Allahabad, recently renamed Prayagraj, brims with sanctity, heritage, and wonder. Although the rich culture of this Uttar Pradeshi gem begs to be explored in-depth, much of the city can be experienced in 48 hours—if you know where to go. Witness the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and mythical Saraswati rivers at the Triveni Sangam; learn about the ‘City of Prime Ministers,’ starting with Anand Bhavan, the idyllic manor of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru; and traverse the cityscape burgeoning with a rich and varied culture of architecture, influenced by the likes of Emperor Akbar and British colonial rule. From being a historical hub of seminal Indian writers to being one of the four pilgrimage sites where the massive Kumbh mela is held, Allahabad is a hotbed of tradition and excitement, waiting to entertain travellers with all it has to offer.
Start the day with a sunrise boat ride to the Triveni Sangam, the auspicious junction of the Ganga, Yamuna, and mythical Saraswati rivers. On the journey, see worshipers bathing in the water to wash away their sins, a ritual known as moksha. Visitors will also catch a glimpse of Allahabad Fort, an awe-inspiring structure that took over 45 years for Emperor Akbar to build in the 16th century. If you have the courage to brave the crowds, try and time your visit with the Maha Kumbh mela (once in 12 years) or Ardh Kumbh mela (once in six years). This religious congregation is often referred to as the largest gathering of humans in the world, a spectacle that can reportedly be seen from space.
After returning to shore, walk along the banks of the Yamuna to Allahabad Fort. Built by Akbar in 1583, it is immediately apparent why the fort is placed strategically next to such a large religious site—to collect a sizeable pilgrimage tax. During the British Rule of India the fort was captured by the East India Company and used as the headquarters of their local army unit due to its desirable location. Even today some parts of the fort are under the control of the Indian army.
Yet the fort is more than a tactically designed military base. With its imposing walls, gateways flanked by stout towers, and mesmerising mix of mughul artistry, Allahabad Fort remains an architectural gem, despite its decrepit state. Moreover, the structure encircles important hindu artifacts and sites that predate the fort, such as: a subterranean temple called the Patalpuri Temple, the famed Akshaya Vat—a gargantuan banyan tree that is supposed to grant immortality to anyone who jumps from its branches—and the 10.7 m tall Ashoka Pillar from the third century Mauryan reign.
Have a typical local meal of kachori and subji at Netram Mulchand and Sons ( 259, Katra Chouraha, Katra), which has been around since 1855, for good reason. Don’t forget to finish up your meal with hot jalebis.
Walk off lunch at Alfred Park, now called Chandrasekhar Azad Park, after the revolutionary freedom fighter who killed himself on the grounds to avoid being captured by British forces. Built in 1870 to mark Prince Alfred’s visit to the city, the 133 acre park is lined with flower beds, benches, tall trees, and gazebos. The park is also home to the beautiful Allahabad Public Library built in a Scottish baronial style in 1864. The library is a bibliophile’s delight with more than 1,25,000 books in Hindi, English, and Urdu lining its shelves; not to mention, a collection of rare manuscripts, including, an original Persian copy of Shahnama.
A short car ride away lies Khusro Bagh, the tomb of Prince Khusro who was Emperor Jahangir’s traitorous son. The tomb draws in many visitors familiar with the tragic story of Khusro, who rebelled against his own father and was blinded as a punishment and killed by his own brother. The compound also contains the tombs of his mother and sister, Nithar, whose tomb is the most elaborate boasting ceilings painted with stars and floral decorations lining the walls. The three-tiered tombs of sandstone are surrounded by acres of guava and mango trees, where children often play cricket. These mausoleums are built in the Mughal style with thick walls, projecting balconies, jaalis, and floral motifs carved on its façade.
Take in some stunning British colonial architecture with a morning stroll past churches, halls, and public buildings. Meander through Allahabad University, established in 1887, and make sure to admire Muir College, designed by William Emerson (who also designed Victoria Memorial in Kolkata), built in a fusion of styles. Visit the gothic All Saints Cathedral built out of cream coloured stone and sandstone, constructed in the late 19th century with an alabaster pulpit that is said to mirror the style of Canterbury Cathedral. And bring your badminton racket to the red brick wonder of Mayo Hall, designed by Richard Roskell Bayne in 1879, and once used for meetings, balls, and receptions before beginning turned into a sports complex.
Head to Pandit ji ki Chaat (108/9 Thornhill Rd, Colonel Ganj, George Town) for some delicacies like khasta matar, palak ki chaat, dahi vadas, and hot gulab jamun.
Take in some culture at Anand Bhavan, the ancestral mansion of the Nehru family, with pillared wraparound verandas and high ceilings. The home is now maintained as a museum, surrounded by well-manicured lawns and history buff tourists. Take a tour of the interiors furnished with tapestries, antique mahogany and teak armoires, tables and sofas, as well as a well-stocked library. The rooms are brimming with treasures like monogrammed china and Venetian glass ware. The house is not only made up of beautiful belongings, visitors can peek inside rooms used for many Congress meetings by political leaders and activists. Next door is Swaraj Bhavan, the manor where Indira Gandhi was born, littered with memorabilia, including a charkha used by Mahatma Gandhi and photographs of the Freedom Movement.
The city spruced up its look through the Paint My City initiative in preparation for the 2019 Kumbh Mela. Over 100 artists from India and abroad added a splash of colour to the walls and sides of buildings all across the city, be it murals in Minto Park to Indira Bhavan. From a sadhu on a bicycle, to a Hanuman with curly locks, take a drive through the city, to spot these beauties inspired by mythology and Allahabad’s history.
Kalpana Sunder is a travel writer, blogger, and a Japanese language specialist from Chennai. In her search for a good travel story, she has snowmobiled in Lapland, walked with the lions in Zimbabwe, and flown in a microlight over the Victoria Falls.