A day at Prayag

Allahabad was our first night-stop on that great drive to orient which I wrote some time back. For a better period of our planing, we were finding ways on how to reach Gorakhpur by first night, we would flip over the maps one more time, calculate the distances again, try to get updates on East-West Corridor by NHAI (National Highway Authority of India) but it still was as far as 750 KMs and hence not a place where we could reach when we call quits on Day1. The constraints were same viz. assume that we are not clocking more then 60 KM an hour, no driving when it gets dark, plan for unplanned stoppages, remember we have a 3 year old baby, also remember that we are just 3 people, and do not forget to remind yourself that we are not driving towards Canada (read Delhi-Mumbai) and rather going towards Mexico (Delhi-Patna) and so on. So even though nothing changed in the realm of geography while we were amidst planning, our appetite for accepting a distance of 650 odd KM as a day-drivable thing grew gradually. Its a very peculiar thing where a next-big number, somehow, doesn’t appear as big. So when one fine day, we thought that why not go via Allahabad – Banaras towards Patna, our plan passed the test. Suddenly we had decided that we would be staying at Prayag on Night 1. I believe Prayag (aka Allahabad) had to happen so it happened.


We reached our hotel only by evening, even though we must have entered the city by 4.30 PM or so. It gets dark a little earlier as you go towards east. We were booked at ‘Kanha Shyam’, a hotel which has lived its glory years but is still considered as one of the better hotels around. It was a long drive and the joy of reaching in time was getting difficult to hide. After all it was 650 KM in about 11 hours but I saved the bragging for sometime else. We checked-in and ordered for some mutton biryani and decided to stretch our legs and give some necessary rest to our spines.

‘Kanha Shyam’ is in ‘Civil Lines’ area and we were told by polite staff at the reception that we can utilize the evening to do some shopping as we were very close to the popular shopping area, so thats what we did.

Let me give you some information on this city before we venture into shops and do some buying.

Allahabad city is placed on the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna and happens to be one of the cleanest and the fastest developing cities of UP. It is located on NH-2 between Delhi and Calcutta and is well connected by road and rail. Its a rich city in terms of history (the ancient city of Prayag), culture, education and political & religious importance (home to many leaders and the site of the Mahakumbh). Being a literacy and cultural hub, it also boosts of 75% literacy levels and the spoken languages are Hindi, Urdu and English. The various popular dialects of Hindi within the city are Illahabadi, Khari Boli, Awadhi and Bagheli. The city is a hub of education, with the Allahabad University, NIT and IIIT-A, along with many, many prep-schools and coaching institutes for the whole district and surrounding cities

It also has the high-court for UP, the headquarters of the North Central Railways and many government administrative offices. The biggest event in the city is the Magh Mela (mini-Kumbh) every year in January (starts every year from Makar Sankranti in January and ends at Maha Shivratri in February); and the Kumbh Mela every 12 years at the Sangam that claims more than 1 Mn visitors each day.

It was dark, 7.30 PM or so and Allahabad looked busy. It seems that the whole city is out on the street, munching. There were food stalls – chaat, chowmein, momos, juice, ice-cream, shakes, and what not, then there were vendors selling balloons, road side shops selling wares ranging from combs to vessels. Shops didn’t look too crowded but they definitely looked well lit and very active, there was this bouncing mickey-mouse outside that big Mall where kids were having a great time. I also noticed a wine shop which was so much different then the pigeon-cages which I see in Noida. This shop was about 12 feet wide and 4 feet deep, it was open from the bigger side of the rectangle and you could actually smell the bottles before buying them. It made me feel more safe. We did couple of rounds of the market, had our dinner at McD in the mall and decided to head back hotel in a cycle rickshaw. My 3 year old commented that this rick would turn into a cycle if it breaks. Somehow these long distance drives also affect the young ones. Surviving the ride in that high rick, almost 25 % higher then the ones we find in Delhi and probably 50 % then the ones which are in Hyderabad (the one in which Naagesh is seen in the iconic ‘Hyderabad Blues’), we reached back to Hotel. I arranged for some chapatis from a near-by dhaba for my little one and crashed. It was about 16 hours when we had started from our home near Delhi and it was hard to believe that we were now at Allahabad. So far so good .

After getting up at our usual time of 7.30ish, we had our breakfast and checked-out of the hotel by 10. The breakfast buffet was pretty nice. Cordial and effective staff, hot and delicious food, comfortable chairs and not too many people around. I did look around, there was a small group of 4-6 people with file-folders in hand, my best guess was they were from some IT company, camping there fo finding some bright engineers who could work on banking software and what not. We left after having full, thanking the stewards and front office ladies.

