Allahabad and Varanasi – A Kumbh experience

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I’m not much of a religious person but how can you miss the biggest human congregation in the world. Plus the Kumbh festival is not about religion it’s more about the people and how vivid the mankind can be. Kumbh 2013 was being held in Allahabad, a.k.a Sangam, the city where the three mighty rivers of India meet Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical river, Saraswati.

It was early February when me and a friend decided to be a part of this festival, we booked our tickets to Allahabad Junction for the final Holy Bath of the Kumbh festival, the festival had 4 days of holy bathing during the one month festival. So our train, Seemanchal Exp, was supposed to leave at 7:30 in the morning but due to the fog our train got delayed, by 6 hours (Yes it happens) I was going to cancel the trip but my friend proposed instead of canceling the tickets we can wait and while waiting we can go and watch a movie in the nearby movie hall. So I agreed to it.
Finally at 3 we boarded the Train and started our journey. We were supposed to reach Allahabad at 4:50 pm but we only managed to cross Aligarh by that time. So after a long and tiring journey 10 hours we reached Allahabad junction at 1:00 am, we thought the station would be marooned but to our surprise the station was so crowded that we were not able to keep our feet on the station. We managed to get out of the station, enquired a bit about hotels we found out that almost every hotel is booked. We were able to find a hotel for Rs.3000/night.
We were hesitant at first but after realizing there were hardly any rooms available in the whole town so we took it. It was already 3:00 am by the time we got settled in the room, so we dozed off and called it a day.
It was bright and sunny when we stepped out no hint of cold at all. So we took an auto to the Sangam Mela Ground (The holy bath day was day after so there was rush on the roads) it took us 40 minutes to reach halfway and we walked the other half of the route. The entry road seemed like a river of humans and we just jumped into it, after walking another kilometer amidst the crowd we reached the entry gate of the crowd. It was huge, Ashrams, Mandirs, Huge rest places, and so many sages wearing the saffron. The crowd here can potentially take over the armies of half the countries in the world.

We tried to get in the open ground next to the banks where people were taking the bath but we got lost the huge tent city, several times before we finally made out of to the open. During our way to the banks we saw so many characters; we were awed by the vividness of the festival. We tried to take a dip in the holy Ganga but we could it was too crowded and a lot of pushing was going on, we were afraid that cops might Lathi Charge and we didn’t want to get caught in it.
We went Back to our hotels explored a bit of Allahabad city, went to civil lines and other nearby places as recommended by our hotel owner.

Next day was the Holy bath day, so we got up early and left for Mela ground at 4 in the morning. We had only walked a few hundred meters (the whole town was closed for the Holy Bath, no vehicles were allowed to run on the roads) and we saw a queue. It was a queue to enter the Mela ground and it was 11kms long. This was a bummer and we decided to drop the plan to visit the ground instead we started walking towards the Naini Bridge. The alternate plan was to take a boat to the actual place where the actual confluence takes place (right in the middle of the river). We reached there in another two hours. The boatman said he will take 1500 to take us, it was too expensive. After negotiations he agreed to take us for 500 but he said he will take along another family in the same boat, we agreed.

It was cloudy and in 40 minutes we were at the real Sangam. There were 40-50 other boats waiting close to the praying platforms. The fascinating part was that, the water here is only 4 feet deep and everywhere else it is 80-100 feet, you can actually step down into the river. I could make out the two rivers at that point, Yamuna looked clean and blue, while Ganga was muddy. We headed back to the Naini bridge after taking the Holy Dip.

It was only 10:00 am and the whole town so crowded that we couldn’t do anything there, so we decided to go to Varanasi. We had to cross another bridge on Ganga, from which we could see the whole tent city, get to the edge of the town to catch a bus going to Varanasi. We reached Varanasi in another 2 hours, we were so exhausted that we decided to just sit and relax into the next restaurant we will see. It was a rooftop restaurant on the street towards the Dashashwamedh ghat.
We ate and sat there for a while without talking to each other.
After gather enough strength we visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple, only after standing in a queue for another 3 hours. It was dark by the time we got out of the temple and almost time for the famous Varanasi Aarti. We hurried toward the Ghat and witnessed the magnificent Aarti.

We took a hotel for the night in Varanasi and started our journey to back home the next day.
Kumbh Mela at Sangam, Allahabad is once in a lifetime experience that everyone should take, religious or not. The next Kumbh mela at Sangam, will be in 2025 and you must at least visit it for a day or two.

This post was originally published on 'Travel Beings'.