By Susan Shapiro
The Kumbh Mela will probably be the most fascinating event you will ever attend in your lifetime. It was for me. As someone who’s been around the world twice and visited over 110 countries that should indicate how impressive it really this riveting pilgrimage is.
Every 3 years, millions of Hindu followers gather along banks of the Ganges River to wash away their sins and be blessed by holy men from dozens of religious sects. It is the hope and prayer that their journey to Nirvana depends on and their insurance against not being incarnated again to live out another lifecycle on this earth. Every six years the number of pilgrims more than doubles because the sun, moon and Jupiter align in an auspicious way. My journey coincided with the sixth year Kumbh Mela, a once in a lifetime moment for me and perhaps a marker for me in what celestial fates may await.
However, to commit to an almost life changing experience it is key that you find the right tour operator. In my case, this was Cox & Kings.
To travel this far and this hard, you will want to stay in the best places. Cox & Kingsknows the best places. You want to visit the tents of the holy men. Cox & Kings knows these people personally. Their incredible guides smooth the way so travelers never feel uncomfortable, even when taking those hundreds of photos as each site proves more incredible than the last.
How does the government accommodate millions of people who come for anywhere between one day to the entire two months of the festival?
A big tent. The area becomes a tent city on 2,200 acres of the sandy banks where the Ganges meets the Yamuna River. It’s all electrified, furnished with cell towers and port-a-potties, and lined with dirt “roads” leading to 21 pontoon bridges across the rivers.
The Cox & Kings guides knew the best places to visit in the tent city, what to see and with whom to talk. It’s easy to be lost without such guidance, surrounded by pressing crowds, swirls of colors and sensations and without a clue of what any of it means. At no time did I feel overwhelmed or unsafe. As for confusion, well making sense of the strange is intrinsic to the art of traveling.
Western style accommodations, however, are limited at the Kumbh Mela. Cox and Kings came through with their version of a “tent,” which we can call glamping (glamorous camping). This Ultimate Traveling Tent included a tent for my decked out bedroom – easily twice the size of my bedroom at home with a huge king sized bed, mini bar, wardrobe, desk, end tables and chandelier. And there was the separate bathroom with a stall shower, western toilet and a gorgeous copper sink I would have loved to pack away in my suitcase. Delicious meals were served in the luxurious dining tent, and other tents were designed for spa services, yoga, videos and other entertainment.
If you can’t make the Kumbh Mela don’t despair. A much smaller version takes place daily in the holy city of Varanasi. But to get the most of your experience be sure to use an exceptional tour operator.The next big, big “Kum” will be in 2022 and again in 2025, so mark your calendar.