Sangam Sacred Site, The Residency, Uttar Pradesh, India
This is the particularly auspicious point where two of India’s holiest rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna, meet one of Hinduism’s mythical rivers, the Saraswati. All year round, pilgrims row boats out to this holy spot, but their numbers increase dramatically during the annual Magh Mela, a six-week festival held between January and March, which culminates in six communal ‘holy dips’.
Every 12 years the massive Kumbh Mela takes place here, attracting millions of people, while the Ardh Mela (Half Mela) is held here every six years.
In the early 1950s, 350 pilgrims were killed in a stampede to the soul-cleansing water (an incident re-created vividly in Vikram Seth’s immense novel A Suitable Boy). The last Ardh Mela, in 2007, attracted more than 70 million people – considered to be the largest-ever human gathering until the 2013 Kumbh Mela, which attracted a guestimated 32 million on Mauni Amavasya, the main bathing day, and 100 million across the 55-day festival; expect equally astonishing numbers at the next Allahabad Kumbh Mela in 2025.
Old boat hands will row you out to the sacred confluence for around ₹50 per person (hard-bargaining Indian) or ₹100 (hard-bargaining foreigner), or ₹600 to ₹800 per boat.
Around the corner from Sangam (skirt the riverbank around the front of Akbar’s Fort) are the Saraswati and Nehru Ghats, home to a nightly aarti (an auspicious lighting of lamps/candles).
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