Location: Khajuraho and Prayagraj
Hotel: read on…
This road trip with Ajeet, Shaked and Tom has been incredible and so much fun and we aren’t even at the Kumbh Mela yet.
Google maps is excellent and I wonder how I managed on trips years ago with paper maps and no navigation app.
But it does have weaknesses that can be a bit annoying. Sure you will be given the most direct route to a destination, but you may be taken via a permanently closed road (beside the Taj Mahal), down city streets that are too narrow for a car, or to the wrong destination that is associated with but not the yoga centre where you plan to sleep.
Khajuraho is the location of the Duladpeo Shiva Temple which was built in the early 10th century, only 25 or so of the original 84 buildings are left. What a shame…
This is the appropriately named Kama Sutra temple featuring erotic carvings.
And what would a road trip with a bunch of friends be without an attempt to recreate the carvings…fully clothed unfortunately.
From here to Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad. Many places in India have changed their names in recent years. Some the reasons is obvious e.g. Bombay to Mumbai, some not so obvious as in this case.
Another horror road made worse by the ever increasing traffic.
Finally we arrive with a hostel in mind but no booking. I love an adventure and do try to stay positive but was a bit concerned about this.} The chances of finding 3 beds at the largest peace time gathering of humanity seemed close to impossible. Especially in India.
This was one hotel’s version of an omelette. The omelette part was actually really good, but the white bread…
We had an address but it is not unusual for there to be no obvious signage. It was about 9PM and we were in the right area but no one knew the Kumbh Maya hostel. The booking website doesn’t give contact details until you have a booking so I booked a night 6 months ahead (keep this in mind) and found a phone number.
Getting to the place wasn’t easy. Many roads were closed but Indian police barriers fell to the privilege of being a foreign tourist.
After an hour of going circles asking for directions, we discovered it was a school we had passed a few times. Once inside it turned out to be home base for the hostel which is inside the Mela (fair) ground.
We speak to someone on the phone and eventually are following a car into the Mela ground past rows and row and rows of tents and people walking and more.
Left, right, along, right, along, left along seemingly random – in retrospect it was random. When we leave it was a single turn and we were on our way out, though a long way.
But I get ahead of myself.
We arrive at a gate beside a restaurant and into what is an oasis in the chaos outside. Bamboo huts, an attempt at a peaceful space.
The actual room was a small plywood bungalow that smelled like the paint was still wet. It was the only room so 4 of us crammed in so tightly that if someone wanted to come in, everyone had to stand in a bed. But we agreed with the manager to pay the price listed on hostel world website of 13 Euros = R1000 = $20 – another winner. But there will be a protest…
Once again, how to describe the place and event is difficult.
It is what I imagine a refugee camp would be like. Sort of organised crowded temporary housing with vendors and all the resources of a city. This city has a religious purpose, full of pilgrims.
The next morning we are up at 5am because there are things happening. Ajeet is going to immerse in the Ganges and must be done before dawn. Needless to say everyone is going to the river before dawn and it is too daunting to try to get over the crowded one way there bridge across the river.
So foreign privilege to the rescue and we are allowed to walk there on the back bridge, it was too early for many returnees.
The reason the there bridge was so crowded was due to a procession of Babas and their followers.
There are a lot of them here and I imagine a Baba of the Year competition as they try to outdo each other with colour and the number of followers and other events.
We hit a police pedestrian block, but foreign privilege prevails and we are soon making our way to the river in-between the fences as part of the Baba procession.
Once we reach the river it got a little scary. There suddenly a crush of people and we are in the middle or maybe near the edge, no idea. It was probably more of a push than a crush, people trying to get through in different directions. But it was tight.
A lady fell down and I was really concerned to get her on her feet as the crowd surged. Of course it dissipated in the end and suddenly we are at the river, Ajeet disrobing. That’s the point I noticed my glasses are gone.
If you don’t know, these are magnetic Click glasses and have miracle glasses (TM) properties. That I have had them for nearly 2 years is proof of that.
But now they are gone, lost and mangled for sure. By describing them as miracle glasses I have preempted the outcome besides, I have mentioned it in Facebook.
We are there for 20 minutes or so, the throughput of people is captivating, intense, incessant.
The Babas and their followers are coming through. Ahhh, now that I think about it, the crush was likely caused by the arrival or departure of a Baba and his followers clearing a path. Because they just push through often with a protective circle around the revered one.
Tom, Shaked and Ajeet insist on looking for my glasses. I am convinced that even if we find them, more than one of the thousands of people will have stood on them. Of course you already have figured out that the Ganges will provide what you need and I needed miracle glasses. Ajeet found them and they were undamaged.
We are walking back and there is a kerfuffle (no relation) with the police putting up a rope barricade, pushing us off the road we are walking on. They keep moving us back and back, then a row of soldiers with a sniffer dog (I assume) come through, clearing more.
Next is police on horses, pushing us further back. I am signing to mounted police Shanti Shanti (calm, calm) as the horses did their thing.
Then along the road comes a crowd. It is the next event in Baba of the Year. Named for the running of the bulls, I call it Running of the Naked Saddhus. They are running to jump in the river, a couple of hundred of them.
Watch for yourself
Talk about being in the right place at the right time, it was incredible and all over way too fast. Shaked managed to get this wonderful shot.
The continuing coming and going of people across the river was endless. The number of people in the river was countless. Except they did do a count and apparently on the day we were there so we’re 30 million other people! No shit!
A temporary structure built for the 1 month festival.
Inside, 100 fires are lit at night, one in each of the hearths.
This place has a bigger population than the whole of Australia. All in one place. At one time.
We are going to stay 2 days but it was so intense we all agreed 1 night was enough.
I refer you back to the protest being lodged. When we went to pay R1000 we were met with a quizzical look and news that the “room” was R7,000
Uh oh. We didn’t get very far talking to the man who wasn’t the man who agreed to the price. Thought it good to get him in and discuss it, so we go for a walk.
Plenty of things to see and do and when we get back guy is there. There is a lot of back and forth since we expect to pay the advertised price, but he doesn’t see it that way. We settle for R2000, noone completely happy.
I could go into the long version of what happened but this post has already taken me 2 frustrating days to write. So many distractions.
And then we are out of the Mela ground, the easy way, and on our way to Kanpur. Where not much happened.
But that is for another day.
Oh, that hostel booking? I cancelled and got a refund. But the booking was for 1st July, months after the Kumbh Mela is over and the city dismantled. T.I.I.