Building bridges across cultures, generations, and places is what makes us special as humans. We can connect with anybody if we have the right link. Such a right link is found in Kolkata, in the form of the Rabindra Setu or Howrah Bridge as it is lovingly known across India.
Kolkata is a city of disparities. The poets of the small lanes find comfort with the politicians of the tea stalls. The old, rickety tram lives in harmony with the sleek, fast Metro. The city known for its stubborn nature, fish, and sweets is unique and rare. Very few places evoke such strong emotions as the yellow cabs, the Victoria Palace or the peaceful banks of Hooghly. The city is popularly known as the City of Joy and it is an apt name for it because of the vibrancy and spirit.
The Howrah Bridge is a bridge over the famous Hooghly river in West Bengal. It replaced a pontoon bridge previously linking the cities of Howrah and Kolkata. It is one of the 4 bridges on Hooghly, along with the Vidyasagar Setu, Vivekananda Setu, and Nivedita Setu. Like many other iconic bridges of the world, the Howrah Bridge has become a part and parcel of Kolkata. It has been embraced as a defining landmark in the history of the city and West Bengal with local culture always referencing it. From movies to songs, you can find it when Kolkata is mentioned. There is even a movie Howrah Bridge, directed by Shakti Samanta which pays tribute to this piece of architectural history.
A previous pontoon bridge was sanctioned by the British Government was built in 1874. Kolkata was a major business and political hub for the British. They wanted it to be well connected. The bridge would be unfastened to allow steamers or marine vessels to pass underneath. Eventually, the bridge started to see a lot of traffic and it was decided to plan for a better bridge for easier travel commutes and ease of traffic. With the construction of the Howrah Rail Terminus, more people started using the bridge and it became necessary to build a stronger bridge. While discussions started as early as 1905, it wasn’t until 1936 that construction actually started on the new bridge. Between this period, they had made minor improvements to the bridge to keep it functional. The delay was attributed to the British involvement in the First World War.
In 1936, work started on a suspended bridge over the Hooghly. By suspended we mean, there are no pillars linking the bridge to the river below and it hangs above the water body. Howrah Bridge is a suspended type cantilever bridge and the 6th longest cantilever bridge in the world. The engineers made this structure a mechanical marvel as no screws, nuts, and bolts were used in making this bridge. The Howrah Bridge was constructed using rivets that joined the plates. It was finally completed in 1943 but due to the political tensions in the country and the British facing another World War, there was no inauguration. A tram became one of the first vehicles to use the New Howrah Bridge.
Currently, it is one of the busiest bridges in India. Because of its proximity to busy stations such as Howrah and Kolkata, Howrah Bridge sees about 90,000 vehicles daily. The Kolkata Port Trust is charged with the maintenance and upkeep of the bridge. Howrah Bridge has faced serious damage over the years due to the excess vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Things like bird droppings have also caused corrosion of the joints. Pedestrians engage in activities like spitting paan which can reduce the thickness of the steel rods.
Howrah Bridge recently completed 75 years in February and it marks a time of complete change which has been witnessed by this technical and architectural pride of West Bengal.