15 April 2010

The Maha Kumbh Ordeal

It is not everyday that one gets to see something preposterously insane. It is not everyday that one gets to see a frenzy that respects no bounds of sanity. It is not everyday that one walks in narrow streets jam packed with people just to get to a bathe in a river at four in the morning. It is not everyday that one walks fifteen kilometers back and forth for no apparent reason. It is not everyday that one goes to attend the Maha Kumbh.

In fact, it is something that one can do no more frequent than one every 144 years. Considering you have the knack and will to survive that long! But the experience is worth a lifetime. In saying so, I do not admit to a change of beliefs neither do I say that the scene moved me so much that I am embarking on the path of faith. But the ordeal shall remain etched.

The initial problems were regarding reaching Haridwar since the roads were closed and hardly any public transport was available. The devout were certainly expected to own personal modes of commutation. Else at least to come from farther off places. Anyway, after being stuffed in a private bus and finally getting to the last bus stop near Haridwar, we walked close to ten kilometers to reach the Har Ki Paudi. Not that it was required by Kumbh to bathe at a particular ghat in Haridwar, but somehow that was where people wanted to go, despite all the pleading of the officials on the PA that people bathe at the nearest ghat. But the crowd went on. And we followed. There were heads every where one looked. At 3 in the night. Thousands of heads ahead of you. Thousands behind. Thousands coming back. Thousands going along. You skipped tens of thousands by jumping over a single barricade. It was hilarious and at the same time exciting.

We finally reached the Paudi, chose a spot for us to stand. The Paudi was the most crowded place, mind you. So it was not really easy getting a place to stand and undress but we did manage. All around there were people of all ages and gender in various stages of undress. Some comfortable with their nudity, others hurrying to complete the chores and return to modesty. Going in two shifts, we waded and plunged into the cold waters of holy Ganga at 4 in the morning. It was cold and swift and the lack of security officers on that one occasion allowed the few of us that were interested to remain in water for a really long time, feeling cold and getting crushed between enthusiastic people chanting mantras and taking plunges. The excitement had to end, of course, and so it did. We dried, changed, all on the same spot. Went to see if Mohanji would honour us with some puri-sabji. But alas he was facing troubles of his own. So we sat in a shop on the opposite side of the street and ate out hearts out.

The road back was much straight forward, though we were, by now, tired and sleepy. The crowd however, had not relaxed even a bit. There were still people pouring on the streets from overflowing railway carriages and coming from some other unknown and unceasing sources. We walked another five to seven kilometers to a bus stand, making a pit stop for some tea. The road was lined with people crapping in the open under trees and more people bathing in the waters of the Ganga right next to the crap-yard. Trying to ignore all the un-pleasantries, we managed to reach the bus stand, struggled to get someone to take us to Roorkee, for the bus conductors had whims of their own, and came standing in a bus all the way back. Back to our dear hostels and beds to a sound sleep.

Despite my feet being trampled more times than ever previously in my life, and despite the uneasiness involved in travel, I am glad I managed to make it to the last bath. For it was certainly an experience worth having. Neither awesome, nor awful. Just one that I went through. A special mention that I would like to make is to the management of the Kumbh. It was spotlessly organised. To maintain order amid such reckless chaos! Credit to officials who certainly outdid themselves. Though I am certain that never again will I attend even the twelve-yearly Kumbh again!


  1. Soumi and family and Jharna had also gone, did you know??!!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I could visualize your trip and feel the nice aroma of the puri-sabzi.

  3. @di... i didn't! the very same day?
    @parasmani... you're welcome. :)

  4. I don't know which day... Probably the same... Anyway, kinda late now :)