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Photographer's Note

A dead river, the Saraswati used to be a major trade route into central Bengal until approximately 300 years ago.

The Portugese sailors were using it as their means to avoid confronting English and French and Dutch ships along the Hooghly river, until silt made the river un-navigable. Since then the old river bed has become swamps, farmlands, or in places just pools of brakish water that swells in monsoon.

Around traces of the old river there are jungles of tropical vegetation, in places the remains of lofty towers and ruins of palacial gates made with stacks of thin red bricks--the specialty of Bengal--now overgrown with strands of twisted roots of banyan tree sucking the last of the salts. At night one hears the chorus of foxes, wild cats often roam the area, even 30 years ago leopards were sighted, and elephant herds came to visit the area even ten years ago. The local people talk of the Borgis--Maratha marauders who used to terrorize Bengal 500 years ago--some eventually settling down in the area to become landlords.

While digging the silt on its ancient flood basins, one often finds prehistoric artifacts, stone or terracotta figurines, stone tools, speaking of settlement in pre-vedic times.

The region was first developed by the Maurya dynasty (325 BC), which made a trade road between what is now Sonarganj in Bangladesh and 'Taxilla', the original Maurya capital, near Peshawar in current Pakistan, a distance of over 2,500 km, going through Calcutta, Patna, Varanasi (Benaras), Allahabad, Agra, Delhi, through Punjab into current Pakistan through Lahore.

Following the decay of the Maurya and then the Sunga empires the trade road became less utilized, which was then rebuilt by Sher Shah in ~1,500 AD, which still exists today as the Grand Trunk Road (NH-1/2). The Mughals had extended the road to Kabul in Afghanistan.

The importance of this area to ancient trade is appreciated by the fact that often one finds coins dating to early Islamic period (I have a few in my collection) if one digs even a shallow trench in the silt bed.

In a few years the dead river's legacy will live only as the area that floods often in monsoon rains, revealing from its bosom as water recedes a few glittering coins and ancient playthings.

prantik, SamB, dhurjati, Salil_B, ramesh_lalwani has marked this note useful

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Additional Photos by Animesh Ray (AnimeshRay) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 687 W: 47 N: 846] (9087)
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