For the next few weeks, I’m posting a travelogue about my recent trip to India – my first on the sub-continent. For those of you dreaming of a trip to India or for those of you who have been, feel free to add tidbits of your travel stories in the comments section!
We set off today on our 2nd railway journey in India, from Agra to Allahabad (or as it’s known now, Prayagraj). There is a movement in India to revert to Hindu names for cities with Islamic names. Allahabad has been the name of this city since the 16th century – I’m pretty sure the Mughal conquest is ancient history.
Allahabad isn’t really on the tourist map, we went there because that’s where my husband was born. He was 3 months old when he left, so his memory of the place is non-existent.
We had difficulties booking train tickets as the Agra trains were all full. We arranged for a car to take us to a major railway junction about 45 minutes drive from Agra – Tundla Junction. From here, we had more train options, but even then only 2nd class was available.
When we arrived, our porters hoisted our large suitcases onto their heads and headed up the stairs and over to our platform. They sat us down right where we’d need to be when the train came in and came back to help us find our seats. 2nd class wasn’t that bad. It was a bit more open than 1st class with a bit more traffic (the chai sounded great, but we refrained).
We did attract quite a lot of attention in the train station, partially because of my camera, but mainly because we seemed to be the only westerners there.
Tundla Junction not a tourist stop by any means. I photographed a couple of children, but soon about 50 Indians were standing around watching – and stepping ever closer. When Indians are interested in something, they have no problem looking. My husband was getting nervous so I shut it down. I started doing something boring – reading a newspaper – and the crowd around got bored and dispersed.
We took the Kalka Mail, one of the oldest train lines in India watching the countryside go by.
Alighting in Allahabad, we had our first taste of what I’m calling “real India” – in other words, not tourist India. While the tuk-tuk drivers were arguing over whether they knew where our guesthouse was and how we could possibly fit our luggage into the small vehicles, we grabbed an Uber driver who was dropping off a fare.
Hotels in Allahabad were hard to find and we thought we booked into guest house. Well, we thought we did. It seems that we really didn’t “book”. Hotels.com thought we had a booking, but the owner of the guesthouse didn’t. It all worked out in the end. The owner found us a room – in the middle of a wedding party that had taken over the entire guest house. We ended up having breakfast with the visitors and were invited to the party.
In the afternoon, we took a motorized rickshaw to the river confluence. Allahabad is a holy city because this is the place where the Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati (mythical) rivers converge.
It’s a holy city year-round, but we went down by the river to watch the tent cities being erected for the Kumbh Mela festival. The beach held thousands of people, but starting in January 2019, this will turn into MILLIONS!
The main Kumbh festival happens every 12 years, but 2019 is the 1/2 festival which happens every 6 years. In January through March, 2019 millions of Hindus will visit to ritually bath in the rivers.
To get a perspective of the size of the festival: Imagine if 1 out of every 3 people in the U.S. decided to visit the St. Louis Arch (STL is about the size of Allahabad) before March 1st, 2019
Imagine the populations of NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston – and about 3 other major cities – descended on the STL Arch… IN ONE DAY! That’s the size of the festival.
When we visited, preparations were going on and people were booking into tent cities – and yes, you can book a tent, even a luxury one, on hotels.com (take a look!)
As an added treat, we talked with a news reporter – actually the photographer who was carrying a Nikon of some flavor (big cameras are like magnets. My Sony caught his eye) – and the next day the owner of the guesthouse had a surprise for us – we’d made the news! The article is about visitors starting to arrive in town for Kumbh Mela.
We had a lovely afternoon by the river and rowed around in a boat. There were hundreds of boats and probably thousands of people along the beach. I just can’t imagine millions! Maybe in 6 years I’ll be ready to visit and photograph Kumbh Mela in full swing.