Allahabad (a.m.) / New Delhi (p.m.), India

  • Date
  • 14 January 2001
  • Lodging
  • Grand Hyatt Delhi
  • Distance
  • 830 KM
  • Total
  • 140094 KM

What an unprecedented experience for us to attend the Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years in the Ganges River in Allahabad, especially today, one of the three primary bathing days with seven million people immersing themselves. Bathing in the Ganges during the Mela, which goes on for more than one month, is a sacred Hindu ritual expected of every believer once in his lifetime. The Mela is the largest congregation in the world of people in one place, and no matter one’s belief, I believe most would feel enriched, or at least touched, by the outpouring of faith.

With sunrise this morning, holy men and gurus, often wearing little or nothing, took to the river, in a select order to avoid fights between sects wanting to be first in the river. But most men and boys, allowed to wash after the holy men, wear cloth or trunks of some sort. Women do not disrobe, they wear sarees into the water and little girls don panties. Afterwards, the females try to shield their bodies as they change into another saree in the open on the shore, but with millions of people soaked, no one could feel too self-conscious. The temperature is cold, this morning near freezing, so men and women move about the purifying rather quickly.

Some men chant and sing prior to entering the holy water and many pray while immersed in the murky brew, which is certainly not clean, but this matters little. At one point with thousands around us, I looked out and reveled at the multitude of people shaping this scene in the Ganges. Ancient men looking near death without an ounce of meat on their bodies, two young girls giddy as they experienced their first Kumbh, plump, middle-aged and skinny, old women obviously scared to immerse themselves entirely, but holding their noses and taking the plunge to rid a lifetime of sin. Middle-aged men running with gusto and passion into the dirty purification river. Beautiful mothers and daughters washing fabrics in the sacred water. An old, chubby man and colorfully-adorned, but frumpy, middle-aged woman, both in prayer pose, with arms held high and palms together, looking to the sky with a deity in their minds. People gathering and carrying away sacred Ganges water in small brass cups and bottles. And higher on the bank, women standing in pairs, like anchors of clotheslines, holding their recently washed fabric, billowing softly, never to be washed again.

Oh to be traveling the world and experiencing such remarkable times.