In Hindu tradition, Triveni Sangam is the confluence of three rivers. Sangam is the Sanskrit word for confluence. The point of confluence is a sacred place for Hindus. A bath here is said to flush away all of one’s sins and free one from the cycle of rebirth. The Triveni Sangam in Prayag (Allahabad) is the confluence of two physical rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and the subterranean mystic Saraswati River.

The rivers maintain their identity and are visibly different as they merge. While the Yamuna is deep, calm, and greenish in colour, the Ganga is shallow, forceful, and clear. The Saraswati remains hidden, but the faithful believe that she makes her presence felt underwater. At the confluence of these two great Indian rivers, where the invisible Saraswati conjoins them, Hindu pilgrims take boats to bathe from platforms erected at the confluence. Migratory birds throng the city from the months of November and December, their sounds a distinct presence on the holy river. They feed on whatever is made available by the rivers and the pilgrims, as also the boats cruising by.

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The seagulls migrate to the subcontinent to escape Eurasia’s harsh winters. In Prayag, their presence from October to March is framed within the ecology of local beliefs.

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The arrival of annual visitors — the Siberian gull (Larus fuscus heuglini) — at the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad heralds the onset of winters. With the onset of winters, these Siberian birds spread their wings to take a flight of thousands of kilometres all the way from Siberia via Afghanistan, Mongolia and Tibet crossing high Himalayan mountains.

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These Siberian birds present a mesmerising view at the Sangam throughout the winter season as if waiting to take a holy dip along with the lakhs of pilgrims who arrive here especially during the month of January for the month-long Magh Mela. Bobbing up and down along with the ripples in the calm waters, these Siberian birds are an added attraction for the pilgrims and tourists thronging here during the winter months.

The Siberian birds diving at the Sangam in Allahabad.

These birds are human-friendly and can be seen sitting on boats also occupied by the pilgrims and tourists.

Siberian gulls diving to catch food at the Sangam in Allahabad
Siberian gulls diving to catch food at the Sangam in Allahabad

The whiteness of the birds dazzles on the waters of Ganga and Yamuna. These Siberian birds present a mesmerizing view at the Sangam throughout the winter season as if waiting to take a holy dip along with the pilgrims.

These birds map their route of arrival like a magnetic compass needle and would follow the exact flyway on their way back home. Migrating birds navigate using celestial cues from the sun and stars, the earth’s magnetic field, and probably also mental maps.


A surprising behaviour has been noticed in the migration of these birds. The young ones guide thousands of migratory birds to the holy city of Allahabad every year. But when they fly back, the female birds lead the entire flock. Nothing concrete has yet been discovered what guides the young ones to such far off places even when it is their first trip to an unknown place.


Their migration cycle, lasting about six months, holds valuable lessons for humans. Of endurance — a journey of thousands of kilometres in which lives are lost, the dead are grieved and the journey is continued. Of community feeling — without which such journeys cannot be accomplished. Of coexistence — whereby the native and migrant species live side-by-side.