More than 2 million people cross the Hooghly River by way of the Howrah Bridge each day, earning it the title of the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The 2,313 foot (705 meter) expanse of steel girders hanging over the water connect the sister cities of Howrah and Kolkata (Calcutta) with eight lanes of chaotic auto rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cars, animals and pedestrian traffic.
A bridge linking the cities was originally proposed in 1862, but plans for the bridge didn’t come to fruition until 1943. Since its erection, the Howrah Bridge has become a cultural icon in Kolkata and West Bengal and has served as a setting and inspiration for the 1958 film Howrah Bridge by director Shakti Samanta.
Visit the bridge in the early morning to see early rising denizens washing along the ghats at the base of the bridge. Under the eastern side of the bridge, you’ll find the colorful Mullik Ghat Flower Market, a great place to people watch while sipping on tea.
Located in the northern Kolkata (Calcutta) neighborhood of Dakshineswar along the Hoohley River is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. The temple complex, dating back to the nineteenth century, consists of one large temple to Kali and 13 smaller temples dedicated to the worship of other deities in the Hindu pantheon.
The main temple, built in 1855, is an important pilgrimage spot for devotees of Kali, the patron goddess of Kolkata. It is also the temple where spiritual leader Ramakrishna had a vision that prompted him to turn against the caste system and preach religious unity instead. The small room where he lived much of his life is now a small museum celebrating his life.
The temple complex tends to get crowded on Sundays. Visit in the early morning hours to beat the heat and watch the locals feed the pigeons or browse the small flower market just outside the temple grounds.
The Belur Math Shrine in Kolkata is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, based on the religious movement founded in 1898 by Swami Vivekanada. The Swami was a longtime disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the man who inspired the movement with his teachings on the unity of faith among all religions, and the ashes of Sri Ramakrishna are housed within the shrine.
The Belur Math Shrine is also a physical symbol of such unity, as it includes architectural elements borrowed from Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist motifs. Depending on your vantage point, the Shrine manages to resemble a church, mosque or temple.
The serene grounds of Belur Math along the riverbank include a handful of smaller shrines that seem to be scattered across the manicured gardens. If you want to appreciate the serenity the shrine is meant to embody, visit on a weekday morning to avoid the crowds of picnickers that sometimes take over the lawn.
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