WHEN THE GANGES enters the W Lower Gangetic Plains in West Bengal, the river breaks up into many channels. The main distributary, the Hooghly (now Hugli), flows 260 km (162 miles) from Nabadwip to the Bay of Bengal.

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, this easily navigable river attracted Dutch, French, Portuguese, Danish and British traders. The settlements they established transformed the river banks into a mini Europe the remnants of which can be best explored today by taking one of the river cruises. Up river from Kolkata is Shrirainpur (Serampore), a Danish colony until 1845. Dr an william Carey, the Hirst Baptist ‘ssionary in India t up the earliest printing ss here in 1799 and slated the Bible into several Indian languages including Bengali, markcng the beginnings of moderns Bengali prose. I  also founded the first thecological college, todBay Shrirampur College, in 1805. Its li brary houses a viceless collection of 18th- and 19thcentury hooks, on the east bank of barakpur (Barrackpore ), the  of the British viceroys’ Praciouos counntry hocuse.e The mansion, locally referred to as Lat Bagan (“Governor’s or Lord’s Garden”), was build by Lord Wellesley, the governor general in the early 19th century.

Chandannagar (Chandlergore), a French settlement m 1673 until 1952, still tins a Gallic ambience. The blic benches on the terfront (previously Quai Dupleix) are replicas of those found in Paris parks. The k elegant Administrator’s Residence, built in the 18th century, is now the Inslitut de 4 cchandernagore , a library and museum, and contains an interesting collection of French documents and artifacts. The Eglise clu Sacred Coeur has a statue of Joan of Arc and a Lourdes grotto.

North of Chandannagar is Chinsurah (Chunchura), an Armenian settlement, taken over by the Dutch in 1625, and later by the British. The Armenian Church was built in 1695, though the steeple was added a century later. The town of Hooghty, to the north, has an impressive imambara (mosque) built in 1836. Further upriver is Bandet, founded by the Portuguese in 1580. The Church of Our Lady of Bandel, consecrated in 1599, is among the oldest in Eastern India. After being refaced in granite, it has, however, lost some of its charm. People of all faiths still pray at the statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyages, an icon with an interesting history. In 1632, while the city was being sacked by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the icon was lost in the river, but later reappeared miraculously on the banks in front of the church.

Further north is Bansberia, site of several terracotta temples. The Ananta Vasudeva Temple, built in 1679, has a panel of warriors carved above the entrance, while the Hanseshwari Temple, built in 1814, has a fabulous array of Kremlin-like onion domes and an elaborately carved facade.

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