Last year, when I was assigned to cover the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, I not only saw first-hand what the event was all about but also learned why it was so popular. As a recount of my first and probably the only solo trip to the historic Hindu festival, I hope this provides a rough guide to those planning to experience the Kumbh Mela at some point in their life.
The ancient city of Allahabad or Prayagraj is home to the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati rivers and hence had become the site for the massive festival.
How to travel
Allahabad is well-connected to the nearest metro of Delhi. Flights and trains are usually fully booked and priced high during this time. So I booked an inexpensive yet best-rated Delhi to Allahabad cab for my travel.
Where to stay
The Indian government now offers tented accommodation with basic amenities around the areas for travelers. There are seven such tent communities, available in AC and non-AC options, and at different price ranges. All of them have car parking options and are easily accessible to all event sites.
The Kumbh Dormitory is a good option for budget stays but I chose to stay in a hotel, considering I had a camera, laptop, and valuable equipment. There are plenty of small hotels near the Civil Lines and the Allahabad railway station. I had kept my rental car for the two-day trip, to travel to the Mela grounds.
Must-see and do
The first day, I reached the famous and sacred Triveni Sangam around daybreak. A huge parade of the Naga Sadhus had just started. It was crowded up to my neck but I managed to snake through the crowd (always manageable with a press pass) and got a close-up look. Ash-smeared sadhus walked in a long line wearing nothing but garlands, and some of them a loincloth, charging with tridents and chanting in reverie.
Then I went on to witness the bathing ritual, also called the Shahi Snan. I stood there on the banks, watching a hoard of devotees, pilgrims, priests, and curious travelers, flocking to the river to take a dip in the holy waters of the confluence.
Kumbh Mela is not just about religion but also about the local culture. Throughout the duration of the Mela, cultural events are held across the town, where folk and tribal artists showcase their skills. One of them was in sector 19, where dance and music performances were held, giving a peep into the local traditions. I also found a display of handcrafted goods in Ashok Nagar, where artisans from all across India had their talents on display across 100+ stalls.
Before the day ended, I went back to the Triveni Sangam to view the evening activities. Hundreds of people chanted in frenzy, as the light of a thousand lamps lit up the evening sky and mirrored on the rippling rivers, while the fiery orange of the setting sun blended with the saffron shrouds of priests and pilgrims, casting a golden glow all around.
I never thought that an opportunity arising out of professional need would turn out to be an experience of a lifetime!
Tips for fellow travelers:
- If you are on a pilgrimage tour to Varanasi, book a safe and reliable cab from Delhi to Varanasi and make a pit stop at Kumbh Mela.
- Dress conservatively when visiting temples and religious sites, especially during the festival.
- When in Allahabad, also drop by other significant places like the Anand Bhavan, Swaraj Bhavan, Allahabad Museum, Allahabad Fort, Ashoka Pillar, or Khusro Bagh.