The Kumbh Mela Festival. The largest gathering of humans in the history of the planet. 100 million over six weeks and 30 million the day we were there.
This was beyond intense.
I had seen photos a year or two ago from the Kumbh Mela of 2001 and thought it would be an amazing experience. The timing of this trip based around the festival. I had booked our rooms at the grounds months before I even had a crew or knew if it would be possible to make this trip happen, but I figured I had to make it work somehow. Luckily some skaters were willing to check it out with me.
For the full Gurus in the Ganges article in our current issue, click here.
Not knowing our arrival and departure times before booking the room I had to book for two nights to ensure we would be there for a full day during the main bathing. Once we got our train tickets we were surprised to find out that we arrived the first day at 5:00am and departed the third day at 11:00pm. Suddenly we went from making sure we had one day there to having three full days. This we more than any of us had bargained for. Pictured here is our confusing 5:00am arrival on the wrong side of the river.
Luckily we had a friend at the festival. A skater from Bangalore named Poorna Nadavatti. He was able to take us around and explain many things about the festivities that we would never have been able to figure out otherwise.
Sebo... When in Rome...
Holy Sadhus are the highest of Hindu Priests. They reject all worldly possessions and subsist only on what is given to them by followers.
Some avenues of the festival grounds were lined with lepers. It was quite disturbing to see such a disease still around in abundance.
Smoking Chillums is an important part of the daily lives of devout Hindus. The tribal leaders, called Babas and who are priests under Sadhus, control who attends the festival and allow or deny the entrance of guests to the rows of tents near the center of the massive temporary city. Poorna takes a rip while Nestor looks on.
A couple Babas seeking shade under a bridge.
This Baba was in charge of the tent row Poorna stayed in. The tents were free of charge if you could be vouched for by someone who had previously attended a Kumbh Mela. Thus all 100 million people in attendance knew each other through just several degrees of separation.
We woke up the next morning at 4:00 am to walk the hour and a half to the center of the festival so we could witness the main bathing day. It had already started when we got there.
A British news reporter attempting to get an interview with a Sadhu. He was not stoked.
A Hindu man smoking a chillum in his boat.
Sadhus are known for unpredictable behavior. This guy was thrashing around with a large stick while taking the holiest dip of his life.
Revelers in the holiest/most polluted river in the world.
Among many other bizarre rituals the Sadhus cover themselves with the ashes of cremated human bodies. They gather it from the burial grounds and cary an ash bag with them at all times.
Average Hindus bathed in another area sectioned off from the Sadhus. The point of the bathing was to ensure your place in Nirvana, the Hindu version of Heaven.
White ladies can be Sadhus too.
Women preparing to bath near one of 17 temporary bridges installed in Allahabad.
This man had a pet monkey.
A snake charmer near our room.
The next day the rain started. It came down in torrents and flooded every area of the grounds. This was the scene across the street. The small canvas boxes on the left are toilets...
Sebo had an appropriate sweatshirt.
We headed to the train station with several thousand others and waited the remaining eight hours for our departure.
We weren't the only ones who had spent maybe a day or two too long in the harsh conditions.
The crowd trying to leave at the train station.
We were stoked to get out of there and back to skating.
The final installment is next Wednesday so be sure to check back then. There will be skating. I promise.
If you missed the first two installments you can find them here: Part 1 Part 2