Taken from the Pilot Guides book 'Great Festivals
of the World'
Where's the party?
The Kumbh Mela is held every three years in each of
four different locations, returning to Allahabad for the Maha
Kumbh Mela (Prayag) every twelve years.
Dates for the diary
The next Mela is held in April and May 2004 at Ujjain
in Madhya Pradesh. In 2007 it is held at Nasik
in Maharastra. In 2010 it will be held at Haridwar
in the foothills of the Himilaya in the new state of Uttaranchal
Pradesh. Every six years there is an Ardh or half
Mela at Allahabad (2007). The actual dates are dependent on
stellar constellations and will be announced nearer to the
What's it all about?
The basic point of the Kumbh Mela is for pilgrims to bathe
at certain sacred spots on certain auspicious days. A large
tented city is erected and pilgrims stay at tents owned by
Pandas (religious and spiritual guides) and at various
ashrams. Others will just sleep rough or turn up for the actual
bathing day. Certain of these bathing days are designated
'Royal', and it is on these days that the naga sadhus process
and bathe. On other days there will still be people bathing
and other events and random processions.
Indian passport holders do not require a visa to travel to
India. All other visitors do, and you are advised not to finalise
your travel plans before obtaining your visa. Contact the
Indian Embassy or High Commission in your home country for
India is becoming more and more organised and the health
and sanitation arrangements at the last mela were exemplary,
and although 'Delhi-belly' is not a foregone conclusion these
days, you should still take a basic first aid kit with you.
You will probably not see such great crowds ever as you will
in the Kumbha Mela, and if you are even remotely claustrophobic
then do not bother! On the main bathing days you could be
stuck in crushes of people for hours.
Always take a hat and carry water with you. The locals might
be used to the sun but you won't be. If you are staying for
a while then vitamens tablets or food supplements (strictly
vegetarian) are a good idea. Pilgrim food is relatively bland.
Special trains are laid on to the Kumbh Mela from all over
India. Ujjain and Nasik are easiest reached from Mumbai (Bombay)
and Haridwar and Allahabad from New Delhi. Haridwar is a bus
ride away. These trains will be
Where to Stay
It is possible to turn up at ashrams and request to stay,
but they will expect a donation (up to US$20 per day or some
voluntary work) if you are a Westerner. Private camps are
available through various travel agencies and organisations
and the local tourist office will have a camp. The cost for
these vary from about US$30 per night through to hundreds
for a luxury camp.Contact the relevant Indian State Tourist
office (see below). There is also the Rainbow Camp,
(Camp Crusty) where travellers can stay for free but it is
often on the very outskirts of the mela ground. It is possible
to just turn up and find accommodation but it is better to
sort something in advance, especially around the main bathing
days. Most of these organisations will have a presence on
Once you have paid for accommodation there is not much else
to pay for. There is not a great deal of food available. Most
of the pilgrims eat simple vegetarian meals for free at ashrams
(you will also be welcome) and bought food is fraught due
to the rigid cast rules still found in India. In general you
will only be able to buy fried (pukka) food - the only food
that a higher cast Hindu can eat that has been prepared by
a lower cast Hindu.
Once you're there
The Kumbh Mela is a religious festival not a tourist spectacle,
and your behaviour should reflect this. All types of meat
and egg products are strictly banned, as is alcohol.
You should always take off shoes when entering a building
or tent of any type. The swept patio area of the sadhus ashrams
is especially holy and you should always remove all footware,
even if you are leaning in to receive a blessing or pass something.
No one (especially not women) should touch sadhus and if you
are passing something to them put it on the ground near them
or give it to one of their acolytes. The naga sadhus are considere
living saints to devout Hindus. If you offend them they may
well physically attackyou. If they do, then no court, police
officer or pilgrim will intervene.
Just because the sadhus are naked it does not mean that you
can take your clothes off as well. One stupid woman did at
the Allahabad Mela and caused huge offence to the nation.
The usual rules about decent and modest dressand behaviour
These will vary on the location, but certainly visitors to
Haridwar and Allahabad should also visit Rishikesh
and Varanasi (respectively) as many of the pilgrims
go here after the mela for more ritual bathing.
There are a number of festivals held all over India that
are similar in style to the Kumbh Mela. The most famous has
to be the Pushkar Camel Fair, which is held at Pushkar
in Rajasthan in the week leading up to the full moon of Kartik
(October/November every year). Grizzled old Rajasthani men
from all over the desert region turn up to haggle over camels
and pilgrims throng to bate in the tiny holy lake in the centre
of town. The Rajasthan District Tourist Commission sets up
a large tented camp for tourists.
Beginning on the same full moon, in the troubled state of
Bihar, near the city of Patna, there is the Sonepur Mela.
This is famous for the Haathi or elephant bazaar, referred
to by Mark Shand in his book Travels on my Elephant, where
hundreds of elephants are traded. There is a also large general
livestock market here and on the full moon, hundreds of thousands
of pilgrims bathe in the confluence of the rivers Ganges and