Kumbh Mela is a unique Indian festival of which I had no idea until I got there. My boyfriend told me about this event when we were preparing for our trip to India. This is our story about Kumbh Mela 2019 in Allahabad.
How did we get to Kumbh Mela 2019 in Allahabad?
Travelling between cities in India can be a challenge because they are all far away from each other and the roads aren’t the best. So even a short distance of 60 km can take more than a couple of hours.
If you want to travel by train, you have to purchase the ticket at least a week before from the train station or online. We failed to get tickets since our entire trip was spontaneous.
Luckily, India has many buses connecting big cities and a large number of companies have the same routes on the same day. The tickets’ prices of private buses are expensive for India, but I can’t complain of the conditions.
We arrive in Allahabad from Agra, with a night bus. The only issue we had was that nobody was speaking English and were asleep and nobody told us when the bus stopped in Allahabad. Therefore, we missed the stop and we ended up in Varanasi, around 8 am.
Because I had already paid accommodation in Allahabad, we had to go back. We first tried to get a train, since Varanasi is just a few hours away, and we did get a ticket for the general class for any train going that direction. As we were waiting in the train station, we were told that the train we were waiting for was cancelled and the next one was in 3h.
The train station was already were crowded, with people sleeping on the floor all around us. After some older ladies set camp at our feet, in the train station, where we were hiding from the sun, we decided not to waste any more time and called for an Ola (the local Uber) to take us to Allahabad. It cost around 40 Eur, almost the same price we paid for both of our bus tickets from Agra to Allahabad, and it took 4h.
But he dropped us off in front of the hotel in Allahabad and we didn’t waste more time waiting for the train. Otherwise we would have wasted the entire day travelling.
The takeaway from this little crazy adventure is to be more aware of everything happening around you, and to make sure the bus driver knows where you need to get off.
Except for bigger and more international cities like Delhi and Mumbai, most Indians don’t understand English that well and is better not to say full sentences when trying to communicate, but to say a few words, like: “Train station?” and to use hands to communicate.
From my experience, this was the best way to communicate, and also lots of native Indians have suggested this in the comments on my vlogs from India, on my YouTube channel.
So.. What is Kumbh Mela?
In 2010, an America show covered the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar and called it “The Largest Pilgrimage on Earth” and the same year, BBC made a documentary, describing it as “Kumbh Mela ‘greatest show on earth.”
According to Wikipedia: Kumbh Mela or Kumbha Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred or holy river.
Bathing in these rivers is thought to cleanse a person of all their sins.
The Holy River is the famous Ganges (or Ganga how Indians call it) and this is perhaps the most important celebration happening on the river and the festival is famous worldwide.
The Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years. At Haridwar and Allahabad, a Maha (“Great”) Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years, with an Ardha (“Half”) Kumbh Mela six years later.
The festival is the largest peaceful gathering in the world, and considered as the “world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”.
So that’s what awoke my curiosity and decided to make it to Allahabad to witness the Half Kumbh Mela, which was indeed huge.
And to tell you how huge it was, I found this info:
For the 2019 Ardh Kumbh at Prayagraj, the preparations include a ₹42,000 million (US$610 million or €540 million) temporary city over 2,500 hectares with 122,000 temporary toilets and range of accommodation from simple dormitory tents to 5-star tents, 800 special trains by the Indian Railway, artificially intelligent video surveillance and analytics by IBM, disease surveillance, river transport management by Inland Waterways Authority of India, and an app to help the visitors.
The four sites are traditionally considered most recognized as Kumbh Melas are Allahabad, Haridwar, Trimbak-Nashik and Ujjain.
Amongst these, the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad is the oldest, and the most attended, and it holds special significance. It is the only confluence of 3 holiest rivers (Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati). It is also the only place where kalpvas happens (spending the entire Magha month in prayers at Sangam).
Apart from the special month when families reunited and pray together, when they meet Sadhus (Hindu holy men), the most important part of this pilgrimage is ritual bathing in the Ganges, which is something each Hindu should do at least once in their lifetime.
Kumbh Mela 2019 in Allahabad (Prayagraj): What did we see?
The 2019 Kumbh Mela has the half Kumbh Mela and was held in the oldest and holiest city of them all, in Allahabad, where the 3 holy rivers unite: Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.
The Kumbh held for over a month, from the 15th of January to the 4th March 2019.
As I read online that over 100 million people were expected to attend this year, I was a bit terrified of such a crowd. Actually, I can’t really imagine THAT many people.
While I was in India, I was constantly overwhelmed by the huge number of people and distances. And from time to time I was trying to explain how there are only about 20 million Romanians all around the globe.
This is one very important psychological aspect which I find it hard to overcome on the first visit to India. There are so many people, that even the most basic task, like crossing the street, can be a complicated thing.
The area of the tents was huge and getting for the furthest corner of the camp to the bathing area could take hours. There was no chance to see where it was ending the Kumbh area and it felt like a huge camp in the middle of the dusty desert, with a river next to it.
We visited the Kumbh Mela 2019 towards the end, missing both of the major bathing dates.
But some were still making the journey to bathe in the Ganges when we were there. It was obvious that many were gone or getting ready to leave, but as we were getting closer to the rivers, we could see the people.
Some were praying, some were selling food or other stuff. Kids were playing and running around. Some were begging. But most of them were enjoying themselves, together with their family, bathing in the holy Ganges.
People were extremely friendly and were curious where we were from. It was unusual to see Europeans around. Many asked to take pictures and selfies with us. Especially with my boyfriend, Edi. He was the star over there. I think his ginger beard was what attracted most of them.
How do I feel about witnessing Kumbh Mela 2019?
It’s hard to explain or the things that were going on. It was a sea of emotions, of life threads intertwining in this ancient and much-loved ceremony.
I am not a religious person, and I do have my strong opinions about the ritual itself, but the act of rigulosly attendance this fascinating gathering, years and years, it gained my curiosity and my attention.
I realized I don’t have to rationalized everything, and that sometimes people do what’s good for their soul.
Before getting to the bathing area, I was sceptical on this ritual, nervose because I had no idea what was I about to witness and scared of the huge mass of people.
But there, all I could see were happy people, minding their own business, and happy to share a bit of their world with us.
There was no language barrier, because words were not used.
Here is one of the 4 vlogs I made at the Kumbh Mela 2019 in Allahabad.
If you plan to visit India or better yet, to visit the Kumbh Mela, pin this for later.