Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Trip To India: Allahabad

Chapter Seven - Allahabad

I crossed the UP/MP state border again to go to Allahabad. First on my list of things to see was of course a trip to Sangam. The first thing I had to do, was get down to the beach by the fort and arrange a boat to take me there. Several boatsmen came up. They asked ridiculous prices like Rs 1100. This was for a private boat. If you want to go in an overloaded boat with many people carrying urns, you can. It's an experience and you then pay the amount asked for a personal boat divided by the number of passengers. Normally about 20 or 25. I had to bargain VERY hard and even then I couldn't get very low. Seems that the actual owners of the boat tell their employees not to go under a certain amount or they won't get any commission, although they do all the work. I took a private boat and agreed on US$ 20 and Rs 50 as a tip. We set off for Sangam, together with dozens of other boats that were generally so full that they were about to be submerged. On the way, we saw a couple of corpses floating down the Yamuna. The rower told me that poor people who cannot afford to have the bodies of their relatives burned, often let the body slide into the holy river's waters. This especially happens at night when there are no police patrols on the shores (there are in the daytime). At the Sangam a colourful crowd had gathered. I was the only tourist, strangely enough. The meeting of colours with boats lined up along it, was a strange but photogenic sight. People were swimming in and drinking from the holy water. Ashes were poured overboard. It was a real craze that was going on here; people were almost ecstatic. My rower told me to come with him. We jumped from boat to boat, finally ending up in one where a priest was sitting and offering blessings. He told me to sit down. I did. He asked for my name and the name of my wife. I told him that I wasn't married. He nodded and wanted to know my parents' names. I told him those too. He took three coconuts, put them in front of him (so in between us) and asked me to repeat after him the blessings that he was going to speak out. I was a bit fascinated and complied. It was all in Hindi, so I couldn't understand anything but my and my parents names (vaguely). I tried to repeat it all as well as I could. When he was finished he said : "Now put money here." He pointed at the three coconuts, which represented me and my parents. "Money ?", I asked, "How much ?" "Five hundred. Here." (pointing at the nuts again) I asked him if he was crazy or something. Five hundred rupees for a blessing. He told me that in my 'prayers' I had agreed (in Hindi) to give five hundred rupees as an offering. I said I was not intending to give that amount of money. I looked in my money belt to look for some small money, but noticed that the smallest bill I had was Rs 100. I thought "what the hell" and forked it out. He told me to put it on the nuts. I did, but he said : "That... one nut !" "Another Rs 100 on this (pointing at the second nut) and another Rs 100 on that one (the third)" I took the money and placed it in a way that it touched the three nuts. The priest (or whatever you can call a person behaving like him) got really upset now. But finally, so did I. I was very close to tearing up the bill and placing three pieces of it over the nuts when somebody who saw the situation gradually getting out of hand, spoke to the priest and - after that - told me to put the three nuts in the holy water. I did. The priest started to demand money again. The other person took me by the arm and suggested me to get up and leave the boat. To prevent further complications I followed the man's wise proposition, leaving the angry priest behind. A companion of his was fishing the three coconuts out of the water again, to be re-sold. I made my way back over the rolling boats. When I arrived in my own, I asked my rower to bring me a bit more to the South, because the light was better for taking a photo from there. He didn't respond and then I saw that he was performing some ritual, making a cup of his hands and drinking the delicious Ganges water. I decided not to disturb and sat down, my back towards him. Suddenly, at a moment when I didn't expect anything to happen, he poured half a bucket of the filthy, stinking water over my head. His way of offering me a blessing.
Looking back at the end of my trip, I can honestly say that at Sangam I saw the worst display of Hindu religion misbehaviour that I came across. Once again, it was proven that all religions (I'm not saying 'faiths'; I mean the people that are pulling the strings in a small or big way) just have one real goal : making as much money as possible on the backs of the ones that have the pure faith. I've seen perfect examples in Europe of the Roman Catholic Church (I suppose Lourdes in France sounds familiar ?), but the Hindu's too are incredible ! After this, I went to see the Patalpuri Temple and the Undying Tree. Both rather uninteresting, I found out. Of course the fascinating religion-crazy people were there again, but apart from that it's not worth the time.
I then went to a place where there were no crazy priests and the likes : the All-Saints Cathedral, locally known as Patthar Girza. A deserted place in a busy city. If you are used to catholic churches at home, it's a strange sight to visit one in which almost nobody seems to have an interest in . I visited another church in Allahabad. It had been turned into a sports complex. Apparently, the rule of 'once a temple, always a temple' cannot be extended to 'once a church, always a church'.

Anyway, about the A.S. Cathedral again. I visited it with an Indian fellow who had never been in a church before. He was quite fascinated by it and asked me a lot of (religious) questions. As I'm not a very religious person myself, I was fortunate to be able to answer them. On our way out, a little old man shuffled up to me and handed me a leaflet with information about the church. The expression of his face, the humbleness of his gestures touched me. He said good-bye to me, not expecting anything in return. I thought back to my experiences at Sangam the very same morning. I said to myself : "If I gave 100 rupees to that arsehole Hindu priest back there, I can also give it to this guy." He was very pleased. In a way, I felt sorry for this little man. There he was, alone in that big church, waiting for nobody to turn up. At least, that's how it seemed to me. And yet, he had this certain 'flair' that made him look very concerned about his task.

On to the Anand Bhavan. It's a fascinating place and indeed a particularly well-kept museum. It's still Rs 2 to visit the places upstairs, which every visitor should. Outside (on ground level) is the platform on which Indira Gandhi was married. There's also a nearby planetarium.
There's a book shop in the complex selling some postcards and lots of books, especially about the Nehru's and Gandhi's of course.
After visiting the Anand Bhavan, one could hardly express his/her thoughts better than as shown on the plaque near the entrance : 'This house is more than a structure of brick and mortar. It is intimately connected with our national struggle for freedom, and within its walls great decisions were taken and great events happened.'
I also paid a visit to the university, which was interesting.

My hotel in Allahabad was the Presidency Hotel, because I was longing for a relaxing bath (the LP guide states 'the bathrooms have bathtubs'). I wanted a single room. A standard room was Rs 650, a 'deluxe' room Rs 750 (both excl. 5% luxury tax). The only difference was the size, for the rest the rooms were exactly alike. But... There were no bathtubs in either of the rooms. If you wanted one, you had to fork out a couple of hundred rupees more and take one of the different types of suites. I thought that a standard room was more than expensive enough. Typical Indian hotel room malfunctions were also present : the toilet didn't flush and no matter how hard you tried, hot water refused to come out of the taps. The room and beds were clean, though. The staff was friendly enough. The food in the tiny restaurant (only 8 places; they're used to serving in the rooms here) was pretty good, the service OK.

1 comment:

Amrita said...

Hi Volvo,
Sorry to hear you were ripped off so badly in my home town. The Sangam uis famous for that.

As Cathedral is very close to where i live.