India // Uttar Pradesh //

Allahabad and around

The administrative and industrial city of ALLAHABAD, 135km west of Varanasi and 227km southeast of Lucknow, is also known as Prayag (“confluence”): the point where the Yamuna and Ganges rivers meet the mythical Saraswati River. Sacred to Hindus, the Sangam (which also means “confluence”), east of the city, is one of the great pilgrimage destinations of India. Allahabad comes alive during its melas (fairs) – the annual Magh Mela (Jan/Feb), and the colossal Maha Kumbh Mela, held every twelve years (2013 and 2025 are the next ones).

Allahabad is a pleasant city to visit, with vast open riverside scenery and good amenities, but is without major temples or monuments. At the junction of the fertile Doab, the “two-river” valley between the Yamuna and the Ganges, it did however possess a crucial strategic significance; its massive fort, built by the emperor Akbar in 1583, is still used by the military. Another Mughal, Jahangir’s son Khusrau, was murdered here by his brother Shah Jahan, who went on to become emperor. Allahabad was briefly the centre of power after the 1857 uprising, when the British moved the headquarters of their Northwestern Provinces here from Agra; the formal transfer of power from the East India Company to the Crown took place here the following year.Central Allahabad is split in two by the railway line, with the chaotic and congested Old City or Chowk south of Allahabad Junction station, and the grid of the Civil Lines (the residential quarter of the Raj military town) to the north.

A kilometre north of Allahabad Junction railway station, the yellow-and-red sandstone bulk of the Gothic All Saints’ Cathedral dominates the surrounding avenues. Designed by Sir William Emerson, architect of Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, the cathedral retains much of its stained glass, and an impressive altar of inlaid marble. Plaques provide interesting glimpses of Allahabad in the days of the Raj, while flying buttresses and snarling gargoyles on the exterior add to the effect of an English county town – though the impression is subverted by the palm trees in the garden. Sunday services continue to attract large congregations, as do Masses at the flamboyant St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, a short distance northeast.

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