Feb 28, 2013

My first Maha Kumbh Mela - 2013

Panoramic view of Triveni Sangam (meeting of rivers Ganga and Yamuna)

The sheer volume of people from all over the nation, descending at Allahabad for a spiritual dip in Ganga mixed with Yamuna river at Sangam, was something to be experienced being right there. Watching it over the TV or videos on websites would not have given us the same feel of actually looking at the mammoth assembly of people. 

I stayed with Chandra Mouli, my long time buddy, in Hyderabad for two days. Enjoyed hospitality of his mother and sister who packed us 4 zip locked Puliyogares for our journey.

Our first hurdle was to get the confirmed tickets to Allahabad on train. Having booked online, we were put on waiting list that was around 200 initially and was down to 20 something previous night. Next morning it was WL7! and charts closed! Mouli wanted to know if we should go or drop out since no ticket means we need to go unreserved, with no hopes of getting a seat for the next 36 hours! But I thought there was no going back. We both decided we MUST go whatever it takes. We luckily got 2 vacant window seats in unreserved bogie to be seated on shared body weight on either cheeks till it would go numb :) People who got in at other stations, squeezed into any crevice between seats and aisles. Some sat over their own luggages sparing our laps and heads :)

I was hesitant to eat anything on the way, at railway stations, until the small time vendors entered into the train with oranges. It was extremely refreshing to suck on juicy fruit and pulp that I preferred over plain water for that moment. We finished our puliyogare before we reached Allahabad.

Well I think I should share more experiences at Kumbh Mela and the way it was organized than our journey that did not have many incidences. 

So, here we were at Allahabad railway station. I did not think I should have taken pics of sign boards all over the walls of city that had absolutely NO English but ONLY Hindi. Just loved it! believe me that's how you mean business with the local language and culture. The local people are proud of their language. Absolutely Hindi and nothing else! Only at places where it was absolute necessary they might have had some english. Loved it truly.  That's my first taste of a North Indian city that boasts of being heart of Hindiland :)

Unprecedented effort right from here to all around city, police and security guards at very frequent intervals taking extreme care. I paid a salute to their duty. One of them even helped us with gyaan on how to just get into a shared auto without asking for rate, but just hop in to reach Ganga. Congested traffic, some rules being followed, people were used to the life, our auto crawled on 3 wheels a distance of 5 kms. We got down and carried our bags in drizzling rain to walk another 2 kms into the river bed where the camps were pitched.

Entrance to the site of camps
Sun was almost going down, we started the long walk looking around every place where we could get accommodated for the night. We noticed that most of the Akhadas (camps) were already razed to ground for they had left earlier. Found one that was alive with blinking lights and brightness all the way in :) I checked with the main guru if we could stay over for the night. He asked me where I was from. I told him we came from Bangalore. He gestured to one beside him to provide us place. We were given very good tent. Opposite to which was dining hall (again within a tent.) We were requested to stay over and have food in the Akhaada by the sadhu who showed us the tent. We, of course, agreed! :D Nice simple food, morning tea, lunch and dinner again. I showed gratitude to "Annadaata Sukheebhava"

Shree Shambu Panch Agni Akhaada Camp
Entire few hundred acres of land was converted to a city by itself! No public transport were allowed in. No street vendors to nag you to buy except few tribal jewelry and rudraksha sellers and the so-called tiny budget vendors. The arrangements, organizing, Security measures, utilities, sanitary, help desk, roads.....were all extremely well managed. For all the nearly 40 hours we stayed at Kumbh Mela I had an imprint of a positive vibrations of the place that I will remember for lifetime. Having experienced similar gathering but of a lower scale, I did know in general how such melas work.
The young priest at camp did a long pooja twice a day at the camp only after which people were requested to have food. And food was generously provided to one and all. The priest would go in to a trance while he did Aarathi.
@#@#@ Official Kumbh Mela website by Allahabad administration @#@#@ (in new window)
The stay with self sufficient camps, food, snacks, beds and rugs were all provided absolutely FREE of charge! Only if one wanted to, they could drop money into a donation box. Very well kept toilets, neatly arranged camp layout for all conveniences. A high altar and a small temple for Panch Agni deity in the middle of the camp. We were lucky to have found this Akhaada available.

There were thin metal sheets that were laid out along all the roads almost upto the river bed, and some were placed over the sand dunes to protect sands from displacement. Government provided drinking and utility water, sanitation, roads, power, lights, public announcement systems, security resources,  police, protecting boats at the river....everything free of charge! Many thanks to the minister Azam Khan and Commissioner of Allahabad Devesh Chaturvedi, who were overseeing entire arrangements.

Security guards and police together were very vigilant of the crowd. A kid lost her way was very quickly restored with her mother by the guards.

