When you think about the Kumbh Mela, what comes to your mind
Now, add to that the image of a solo woman traveler working her way through the proceedings.
Priyanka Dalal embarks on the journey and tells us what it is really like.
Planning to be solo at the Kumbh Mela can be a daunting task for many as it conjures up images of huge crowds, religious frenzy and a truly eclectic bunch of people from rural folks to ash smeared sadhus. I was hesitant at first, but I really enjoyed my 3 solo days at the Kumbh Mela 2015, Trimbakeshwar and Nashik.
With a few precautions, the Kumbh Mela can be a really enjoyable time to deepen your experience of the religious ethos of India. There are certain places where stories inevitably happen and this is one such place. Here are my quick notes on difficulties you can face especially if you are traveling solo:
Especially for women, this is always an important question. Where would you stay? Sadly most religious organizations do not allot rooms to single people — guy or girl. These dont include the newer organizations, just the older religious ones. So while these ashrams tend to be really satvic (positive) and inexpensive they may not be an option. If you have some contact in the organization then definitely try and get a room through them.
Kumbh mela camps: There are many such camps which have private rooms or separate male & female dormitories. I stayed at the Prayag Kumbh camp. They have a female dormitory with 10 beds in one room with 2 attached bathrooms. These are makeshift camps so are very basic, but I was impressed by the dedicated staff and safety.
Private accommodations: Depending on the city you can explore AirBnB, home stays and hotel options. Typically hotels would be overpriced but home stays maybe a good option.
Book early: This can ensure lower rates and vacancy. Last minute booking on important bathing dates can be very tricky especially if you are single. Having said that, however, I have heard from many people that at the Kumbh Mela arrangements happen — you may find a nice family who takes you in or you may end up with some of the babas or maas in their akhada. This is a place where things just happen. So if you feel crazy, just Go.
Stay Area: Try to get your accommodation as centrally located as possible because activities start from crack of dawn to late night. If you are far off from the mela then getting out at 4 in the morning and making your way here may not be feasible. On important days a lot of roads maybe blocked and you may just have to walk a lot so a centrally located accommodation is really worth it.
Choose your days intelligently
Are you comfortable with the crowds? On main bathing days hundreds and thousands of people arrive at the Kumbh for the holy dip.
The roads may be blocked to vehicles and everything would be a lot more dirtier. Accommodations would be brimming full and things are just way more chaotic. If this is your first trip, I suggest go on ‘less important’ days.
The people are lesser and you can take your time to explore.
If you have more days in hand, then keep a few advance days before the important days so that you get an idea of the place.
This is as crowded as it gets on the ‘less important’ days. Quite manageable, I thought.
Generally Indian clothes for women are encouraged. This is to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention from rural men and also as some temples may have rules about covering your head and so on.
I found the environment in Trimbakeshwar very chilled and I was wearing a pair of cotton trousers and a short kurti — which is completely ok. I carried a dupatta for my head but never had to use it. Now most small towns in India have women wearing jeans and t-shirts, so wearing trousers and short kurti tops should be fine as long as you can carry it well.
So dont be too worried about the clothing, just keep the pants full and top with at least half sleeves and a good neck line.
You may want to take a dip in the holy water so remember to carry clothes accordingly.
Be open to new experiences but also have your guard up
It is a tricky balance but be wary — being alone may make you a more vulnerable target for crooks but most of the times people are just unusually helpful. I still find it surprising when people go all out to help me. So be wary but be open to people as they help you out.
In a place like the Kumbh Mela things are so unusual at times, that it maybe tough to gauge how to behave. Just go with the flow and remember to enjoy the craziness. Generally follow your instinct and maintain basic safety precautions — dont consume stuff from strangers and enter closed/non-public places only with trusted people.
Be part of it rather than a photographer
Tourists often have the incessant habit of clicking pictures all the time. This makes it difficult to absorb and experience the event.
The people taking dips are indulging in a very personal experience as these places are very powerful energy centers. So be considerate and careful about how you click your pictures.
Ask people for permission, they may pose for a photo or they may refuse. It will avoid unpleasant situations where people get offended.
Holy men heading towards Nashik. I asked the one leading the pack if I could take a picture and he very kindly obliged!
These are really all the precautions you need to take.
Ideally book a good accommodation months in advance and then just get ready to enjoy your experience there. Chat with people, share your stories, ask questions and immerse yourself!
When you are solo you dont have to worry about getting lost in the crowd. You could lose yourself but that can be a wonderful thing.