The iconic landmark of Kolkata, Howrah Bridge is a massive steel structure which is considered as one of the longest cantilever bridges of its type in the world. Also called as Rabindra Setu, it extends across the Hooghly River and connects Howrah and Kolkata. It is also regarded as one of the busiest ones among them as it carries a daily traffic of over 100,000 vehicles and countless pedestrians. For those who wish to see the grandeur of the bridge, you are recommended an excellent ride in the ferry services between Kolkata and Howrah, offered from Launch Ghat. The view of the city from the ferry, especially in the night, is priceless, to say the least.
Howrah Bridge was the third longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, but now it is the sixth longest one of its types. It was renamed as Rabindra Setu on June 14, 1965, after the name of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It spreads about 1500 ft over the Hooghly River and is 71 ft wide. There is a total of 8 lanes of strand road, bicycles, and pedestrians. What makes this bridge unique is the fact that it was built without a single nut or bolt and is held together by rivets.
The Howrah Bridge has been shown in numerous movies since the 1950s like Do Bigha Zameen, China Town, Amar Prem, Parineeta, The Namesake, Love Aaj Kal, Barfi, Gunday and many others. You can walk across the bridge and admire the gigantic construction or glide underneath on a boat ride on the Hooghly River. Once you are here, you will question the notion yourself: who said that Kolkata is an archaic city stuck in the Stone Age?
The bridge celebrated it’s 75 years of existence in the month of February and in accord to the anniversary lets take a look at seven historical unknown facts surrounding the bridge.
A bridge without nuts and bolts: Hard to believe? Yes, the gigantic bridge spread across the width of River Hooghly does not have a single nut and screw joining the array of metallic structures. Instead, the unique bridge was built by riveting the whole structure, which means a metal piece (rivet) is used to connect two or more plates inserted through the hole in plates and pressed on the other side.
A suspended bridge: If you didn’t notice in all the photos of Howrah Bridge, then take a look now and observe how the metal structure hangs above the river with no pillars in between supporting it. It’s a suspended-type balanced cantilever bridge, the third longest when it was constructed and now, it’s the sixth longest bridge of its type in the world.
It’s the ‘new’ Howrah Bridge: Even though the vintage structure has been around for more than seven decades and even stood witness to the Second World War, it is ironically called the ‘New’ Howrah Bridge. The reason behind it is that it replaced an old pontoon bridge, which was set up in 1874. As in the 17th century, Calcutta was emerging as a bustling city by the merger of the three villages – Kolkata, Sutanati and Gobindapur, there was an urgent demand to link the city with the commercial hub Howrah. And after the Howrah station was built in 1906, the to-fro movement on the bridge began to escalate and engineers at Calcutta Port Trust started brainstorming ideas to build a better and stronger bridge.
Stalled by First World War: The bridge has a sad association with World War I (1914-1919). Even though the proposal to replace the old pontoon bridge had begun in the early 1900s, it was delayed owing to the catastrophic war. The bridge was partially renewed in the years 1917 and 1927. However, it was completed until the Second World War.
No formal inauguration: Even as a marvel for architects, engineers and the Colonials who built the emblematic landmark, it did not even have a formal opening, forget a grand inauguration. It was completed in 1942 and opened to the public in February 1943 but was not highlighted due to a fear of attacks by Japanese planes fighting the Allied Powers. Japan had already attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 and that instilled fear among the Britishers that this could prove to be a target as well.
A made-in-India bridge: Unlike now, during the British Era, not only the raw materials but even the finished product were made in England and assembled here. Even the former Sir Bradford Leslie’s pontoon bridge — different parts were constructed in England and shipped to Calcutta. However, it incurred a huge cost. Owing to the ongoing WWII (1939-1945) all the steel (26,000 tonnes) that was to come from the UK were diverted for the war effort in Europe. Out of total steel required for the bridge, only 3,000 tonnes were supplied from England. The remaining 23,000 tonnes were supplied by India’s Tata Steel and even the erection work was reassigned to a local engineering firm of Howrah — the Braithwaite, Burn and Jessop Construction Co.
Trams used the bridge: As lakhs of commuters daily cross the bridge now either by foot on on cars and buses, but during its initial days of existence, trams used to ply on the bridge transporting people to and fro from the twin cities. In fact, the first vehicle to use the bridge was a solitary tram. The tram services on the bridge were discontinued in 1993 owing to rise in vehicular traffic.