Kumbh is the best place to find yourself. In the mass of humanity, you lose all sense of your problems and will find who you truly are. Beginning of the New Year in 2019, and what else can be more desirable when you know you can pack your bags for another Journey on your own. Before embarking to Bali which was my last destination for 2018, I happen to see Times of India’s feature on one of their trails to Kumbh.
Kumbh was always on my mind for some time, but as a solo woman traveller was reluctant to move in with those colossal crowds. So, when I saw they have specially curated a trip for Photography, I decided to register and see if I get selected. And voila, once I got back from Bali I was bewildered receiving an email from them on my selection to the trip.
So what is special about Kumbh. Kumbh Mela is a mass gathering of Hindu Pilgrims to bathe in the holy rivers at the Triveni Sangam which is the meeting points of Saraswati, Yamuna, and Ganges. For a traveller, it’s the ultimate view as thousands of people come to this event not for the aim for which it happens but for the experience of the gargantuan event and all that surrounds the place.
The Sadhus and the Pilgrims come together to free themselves from the cycle of life and death and transcend themselves to the heavenly realm also known as to attain “Moksha” (freedom).
As I packed my bags for the trip, there was a lot of excitement in my head to experience the mystic and the unknown. My Flight was to Lucknow, which was we all travellers had to meet. As I landed early morning with a sleepy head, was greeted by the boreal cold nib in the air. I took a cab en route Hotel which was a good Half an hour drive with a little banter with the driver. Lucknow is known for its Nawabs, History and Of course Food, and I will be writing a Blog separately on like half a Day in this town.
The Next morning after a relaxed slumber, I got myself briefly introduced to a few, whom I bumped into at the Breakfast table. Most seem avid Photographer’s and had heavy cameras to tow. It was going to be a stretched Bus Journey to Kumbh like five enduring hours. I plonked myself at the Back of the Bus to enjoy some solitude and Music on my Phone. The drive was steady with a couple of stopovers for a quick steaming cup of hot tea and Samosa, and before we knew were crossing the River Ganges to the camps of Kumbh. I was ecstatic to note the trees lined up all the roads were painted in myriad colours and mythological figures. When you imagined Kumbh you think crowd and chaos but I was happily surprised to see the Well Organised Camps, Ample Parking, Make Shift Toilets, Police, Security, Doctors and it was clean…. Immaculately Clean!
Our Camp’s ( Indraprashth ) were Luxury and we had some of the amazing food to dig in there ( Those were some of the Best Hot Jelebis I had in my life there ). The Camp also had their own private space to be on the banks of Ganges. I decided to Bunk the Group trip in the evening to just soak in the Ganges on my own. It was pristine to catch the glorious Sunset sitting in solitude there.
The Nights were atrociously cold, and as I cuddled in Bed with multiple layers to kill it, listening to soothing Bhajans sung somewhere in those camps realized my tryst with Kumbh had begun and I knew it was going to be Life –changing.
The Next Morning we all drove up for the akharas, which is the gathering place of all the sadhus. The Sadhus are staunch followers of Lord Shiva and you will see them dressed up similar too.
In the Kumbh, you can see many Sadhus performing seemingly impossible tasks of endurance during their Tapas. You will meet one or more on every street corner. Sadhus who have stood on one leg for decades; those who can stay underwater for hours; who can read your mind; pull trucks with their genitals; who stay buried in the sand upside down – for the whole duration of the Kumbh and so on and so forth.
I was curious to know more about Naga Sadhus, who can only be seen at the Kumbh. And I got really lucky to see many, and also interact with them. They are known to be very cantankerous and don’t normally reach out with common people around. But here I was sitting with one donned with Ray-ban Glares, Rado watch, Pearls around his neck and gave me some lessons on life. He also smoked the Chillum on my request, which is one of their trademarks. I wanted to share a smoke with him too( thou was warned by few not to eat or take anything offered by them) And he was more than happy to share his ‘smoking pipe ‘with me. The feeling was heady and knew the rest of the evening will be quite a knockout. Their life is esoteric in its own way and was secretly pleased that I could spend some time with one of them.
The Next was the Dip in the Sangam for which we had to take a boat to the middle of the River where the Ganges, Saraswati and Yamuna meet. Thou I was not the least prepared for one, the very bewitching aura of the place with Siberian Seagulls soaring around us, the calm Ganges flowing got me to do an impromptu one. I am not a very religious one, perhaps more a spiritual one, and found my inner peace here at that point. When millions gather at the Kumbh, their devotion turns the very water into Amrit – the nectar of immortality. Having a dip in this water literally cleanses all your sins some say. Not sure If I did manage to do that, but clearly felt there was some magic which did transcend into my soul. After all that, we had a boat ride back to our camp with my inebriated head and was wondering If the effect was of Babas ‘Prasad ‘ or the Holy Dip.
You must have heard of typical ‘Bolly wood ‘movies where you get lost in Kumbh Mela and I must say it’s not so difficult to do so. Deciding to get back to Kumbh in the evening post 8 pm, was a little more than ambitious decision to capture some night photography little knowing, the make- shift town would get wrapped up long before the time zones we are familiar to call it a day. So we ended with an auto guy who dropped us quite on the wrong side of the track , from where we seemed to have had walked miles to get to some familiar place. Only Blessing was the Hot Steaming ‘Puri – Bhaji ‘we eat as dinner at a modest roadside place where we were his last customers. After much struggle, we managed to get back to our camps close to Mid night with a hitchhike and a lot of walking . Looking back I realise this was quite an adventure by itself. I was the lone girl with three guys who were more concerned on my safety than the footloose me.
The Next day we drove to Banares for our last stop over , which was another destination by itself . It was my second visit here , and I was looking forward to soak myself in those age –old Ghats . We took a Boat to Assi Ghat as early as 6 am with hardly much sleep the previous night , watching the Sun rise up lazily and the golden hue caressing the sky which was nothing less than magical with seas gulls fluttering all around . There were much boats surrounding us carrying a lot of gaping foreigners , their cameras capturing the river , ghats from all vantage points. I decided to walk back from Assi to each of these ghats . The Ghats were peppered with morning Pujas , rituals , sadhus meditating , yoga enthusiast, shops , vendors selling . It was like a walking meditation for me . The trip ended far too soon thou , just when a Beautiful story was unfolding by itself and really wished I had another day here .
Nevertheless, the experience of Kumbh was not just the photographs captured. It grows into you . The sea of humanity, the ocean of tent’s, the colour-ful flags, lakhs of pilgrims taking a dip in the water, the smell of the smoke from the holy fires, the beautiful sunrise all these will restore your love for humanity.
How do so many millions of people live so peacefully in such a small place with so little? You will realize that over population is not the problem of the world. It is our lack of tolerance. When you learn the secret of co-existence in the Kumbh, you carry it wherever you go and you become an embodiment of that same energy. Hoping my next Journey will be somewhere close to another revelation like this.