Silk River heads to the River Hooghly

Photo: Mike Johnston

Hi Ali, thanks for talking to us. How did the walks in London go?

They started in Kew Gardens, and it was a really lovely start to the ten days. It really located the connection between Kew and the Botanical Gardens in Kolkata, it was a good start to the journey and set us off in the right conversation in terms of how long that connection has been and still is happening between the two.

We spent the first night in St Paul’s Youth Hostel which was really interesting as the core group of us didn’t go back home in between, we were on the trot for the whole ten days. I saw and slept in parts of London that I wouldn’t have imagined. Being in the youth hostel was fantastic, and in our girls dorm we had a young woman from Mumbai who was studying, and she had a friend from Kolkata who had grown up in Bhata in Kolkata. She was really amazed by the connection we were making along the Thames at East Tilbury with Bhata so it was like all the way along we would meet people who would ask about the flags and keep on making these really great connections.

We had all sorts of adventures all the way down to Southend so it was fantastic. 

How many miles will you have walked once the project is complete?

Well, 124 miles that I walked to Southend from Kew so far. I'm not sure it will be as many in India, but I will be walking quite a lot before I even get started. They aren’t really very big walkers in India. I’m always trying to get them out walking. I’ll tell you my final footsteps when I get back!

  • On the Waverley © Stephen McGrath

Was there a particular stand-out moment from the London walks?

The best thing that happened that we hadn’t really planned was when we got on the Waverly at the end of the walks - there was this sort of finale moment where we were sailing off with our twenty flags up, all the way back up river to Tower Bridge – it was so great to see the whole walk from the river and it not just to be ‘ok we’ve done it now get in the van’ - it had a proper ending. Quite a few participants were on the boats so we spent that 3-4 hour journey on the river to reflect on what we’d done – the whole project connected us all in a very real way to the river as a working life artery of London.

The scrolls were also displayed at Kew Gardens last month, tell us how that went?

Yes - the scrolls looked amazing, and we had a great closing event, it was sort of like the hand over moment where we handed the scrolls over to India and said goodbye to them for the time being. Actually the other really good news we got this week is that we will end the walks in India at Victoria Memorial Building, and the scrolls will be displayed in that building. That was the most significant statement of the British Empire, and so to have them there is really a big 'full-circle' moment.

  • Kew Gardens © Mike Johnston
  • © Mike Johnston
  • © Mike Johnston
  • © Mike Johnston
  • © Mike Johnston

Tell us what you expect from the journey along the Hooghly? 

We found out last month that West Bengal Tourism has sponsored a boat for us! It’s quite a long journey, longer than the London one, over two hundred miles, and you can’t just walk along the river, even more so than along the Thames we will be travelling along the river by boat, and then coming to the communities and spending time there. The communities that we are visiting all have fantastic things to offer, and are little known and even those from Kolkata themselves don’t travel to them. Hopefully this project will provide a bit of a spotlight for people to say ‘oh actually there’s a lot going on there’.

Will there be any more opportunities to see the scrolls once the walks are finished?

Next year we have got people interested to have them at Tilbury Cruise Terminal, and maybe in Gravesend. So they are around.

> Follow the Silk River journey along River Hooghly here.