Pious Prayag

Describing Prayagraj as a sangam of mysticism, magic and mythology, Amrita Das unearths the many layers of this ancient city, including the famed Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela

Certain names have a magical ring to them. Whether I call it Prayagraj, Prayag or Allahabad, the magic I associate with the destination only intensifies. Prayagraj is steeped in history, mythology and politics. Even though exploring Uttar Pradesh is always fascinating, when it comes to unearthing the many layers of this ancient city, I am in constant fear of missing its essence. The mythology pertaining to the place is a particular reason why I am drawn to it. Prayag is believed to be the place where Brahma, the god of creation, himself set foot on earth. Of course, it has been further popularised by the ‘Maha Kumbh Mela’ when millions of Hindu pilgrims flock to this city.

With a Mughal past

The present-day city of Allahabad — or the City of God, as it was called then — was founded by Akbar and is spoilt with remnants of the Mughal dynasty. Akbar Fort, also called Allahabad Fort, is an Archaeological Survey of India site and stands magnificently on the bank of River Yamuna. Typical to the Akbar period of architecture, the fort is decorated with elegant star motifs and circular patterns. This fort, however, is not open to visitors. Patalpuri Temple, at its base, is open to all.

For elaborate architectural details, visit the exquisite Khusro Bagh, which is more than 40 acres and impresses with its typical Mughal architecture — the spacious gardens around tombstones of Jehangir’s family. These mausoleums belong to Khusrau Mirza (Jehangir’s eldest son), Shah Begum (Jehangir’s wife) and Sultan Nithar Begum (Jehangir’s daughter). These three-tiered carved tombs date back to the 17th century and depict typical elements of Mughal architecture — minarets on four sides, intricately carved entrances and latticed windows.

Khusro Bagh
Khusro Bagh

Head on to Allahabad High Court to see distinct Victorian architecture. The spread-out lawns, central dome extended by grand columns and symmetrical corridors are all essential elements of this late 19th-century style of architecture. In sharp contrast is All Saints Cathedral in Civil Lines. This Anglican cathedral has elaborate Gothic elements like the grand Gothic arches, distinct buttresses and beautiful stucco work in the exterior. The inside of this cathedral is equally impressive with tall columns, colourful stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling. Don’t miss the mosaic altar and the intricate inlay work on the marble. The pulpit requires a special mention, owing to its careful and detailed carvings. This cathedral dates back to 1887 and has some, though very few, remnants of the popular Mughal latticework.

A holy gathering

In 2013, Maha Kumbh Mela, which takes place every 144 years, became a part of the Guinness World Records as the ‘largest-ever gathering of human beings for a single purpose’. Every 12 years, Triveni Sangam or the confluence of the three holy rivers — Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati — boom with pilgrims from all over India and worldwide. Sangam has a surreal feel to it. Ganga wears a brown colour while the Yamuna is a shade of dull green. Saraswati adds its mysticism as the ‘mythical river’ which is believed to have dried up many years ago and yet floats along the surface of the two aforementioned rivers. Having seen the source of the three rivers, Triveni Sangam makes the journey come a full circle for me. If you are a devout Hindu, take a courageous dip. For everyone else, like me, sit and admire the changing colours and elements of the panorama from the ghats. Patalpuri Temple is sacred for many Hindus. Akshaya vat, or ‘the immortal tree’, is the main reason behind its popularity. This auspicious banyan tree is believed to have been visited by Lord Rama and has also been mentioned by Xuanzang, the famous Chinese traveller.

The political landscape

Anand Bhawan on Katra Road is where Indian National Congress took shape. The first owner of this mansion was Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal Nehru. But it was in 1970 that Indira Gandhi handed it over to the government. It now serves as a museum exhibiting memorabilia of the Nehru family — photographs, books and documents that narrate the history of the mansion as a site where political meetings were held. Don’t miss the Venetian glassware and porcelain from Saxony, Germany, which Motilal Nehru brought back from his trips to Europe.

Anand Bhawan
Anand Bhawan

Indulging taste buds

Indulge in Prayag’s street food with an open mind and sufficient appetite. Start at Netram in Katra for a hearty breakfast with kachoris accompanied with mildly spiced aloo dum and tomato chutney. To sample the famed Allahabad chaats, head to Shiv Chat Bhandar in Bairana. From pani puri, dahi bhalla to aloo tikki, everything oozes flavour here. For a quick refreshing drink, stop at Lallu Paan Bhandar in Civil Lines which is extremely popular for its masala cool drinks. And finally for desserts, stop either at Radhe in Loknath Bazaar for fruit cream, or Dehati in Bairana for rasgulley (actually gulab jamun), or Raja Ram Lassi Wala in Loknath Bazaar for rabri and kulfi.

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