Our first stop was to be at ‘Anand Bhawan’, an old house which witnessed and hosted numerous sessions around the freedom movement. It was a palatial bunglow of Moti Lal Nehru, the acclaimed lawyer whose son later became the first Prime Minister of India. The duo was often called ‘The worthy son of a worthy father’ and while I do not really agree with some of the things Pandit Jee did, I definitely look up to him as a learned and intelligent man.


Anand Bhawan – As you enter

Anand Bhawan is a big housing complex now with large lush lawns. As we parked our car outside, we noticed that there aren’t too many visitors, probably because of the drizzle. The lone sentry at the gate didn’t look intimidating and the ticket counter was vacant. We waited for him to buy our entry tickets while my 3 year old did few rounds of running on the lawns. The place looks old, more so when you look at the trees, but very well kept. The main structure has two floors. The outer walls of the rooms at ground floor, which open at varandah have been taken away and in place of that a glass wall has been put. Its a very novel way of restoring an old structure, so while you can look at most of the things inside the rooms, you really can not go inside. There is nothing much to look at but as you focus your gaze at the white bed spreads over floor-mattresses, and start to visualize the meetings which probably the Indian political think-tank had, about 70-80 years ago, it suddenly starts to appear much more lively. So we looked around, went to the first floor. There are more rooms here. You can look at JN marked wallets, cig cases, expensive cutleries, old coins, letters from Priyadarshini to Jawahar and get carried away. Apart from this main structure, there are other buildings as well in the campus. We had more things on our agenda so we pushed out.


Anand Bhawan

Time to go to Sangam and to a place which hosts one of the largest mela on earth, the Kumbh Mela. Allahabad is not a very big city so it didn’t take us long to reach there. It was raining. As we reached the ‘Kumbh Mela’ area, we could see that there are large rectangular lawns/fields with roads on all sides. If you look it from top, it would resemble a chess board with thick borders between cells. I guess these are done to manage the large no of visitors who throng this place during Mela. May be they put temporary accos in these lawns. We asked for direction and went all the way till Ganga. We could not spot a point as such which could be called ‘Sangam’. I was told that its fairly difficult to see two different rivers on a rainy day. On the front, we could see the mammoth face of Ganga, on the left, we could see the bridge which goes over it and on our back, the large open area. It was still raining and getting a little depressing. Even though our drive to Banaras was not a long one, we still wanted to reach while its sun-lit. So we looked hard one last time and I took a U turn and steered towards right to catch the bridge. I made a note, that I need to come here again.


At Sangam in Prayag

As I drove over the bridge, I could sense the Ganga underneath, the cosy rooms of Anand Bhawan were still fresh in my mind and I was wondering that what would Banaras have in store for me.

19 Comments

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Lucid and neat description.

    Pihu holding the small little umbrella looks enchanting.

    Incidentally, what do these poles with red coloured flags denote !!

  • rahulv says:

    650km in a day. Bravo!
    NJ, you missed mentioning that Allahabad is also famous for the Bachhan family…
    Neat post. Don’t keep us waiting for Benaras post for too long.
    I loved the joke about the rick turning into a cycle. Hilarious :)

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Thanks Ram.

    I dont know any specific reason for these Poles. They looked like one of the routine things which ones see outside temples and religious places.

    Thanks RahulV. Yeah, you are right, more so since I have another reason to flaunt Bachhan connection :), it never occurred to us to actually find out where he lives or anything else.

    I would try to do Banaras soon. On return journey, I came via Gorakhpur, and we stopped over at Kushinagar, so a short story on that is pending as well.

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    A Beautiful portrait of the city of legendary places.

    And Those little nuggets about some bright engineers who could work on banking software and the analogies of Mexico-Canada only add to the flavour.

    Probably EW corridor is still a far way to go.

    Your little one is sharp for her age(Tri rickshaw bifurcating into two cycles!) and seems not to be too fond of the Fast food. Are these two the cause and the effect:) ?

    Your 650 a day will inspire someone and probably also to turn a ‘Scorpion’ someday.

    I have done in pat NCR-LKO via NH-24(~500km) in a day (with a two hour break at Bareilly and a couple other minor breaks)and it took me 5:00am to 4:00pm-11hrs. But at the end of the drive I felt like jombie and eyes were all fire. Undivided carriage road does wonders. Anything above 75-80 and you have to be on your toes looking out for the big ones swerving into your carriageway headlong, apart from the “break tu laga, road to mere baap ki hai” kind of mechanised and un-mechanised jaywalkers.
    I slept through the next day.

    Hope the new NH2 and other GQed sections have not much of this kind of tension.

    Waiting for your next installment…

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Glad that you liked it. She likes fast food but a roti is still a killer, come what may. Sometimes you pay through your nose but it still doesn’t do any good. The chapatis which I got packed for her were Rs 3 a piece, warm and soft.

