The Ganges or the Ganga is more than just a river. It is an entity in itself. Countless empires have made the bank their home. Some major religions call it their sacred place. More than 200 million people depend on the river. The entire country has a direct or indirect relationship with this river.
In the last article, we were travelling along the river and had ended up at Varanasi. On the way, we explored glaciers and rafted down rapids. We explored some hidden gems and some of the more famous architectural wonders. We gazed in awe at the span of the river and the wildlife that if harboured.
Now, we will move further down from Varanasi. More rivers will flow into the Ganga. On the way, we will explore more great cities. We will encounter more history. We will look at more wildlife. We will marvel at more ancient and sometimes hidden cultures. As we travel through this second half to the Ganga Sagar, we will see a different side to this river.
Along The Ganges: From The Source To The Sea II
The state of Bihar was home to some of the most powerful kingdoms up to the 1st Century BCE. The state was also home to Buddhism and Jainism – two religions known for their non-violent nature. The state also houses some amazing archaeological sites and was home to one of the first democracies in the world and some of the earliest universities in the world – dating back to the 8th Century.
The first city that you would relate to Bihar is Patna – a capital city that has had a history of more than 2500 years. Being a capital city, there are a great many sights to see. These include museums, Stupas and Sufi places of pilgrimage.
Khuda Baksh Library
However, what we should look out for is the Khuda Baksh Library. A private library that was opened to the public in 1891, the Khuda Baksh library has over 21,000 manuscripts that date back to the Mughal era. It was built when Khuda Baksh, a bibliophile, added to his inherited collection of 1400 manuscripts and built them up to 4000 at that time. These include biographies of Mughal emperors with their signatures, miniature paintings and books on military accounts. The library is a designated manuscript conservation centre and definitely a great place for the traveller who loves to read.
25km away from Patna, on the other side of the Ganga and at the confluence of the Ganga and the Gandak lies the town of Sonepur. An otherwise sleepy town, it dons a completely different personality for a month between full moons in November and December. As with many religions, the full moon or Kartik Poornima is considered auspicious and prayers are offered at the Harihar Nath temple. However, the town is then known for more than just that.
During this month, the largest cattle fair and a grey market is held in Sonepur. The fair’s history dates back to 8th Century BCE when Chandragupta Maurya needed elephants and horses for his troops. At that time, traders from all the way to Central Asia used to arrive for the fair. Even today, the fair attracts buyers from East Asia. On sale are cattle, Persian horses, the occasional camel, donkeys, ponies and other domestic animals. A separate market is built for elephants – though the sale of elephants is no longer legal. Exotic and smuggled birds also arrive at the month-long fair. The fair makes for great opportunities for the intrepid photographer as horse races, cattle races and various other events are regular fixtures at the fair.
There is a lot more to explore yet in Bihar – including the universities of Nalanda and Rajgir, Buddhist stupas and Sikh temples. However, we are running out of time and need to travel further towards the sea towards West Bengal and eventually, the Ganga Sagar.
The Ganga enters West Bengal at a place called Sahibganj and passes around 35km from Malda. The river then divides into the Hoogly that flows further South towards Kolkata and its mouth in the Sunderbans. The other division is the Padma which meets the Brahmaputra coming from China to form the Sunderbans of Bangladesh.
While the Sunderbans are considered to be the mouth of the Ganga, its drainage already starts in West Bengal and spans both West Bengal and Bangladesh. The total area is a little over four times that of Tasmania. We will travel through India though to the last bit.
This last bit flows close to Malda. Known for its mango plantations, Malda is an 18th Century town that traces its history back earlier to being the capital of West Bengal. The mosques and old monuments of old Malda are definitely worth a visit – as are the silk farms there.
The river is known as Bhagirathi here and then flows through Murshidabad. Known for terracotta temples and silk, Murshidabad was the capital of West Bengal before it was shifted by the British to Kolkata (Calcutta). The place is known for the Hazaar Duari Palace. Hazaar Duari gets its name from the thousand doors of the palace of which more than 800 are faux doors – doors with a wall behind to confuse invading soldiers.
The Ganga eventually makes its way through the erstwhile Danish colony of Serampore, the French Colony of Chandennagore. It then flows through the British capital of Kolkata before making its way through to the Sundarbans and eventually, Ganga Sagar.
Known to be the home of one of the incarnations of Vishnu, Ganga Sagar is one of the places where the river enters the Bay of Bengal. Once a year, Ganga Sagar plays host to the second largest religious gathering in the world – the Sagar Mela. This is where the river meets the sea. Having travelled from the mountains of the Northern Himalayas, the Ganga has fed hundreds of millions of people and supported some great cities. This is where the Ganga flows into the Bay of Bengal. The force of the river in the mountains settles into a nurturing entity in the cities and ends unobtrusively in the sea. Nothing else.