There were no pontoon platforms on ‘the other side’, no jetties, no landing area…..just a turbulent sea of humanity, a riot of colours, a cacophony of sounds, a potpourri of people, equipment, animals…….and loads of trash!!!
The barge slowed down, and then came to a complete stop near the eastern bank of the Ganga, its bow running aground in the sand. Wooden planks were slid on to the ground from the deck, which we used as gangways to disembark from the boat. Vaishali was with her friends, the girls were with me. I held their hands as they made their way down, balancing their steps on the wooden plank, and alighted gingerly on the sandy banks of the Ganga.
‘Wow!’, they said in unison, amused by the spectacle that greeted them. There were swings, food stalls, and animal rides – horses, mules, and even camels…..How their owners managed to get them to this bank, this side of the river, was beyond me. There were small merry-go-rounds, wood and steel contraptions, carted on wheels, and driven by a man who pushed the cart around, instead of electricity or even a diesel engine. In the distance, I could even spy a small Ferris wheel and, of course, there was no end to the innumerable stalls selling cola, and chips, and other varieties of eatables – ethnic, and imported.
The sands were littered with plastic cups, paper bags, and cola bottles for as far as the eye could see. The only thing more numerous than the plastic waste strewn on the shores of the Ganga, was the source of it all…….people!!! A variety of boats of differing sizes and shapes were parked along the bank of the river for as far as the eye could see. They would stop on this bank, disgorge their contents, and then wait till the ‘content’ that they had unleashed onto the river bank, gorged itself with food, littered the area to its heart’s content, rode the mules, spat, urinated, and then, tiring of it all, boarded the vessels again and departed, looking for other places to lay waste…..
I felt nauseous…..at this most ugly display of ‘tourism’, at the brazen destruction of the erstwhile clean ghats of the Ganga. But there was hardly anything I could do…this was tourism, and everyone was enjoying themselves…except maybe the river herself….
The children had strolled over to the place where all the ‘ride’ animals were tethered, and stood looking at one of camels which squatted in the sand.
‘Can we ride it, Papa,’ the younger one said, looking closely at the camel, an exotic animal for her.
I opened my mouth to answer but the elder one pre-empted me.
‘No,’ she said, ‘it is cruel to the poor animal. Look how it is tethered to the rope, look how poorly it is kept, I do not know if they even feed it. The owner earns the money, and the poor animal works….’
We talked about animal cruelty for a while, and what we can do about it, and then conceded that we should not encourage this ‘sport’ by taking these rides. So we just strolled around, digging our toes in the sands, and looking at people riding, eating, playing, drinking, taking pictures, till it was time to go back.
I was thankful to board the boat, and go away from this place. Next stop was Goleria Kothi.
To be continued……
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