Wednesday 7th October.
After crunching out 465km in seven hours yesterday in our ride from Agra to Allahabad and with only an additional 130km between here and Varanasi, the plan was to have to have a rest & recreation day in Allahabad today.
Trip Advisor gave us a few suggestions on things to see in Allahabad – the number #1 suggestion is to visit the Triveni Sangam – the confluence of three holy rivers – the Ganges, Yamuna, and the mystical Saraswati River. Another top-ranking suggestion was to visit Anand Bhavan – the residence of the Nehru family, India’s first prime minister.
Our kind hosts at Kunjpur Guest House arranged for Deepu – a local tuk-tuk driver – to take us out on our sightseeing adventure, and so after a late breakfast we climbed aboard our electric tuk-tuk about 10:00am, bound for Sangam.
The drive to Sangam was nothing short of an adventure in its own right. Driving here in India is absolutely manic, and Allahabad is right up there in terms of craziness.
As we approached Sangam a number of guys on the side of the street kept on calling out to Deepu but he just responded with what sounded like ‘locals’ and kept on driving. We dropped down to the river flat and passed by a small tent city, perhaps temporary home to some of the pilgrims who had travelled to Allahabad to visit this holy place. Many pilgrims were sitting on the side of the track that led down to the beach, empty food bowls placed on the ground in front of them.
Deepu brought the tuk-tuk to a stop and we got out, and were instantly swamped by people selling offerings and other momentos. Deepu shooed them away, and introduced us to a boat operator who initially requested 1500INR for the row-boat out to the confluence. Our hosts had recommended we pay no more than 500INR and after a few rounds of bargaining the operator eventually agreed to the 500.
Another man – Sameed – led us to a wooden boat, and with a lightweight covering arched over the deck to provide some shade from the hot sun, and jostled and pushed the boat out between a throng of other boats tied up to each other, and out into the river. Sameed rowed us out towards the confluence, easily 500m away from the shore, and after a while I was invited to take one oar and join him in the rowing, which I did.
There were a lot of boats tied up together and forming an arc along the confluence of the rivers – the green Yamuna and clear Ganges. We bumped into one of the boats and tied up to it, and then crossed over to the larger boat. We were offered some form of coconut (perhaps) to eat, but we’d been advised to decline any offers of goods lest we get stung with an unreasonable cost. Sameed went in for a dip in the water – it’s been said that Hindu’s have a bath here to flush away all of one’s sins and free themselves from the cycle of rebirth.
It was hot in the sun out on the water and I couldn’t resist the temptation to flush away my sins so I stripped down to my jocks (thank goodness I was wearing some today) and climbed over the side of the boat and into the water. To my surprise I found myself standing on a submerged platform that had been stung between two boats, providing some safety as the Ganges flows very quickly, and the Yamuna is very deep – about forty feet at this point. Sameed gestured for me to hold onto a short rope and then immerse fully into the water which I did. Karen was watching all the time and quickly decided to join us in the water, dunking and all! It was a great experience and we felt very privileged to have had the opportunity to visit this holy place and participate in some of the rites.
On the way back to shore it was Karen’s turn to help Sameed with the rowing for a while, and she put in a sterling effort. Sameed only spoke a little English but we gathered that he was just an employee of the boat operator, so we tipped him separately for his contribution to our wonderful trip out on the river, and then once back on dry land I paid the operator the 500INR as previously agreed.
We walked up the sandy river bank back to our tuk-tuk and a young boy approached Karen holding a round tin. He opened the lid and revealed the contents – initially Karen thought it was a large bangle but she soon realised that it was a snake, coiled up inside the tin. She jumped away from it and quickly climbed onto the tuk-tuk, eager to get away from the snake. A short distance later we were passing a stationary bus full of pilgrims and another boy was walking past the bus holding up his tin which had a cobra sitting up in it with its flared hood, showing it to the bus passengers. Karen was horrified when she made the connection that the snake in the tin had also been a cobra. I can see I have some work to do before I can convince her to come and visit Chhota Poshla with me – the snake village in north-east India that has 3,000 people and 6,000 cobras living in it.
We made our way from Sangam to Anand Bhavan, stopping for an ice cream outside this historic house before going into the grounds, but once inside we realised that the house was closed for lunch between 12:45 and 1:30pm, so we went back to see Deepu, who took us to visit a local park and then ‘Eat-On’ – a very popular street side food stall that sold nothing but simple and tasty plates of biryani, either chicken or mutton. The three of us took our trays of biryani and stood in the shade of the trees along with all the other diners, enjoying our lunch.
Returning to Anand Bhavan, Karen and I enjoyed browsing through this stately home and looking at the historical artefacts on display. After a while Deepu joined us and led us to a seperate building that I hadn’t taken much notice of before, but which contained a small but fascinating collection of photographs taken of Nehru.
Upon returning to our guest house we were met at the gate by one of the staff members who announced that two of our friends had arrived – the father and son – and when we stepped inside we were pleased to see Aad and Mike, who had just arrived from Agra having left there earlier today. In conversation with the guys they had actually booked to stay at the Raka Inn on an adjacent street – but when they arrived there no one could speak English and they were turned away and directed towards our guest house. When the arrived at the Kunjpur they looked through the gates and they could see the big BMW parked outside so they figured out that they had found us 🙂
Now it’s just a bit past 5:00pm and we’ve arranged to have dinner with Aad and Mike at 7:00pm. I’ve finished my blogging for today and Karen is working hard as usual on her photos – that’s a big job that consumes a lot of her off-bike time. Tomorrow we’ll head off to Varanasi and experience more of ‘Incredible India’. I’ve heard some people say that you will either love India or hate it – it’s such a crazy, vibrant, noisy, fascinating place that you can’t help but fall in love with it – despite all of its contradictions and challenges. “Varanasi – we’re coming for you!!!”