Dadu Aur Madak

It took a little deliberation deciding which route to take to our next major destination the Taj Mahal. It was definitely too long a stretch for two days of riding.  Since Karen's bike was due for it's 9,000 kilometer service, her last free one, we decided to head through Allahabad where there was an authorized service center. There are really only two things--as far as we could see--that distinguish Allahabad. One is that it houses the Nehru family home. The other, and perhaps most interesting is that it is home to what can be the largest religious gathering in the world. Allahabad sits at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna, two of India's most important rivers. Hindu legend also says that they are joined by the mythical Saraswati river--the river of enlightenment. The point where they meet is called Sangam, and it is a popular year-round destination for Hindu pilgrims. It sits next to Allahabad's fort which was built by Akbar one of the greatest Mughal Emperors in the 16th century. Hindu legend tells of a great battle that was fought over a pitcher. The pitcher was eventually captured by Vishnu, and as he made his escape with the pitcher four drops were spilled at four locations in India--one of them at Allahabad. Every three years one of these four towns takes its turn at hosting a religious festival called the Magh Mela at a time determined by astrologers. Every twelfth year the event is a Kumbh Mela which is the largest congregation on earth. There was one at Allahabad in the 50s that achieved notoriety when some 350 people were trampled to death at Sangam as pilgrims rushed to the river. As we approached Allahabad on saturday October 13th we encountered thousands of people on the road mostly on foot and on bicycles. We learned that this was both the day for the Hindu festival of Durga and the Muslim festival of Eid which marks the end of Ramadan. Coincidently, while we were there, one of the English speaking Indian news stations reported on a Durga Festival elsewhere that day where a dozen people were a trampled to death. They also gave some statistics on the subject going back to the year 2000 when another 350 were trampled to death at some other festival. Every single year had witnesed at least a few such incidents at religious events.

We actually found the Sangam (above) next to Akbar's fort to be quite tame. The fort is about a kilometer on each side, and little further from the river's edge people were beginning to set up makeshift shelters (below). Even the ever-present livestock joined the festivities.

All in all we found Allahabad to be a really pleasant town. It was clean and easy to find your way around, and the people were really amiable. The group at left above insisted on having their picture taken with me after I had visited an underground temple within the grounds of the fort. The Durga festivities goes on for several days, and along our route to Khajuraho we encountered temporary shrines like the one at right erected in even the tiniest of villages.