The literally translation of the Hindu word Kumbh Mela means “ festival of the jar“ – it is the largest religious festival on earth. It takes place in a 3-years-rhythm alternately in 4 different cities of India. All of them are located at different holy rivers. Hindu pilgrims from all over the world are coming to the celebrations, for having their ritual washings at the Ghats of the rivers on distinct bathing-days. More than 30 mio of Hindus were expected between the 22nd of April and the 21st of May in Ujjain this year. 3 years ago, at the last Kumbh Mela in Allahabad has been counted more than 34 mio pilgrims.
Exactly at 3am we rode in at Ujjain, Several police check posts were to pass, before we could search for an appropriate car park for our bikes and the luggage. The streets were already overcrowded at this time, it was pretty hard to get through on the bikes. I’d no clue where we should go, therefore we’d to go by our feelings in a random direction. The first view from the first bridge of the bathing crowd below, gave us a sense what we would have to face on this day.
At the next police roadblock towards city center we came to an end for the moment. The policemen didn’t want us to go further, the road was closed for the following parade of Sadhus and Gurus. After discussing with the officer-in-chief in a very tense atmosphere, we have been allowed to leave all our stuff at one of his provisional police stations. So we have been in the midst of the event now and could leave back our bikes and backpacks in a unhesitating way – to get driven by the crowd towards the Ghats afterwards.
The street was splittet up by mobile barricades. On the left side were moving pilgrims pushing around in the crowd. The other side of the street was almost empty. It was kept clear for the parade-cars of the Sadhus and Gurus – it means the priests and holy men and their followers, which would marching afterwards along this corridor passing the cheering believers. This large number of people at a confined space was exceeding my resilience, why we decided to climb over the barricades without further ado. Now we have been in the midst of activities. Normally it was not allowed for pilgrims to mingle with the parade. Police was watching for it and it is also well known, for swinging their batons recklessly if somebody is violating this rule. But were the only western foreigners equipped with a big camera – all the people and officers accepted us as part of the Corso, why we have been included very friendly in all the celebrations.
We’ve been really warmly welcomed, everybody wanted to take a photo of us or asked for taking a photo of him. We also got our „helmet“ painted orange, it could be taken as symbol of solidarity. The people has shown an exuberant atmosphere with some kind of freakiness – comparable to the „Münchner Oktoberfest“ at 10 pm – instead of taking big jars of beer in the evening the pilgrims were indulging themselves by having some Joints in the morning.
One policeman fell in love with Nigel’s Iphone – that’s why he was accompanying him as „private security guard“ for a longer period. It must have been a fairly uncomfortable situation for Nigel – this guard hassled him to hand the cellphone over – in an indirect way namely, but he did it several times. To refuse his request to harsh would have been no good idea, finally our privileged „official guru status“ has been at stake. However, with his very friendly Kiwi diplomacy Nigel could unnerve this officer obviously, because he was pulling out without his sought fat prey.
Arrived at the holy river, the pilgrims were plunging into the water for having their ritual washings – this is the actual highlight for every Hindu. Because of being the only foreigners at this place, we have been interviewed by the local tv channel.
We have been walking 8 hours around in this hustle and bustle, before we came back to our motorbikes. There we could witness an unique story: A young man had lost a bag with about 1 Lakh Rupies (100.000) cash in it in this crowd – it means the approximate amount of the annual salary of a truck-driver. As we could read a couple of days later, at this day were more than 3 mio visitors and pilgrims at Kumb Mela. As he came to police to report his lost, the money has already been delivered and he got everything back.
Almost 2 weeks later I came back to Kumbh Mela alone again. It was the last day of celebrations, the main bathing day when the Naga Babas, the naked Sadhus from the mountains get to the Ghats. The Naga Babas, the holy men, get worshiped as gods by believing Hindus. At this day were about 9 mio people there. As I was starting at midnight from Indore 50 km away, it was hard to believe my eyes. The 2-lane-motorway to Ujjain was on the whole distance blocked, the stop-and-go traffic took me more than 3 hours to get to the festival. This day should have been the highlight of my journey, because of the special abilities and rituals of the Naga Babas. But this crowds of people was too much – during the day it was almost impossible to move in the city. Therefore I decided – after 3 to 4 hours and a couple of failed attempts to get to the interesting places – to cancel my visit of Kumbh Mela at this day. I think, after this morning I can understand the living conditions of battery cage chicken. Maybe I am able to come back to Kumbh Mela at one of the following events.
Extraordinary remarkable was this Naga Baba and his oversized genital piercing.