If one leaves out the the Kumbh Mela, the Hindu religious gathering that takes place once in 12 years, the 10-day annual Garh fair on the banks of the Ganga is the largest fair in North India in terms of attendance.
But unlike the Kumbh, which receives around Rs 4 crore from the government and gets two crore visitors for two months, the Garh fair near Garhmukteshwar is still awaiting recognition, forget funding, from the authorities.
The mela, held in Ghaziabad district, still does not figure in the official list of state-fairs in Uttar Pradesh.
“The fair is organised by the District Gram Panchayat department and is incurring heavy losses every year with an increase in the number of visitors,” said Additional Chief Officer Aditya Kumar from the department.
The official number of visitors to the annual fair has crossed 28 lakh and is increasing at an average of 2 lakh
The fair is held in the Hindu month of Kartik.
Manjeet Sishodia, a devotee from Rajasthan, said, “The fair lacks many facilities. Better infrastructure is immediately required to cater to the needs of visitors.”
“In the absence of proper ghats (platforms for bathing and offering prayers), the river bank has eroded considerably over the years. These issues can be tackled only if we have funds,” said Ghaziabad Chief Development Officer (CDO) Z.B. Sagir.
It is said that the fair is held every year since the times of the Mahabharata.
Lord Krishna used to offer prayers on the banks of the Ganga for those killed in the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas.
A 15-km stretch along the river turns into a city of tents every year with devotees from Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan thronging the fair.
The fair also hosts the second largest 'mule and asses fair’ where over 1.5 lakh animals are sold and purchased.
“This is second-largest fair after the renowned Pushkar mela,” an official said.
Heavy traffic congestion on NH-24, lack of changing rooms for visitors, lack of health facilities, proper markets, etc., has marred the prospects of the fair.
“The area should be immediately provided necessary funds to adequately handle the needs of the huge gathering,” said Vikram Saxena, another pilgrim, from Delhi.
District Magistrate R. Ramesh Kumar said a proposal to get state recognition have been in process since 1977, but without success.
“We are again sending a proposal to the state government to look into the bright tourism prospect,” Kumar said.
The Garh area is also famous for the Gangetic Dolphins and is a protected wetland.