Goalundo Ghat - From the Hooghly to the Himalayas (1913)
"From the Hooghly to the Himalayas" - Being an Illustrated Handbook to the chief places of interest reached by the Eastern Bengal State Railway, The Times Press, Bombay, 1913.
Made available by the Internet Archive.
Source: Library of the Cornell University
Selected and edited with comments by R Sivaramakrishnan. July 11, 2010.
It was a great joy for me to find the following vivid description of the Goalundo Ghat at the confluence of the Ganges (known as the Padma in much of Bangladesh) and the Brahmaputra (Jamuna), where the Dacca Mail of the Eastern Bengal State Railway terminated in 1913, and the passengers boarded a steamer for the journey to Narayanganj, the Port of Dacca; disembarked at Chandpur to catch Assam Bengal Railway’s metre gauge mail to Chittagong; or, journeyed up the Brahmaputra into Assam.
To visit Bengal without travelling on the great rivers which intersect that province would be almost as bad as going to Agra without seeing the Taj Mahal, and one may see something of the rivers and appreciate their importance as highways of commerce without making the long journey to Dibrugarh. For example, it one goes from Calcutta to Dacca the rail journey is broken at Goalundo and from there to Narayanganj is continued by steamer. The night mail from Calcutta deposits one at Goalundo in the early hours of the morning, and there is little time for the tourist in a hurry to see much of this village and to appreciate its importance as a trade centre before he leaves on the steamer for Narayanganj. But Goalundo, the terminus of one section of the Eastern Bengal State Railway, merits some description. The groups of thatched huts of which the village consists are a poor index to the transhipment trade of this busy mart. It is situated at the junction of the Padma, or Ganges, and the Brahmaputra, and daily services of steamers connect it with the railway systems at Narayanganj and Chandpur, and with the steamer services to Madaripur, Barisal, Sylhet, and Cachar. There are also daily services of steamers up the Padma to Digha Ghat in the dry season, and Buxar in the rains, and up the Brahmaputra to Dibrugarh. From that it will be seen that Goalundo occupies a very strong strategic position in the waterways of Bengal, a position which has been made much stronger by railway development.
But this strengthening has not been effected without much difficulty, for Goalundo has the wandering habits of the prodigal son and constantly evinces a strong desire to escape from doing its duty in that state of life to which it has pleased an imperious trade to call it. It is the unstable water which has misled it, as it has misled many another Eastern town, into these ways. Formerly Goalundo was situated exactly at the junction of the rivers Padma and Brahmaputra, and large sums were spent in protecting the site from erosion; but in 1875 the spur was washed away, and since that date the terminus has constantly been on the move, with the result that it is now to be found about seven miles south of its former position. This being the case there are no permanent landing stages. The steamers come as close alongside as they can and narrow planks serve as gangways for the use of passengers and coolies carrying the cargo to and from the shore.
The crumbling nature of the alluvial soil renders the banks easily adaptable to these makeshift arrangements, and an occasional fall of a few tons of earth into the river seems to inconvenience no one. It might be supposed that those who live in the extensive bazar of Goalundo and the officials of the railway and steamer companies would find it somewhat bewildering to live in a port of such erratic habits: but their houses are of the flimsiest build and so they are enabled to move snail-like after the peripatetic terminus, to whose vagaries they must by now be accustomed. In fact the history of Goalundo and its inhabitants affords a capital argument against the platitudinous thesis that a rolling stone gathers no moss. The volume of trade passing through it is enormous, the chief commodities dealt in being jute, oilseeds, food-grains, and hilsa fish for the Calcutta market.
Those who have time to go up the Brahmaputra from Goalundo will find themselves amply rewarded, for the scenery there is wild and the deep gorges cut by contributory rivers - if not comparable in beauty with the celebrated defiles on the Irrawaddy - are very fine and the forest-clad uplands provide a welcome contrast to the dead level of the land farther south. Yet it must not be supposed that the low-lying lands (a wicked poet once said that the people inhabiting those lands were low, lying people) are devoid of interest: far from it, and even those familiar with the scenery of more famous river haunts frequented by the tourist will enjoy a journey through this flat and fertile country. From Goalundo to Narayanganj by steamer on the Padma, as the Ganges is called on its lower reaches, takes about seven hours, and as the boats are comfortable and the prospect always pleases, the journey is well worth making and serves as a introduction to the great system of waterways that is the main characteristic of this province. The amazing width of the river, the fights and shades reflected on its muddy waters, the vivid green of the fields of rice and jute that fringe the banks and recede into the mists of the far horizon across the flat alluvial plains, the thatched huts with hog's-back roofs - or huts modernized and ugly with the more water-proof iron tops—and the little clusters of palms and other trees - all this makes up a moving panorama that one may watch for hours untired. This, it is forcibly brought home to one, is the India that knows not the horrors of famine. This is, indeed, the land of the pagoda tree: here if anywhere have the teeming peasantry reason to be content with their lot. This is the pulcher Ganges which, Vergil said, could not compete with the glories of Italy.
NOTES by R. Sivaramakrishnan:
As a bonus, the handbook includes some photographs
p. 15: Thumbnail photo (uncaptioned): the sailing ships at Goalundo Ghat
p. 16: Thumbnail photo (uncaptioned): Tilling the fields.
p. 17: Photo: “Riverside village, Goalundo”
p. 18: Photo: ”Fishing at Goalundo.”
p. 19: Photo: “River Bank at Goalundo.”
The location of Goalundo Ghat can be studied in the Faridpur sheet of the 1 : 250,000 AMS series of topographic maps (1955) in the Perry-Castaneda Collection of the University of Texas at Austin: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ams/india/nf-45-04.jpg
Neither Goalundo village nor the ghat is named as such in the map, but the terminus of the short branch to Goalundo Ghat from Rajbari (itself indicated as a small town) is situated on the southern bank at the mighty confluence of The Ganga and the Jamuna (Brahmaputra).
You will find more treasures in this short handbook, including about: the mighty bridge then under construction across the Ganges at Sara, named the Hardinge Bridge when opened in 1915.
I hope to come across a similar description elsewhere, with at least one photograph, of Mokameh Ghat in its heydays, where, lo, a bridge exists today!