Prayagraj – Allahabad City Heritage Walk
Prayagraj or Allahabad as it was briefly called in the near past is a small but significant city. Being home to 3 prime ministers of India, being the birthplace of two of them, it played its role in the independence movement of India. Allahabad University has its own place in the academic world.
So, while I was visiting Prayagraj I decided to take this self-guided heritage walk of the city. Thankfully UP Tourism has put up boards that guide you through this history walk. Each point is clearly mentioned on the walk and you can simply follow it to enjoy the Allahabad City. So come with me on this lovely walk.
I started the walk early morning before the monuments, museums, and parks on Allahabad City Walk were open. So I started the walk from Rishi Bhardwaj Ashram which is open early morning.
Rishi Bhardwaj Ashram
There is a huge Murti of Rishi Bhardwaj on the main road of Prayagraj. You can not miss it and anyone would point you to it. Just behind it is a small but beautifully maintained park that opens around 9:00 AM and has a ticket of Rs 10/-. The murals on the walls of the park tell the story of Bhardwaj Muni.
Besides the park, a lane takes you to the ancient Ashram complex. The lane has lovely colorful houses, each of which seems like a temple. A narrow lane takes you to the Ashram that is essentially a group of many small temples.
Bhardwaj Ashram gets a mention in the Tulsi Ramayana. There is Charan Paduka or the footprints of Sri Ram here to commemorate his visit. Many ancient Murti’s that you can see of many Devi Devatas. There are temples dedicated to Rishi Atri and his wife Anusuya, Rishi Yagyavalkya, Rinmochan, Papmochan, different forms of Devi, Satya Narayan. Shiva lives here as Koteshwar Mahadev.
The lady priest at the ashram told me that the ashram used to be on the banks of River Ganga. Akbar built a dam and turned Ganga away from the ashram. Pilgrims though never forgot the ashram and anyone visiting Allahabad Sangam or Prayag Tirtha, visits Bhardwaj Ashram as well. Bhardwaj Rishi as we know is one of the Saptarishis or Seven Rishis from whom all of us descended. He is considered the son of Brihaspati and author of Ayurveda.
Once upon a time, this Bhardwaj Muni Ashram would have been a leading university. It is believed that the Pushpak Vimaan was built here at this Ashram.
Anand Bhavan is probably the most well-known monument of Allahabad. This was the home of the Nehru family, where Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were born. It is also the place where Mahatma Gandhi stayed when he lived in the Allahabad city.
As you enter after buying a rather costly ticket (Rs 70/-) that does not even allow photography inside the premises, you see a rather beautiful double story house standing in the middle of the sprawling, manicured lawns. A domed chhatri on top sits like a crown.
On the top floor, there are rooms of Nehru and Indira. There is a huge library where the meetings used to happen. I wish I could live in such a library.
Behind the house, there is an exhibition of photographs that is all about Nehru-Gandhi family. A lovely bookstore has some books again on the subject of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Nehru Planetarium is also a part of this complex. You have to buy another ticket to attend the show here.
A backdoor from Anand Bhavan leads to Swaraj Bhavan. Now, this was the original home of Motilal Nehru in Allahabad city. It is much bigger than Anand Bhavan. A very small part of it is open and dedicated to depicting the journey of Indira Gandhi from a child in this home to becoming the prime minister of India. This is not celebrated as the birthplace of Indira Gandhi.
You get to see only a small part but this part is unticketed.
Allahabad University is one of the oldest universities of modern India. Many illustrious people have studied and taught here including poets like Harivansh Rai Bachchan. Many old buildings of the university remind you of the colonial past of the Allahabad city. Most of them are still functional and you can see students going in and out of them. I wondered how many of them really realize the historical importance of the place.
Nirala at Central Library
The central library of Allahabad University is an old library from the initial days of the university. But the building that currently houses it is relatively new. I saw one of the biggest reading rooms here where 500 or so people can easily sit and read.
A life-size statue of Hindi Poet Suryakant Tripathi Nirala stands in front of the library. It is here I realized that Nirala breathed his last at Allahabad city.
The Senate hall is the office of Vice Chancellor or Allahabad University. A classic building in red with a towering working clock tower announces its timeline to the visitor. The fusion architecture with jharokhas and chhatris is more than 100 years old. Its style resembles that of Lutyens Delhi and no wonder they belong to exactly the same time period.
From here I walked through the lanes filled with second-hand booksellers, punctuated by college eateries. I had to stop to eat a plate of Jalebis and they are simply heavenly.
Department of Mathematics
This 1872 building is a typical Gothic building has a Leaning Tower of Pisa like structure tower. I could not see the vaulted roofs of its classroom, but it looked like a great place to sit and learn mathematics.
Muir Central College
Right next to the department of mathematics is another 1872 CE building called Muir central college. The distinct feature of this building is a 200 feet tall tower in sandstone overlooking a huge playground. The importance of Muir central college lies in the fact that this was the foundation stone of what would later become the prestigious Allahabad University.
If you look around, you will see some more sandstone structures in the ground. Walk around and see the students sitting and reading, chatting, having fun. It reminded me of my own good old days of college.
Chandra Shekhar Azad Park
Cross the road across and you will find yourself in front of Chandra Shekhar Azad Park that was originally called Alfred Park. Locally people also call it Company Bagh.
There is a Murti of Chandra Shekhar Azad commemorates his supreme sacrifice right here in this park, way back in 1931 fighting for the freedom of India at a young age of just 24. You can take off your shoes and pay your respect at the Murti.
Around the Murti, I saw a lot of plants planted in recycled cans and pots created from used tyres. Such a delightful sight.
Allahabad museum is one of the earlier museums in India. It has some lovely and precious artifacts. At the archaeology gallery, I saw lovely HBuddhistdhhist and Jain sculptures. The terracotta gallery is full of intricate miniatures in terracotta. Modern Paintings gallery has some great exhibits.
There was an ongoing exhibition on the archives of Kumbh Mela. It was very interesting to see the arrangements as they were done in the 1920s or 1930s like running extra trains or making arrangements for sanitation.
With the ticket, you get a small booklet that gives you the layout of the museum. It also lists the masterpieces of the museum that should not miss like the gold coins of Chandragupta I or the pistol of Chandra Shekhar Azad.
Allahabad City Public Library
Thornhill-Mayne Memorial is how this Scottish Baronial Gothic style building was originally known. Dating back to 1863-64 library moved to many places before it settled in this building in 1889. Now it is the state public library.
As I walked inside to have a look at the library, it’s interiors looked like a church. I asked the people around if it was initially built as a church, but they all said – No it was always meant to be a library. However, a board outside told me that it served as an assembly hall for united provinces.
This is where my walk ended and I boarded an auto to head back to the Kumbh Mela – my primary reason to visit Allahabad city or Prayagraj.
Did you notice, that books dominated this walk? Two libraries, a books street in the university and a lovely book store. I even found a calendar and book shop outside the Bhardwaj Ashram. This city is dominated by literature.
It took me about 4 hours to do this walk, including the time I spent at Bhardwaj Ashram and at the museums. You can do this easily in 2 hours. Just follow the walking signage.