We got into the river in the morning while it was still very cold after previous night's rain, but once after I took 3 dips completely immersing myself into Sangam, I walked out with a feeling of shedding all the filth (spiritually lol) and guaranteed no more rebirths :D My body got warm within few minutes. Slowly the sun too started to heat up the atmosphere. Despite the closely standing crowd, women and men could manage to change over clothes. Good thing that I did not find gawkers and droolers around.

So if you were to visit such a mela, dont worry about food and refreshments. You will be given all those. That's it! But if you want to cook on your own, you can still stay in the camps and do that too. 

We left our bags in the tent with no one to really take care of them, and went around the place. We visited few temples, the old fort that is now partially taken over by defense and through which even the pilgrims are allowed to walk in and out around oldest Akshaya Tree. It was not surprising that there were people who supposedly were managing the temple that was underground having about 20 Hindu deities, each idol was managed by one 'priest' (who just looked like one.) It was simply business under there. Every priest will brief you about deity and almost force you to spill few notes on the God! We skipped paying and just watched the business while we waded through the winding crowd and got out into open air.  There's a Seetha Koop that never looks like having any significance but a well that has no story! But one will not realize till he gets to see the well at close. There's just nothing :D 

We wanted to get a feel of being at the river in the late evening. The entire area will be awake 24/7/55 days! People took dip in river even in late evenings and nights as and when they arrive into the city.

There were boat rides on Yamuna river that took you for about a kilometer or so and return. We did not go but had a good view of many boats that were spread over the river in all directions. Maybe the fort view from that position would have been excellent. Even a drive over the Lal Bahadur Shastry bridge that runs in parallel to railway bridge over the river will be an excellent view to look down over the whole camp area. You would see this while you come into Allahabad station. The sunset with all the environment is soooo beautiful......

The weather was chiller at the railway station than at the river! The announcement of trains schedules were non stop on the speakers. It irritated after  time but I know it was all so important for everyone. Trains were delayed from about 30 minutes to 7 hours. Ours was delayed by 3 hours but he made it up with about 25 minutes late than scheduled for Bangalore.

There were few deaths at stampede at the same railway station previous week. And the stairs that takes you across the platforms had broken into pieces. Obviously it looked like the stampede was not the reason but the stairs could not take the weight of people. And now when we saw, there was a board right at beginning of stairs, that there will be one guard who watches the weight at all times at all the climbs! Good move!

I am still thinking of 'All-Hindi' board across the city........aah. When will the pseudo Kannada fanatics ever learn to be that proud? 

Highlights as observed:
  • People friendly guards and policemen
  • 24/7 power, lights, water for free
  • Most of the passengers in train traveled ticketless. No TT bothered to catch anyone in that bulging crowd
  • Railway stations had tight security. No one were made to stand around and groups were carefully monitored. Some smart looking young railway policemen were awake bright all through the night till morning. 
  • No pollution was allowed in the river. No soap, No bathing, No throwing food either. There were guards at the banks and in the boats that was placed just outside the fenced limits. When crowd was more, people were made to have very quick dip and go back to allow others to come in.
  • Ganga water was green and Yamuna looked blackish.
  • Arrangement was made over a high ground for lost people to announce themselves and their relatives, to find them at that spot, over public address system. Names of missing people were called out with their relatives' names all through the day and night.
  • When the sands became marshy, slippery the administration brought in huge loads of long green grass in trucks and spread them quickly over the sands all across the bank to prevent people skidding, sliding which would have really hurt bad. There were at least 3-4 layers of the grass covering each time it rained.
  • Several lines of bridges were laid by defense forces, over floating iron cylinders, to cross over between the lands. No doubt it was very safe.
  • An Indian lady, around 30s, was holding hi-tech camera and walked into the camp where we were, with 4 white people. All of them were in there to take pics of course and just observe. They were talking to the sadhus who were walking around and I saw 3 of the whites walk further, while the Indian lady and the man with her was asked to have lunch at the dining hall. I could see she was very reluctant for all I know could have been because of the condition of dining place. The sabji was in a plastic bucket, rice in a huge bowl and aluminium bucket. One has to sit on the sand floor that had few strips of cloth mat that was soiled too. Walking past, I found her sitting on floor with her friend and the plates we all had from was offered to them too. She just kept nibbling into the cooked rice for long time without eating. But they had no choice. She probably thought she would walk in and out like foreigners in her own land and take pics and please the sadhus. But it didn't work. They pulled her in and made her eat from the same plate we all ate the same food we all had :D I felt that was a good move by sadhus :D though not with wicked intentions (like how I viewed it lol)
  • I befriended a guy from Bihar, a co-passenger in train, who offered me Bihar sweets and also said never to trust anyone offering anything to eat in North India while travelling :D That people rob you off! Well, he justified by saying we knew each other since hours through travel and so he was not the one to cheat that way :D He was a good company, but Mouli did not get to talk much with him. We shared a lot on food, education, politics, religion, travel etc about Bihar :) Learnt from him that Bihar is actually originally named Vihar, that which was a place for travelling! Bihar sweets were good! yumm!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats Suchin, you washed away all your sins!!