Village Life and Colonial History on the Ganges
Saturday, March 4, 2017
When I first booked this river cruise along India’s Ganges River with G Adventures last summer, I had pictured India as an unending torture chamber of heat; a place where I’d never get respite from the big, hot sun unless I was indoors in air conditioned splendour.
Imagine my surprise when I came on deck this morning for my now-traditional pre-breakfast coffee to find temperatures of 15°C, cold wind, thunder, and rain. Dark grey skies made the farmer’s fields we were anchored near turn a vibrant green colour. The big red orb that is the sun couldn’t poke through the haze this morning; nothing but cloud surrounded the Varuna.
We disembarked at 0830 for a walking tour through the small village known as Baranagar. Lined with dirt roads and well-kept (mostly) brick buildings, Baranagar is home to three magnificently-preserved terracotta temples, each preserved with delicate carvings, symbols and inscriptions.
Quite frequently, we saw the sides of the building are covered in circular discs that look like mud. This is actually cow dung, and these “cow patties” are used as a fuel source for cooking and heating. They’re made by hand and, unlike your local utility bill, never end up costing more than you’d expect. Baranagar was wired with basic electricity; many small villages in India are not.
Our G Adventures guide, Karan, supplements the knowledge from Vauna’s onboard guide. Together, they can answer any question you can throw at them – and our guests have thrown a lot of questions their way, all of which have been fully answered.
G Adventures also keeps things flexible. On our morning walk, some of the local village kids clearly wanted to play cricket with the strangers. One of our guests from the UK obliged, and we stood there for about 10 minutes and watched as the ball was thrown back and forth. Some excursions I’ve been on with other lines are so precisely-timed that a diversion like this wouldn’t have been tolerated. G Adventures, on the other hand, maintains a casual flexibility over its itinerary here in India, much like you’d expect on an expedition cruise.
We rejoined Varuna and set sail for an hour, arriving in the city of Murshidabad at 1100. This city of 44,000 inhabitants is located along the banks for the Bhagirathi, one of the many tributaries of the river that our local guides call, Mother Ganges.
The more-opulent Ganges Voyager II, chartered by Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, was docked in front of us. Its guests peered out from between the curtains of their suites as we disembarked. No one seemed to be milling about, and no one seemed in a hurry to get off the ship.
Our group of 17, on the other hand, strode confidently into town. Murshidabad is no stranger to tourists: shops selling Coca-Cola, plastic toy guns, knuckle dusters, rice cookers, and other inexplicable gadgetry lined the streets. Compared to our quiet, lazy village visit this morning, we’d arrived in “the big city”, complete with the requisite crowds and traffic.