Subscribe to our weekly newsletter


Kolkata Port Trust revives memory of Goalanda Ghat through steamer rides

6 September, 2022 10:49:36
Kolkata Port Trust revives memory of Goalanda Ghat through steamer rides

It has been more than 50 years since the Dacca Mail aka Pakistan Mail stopped commuting between Sealdah and Goalanda Ghat, an important junction in former East Pakistan. Before Partition, Goalanda Ghat, located at the confluence of Padma and Jamuna (Brahmaputra) Rivers, was the only link that connected East Bengal with Calcutta. Passengers from Dacca, Chittagong, Kumilla, Sylhet and Assam preferred the Goalanda Ghat to travel to respective destinations. To attract passengers, the steamer companies often advertised and arranged for ‘pleasure rides.’ However, after 1964, all that became a part of history as the Dacca Mail stopped plying from Sealdah. Goalanda Ghat became a part of collective memory, fondly ensconced in the hearts of people. Old-timers still fondly reminisce about their adventurous journey on massive steamers and tug steamers across the Padma River.

To stoke the memory of that steamer ride one has grown up hearing from grandparents and actually provide an opportunity to experience the journey, The Kolkata Port Trust, rechristened as the Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Port, is all set to re-introduce a paddle steamer 'PS Bhopal' on the Hooghly River soon that is expected to boost the heritage tour programme hosted by Kolkata Port. 

Built in the UK's Dumbarton Shipyard in the 1940s, the rusted paddle steamer had been wasting away   at Berth 22 of Kolkata docks for more than two decades. Port authorities had condemned the boat and plans were finalized to scrap it in 2019.  However, Kolkata Port chairman, Vinit Kumar, spotted the steamer and identified its heritage worth. He decided to restore it. 

'PS Bhopal' is the only remaining paddle steamer in the country. Kolkata Port entered into a public-private partnership (PPP) to renovate and restore the steamer without tampering with its heritage value. Eastern Navigation Pvt. Ltd. has funded the overhaul of the 80-year-old vessel at a cost of over Rs 3 crore. Kolkata Port has granted a lease of 25 years to the company to use the heritage vessel for commercial purposes in lieu of a royalty payment of Rs 50,000 to the port authorities. The Kolkata Port Trust will use the boat once a week to conduct heritage tours.

The paddle steamer was part of a flotilla of steamers that were brought from the UK during the British period and deployed mostly on rivers of undivided Bengal to pull cargo boats. Many of these vessels are still operational in Bangladesh. The paddle ship which had two large paddles on either side driven by steam engines, had sailed on the Hooghly River for years before it was turned into a museum and then into a training vessel. The Directorate General of Shipping, India found the ramshackle vessel unsafe and banned its use unless repaired and certified by an agency. The West Bengal Inland Water Transport Corporation has issued a ‘No objection’ certificate after a thorough inspection of the entire renovation project. 

The makeover of the 62.6-metre long and 2.4-metre-wide vessel is being done in a private yard near the eastern metropolis and repair work is nearing completion. The basic structure of the vessel has not been changed. The paddles and machines are no longer in use but they have been retained as artefacts in the renovated vessel.  The old steam engines have been replaced by new engines with propulsions have been installed so that the ship can navigate in the river with passengers on board. 

Vintage photographs and other materials are being procured from the British Museum and these will be displayed on the boat. With an open deck on the third level, a compact assembly, dining area and rooms on the second level and an exhibition area on the first level, will have a capacity of 100 guests. The port authorities have been using ‘Sea Land’ for the heritage trips since 2019 when the heritage tour was introduced but the ship has a few drawbacks. It can accommodate only 25-30 people for each tour and movement of the vessel during high tide becomes tricky.  So, these tours have to be planned keeping the weather condition in mind.  In contrary, 'PS Bhopal' has a more sturdy and powerful built and engines with far greater capacity to accommodate over 100 guests and will give the authorities more flexibility when planning heritage trips.  

The steamer’s makeover is on the verge of completion and trial runs are underway. If everything goes according to schedule, the steamer is expected to set sail on the Hooghly River soon, maybe during Durga Puja, as an addition to the festive revelry. The voyage across the river and the ghats will commence from the maritime museum on Strand Road and proceed upstream till Dakshineshwar and then travel back to end the journey at the Indenture Memorial near the Kidderpore docks. 

Once the steamer starts operation, it will give an impetus to the port’s heritage tour programmes. Kolkata Port is a pioneer among the major ports in the country to introduce heritage tours back in 2018 and has already conducted around 28 such trips. The new-look 'PS Bhopal' will pave the way for more heritage enthusiasts to explore the glorious past of Kolkata, the second most important city of the British Indian Empire.

Leave a Comments

Related Post