Most foreign tourists visiting India head for the Himalayas or the Taj Mahal. John Kejr had neither on his itinerary. He zeroed in on Sonepat, Haryana, with an unusual mission. His aim: to locate the 29 N 77 E point of confluence, and take a few photographs.
The trip was made on account of the Degree Confluence Project, which provides an 'organised sampling of the world'. It involves, in a nutshell, visiting each point of intersection between latitude and longitude the world over, and taking a couple of pictures at each spot. These could be panoramic, or show the area's interesting features, and are complemented with a brief narrative of the spot and what the photographer encountered while getting there. It could also showcase changes that take place over time, especially in another season.
The whole thing began in February 1996, the brainchild of Alex Jarrett, who was fascinated at the prospect of visiting locations represented by exact numbers and anticipating what he would find. He also hoped to "encourage people to get outside, tromp around in places they normally would never go, and take pictures" of them. Jarrett visited a number of confluences and put up his impressions online. The number of visitors grew, people began making visits to other confluences, and things "just snowballed from there".
For those who like specifics, there are 64,442 confluences in the world. The project gives 47,650 of them the nod, as others are either underwater or too close to the poles.
Visitors to these points came across interesting adventures. Let's get back to Kejr, for example, who was on the hunt for North India's first confluence. He checked his map, chose the confluence to the North West (as it was near a town), rented a car, and was on his way. Presently, he arrived at a place that "hundreds of people visit everyday, completely unaware of its significance as a confluence point". It lay between two buildings of a courthouse on the western edge of Sonepat, under a covered walkway: "It is definitely one where the point is anticlimactic, yet the journey to get there is an adventure".
Adventurous, because he could barely communicate with his non-English speaking driver, saw the Red Fort, many old tombs, fortresses, mosques and temples along the way. He also got a taste of India's traffic: "Definitely not a trip for the faint hearted".
As he neared the confluence, he used his Global Positioning System, asking the driver to "Follow this arrow". It involved driving through sugarcane farms, crowded carts, between animals and under railway lines. When he reached the court complex, Kejr began taking pictures, and was immediately surrounded by curious people.
Intriguing, you say, but of what use is all the effort people take over something as ordinary as confluence points? Well, ironically, it is only through such an exercise that the ordinary can be transformed into the spectacular. As Kejr puts it, "We will both (me and my driver) remember this trip for quite some time: Me for the adventure of getting India's first confluence and he for the crazy American who took him to some strange spot for reasons that he still does not understand".
Among the other confluences visited so far, there's one in Tamil Nadu and two people have even gone to Antarctica. Like a virtual world tour, the site lets you peek at scenic Luxembourg or Portugal, and explore African countries like Botswana and South Africa. You could go right up to Scandinavia or down under to Australia. And yes, it certainly makes geography more fun.
So the next time you walk along an ordinary looking street, watch your step. You might just be treading on a confluence.