I could not attend Kumbh Mela the last time it happened in Allahabad in 2013. The day I was planning to visit, the city saw a stampede at the railway station in which many people died. In fear I cancelled my plans and kept hoping that someday I’ll attend the event. It felt like a long wait since Kumbh Mela happens every 12 years but I knew that it will be worth it.
What is Kumbh Mela
There are different incarnations of Kumbh festival in different places. There is Ardh Kumbh and Kumbh. Ardh Kumbh Mela is organised every 6 years and Kumbh Mela is organised after every 12 years. Maha Kumbh Mela also exists which is occurs after 12 Kumbh Melas ie 144 years. I don’t think that I will be able to see one in this lifetime. Kumbh Mela is organised on the banks of the Holy river specially Ganga. Only in Ujjain it is organised on the banks of Shipra river.
Currently Kumbh Mela in Haridwar is scheduled for 2021. It everything is alright then I will sure attend it because my experience with Allahabad Kumbh Mela was not that great.
My Kumbh Mela Experience in Allahabad Prayagraj
Kumbh Mela 2021 will invited a lot of photographers and travellers to Haridwar. I had been to this city multiple times and during these couple of years, it’s name changed to Prayagraj. I took a train from Patna and reached my destination in 6 hours. From Delhi, it takes almost 8 to 12 hours to arrive here. The best train to reach Prayagraj from Delhi is Duronto Express.
I had planned my trip during the last 15 days of the festival hoping the place will be less crowded. But i was wrong. I stepped out of Allahabad station amid an ocean of people. I made my way to outside, found my hotel and dumped my luggage. The crowd made me so afraid that I could not even go outside to visit the festival because of the chaos. Instead, I spent the entire day in the hotel, resting and inquiring about the festival ground.
The difference between Kumbh Mela of Prayagraj and Kumbh Mela of Haridwar is the distance of the venue from main city. In Prayagraj, Kumbh Mela is organised near Sangam which is almost 10 km away from the city. The venue of Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Kumbh Mela is near the banks of Ganga, right in the City.
Next morning I left my hotel at 5:00 a.m. I was hoping that I won’t see any crowd. But nothing seemed to change. Everyone was going to Sangam and for a while I thought that this is a bad idea and I should return. I am not a big fan of crowd. I kept thinking about changing my decision. Travelling there didn’t seem worth it. But I found a couple of photographers walking and looking for auto rickshaw. After a Small conversation we decided to hire a private auto rickshaw for rupees 800 and he told us that he will drop right at the festival venue. Those who travel to UP for the first time find expertise in the number of ways they can get cheated. He drove through a huge traffic jam, abusing and cursing the padestrians, other auto drives, vendors, dogs and everything that living and breathing. The festival organising committee had made every arrangement to make sure that people are able to walk freely and roads are not congested. Eventually we reached a point from where the driver refused to go any further because police would fine him. He told us that the Festival venue is half kilometre away from here. These photographers from Kolkata got off the auto without questioning him. Since I had been to Sangam multiple times in the past, I knew that this is not the place where you should get down but I could understand why he was doing this. It took around 45 minutes to find the festival venue. It was almost like a Bhul Bhulaiya through mini tent and shops.
A Couple of Observations That I Made at Kumbh Mela
- Stay at the festival campsite in Sangam. It gives you more time to click photos 24 hours of the day.
- Keep two bags, carry your valuables like camera to the festival ground and keep rest of the luggage inside the tent. Ideally, you should carry as less luggage as possible to attend a festival like this.
- Drink a lot of water. Water is available everywhere for free.
- Wear sports shoes and avoid sandals because your feet will start hurting from walking on sandy grounds. Sports shoes will help you with tolerate the pressure and protect in case someone steps on your feet.
- Prepare to walk a lot.
- Don’t run thinking that something important is happening in another corner. Be patient and look around before you start clicking.
- If you are doing photography at Kumbh Mela then make sure that you don’t enter places where shoes are not allowed or the attendees are requesting privacy.
- One of the important photography tips for Kumbh Mela is to get a flash for the events happening in night.
- Locals told me that it gets very crowded during the days when holy baths are supposed to happen. As a traveler or a photographer you should avoid these dates because observing anything will be totally impossible.
I was staying away from the festival venue so I had to return back to Allahabad by 3:00 p.m. it was such a tiring experience that I simply could not manage to return the next day. Later I took a train back to Patna.
When Kumbh Mela returns to Haridwar in 2021, make sure that you are here only if you can withstand crowds and have endurance to run around like a mad man.
I hope that Kumbh Mela travel blog helps you plan your trip to next festival in a better way.
About the Photos: The excitement of Kumbh Mela was on a different level. You can understand six years of waiting and then it finally happening, especially if you are in a long distance relationship. So I packed my bags and left for Prayagraj. It was only at the festival venue where I realized that I had forgotten my camera batteries in Patna. Since I am not comfortable with crowds, I had left my phone and most of my cash at the hotel. So here I was wandering around Kumbh Mela, observing stuff, scribbling notes in my diaries. But I didn’t want to wait for another 2-3 years to be able to finally write a blog on Kumbh Mela so I decided to source the photos from a photographer friend of mine.
About the Photographer: Indrajeet is a portrait photographer from Mumbai who I met during Pattan Kadoli Haldi Festival. You can follow his work on Instagram where he regularly updates anecdotes from day to life in Mumbai along with the events that he attends.