"Each one prays to God according to his own light "
~ Mahatma Gandhi

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Practical Guide & Trip Planning

Romola Butalia outlines the practical difficulties of attending a Kumbha Festival, and provides an insiders' perspective to a planned visit.

The chief reason for people coming to the Kumbha Mela is for darshan of the saints and mahatmas, satsangh, and the ritual bath in the sacred river particularly on special auspicious days. First-timers can find themselves caught in the sheer logistics of making stay arrangements, finding their way around and reaching the camping areas where the heart of the Kumbha is - amidst the camps of the sadhus.

Without exception, one of the toughest things to do, during a Kumbha is to get from one place to another. The confusion, chaos and strange orderliness and discipine at a Kumbha defies description. It is strongly advised not to plan travel on snan dates, unless you are intent on walking miles through a virtual sea of humanity, luggage in tow. On bathing dates, vehicular traffic is restricted and can be completely prohibited, depending on circumstances.

More on Kumbha
Nashik Kumbha 2015
Ujjain 2016
Legends of Kumbha
Practical Guide
Sadhus at Kumbha
Photo Gallery 1
Photo Gallery 2
Photo Gallery 3
Kumbh Haridwar 2010
Kumbha Allahabad 2013
Ujjain 2004
Notes from the Kumbh
Friend to Sage

Kumbha Cities
bathing at Kumbha The truth is that most people who visit the Kumbha are completely gripped in a trance state, deeply aware, at whatever level of recognition, of the spiritual significance of the Festival. The sincere seeker comes with devotion and for him, his presence here is itself the fruit of his devotion - he is blessed indeed. Others are psyched by the sheer enormity of the event, the teeming crowds, the many ages and times and the sheer variety of humanity that are represented here. Some come for a glimpse of exotica. Without exception, most are unprepared for the Kumbha. They have no idea where to go, or how to go about it. Staying arrangements and all facilities are stretched to the limits, as is the civil administration that copes with the situation, plans for months ahead and sighs with relief at the end of each Kumbha.

While most people would love a closer, up-front look at the camps of the sadhus, and for the short duration of their visit to the Kumbha, to be integrated with the activities here, people rarely get this opportunity.Aside from some of the exhibits and attention-getting gimmicks that are perpetrated by some who wear saffron, the sadhu-sannyasins whom most people would like to meet are notoriously circumspect and difficult to access. For many, they have no idea how to distinguish between one saffron robe and another, so they content themselves with what the media chooses to filter to them. And they read the legends about the great Masters who walk through the Kumbha.

elephants at Kumbha It is true, that almost all sadhu-sannyasins visit the Kumbha, whether or not they have a camp there, and many Masters and great sages walk unannouced, unknown. Those who are currently in the public eye are the ones whose camps are visible. There are many, many sages and masters, who live their lives in seclusion, appearing only when necessary. These sages live in silence and solitude where you would least expect to find them. And most of them visit the sacred Kumbh Festival.

The media have their separate region demarcated with a vantage birds' eye view of the Kumbha. Of late, the Kumbha has become a money-spinner so there are many hotels and travel agents that have made fancy staying arrangements at deluxe camps. It is a different matter that things can go awry sometimes, as it did for a well-known international travel company at the Allahabad Mahakumbha in 2001 when the sadhus protested against the 5-star arrangements there, reportedly because there was a rumour that they were serving alocohol and non-vegetarian food, strictly prohibited in the vicinity. There were others too who had to close operations bebecause they were not maintaining the sanctity of the Festival. The sadhus are present in strength at the Kumbhas, and no-one wants to tangle with the akhadas, who have their 'warriors' as their first line of defence.

There are many hotels in and around town, there are several temple trusts and ashrams which also have staying facilities, but they are not adequate to meet the demands of visitors to the Kumbha. Moreover, at the best of times during the Kumbha, and particularly during the snan dates, transportation to and fro to the Mela area becomes a virtual nightmare. The civil administartion make arrangements for travel agents to pitch tents and provide accommodation, but the area allocated to them is distinct and distant from the area where the sadhus camps are.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.