<<  Allahabad, 11-Feb-2013  >>

Maha Kumbh Mela, take 2

Hello from the place with the biggest concentration of people, spirituality, infectious diseases and excrements in the world!

It’s my birthday today. I am in the middle of crowd of 70 million people, but I spent the whole day alone in my "room" (more like a tin cage), and the only sentence, which I said during the whole day was: "One bottle of water and one toilet paper please" :-)
It’s the Universe reminding me that even with 70 million people around, a man is alone if none of them is your friend...
Interesting birthday, indeed :-)

At noon I realized that I’m really not getting any better and started munching on antibiotics. Traveler’s best friend Ciprofloxacin. Tomorrow I should leave from here, I hope I will be able to do it.

But, back to 10-Feb-2012:
Now, if you think of my trip as of vacation, imagine this: you wake up at 3:00am, to spend 2 hours walking in freaking cold, fighting for survival in crowd of millions of Indians, while literally wading through swamps of shit (remember, there’s millions of people), to finally arrive somewhere, where you’ll hardly see anything, because of the crowds, and the police will bother you all the time and maybe even hit with sticks. Whole, you continue to fight for survival, 2 hours walking distance from next source of water and food. Well, this is my “vacation” here :-) Suddenly, that quiet day in your office doesn’t sound as a bad deal, does it?

Maha Kumbh Mela 2013. You have never seen anything like this! The horizon, in 360 degrees, was covered by people. An endless sea of the people. As far as you can see, everything was covered by tiny dots – the people.
Of course that the situation got much more chaotic, and I twice got into a very nasty situation, near one of the pontoon bridges, were people were just stuck as everybody tried to get somewhere else and the crowd just kept on pushing more and more. It was one moment away from a situation when people start to kill others to pursue their own escape and safety. One moment away from that mass panic. I was bit scared there, but luckily for me, I’m still head taller from rest of the Indians and with much stronger body, so I would probably manage to fight my way out somehow, but I really wouldn’t like to start beating people to ensure my own safety. I don’t even remember how I got out of there. But I felt really sorry for those 80 years old grandmas or women with small babies – I don’t know how did THEY survive the crushing of the crowds (and I also don’t understand what kind of idiot brings babies to this event…). When it comes to organization of crowd, Indians absolutely lack any basic rationalism. Instead of spending 5 seconds by thinking how to get somewhere in most reasonable way, they just GO. Always the first entrance, the closest door, people in all directions trying to over-push each other. It’s like this in buses, trains, stations, and of course also here. It never matters that the second entrance or exit is crowd free and that if they would spend 2 minutes to get there, they would save 30 minutes of time waiting in queues or stampede. No, this first entrance is here, we go this way! Aaaaahhhh, some aspects of India I will never understand.

Unfortunately, for photographing it was not really such El Dorado as I hoped it would be. First of all, photography was forbidden in most of the places, and there were squadrons of policemen to remind you, second, all the crowds make it really difficult to make a good photo (in other words, I’m not a good enough photographer to shoot in these conditions and really juice them into great photos) and most importantly, all places from which you could take great photos were, without exception, reserved for the press. So, for us, plebs, it was impossible to compete with the journalists, when it comes to taking great photos, we simply didn’t have access to the right spots.

As it turned out, the most entertaining part for me was messing around with the police. Like for example this situation:

Policemen: No photography permitted here!
Me: Am I taking photographs or what? My camera is off. I’m just standing here and watching.
Policemen: You cannot stand here. Go back (and pointed out of the bathing area, maybe 50 meters back)
I grinned and stepped back 1 meter.
Policemen, pissed off by my disrespect for the majesty of his position: GET BACK!
I stepped back one more meter.
Policemen, totally freaked out by my horrible disrespect for his larger-than-life official power: GET BAAAAAAACK!
And as he started to run towards me with his stupid stick, I grinned at him and finally got out of the ‚sacred area‘. I moved 50m to the left, and returned to the same distance from the river as I was before, and so the same story continued with another policemen, and another and another.
I felt some punky anarchistic delight inside me, for „fighting the power“ :-)
But the best part was during the main event – the march of naga babas. Naga babas are the highlight of Kumbh Mela. They are militant sadhus, who live very ascetic lives in the mountains, they are always naked, only covered with white ash. They come down to Allahabad by thousands to take the bath during Kumbh Mela. And so during this march, in the area restricted for the parade and the press, there was higher than usual level of chaos of people trying to get inside the forbidden area, and when all the policemen around us rushed to help their colleagues in keeping the people behind the barriers, a group of 30 brave guerillas :-), including me, jumped over the barricades and penetrated the forbidden area. Suddenly all the policemen were after us, but I just kept on walking really fast away from them, pretending that I was a journalist. Some poor policemen was blowing his lungs out just behind me, trying to stop me with his whistle (he must have thought that his whistle has some sacred psychokinetic powers to stop me or what), but I completely ignored him and did not look back. I knew he would have more than enough work by herding the Indians to really go after me. And so, for 2 minutes I “partisaned” in the restricted zone, trying to take some pictures of the marching and running naga babas (and all of those pictures suck, because there was too much chaos, not enough time to set my camera and too much running from the police), until one naga baba started running towards me, threatening me with a sabre and then I understood that it was time to leave, because while policemen would at worst hit me with a stick, this guys seemed to be willing to chop me in half :-) I backed out a little and in few seconds, the police and the army started to regain control over the region and the fun was over. But this was definitely the best moment of the festival for me!

Not too long after this, started the worst moment of the festival for me, and my stomach and guts told me that something’s wrong. Looking at the unimaginable swamp of shit all around me, I started my “heroic walk” towards my camp, which took, in those crowds, more than 2 hours, I almost got crushed to death again at the entrance to the pontoon bridge, and totally physically and mentally exhausted and green I arrived to my camp and didn’t leave 20m vicinity of the toilet for the next 6 hours…
In the late afternoon, after triple dose of drugs I forced myself to go again to the main area to see something more, and when I reached it and found again that congregation of sadhus waiting for the dinner right after the sun sets down, my stomach made violent riot again, and I almost threw up all over those hundreds of sadhus. So-so I managed to run the nearest piece of tin fence and vomited there, instead of desecrating the holiest sadhu dinner in India ever. I returned to the camp and didn’t get out of the bed for next 36 hours, and practically didn’t eat anything for the next 3 days.

So this was my Maha Kumnhmela experience and my birthday. I just hope that the birthday present which I got is not cholera.

It was cool and fascinating event, but I wouldn’t recommend going there to anyone I know, except Matel, who likes hard core experiences. As fascinating as it was, it was not really „enjoyable“: too much police, too many crowds and too much shit for that. For watching Hindu traditions, Rameshwaram is surely more pleasurable option. And worse of all was probably the „street of lepers“. In one corridor, there were 15 – 25 beggars with leprosy, each off them proudly showing different piece of raw flash hanging from his/her body. There was this maybe 17 years old girl, with really beautiful face, but piece of flesh instead of her arm. What kind of job is she ever going to get? Who’s going to ever love her? None and no one, I know. As brutal as it sounds, I sort of wished her that she would die early, that poor girl. Some things you can see in India are really horrible. But these are the things that put our own lives and „misfortunes“ into the right perspective. In Europe such girl’s biggest problem would probably be, that she had older model of smart phone than her friends. This girl here, was rotting on the street (well, not even street to be precise)...

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak