The Kumbh Mela Festival is one of the world’s largest gatherings of people with tens of millions of people coming to bathe and pray in the Ganges EVERY DAY, for over a month! The Kumbh Mela festival this year (2013) was held at Allahabad, and is held here every twelve years. There are several different smaller forms of the Kumbh Mela, which are often celebrated, in other locations, every third year, though the one this year (the Maha Kumbh) is held every 144 years… I hope I’m making sense, and I hope I’m right. It’s a little confusing.
The reason we came to the North of India, instead of flying straight down south to the beaches, where we were originally going to start, was that we wanted to experience the Kumbh Mela – specifically, the final, special bathing day, on the 25th February.
So, after taking the three-and-a-half hour taxi ride from Varanasi to Allahabad, arriving at 4am, we departed from the car, our taxi driver parking up to wait for us. In the dark we followed the masses down a long road, where no vehicles were allowed, to the Ganges. The walk took a little over an hour, and I was pretty surprised that considering the masses of people, there was hardly any noise. Many people, especially the women and the elderly were walking with no shoes, and they looked exhausted, and in pain. People were carrying large, heavy bags on their heads, which I am amazed about – surely it can’t be easier than carrying them? Maybe I will try it.
Finally, we came to the pilgrimage site, though it was a long time and a lot of walking later, until we saw the River Ganges. Before that, we had to pass the land on which people, scattered everywhere, were squatting down to excrete. Dodging piles of human poo was a big concern at this point. When we eventually came to the river, the sun was beginning to rise.
It was beautiful seeing people offering their candles down the river, and praying. Millions of men, women, and children were bathing, praying, singing, fully-clothed in the murky waters of the Ganges. I saw many filling their empty water bottles with the ‘holy’ water, and I saw many drinking the water… I wouldn’t advise it.
Though the sanitary conditions were absolutely appalling, as you would expect, it was beautiful at the same time to see such a gathering of people, in such a surreal place, with the orange sun rising behind the scene, and seeing everyone totally devoted to their religion. Here, everyone was the same – no prejudice against the poor or the old, and there were mass feedings for all, completely free.
We walked around with the masses for hours, over the long, one-way bridges which took us to the other side of the river and up the hills. We saw a parade of people following the orange-dressed gurus, and we saw the naked sadhus painted in white ash, high on chillum. Sadly, we didn’t see any of the really holy men bathing which was what we wanted to see, but what we did see was truly unimaginable – beyond words. Photos couldn’t do it justice, though I have added some on here anyway, which aren’t the best as I was trying to be subtle.