of colonial pukka sahib. I’m certainly not rich (freelance writing doesn’t really allow for that in most cases), but I just couldn’t get over the whole “Rich Caucasian Tourist Gets Hauled Around by Poor Local” headlines that ran through my head. I’m holding a Nikon that’s worth more than this poor guy probably makes in a month, sitting there in my moisture-wicking clothing that cost a small fortune and wearing sneakers I’d rather not get dusty.

Local faces as we cycle again, this time to…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…the Hooghly Imambara. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Then, because I don’t fully understand the currency and its relative value, I probably undertipped the guy. Or maybe he was elated and doesn’t show it well. I didn’t really get to know Rickshaw in the 30 minutes he hauled my sunburned frame around.

I really did enjoy the cycle-rickshaw journey (it’s tons of fun!), but I really did feel guilty.

Our last stop of the day before returning to Varuna’s warm embrace was the magnificent Hooghly Imambara. Completed in 1861, we were lucky enough to visit this iconic building at sunset, which bathed its intricate structure in the amber hues of the setting sun.

I also took the time to hike all the way up to the top of the clock tower for a view of the Hooghly River. There’s 152 steps up the turret-like structure to reach the top, but it is worthy exercise for the reward.

The reward for climbing up nearly 160 steps. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

More kids playing cricket…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as we make our way back to the Varuna for the evening. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Another day with G Adventures is coming to a close now, back onboard the Varuna. The Toronto-based company has long excelled at its small-group land tour vacations. It’s clear to me that they’ve also invested considerable time, money and experience to ensure that they do their river cruise packages equally well.

Goodnight! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report aboard G Adventures’ Varuna along the Ganges continues tomorrow with one last day in India! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

On the Ganges with G Adventures

March 1, 2017Arrival in Kolkata, India
March 2Train to Farakka and embarkation of Varuna
March 3Guar, West Bengal
March 4Barangar & Murshidabad, West Bengal
March 5Plassey, West Bengal
March 6Matiari & Mayapur, West Bengal
March 7Kalna & Chinsura, West Bengal
March 8Barakpur, West Bengal
March 9, 2017Disembarkation in Kolkata

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