Ah Allahabad, how we love you.
Calm, quiet Allahabad has been our haven over the past couple of days. We took the overnight train from Agra on Thursday, arriving Friday morning (5am, yay!) in Allahabad. After some small hick ups (the hotel I had reserved over email didn’t have a room for us, despite confirmation), we found a place to stay and slept for a few hours.
Allahabad is one of the main holy cities of Hinduism. It is said the Brahma, Hindu god of creation, landed on earth in Allahabad. About 4km out of town is Sangam, a pilgrimage point where two rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna, meet a third mythical river called the Saraswati.
Pilgrims come out here at all times of the year but numbers increase during Magh Mela, a 6 week festival which has 6 ‘holy dip’ dates. One of those turned 0ut to be today, 14 Jan.
On Friday we visited the local museum which had a great collection of ancient sculptures from 2000 years ago, when India was a Buddist empire. It was really interesting as we did not see much of this in Rajasthan where most of the muesums house stuff from the Mughal period and some stuff on the Rajput kingdoms (with a dose of Hindu revisionism thrown in). The museum was inside a huge park near the university and a beautiful old oxford-esque library so there were lots of uni students hanging around studying and some boys and girls discreetly meeting each other on park benches.
After heading back to town we stopped at a lunch place called FRIENDS, cleverly named after the tv show. The gimmick worked, because it was packed. It had a strong 90s vibe and was located underneath a Levis store. There was loud music, hamburgers, mocktails and lots of uni students and couples. This is the elusive rising Indian middle class we have heard so much about but hadn’t really seen up until now.
We tried to head out to Sangam that evening but there aren’t many auto rickshaws around and the one we found wouldn’t take us out there! The auto rickshaws here are bigger and function like buses, choosing a route and picking up more passengers than they can safely carry. Instead we relaxed, enjoyed a chai and met some local Indian men. It’s quite funny as we seem to always strike up conversation with old Indian men where one man speaks English and translates for the other 5 men. They are always very impressed that Ben is a teacher (there is great respect for teachers in India), although I struggle to convey what I do for work. They LOVE to chat about the cricket and luckily Ben knows his cricket!
Later that evening we stumbled upon our first mall. Very exciting! Perhaps it’s weird but one of the things I love when travelling is visiting the supermarket and seeing what the difference is. We walked around and bought some juices and nuts. The main difference is the abundance and variety of grains and spices. I don’t think many people would use the supermarket, most veggies you can just get from the veggie-wallah on the street. The other thing we found (Megan, prepare to be excited) is a McDonalds! Again, McDonalds exists everywhere but what they serve is always different. I think Ben will post some photos but I particularly liked the looked of Chicken Maharaja Burger and the McPaneer.No beef of course, or red meat at all in this part of India at least, but there was some chicken creeping it’s way onto the menu.
This morning (Sat) we woke at 4.45am, forced ourselves out of bed and headed down to Sangam to see pilgrims taking their holy dip. There were a lot of people on the street for that time of the morning as we headed down in our cycle-rickshaw (sidenote: I love cycle-rickshaws. They’re 100 times better than auto-rickshaws and the guys riding them are always so much nicer).
Because so many people attended the Magh Mela the police rope off some of the area so we had to walk about 30/40 minutes to get there. It was quite nice to walk in the morning dark as no-one noticed we were foreigners and we were stared at less. It was really amazing to see all these people taking their holy dip, literally thousands and thousands of people. We didn’t take any photos of people jumping in as it seemed a bit rude but we took some from far away. After sitting for a bit we jumped on a boat and rode out into the middle where the two rivers meet. Benj took lots of pictures here which I think he is putting up now.
Tonight we take the train to Varanasi. I was hoping to visit some UNICEF polio immunisation rounds in Varanasi but have just heard that they’ve been cancelled so will see if there is another way to learn about some of our work over here.
That’s all for now!