Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kumbh Mela


.... is what happens when 33 million people decide to gather in the same place on the same day for the same reason; to bathe in the holy river Ganges during the Kumbh Mela festival.

On the eve of the auspicious and most attended day in the months long gathering, February 10th, I made it to Allahabad via a local bus from Varanasi. Moments after I was lost in a sea of people and beginning to realize the gravity and sheer energy such a crowd generates. Ten minutes later I had a guy try and pickpocket me using an annoying little decoy kid who wouldn't shut up about his "dreams of getting a piece of currency from every country in the world". When an Indian man came up out of nowhere and started telling the kid off in English (why not just do it in Hindi-- your first language?) I knew something was up. The awkward hug he proceeded to give me sealed the deal. Zippered breast pockets for the win...

Darkness came and I went to sleep with plans of an early rise to make it to the river before sunup the next morning. Hours later I woke up, stepped out into the road and was enveloped by the crowd moving excitedly through the predawn cold. 

I photographed during the early morning hours and then decided to get out while it was still possible. Ten hours in the back seat of a taxi with countless misguided turns and a stint of driving in the wrong direction against oncoming trucks on the freeway, to avoid miles of gridlock traffic, I was back in Varanasi. But my journey out of the mighty Kumbh was nothing compared to what some endured-- or didn't, unfortunately. A bridge collapsed that afternoon at the completely overrun Allahabad railway station killing pilgrims who had swarmed to make their way home.

To attend this festival is to see humanity on full display.

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