Kalna & Chinsura
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,