    Driving long distances is like getting stoned, after a while you get into a suspended state. The cabin atmosphere plays a great role and I could say that after doing Delhi-Jaisalmer in a day, only possible because of a funtastic company. We were very lucky oh that particular drive since we would do 800 KM in about 15 hours (5.30 AM – 8.00 PM) with two good long breaks (in excess of 2.5 hours).

    Would start writing on Benares next week, hope to finish it soon.

  • Geetha Saravanan says:

    Very interesting story Nandan.

    Your journeys as always are well catalogued with details of the drive, the how many kms and the hrs… its amazing. I can’t seem to remember more than the number of hours spent from start to destination. My images are usually collages of the scenery flitting by.
    The ‘Kanha Shyam ‘ sounds quaint. The staff in a hotel do contribute a lot towards a pleasurable stay don’t they?
    I see that Pihu has inherited her father’s sense of humour as also his crisp subtle way of expressing it!
    I can safely say that I ‘ve learnt a lot about Allahabad from your post. A wholesome story with history, culture, info and modern aspects in the right measure.

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Geetha.

    Kanha Shyam is not quaint in true quaint way. Its old but its still another piece of place with long aisles which do not attract any sunlight, dark carpets and so on. Staff was polite and friendly and I 100% agree with you that it greatly adds to overall comfort.

    Pihu inheriting my sense of humour, may not be a compliment to her :), probably she would have to live with this as she grows old.

    Again, thanks for liking the story. Its been a while you wrote here.

  • lakshmi says:

    Great detailing and awesome observation..I almost thought I was in Allahabad..

  • nandanjha says:

    Yeah, :), thats been a change in overall style. It never occurred to me ever that I should detail things more so my past experiences read like a rushed affairs. Glad that you liked this.

    Read my Banaras story, less factual than this one though.

  • lakshmi says:

    did just that …its awesome …ive been travelling so much in the South that I am happy to read these posts

  • manish khamesra says:

    Good one Nandan. It was easy to think of Sangam when one talks about Allahabad (Prayag), but it never occured to me that one can also see Anand Bhawan. It must really be an experience to visit this building containing so many stories of our freedom struggle within its four walls.

    Pihu in the photograph holding umbrella is looking very cute.

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Manish. There are few other things which we missed viz. Azad park n all.

    Anand Bhawan is pretty well kept. When were there, it was drizzling and there were not many people, so with its old world charm, the whole setting got very interesting.

    I can imagine that on a hot summer afternoon, it would get very filmy to be there , with a cup of tea and some like minded people.

  • JATINDER SETHI says:

    Little late to come in because I thought I had already put in mine tupenny bit, but didnt see,So once again.Never been to Allahabad,except once long time back for some worl on way to Cal.One of the holiest places beside being the place of Nehrus . I know Allhabad because of place of favourite poets of college time–FIRAQUE GORAKHPURI the English teacher in the Uni. and Akbar Allahabadi. Bachchan Madhubalas and Madhushalas used to be as commercial break during discussion of Urdu poetry. Does Allahabad means abode of ALLAHA?

  • nandanjha says:

    Yes, I got your tu pennies before on this.

    As always, its a very homely-feeling to read your comments, Its like being addressed from the backyard of the main building of your house, the chaukhat of rasoi to the boy who never had enough of playing amid the haystacks :) in the varandah.

    You talk of Madhushala, I had perserved a recorded version of Mann Dey’s rendering of the classic for a long time. I might still have.

    ‘??? ???? ?? ?? ??? ??, ?? ????? ????????’

    Its almost like , how do I get Nirvana.

  • tanya.s says:

    hey 650 kms in a day is just phantashtic!!! but m sure it makes u yearn for a comfortable bed as soon as u find halt!!

    quite a nifty and neat post spruced up with details at the right places

    your posts reflect your excitement and smiles thru the trip and it comes across as so much of a palpable joy for the reader…

    like the pic of the sangam…makes me feel the slight nip in the air :)

  • nandanjha says:

    Tanya – well read I would say :). After reading your comment, I re-read the story and discovered some of the things which were not very apparent to me when I wrote it.

  • Dearest Nandan,

    Have to go to Allahabad for two-three days to enjoy some time with my younger son who is studying at Allahabad Medical College. As is my habit, I came to you to get some sane advice in the form of first hand experience from the hard-core traveller who can drive 650 km. in a day ! Going through it has been a time well spent. However, Pihu is now 8 years old and can click good photographs all by herself!

    I really feel sorry for not being able to write anything these days. Hope my lethargy would go away some day soon and I will be back here.

    Best regards,

    Sushant Singhal

  • Nandan Jha says:

    And you made me read this again, Sushant Sir. Thank you. Looking back, it feels good to have done all this. :-)

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