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LET THERE be light.

On a velvety night, Hindu devotees float an oil lamp during evening rituals on India’s Ganges River. They pray and bathe in the shallows of the sacred river as it flows through the city of Allahabad, a major Hindu pilgrimage center.

The faithful come daily to the Ganges to wash away their sins (although the water itself is severely polluted, with authorities continually struggling to clean up the river).

Earlier this year, tens of millions of pilgrims flooded into Allahabad, where other rivers converge with the Ganges, for Maha Kumbh Mela. One of the biggest religious festivals in the world, it’s held once every 12 years in Allahabad. Amid the festival’s 55 days of prayers, wandering holy men and mass ritual bathing came a day of tragedy when a panicked stampede at the city’s jampacked train station killed about three dozen people.

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Once the festival was over, relative peace returned to the river banks. And a single lamp showed the way.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at

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