As autumn leaves fall, winter is round the corner knocking at our doors. And as the cool winds start to blow, out comes the Calcuttan’s picnic baskets, mats, badminton racquets and flasks of hot steaming ‘cha’. Picnics, winters and residents of Kolkata are synonymous with each other with every family planning outdoor trips lasting from a day to the full weekend. A popular picnic spot in the city is Princep or James Prinsep Ghat built during the British era, along the banks of the river Hooghly. Adding to its Ruskin Bondish charm is a quaint little railway station maintained by the Eastern Railway. With the sound of the trains whistling by along with the river lapping up the ghats make a day out at Princep Ghat ethereal.
Built in 1841 and named after James Prinsep, the Anglo-Indian scholar, Princep Ghat is a place steeped in history with the monument rich in Greek and Gothic inlays. In its initial years, all the royal British entourages used the Princep Ghat jetty for embarkation and disembarkation. Today, boat rides leave from Babu Ghat for 20 minute rides for anything ranging between Rs. 250- 400 with a maximum of 4 people on a boat rowed in an old fashion way by the driver. Ferry rides also leave for as less as Rs 5 per person but that is used more by daily commuters to cross the river Hooghly.
Towering above is the Vidyasagar Setu which just adds to the charm of the Ghats. Evenings are a sight to behold with the Setu completely lit up in all its glory. Boat rides start late in the mornings and continues till evening. The pathways have been rebuilt in 2001 and are now a favourite hotspot for morning walkers and joggers. Many food stalls selling street food are set up along the length of the pathways which are also dotted with benches providing a scenic view of the Hooghly river with the Howrah Bridge in the background. The most popular food joint over there is Scoop, a small eatery selling ice cream and snacks.
Princep Ghat is also a popular hangout place for students who go there for the boat rides, inexpensive food and scenic beauty. Re-renovated in 2012, the Ghats, like all other historical monuments of the country have been defaced by writings on its ancient walls by tourists-a disgrace which adorns all monuments throughout. Princep Ghat is a must on every Calcutta visitor’s itinerary and not without reason. Many a photography session will be underplay almost daily and then there is the girl in her twenties who can be seen almost every other morning capturing the beauty of the ghats through her water colours.
The place was made famous by being picturised in a song from the Hindi movie Parineeta where the tall pillars formed the background for a love ballad.
Princep Ghat has that quality about it- it is buzzing with tourists almost at all times and yet you can find your own peace there. It is one of those places which make Kolkata what it is to the outside world and what makes this city so special- there’s something romantic and with an old world charm which could make the most stressed out soul breathe freely again.