Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest spiritual gathering is a sweet sight for sore eyes. My spiritual sojourn to the Kumbh Mela acted as a perfect gateway for my need to distance myself from the chaotic rumble of the urban jungle.
Anxious and excited I was for this one-of-a-kind trip. It is not recommended to travel to Kumbh Mela without advance reservations. I just wanted to experience the place as it is and was even prepared to sleep under the wide magical sky and endure the cold winter nights of Allahabad.
The cold, misty morning of Allahabad welcomed me with wide open arms. All I could see was a sea of humanity on the train platform and at the exit of the station gate. The station acted as a sleepover place for those coming from far away places with just a few survival provisions in their bags.
My habit of talking to local rickshaw guys came in handy and immediately struck a chord. The old man took me to a decent enough accommodation and he promised to take me to the nearby Ghat the next morning for a boat ride. Of course, he would have made some money from it, but that is alright. Better than spending on junk food back home.
Passing through the narrow lanes of Allahabad sitting on the tightly built rickshaw, I reached the Ghats. A one hour boat ride on the river Ganges in the early hours was a terrific idea. The Ganges was revealing herself slowly as the sun pierced through the morning fog. There I happened to have my first encounter with Siberian migratory birds (as I was told, not confirmed).
Siberian migratory bird
The first day was a sort of initiation into the atmosphere of the great MahaKumbh Mela. Spread across the vast landscape, a city was recreated within the city. Fantastic arrangements by the authorities although it became difficult to manage the large hordes coming from far away places with all family members on tow, including children who don’t know what exactly is going on around them. In this chaotic mad rush, there is always a chance that small children getting lost and that is what happens there. The famous Bollywood saying “Kumbh ke mele mein kho gaye” (lost in Kumbh Mela) originates from this experience.
My eyes just could not fathom the vast landscape and magnitude of this amazing event. It was an eye opener seeing all the gathering there. Driven by blind faith and thousands of years old belief system that has been passed down from one generation to another.
There are two things every visitor looks to do at the MahaKumbh Mela, one is taking a dip in the holy waters of River Ganga and the second is a chance interaction with the secretive tribe of Naga Babas
and I was fortunate enough to manage to do both.
This Kumbh Mela fulfilled my deep desire to meet the much feared Naga Sadhus. These freakish sadhus are the stuff of legends and are the main attraction of the MahaKumbh Mela. Sadhus in the Mahakumbh Mela are used to have media personalities and foreign nationals approach them to have a conversation and sometimes they do seek monetary benefit in return for a photograph or two. Here I feel foreign tourists are to blame as they have propagated this culture.
Next destination, Varanasi, the oldest living city in the world is an experience in itself. The city offers so much more than the usual evening ritual performed every day without fail on the shores of mother Ganges. As I experienced the narrow lanes of the city, I faced the classic case of mistaken identity. I was welcomed as Discovery Channel guys while roaming in the narrow lanes of Varanasi. I have not been able to figure out why. But it felt cool and nice to be a celebrity even for a short while.
After trying local delicacies, experiencing winding narrow lanes and the traffic madness of the oldest living city, I decided to visit Sarnath to soothe my rugged mind. Sarnath was a complete contrast. Not many tourists, one can wander without any fear of being run over by a car. People are easy-going and less cunning as compared to the more touristy places around the country. Thankfully travel agents think it is not worth it. Only local crowds and delegations from Buddhist centric nations visit the place.
Returned back to Delhi with my mind at peace. The immense satisfaction of having interacted with the ever so elusive Naga sadhus. I can easily say that the visit to Varanasi and Sarnath was raw and intense if nothing else.
The mind was always going to the after-effects of this mass bathing in the river Ganges. The huge leftover by the insensitive people not caring enough for mother Ganges. If we are not able to save the Ganges there will be no MahaKumbh Mela. No spiritual gathering of this magnitude can take place in future. I will definitely dig deep into this in the future posts.
Allahabad and Sarnath are a must visit on any traveler’s diary especially in the winter season. Summers can be quite demanding on mind and body. Both the places are easily accessible via rail route and flights from the national capital of the country, Delhi.
The local food, culture and the handloom industry located in small rooms are surely not to be missed by the inquisitive soul.