Some Notes On The HOOGHLY RIVER
The Hooghly1 River, alternatively Anglicized as Hoogli or Hugli, is an approximately 160 mile long distributary2 of the Ganges from which it splits as a canal in Murshidabad District at the Farakka Barrage near Santipur upstream, i.e. north, of Calcutta. The Hooghly is the most westerly of the Ganges channels that flows into the Bay of Bengal and is the principal navigable route of the lower Ganges. The stretch of about 120 miles from Calcutta to the Bay of Bengal is navigable by ocean-going vessels3. The navigation is made treacherous by constantly shifting sand banks with other hazards arising in heavy weather plus a 7 foot tidal bore during the monsoon season. The overall navigability requires constant engineering maintenance and dredging operations, especially at the mouth of the river - an area aptly known as The Sandheads. Calcutta was the capital of British India until 1912 and the second largest city in the whole of the British Empire. The Hooghly River was Calcutta's principal trade route and played a vital part in Calcutta's development as an administrative and mercantile centre.
There are two major dams on the Ganges. One at Haridwar diverts much of the Himalayan snowmelt into the Upper Ganges Canal, built by the British in 1854 to irrigate the surrounding land. This caused severe deterioration to the wateflow in the Ganges, and was a major cause of the decay of the Ganges as an inland waterway. The other dam, the Farakka Barrage, a serious hydroelectric affair, is close to the point where the main flow of the river enters Bangladesh. The Hooghly (also known as Bhagirathi) continues in West Bengal past Calcutta. The Farraka Barrage diverts water from the Ganges into a canal near the town of Tildanga in Murshidabad District. Water for the Hooghly is provided via a 26 mile long feeder canal even in the dry season, and its water flow and management have been a long standing cause of dispute between India and Bangladesh.
The feeder canal runs parallel to the Ganges, past Dhulian, until just above Jahangirpur where the canal ends and the river takes its own course. Just south of Jahangirpur it leaves the Ganges area and flows south with a number of massive meanders before turning southwest just before entering the twin cities of Calcutta and Howrah. At Nurpur it enters an old channel of the Ganges and turns south to empty into the Bay of Bengal. Two of its well known tributaries are Damodar and Rupnarayan.
The Hooghly was, and remains, an essential lifeline for the people of Calcutta. The river's presence was one of the reasons chosen by the British to settle there. The French colony at Chandannagar on the Hoogli was once the rival of British Calcutta, but was eclipsed by Calcutta in the colonial wars of the 18th century. However, as a result of increasing demands on the Hooghly for irrigation the flow of water is much diminished and silting, always a problem, is now greatly aggravated thereby and the importance of the Hooghly as a navigable route appears to be waning. As a result a modern container port has been established at Haldia, on the lower Hooghly, which now carries much of the region's maritime trade and even threatens to eclipse Calcutta as a viable port.
HOOGHLY PILOTAGE has more about pilotage on the Hooghly when A. D. Linklater was a pilot [ca. 1910-15.]
HAZARDS of the HOOGHLY is an account of more modern Hooghly pilotage.
1. Hard ‘g’ - Hū.gli. This is not about a piss-up in Ireland.
2. A Distributary branches off and flows away from the main river, whereas a tributary is a lesser river that joins a larger. Distributaries therefore do not have an independant source other than that of the main river from which they bifurcate; tributaries rise from their own independant source before joining another watercourse. Distributaries are a common feature of river deltas as in the case of the Hooghly, but they can occur inland as a river approaches a lake or in an endorheic basin.
3. Dum, who held a Hooghly Pilot's Licence said his duties covered "a distance of one hundred and twenty two miles from the Sandheads to Calcutta."