The all-embracing spirit of Maha Kumbh has caught on with the armed forces which have thrown open up parts of a fort built by Mughal Emperor Akbar at the holy Sangam, giving pilgrims and tourists access to the historic Patalpuri Temple and the Saraswati Koop.
The Army, with its expertise in medicine and disaster management, has also set up a camp for the visitors to lend a helping hand in any crisis.
“The Patalpuri Temple, the Akshayvat tree held sacred by Hindus and the Saraswati Koop -- a symbol of the goddess of learning and the mythical river named after her which has a confluence with Ganga and Yamuna at the Sangam had been inaccessible to people as these fall in defence land. However, we have now thrown these spots open to the public”, Major General Bishamber Dayal, General Officer Commanding Purva UP and MP sub-area, said.
“Presence of an ordnance depot makes the Fort a sensitive area. However, we have realised that this must not deprive visitors of an opportunity to enjoy parts of the exquisite specimen of architecture wherein lie places of religious and cultural importance.
“Hence, people will henceforth be allowed to take a guided tour of parts of the Fort besides the Akshayvat, Patalpuri and Saraswati Koop. They will have to seek no special permission from higher authorities unlike in the past”, the Major General said.
“We have, even in the past, allowed commoners to enter the Fort and visit places of their interest. The good news is that this arrangement will now remain in place even after the Kumbh is over. The only condition to the visitors will be to stay away from areas indicated as out of bounds by our personnel because of security reasons”, he said.
He said the armed forces have always been sensitive towards the religious and cultural needs of the people and have shared parts of defence land for the 12-yearly Maha Kumbh congregations in the past and have done so this time as well.
“We propose to open more areas under our jurisdiction if a stampede-like situation arises and the need for an emergency exit route is felt”, he said.
Defence PRO Wing Commander B.B. Pande said, “The aforesaid spots have been renovated at a cost of Rs 5 crore primarily to ensure that visitors go back with pleasant memories”.
Built by Akbar in the late 16th century, the Fort was later ceded by the Nawab of Oudh to the British about two centuries later who utilised the majestic structure for storing their weaponry until formally establishing an Ordnance Depot there.
After Independence, the Ordnance Depot came under the control of the Indian Army.
“We are also doing our bit to strengthen security arrangements for the Maha Kumbh which attracts millions of people to the city.
“A control room has been set up inside the Fort, at a spot about 50 feet above the ground, where defence personnel together with policemen keep a round-the-clock watch on the sprawling city of tents where pilgrims and ascetics are staying”, the Wing Commander said.
He also said, “We have, for the first time, set up our own camp near the Mela ground with a view to making our know-how in medicine, fire-fighting and other forms of disaster management available quickly and easily.
“We are also deploying our boats and trained divers along the bathing ghats to help the administration in averting any tragedy on days when people turn up in large numbers for taking a holy dip,” he said.
“Besides, in keeping with our tradition of caring for those who have served the armed forces in the past, camps for ex-servicemen have been set up which can accommodate 300 persons at a time.
“Ex-servicemen can come for a pilgrimage or a holy dip and stay at these tents free of cost while paying a nominal sum for their food”, the Wing Commander added.