Tuesday, December 14, 2010

DAY 75 – Varanasi to Allahabad

It was after many, many weeks that I got to drive on a good surface for a reasonably long distance. The NH2 from Varanasi to Allahabad is about 130 kms and for the most part it is a good drive. Without stoppages, the distance can be done in under three hours. I made three stoppages, the first for fuel, the second for breakfast of puri and sabji at a Dhaba and the third at the Sita Samahit Sthal, which is a short detour of 8 kms from the NH, via Sitamarhi. The legend is that Sita was led to the dense forest of Sitamarhi by Laxman at the command of Ram, who fell prey to the taunts of his subjects of living with a woman made impure by her association with Ravan. Sita wandered around in the forest for a few days before Valmiki, who was living in the forest, chanced upon her and gave her shelter in his hut. Thereafter, she gave birth to Luv and Khush and they grew up to challenge King Ram by tying up his horse. Ram visited the forest and met up with Sita and his twin sons. He refuses to accept her back without an ‘Agni Pareekhsa’. Sita prays to Mother Earth to open up and give her refuge if she is pure of mind and body. The earth heaves up and accepts Sita. The spot where Sita was given refuge by Mother Earth is marked by a statue of Sita with one leg facing Varanasi and the other towards Prayag. In fact, Sitamarhi is almost equidistant between Varanasi and Allahabad. The complex also has a ‘Sita Kesh Vatika’, which has a peculiar type of grass that is believed to have sprouted from the hair of Sita. Apparently this type of grass is not found anywhere else. The place of occurrence of this legend was mired in controversy with Bihar also laying claim to it. However, after a thorough research of the Valmiki Ramayan and the Ramcharita Manas of Thulasidas, the Sitamarhi of UP was accepted as the possible location of the occurrence of the legend. The owner of Punj Lloyd has contributed immensely to the development of the temple and the complex as well as to establish educational institutions in the village. In close proximity to the Sita Samahit Sthal is a Hanuman Temple with a 250 feet statue of Hanuman, which is worth a visit.
One of the major challenges I have faced during the journey is to enter and exit cities due to poor destination signposts. It assailed me once again as I neared Allahabad. I am all for stopping and asking for directions to where you want to get to, as it helps you to your destination sooner rather than later and at times adds to your collection of nuggets. I would like to share two recent interfaces that added to my nugget collection. The first one happened as I was headed for Katihar from Purnia in Bihar. At an intersection of three roads I asked an Auto driver for the road to Katihar. He pointed to the road on the left and asked me to turn right at the next intersection. As I saw that majority of vehicles were taking the road that went straight on, I asked the Auto driver where that road led to, purely out of curiosity. The Auto driver in his own style, with a mouth full of betel and the inevitable accompaniment of red viscous liquid, said: “Ee road ma se duniya bhar ja sakath” (You can go to any part of the world using that road). My curiosity was sated! The next nugget I collected when I wanted to know the road to Gopalganj from Sivan in Bihar, en route to Patna. I rolled down the window glass and asked a passerby, “Gopalganj seedha hai kya?” (Is the road to Gopalganj straight (on)?). He replied, “Nahin Saab, thoda teda hai” (No Sir, it is slightly crooked).
Back to Allahabad, when different people have different opinions on how you should reach your destination, you are in trouble. That’s precisely what happened to me seeking the route to Allahabad railway station. After nearly an hour of going back and forth I reached the ORH, and I actually shed tears of joy for the ordeal was finally over. The congestion in Allahabad has to be experienced to be believed. The traffic police are mere ornaments that stud the roads; they can neither enforce traffic discipline nor control congestion. While returning from the Sangam in the evening I moved 300 metres in one hour. I saw a bus climbing over a median as the traffic police had blocked the U-turn, with a policeman looking the other way and painting the road red with the liquid disgorged from his mouth. It would be a pity if the State continues to waste money on these helpless individuals who have neither the capability nor the interest in smoothing the traffic flows.
The visit to the Sangam lost its luster due to the wasted time in traffic snarls. However, I recovered in time to enjoy the Holy confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the unseen Saraswati. The flow from the River Ganges has reduced so much over the years that it should not come as a surprise if the next generation will have to be content with the confluence of one river that is seen and another two that are unseen! The boat men at the Sangam quote fancy prices, but after the sunset they become more reasonable. I got the benefit of this arrangement and had a good view of the Sangam. The Kumbh Mela is just a couple of years away. If something drastic is not done to augment the road infrastructure, enforce traffic discipline and prohibit the movement of non-motorised transport and animals through the city, I shudder to even imagine the nightmare that awaits the city in 2013.

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