Pravin Gandhi’s Travels – A Bridge on the River: Rajamundry
Our House, was a very very very fine house – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
At dusk, a child of 5 stood with his mother on the upper floor balcony of an old house in Rajamundry on the East coast of India, and stared at the breathtaking spectacle. Clutching his mother’s sari he exclaimed, “Mother, the bridge is on fire!” “Its alright, it is just the flaming colours of dusk at sundown”, the mother reassured the child. She too was watching the fantastic scene, dazed.
Across the road, was the bank of the vast Godavari river, over which was a railway bridge, 4 km long. A train, drawn by a smoke-belching, huffing and puffing steam engine was chugging towards the house, giving out a shrill whistle before entering the East Godavary station just a little distance to the right of the house. The sky was afire with deep shades of orange and red, with the smoke of the engine to complete the image of a bridge on fire. It was a sight the child never forgot.
Half a century later, I came back to Rajahmundry with other members of the family, including a brother and sister who were born there, to commemorate our father’s birth centennary, or 100 years. This was the place where my father started what would be a flourishing business and a large family. He had arrived here in his teens, called over by one of his elder brothers who worked there. He paced the streets in towns along the East Coast, shouting and selling sarees. The initial years were spent in exteme hard work and penury.
The house does not exist. The plot of land where it stood is partly covered with weeds and partly by an unremarkable two storeyed building. I kept staring at the vacant place, searching for the house with a mother and child on the balcony. I turned towards the river, shut my eyes and relived the scene of the ‘bridge on fire’.
The river is as wide as before, full at both banks; there is a pucca ghat of pink stone on the river bank; the bridge of yore still stands, defunct, rusting, with two spankingly new bridges by its side. My brother and I went into the river, took several “dips” in memory of our parents and siblings who were no more.
A little downstream from Rajamundry, at Dholeswaram barge, the Godavari splits into 7 arms, formng a delta before pouring her waters into the Bay of Bengal. At Antarvedi, we went right upto the mouth of the river by boat. We also went to Ambajipet, Palakol, Annavaram.. places which I had heard my father talk of, and where we met families whose parents were close friends of my parents.
Along the way, are temple towns of Ralli, Ainavalli, and Antarvedi. Timeless, uncrowded, and spotlessly swept clean, they are not to be missed.
We took a river cruise upstream into the densely forested Papi Hills. The journey is very scenic, with a very full river weaving through the interlocking hills. However, the all-day journey is taxing, and towards the end, could get boring and monotonous.
The entire delta area of the Godavari is lush green with plantations of rice, bananas and coconuts. Travelling through the region gives a timeless,serene, tranquil feeling.
Rajamundry is on the East Coast on the Chennai-Kolkata line, between Vijaywada and Vishakhaptanam