Some monuments manage to become landmarks. They become synonymous with the places where they are located. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, the Sydney Opera House, and many others are excellent instances of that. A member of this club of glory is the iconic Howrah Bridge that connects Kolkata, the City of Joy, and the industrial city of Howrah, which are located on either side of the Hooghly River. Divided into 8 broad lanes, the bridge stretches for 2315 feet over the Hooghly River and measures 71 feet in width, excluding the 14 feet-wide footpath on each side. The Howrah Bridge is an engineering marvel to behold, the gateway to Kolkata, the city’s lifeline, and its worthy emblem in every sense. Taking a tour of the imposing structure must be a part of your Kolkata itinerary.
In 1862, when India was under British rule, the Government of Bengal first started looking into the feasibility of building a bridge connecting Kolkata and Howrah. In 1874, a Pontoon bridge was built across the river. However, that bridge was not equipped to bear either the heavy traffic in the area or any adverse weather condition. In the twentieth century, as several government committees kept looking into a sturdier alternative, the two world wars slowed things down considerably. It was in 1935 that the Braithewaite Burn and Jessop Construction Company was ultimately awarded the contract for the construction of the bridge. This construction started in 1936, and the bridge officially opened on the 3rd of February in 1943. Back then, it was called the New Howrah Bridge as it had replaced the Pontoon bridge.
The Howrah Bridge has many feathers in its cap. When it first opened, it was the third-longest cantilever bridge in the whole world. Today, it is the sixth-longest globally, and also the busiest. The bridge does not have a single screw, nut or bolt. It was built entirely by riveting steel at the cost of 25 million rupees. To be precise, the Howrah Bridge is a balanced cantilever bridge of suspension type and is considered to have had a pioneering effect on bridge construction in India. In 1965, the bridge was officially renamed as the Rabindra Setu (setu- bridge) after the great Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore, Asia's first Nobel laureate and the founder of the Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan.
It’s not until later into the day that the Howrah Bridge becomes one of the busiest bridges in the world. The early mornings are relatively peaceful and see only trucks passing by. So, it is a great time to take a walk along one of the footpaths to witness from up close the structural marvel that the bridge is. And once you are there, make sure you visit the 130-year old Mullick Ghat Flower Market under the southeast end of the bridge. Located on the bank of the Hooghly River, the flower market will stimulate all your senses with its stunning hues, the captivating fragrance of thousands of flowers, and the bustling crowd. If you want to experience the market at the height of its activity, try being there around 7 AM.
The ghats (embankments) along the Hooghly River offer a gorgeous view of the striking structure. I must warn you that the ghats can be somewhat unclean. If that does not pose an issue for you, I suggest you spend some time sitting by the river at Jagannath Ghat, which is located right beside the flower market. You will not only get to enjoy the charming view but also get a taste of many people’s lives as they visit the ghat to bathe, pray, and more.
The Howrah Bridge decks up in beautiful lights in the evening and looks mesmerizing. The best way to experience the illuminated bridge is by taking a ferry ride across the river. Purchase a ticket for the Howrah-Bagbazar ferry from the ferry terminal right across the Howrah Junction Railway Station. The Howrah Station Ferry Ghat is conveniently connected with the railway station via the subway system.
Today, the Howrah Bridge is a cultural emblem. You will rarely find a movie filmed in Kolkata without a flattering shot of the iconic structure in all its glory. The bridge bears the load of 100,000 vehicles and more than 150,000 pedestrians every day. Over more than 75 years, the Howrah Bridge has been the grand keeper of the City of Joy. While change is the only constant in life, I am hopeful that the Howrah Bridge will be a constant fixture to behold in the Kolkata skyline.
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