The holy city of Prayag became a trap for millions of pilgrims who found themselves stranded and unable to leave for their homes on Monday. Those who managed to board a train or bus endured another ordeal after the chaos that prevailed in the city on Mauni Amavasya and the subsequent stampede at the railway station in the evening.
Eighty-year-old KB Mathur had to sit for 18 hours in the Ganga-Gomti train to reach Lucknow, a journey that normally takes four hours. Stranded at Unchahar station since 3am Monday morning, he was among lakhs of railway passengers who waited hours in jampacked stations with nobody to tell them when their train would arrive.
The situation was no different for people coming to the city from outside. Sujata, 35, kept waiting for a bus at the SRTC (state roadways) bus depot on the outskirts of the city since Sunday night. She finally reached at 12.15pm in the afternoon. "Reaching Allahabad today was equivalent to taking a holy dip in the Sangam," she said with relief and plonked down on the pavement to catch her breath. The entire city, especially areas around the railway stations and the bus depots, was crowded with stranded pilgrims.
A 20-hour traffic jam near Handia and Phaphamau on the Allahabad-Gorakhpur route began late Sunday night and continued till 1.30pm on Monday. Mela administration officers said that about 10 lakh people were held back at the Kumbh area till Monday evening to prevent a rush towards railway staions and bus depots. Asit Srivastava, circle officer of the mela police control room, said, "We are allowing pilgrims to leave the mela area only when the railways and bus depot officers tell us to." The Civil Lines bus depot literally resembled a security zone with traffic made one-way at Nawab Yusuf Road and cops everyhwere on Mahatma Gandhi Marg to manage traffic and pedestrians. For Nanka Devi, 55, and her family of six, the journey from mela area to Allahabad Junction and then to the Civil Lines bus depot lasted for about 20 hours. The exhausted family had had no food and was still waiting for a bus to Pratapgarh at the depot.
"Hum ka kari bitiya? Sab bus to bhari pari hai aur hum baithe he nahi paavat hai," she said in helplessness.
Sajnu, 48, from Gonda, Indravati, 39, from Balrampur, Dr Anoop Mishra from Lucknow were among those waiting at the bus depot since many hours. "It's next to impossible to catch a train. As for the bus, there is no option but to wait," said Dr Mishra as he sat down on his backpack, more than 12 hours at the depot and still waiting.