The Kumbh Mela is an experience of a lifetime. Nowhere in the world are you going to discover a culture so unique and ethereal as one can witness here. My four-day trip to Prayagraj left me intrigued by the sheer magnificence of the huge canvas painted by the Uttar Pradesh government in bringing together a city so seamlessly perfect with high tech systems in place to host the world’s largest religious event.
You gasp in awe at the effort to create a unique atmosphere when you see the beautiful art on walls and crossroads from the airport to the fair area. The laser lights in the night add to the experience. The Kumbh Mela is essentially a peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth during which devotees bathe or take a dip in a sacred river.
Prayagraj is the city where holy river Ganga unites with the other two rivers Yamuna and the invisible river Saraswati. This place of confluence of the three rivers is called the sangam and devotees go exclusively to the banks of sangam to take the holy dip which has to be done in a kayak boat but if you wish to escape the crowd you also have the option of going to Ganga Ghat.
Special facilities this year
The Kumbh this year is well spread out in an area of 56 km, which means except for the special bathing dates you will not get to see people restricted in just one area only. They are spread out in 14 sectors with 18,000 police personnel ensuring that everything goes as perfectly as planned.
I have been a regular visitor to the last two Kumbhs at Prayagraj. I observed the cleanliness of the place; workers deployed everywhere to pick up even a small piece of trash. The 2,000 bio toilets installed are clean and stink free ensuring no one ever defecates in the open, as well as the 3,000 water ATMs for free drinking water to all the pilgrims which provides a lot of relief after walking tired and exhausted.
Saffron and yellow all over
The akharas or the tents of all religious heads in the area are called Jhusi. It is a point for interacting with Aghora sadhus and Naga sadhus and discovering their rituals and ceremonies. And of course you have the heads of all religious institutions like Morari Bapu, Avdeshanand, Narayan Seva Sansthan, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, who have discourses in this three-month-long festive fair. This year all the 13 akharas were accommodated in Sector 4 close to the main bathing site or the sangam. Juna akhara is the most popular because of Naga sadhus who even in the severest of winters do not put any clothing on them.
Where to stay
A tent city has been constructed around the Kumbh making it easy for you to enjoy all the festivities. I recommend you stay in tents which are as comfortable as a hotel room. Or, you can even indulge in luxury at Rs 30,000 a night, which is called Indira Prastham or the city of eternity. There are private companies setting up tents to suit everybody’s budget, with flush toilets, showers, hot water and all the facilities needed for acomfortable stay.
The royal bath dates
There are five special dates for the saints who all come out of their camps and participate in the procession on elephants, horses and vehicles with their devotees replete with music and dance and all the fervour that goes in this merry making procession.
So, unless you are ready to battle the crowd of 30 million people and are religious to the core, I would suggest you take a comfortable dip on any day in between. Prevention of stampede measures in the form of intricate barricading has been well set up, so when it comes to safety all measures have been taken.