Devotee Praying In The Hooghly River, Kolkata

Devotee praying in front of the Vivekananda Setu or Bally Bridge on the Hooghly River in Kolkata, India.

I discovered this devotee bathing in the waters of the Hooghly River, in front of a local river boat taxi and the famous Vivekananda Setu or Bally Bridge in Kolkata, India.

The Hooghly River is a distributary or channel of the holy Ganga or Ganges River.

There are several quite spectacular bridges linking the twin cities of Howrah and Kolkata in West Bengal.

By the way what was formerly known as East Bengal is now Bangladesh.

Hooghly River and Story Telling

The Hooghly River is fundamental to life in Kolkata.

While there’s a lot to see and do in Kolkata, you really won’t make the most of your Kolkata photography opportunities without spending some time exploring the Hooghly River.

Needless to say it’s around the edges of the day when you’ll be able to make the most atmospheric images.

Narrative is an important element that’s often overlooked in photography. Personally I love making photos that tell a story.

It makes the viewing experience so much richer and encourages longer and deeper consideration of the message, meaning or theme explored.

The devotee in the foreground is the most important subject or focal point in my picture of the Hooghly River.

While a relatively small element within the frame, I feel the devotee adds context by allowing us to discover and explore the spiritual narrative within the image.

An important visual element in this image, I’ve tried to find a balance between the devotee, the boat load of local tourists in the mid ground and the Bally Bridge in the background.

The trick was to weave these otherwise dispirit elements together into a cohesive, harmonious image.

It’s quite a challenge given my desire to tell a compelling story in a visually dynamic composition that incorporates quite complex subject matter.

Vivekananda Setu Spans the Hooghly River

Completed in 1932 the Vivekananda Setu is a multi span steel bridge that crosses the Hooghly River between Howrah and Kolkata.

At 880 meters (i.e., 2,887 feet) in length the Vivekananda Setu is an architecturally impressive structure.

I remember thinking how the modernity of the structure provided an interesting contrast with the spiritually being displayed by the devotee.

That notion was central to the reason why I made the photo and, as a consequence, to the way I composed the image inside my camera’s viewfinder.

I love exploring such dualities in my photos so I did what I could to ensure that the Bally Bridge was incorporated into the composition.

Vivekananda Setu and Symbolism

As the Vivekananda Setu spans the Hooghly River it’s both a lifeline, to and from the city, and also a powerful symbol that places the viewer on the River Hooghly or, alternatively, on one side or the other of the city of Kolkata.

A devotee, in a moment of rapture, in the Hooghly River at sunset in Kolkata, India.

Kolkata Photography and the River Hooghly

I made the major photos in this post near the bottom of some ghats at the back of the famous Dakshineswar Temple on the Howrah side of the River Hooghly.

A ghat is a series of steps leading down to a body of water and, in this part of the world, ghats often run down to holy bodies of water.

The Dakshineswar Kali Temple is a major tourist site in Kolkata that’s dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali.

Hindu Goddess Kali

India is a deeply spiritual country and Kolkata (i.e., Calcutta) is its former Capital. In fact the word Kolkata comes out of the word Kalikata, meaning Land of Kali.

Kali is the dark and powerful deity considered the goddess of time and change. Represented as the consort of the Lord Shiva, the Hindu goddess Kali is regarded as the extreme mistress of the universe.

A pilgrim taking a ritual wash in front of the Vivekananda Setu at sunset in the waters of the Hooghly River in Kolkata, India.

Hooghly River Sunset

I remember how the warm light raked across the waters of the Hooghly River at sunset producing great textural qualities on the surface of the water.

I opted for a somewhat antique rendering of the scene to emphasize the mood and deep sense of spirituality I experienced at the time.

If you find yourself visiting Kolkata I’d definitely recommend a visit to the ghats below the Dakshineswar Temple at sunset.

The tranquility you’ll experience will be a delight and should ease the mind and body of even the most jaded traveller.

River Taxi, Hooghly River, Kolkata, India

About to Travel?

Next time I visit Kolkata I’m going to take a cruise along the sublime River Hooghly.

Sunset would definitely be the best time to take the cruise for anyone seeking great Kolkata photography opportunities.

And don’t worry if the boat above is not to your liking. Passenger ferries also run tourists up and down the Hooghly River.

Solo Travel India

India is a culturally rich, diverse and vibrant country with a wealth of fantastic photography opportunities for the intrepid traveller.

But, unless you’re going on a top-notch, five star tour you’ll likely have to deal with a range of annoyances during your visit.

Each time I’ve travelled to India I’ve done so as a solo traveller. But not everyone is cut out for that kind of adventure.

Perhaps what makes India such a challenging travel experience is the range of dualities so openly on display.

  • Rich and poor

  • Beauty and ugliness

  • Joy and despair

  • Compassion and cruelty

  • Love and, on rare occasions, hate and violence

However, as long as you take obvious precautions to keep yourself healthy and safe, and are careful with whom you interact (beware of touts and rip off taxi drivers), you'll be treated to a potentially life-changing experience.

Is solo travel to India right for you? Only you can say. Believe me it’s not for everyone and, if you’ve never travelled on your own before you might want to try another, less taxing, destination first.

My own approach is to be as prepared as I can be and take the risk. It's called life!

India is certainly one of the most spiritually alive countries I’ve visited. That’s important to me and, despite getting really sick on each of my visits, I still find India to be a really worthwhile travel destination.

I’ve already visited India on five occasions over the years and I most certainly hope to return. The landscapes are spectacular, the architecture grand and the people engaging.

Water is important, for all manner of reasons, to the life of everyday Indian people.

If you’re looking to explore Hindu spirituality on your own travels to India then watercourses like the mighty Ganges River, which represents the god Shiva, and the Hooghly River will provide truly mesmerising experiences.

If you’re looking for culture and history, but don’t think you’ll be able to cope with big crowds, head to Rajasthan or Ladakh.

Conversely, if you’re wanting to experience a big city with a slower pace than Mumbai or Delhi, then Kolkata might be just the place for you.

While I make no promises about the traffic in Kolkata I can certainly recommend that your visit includes an exploration of the fabulous Hooghly River.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru