Work is religion...

Kevin Harding
Saturday, 12 October 2019

...or you can blend the two, like this writer did during his official visit to Prayagraj Kumbh Mela

I received a brief about an activation — Pehno Fresh and Socho Fresh, at the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj and the duration of my stay as a PR Professional. While booking my tickets, I figured that an extra day would serve my thirst for experiencing the call of the holy city, so I booked the return flight accordingly.

The excitement of the Kumbh Mela, the largest public gathering and collective act of faith anywhere in the world, started to creep in even before the trip started.

It was a 5-hour drive from the Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport to the Mela. A light drizzle had set in, creating the perfect setting for the adventure.

The Kumbh entrance was a delight to my eyes. The sounds of bhajans and missing announcements of people lost in the Mela made me feel that I had arrived. People were flocking in groups to visit the Triveni Sangam and have a holy dip but I was on a mission to do other things. My job, as mentioned earlier, involved an activation that allowed thousands of people to wash their clothes in the Kumbh. We had an installation that seemed like a cycle with a drum but worked like a modern washing machine. It was an initiative by a popular detergent powder. It was brilliant, not because it was something that was just for the Mela but it was something even a common man could do with the help of a DIY video. 

Images and booklets were shared with visitors at the installation so that they could make the most of it when they went back home and it could make a real difference in people’s lives. Spending a few hours at the washing centre, I saw people of all ages washing clothes. It actually became like a fun activity for the entire family. 

Meal and more
For a deeper understanding of traditions, I managed to reach an akhada for food during lunchtime. The lunch was a ‘free meal’ consisting of mix vegetables, puri, rice and dal. To my liking, there was a kheer which was super yummy. I think that was the highlight of the meal at the Mela. 

Post lunch, in a conversation with a cook, I discovered that the right place to be during Kumbh was Varanasi. It was 120 km away and would be closer for me to travel to the airport for my departure to Mumbai. I was liking the whole ring to it and there was no stopping given that I was travelling alone. 

Post this stomach and brainstorming session, I headed to the Triveni Sangam — the confluence of three rivers — the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati, to enjoy the spectacular sunset. I was surrounded with lakhs of devotees.

The adventure begins
Before it got too late and dark, I took a cab to Varanasi and during the 3-hour drive, tried to make online booking to stay the night. There were too many options to choose from. I went ahead with a room that could be shared with 4 others for Rs 350 only for a night at Zostel Varanasi. 

After a smooth and an accommodating check in, I found a spot and ordered my dinner. I found my interesting roommates grabbing their dinner as well. Each of them had a spark about them and we clicked instantly. Two of them were Frenchmen — Mavis and Elvis — who were touring the world around in their old pigeon. There was Imran, an Iranian professor, who was in India for a vacation and also Stephen, a biker and photographer from Kerala who was heading to visit the Kumbh in the next few days. 

The intent of creating an itinerary was to make the most of the time on hand. The next morning, at 4 am, I was up! The camera and phones were charged and Stephen and I were ready for a morning adventure. We reached the ghats before sunrise, got a good view of the Naga sadhus’ early morning rituals and the Ganga puja. 

I was interested in going to the other side of the river to click panoramic shots of the various ghats. So we hopped on to a boat and got to witness the surreal side of Varanasi, where camel and horse ride could be experienced. It was also the perfect time for tea and daal pakodas with an unparallelled view of the Ganga. 

It was followed by some shopping at a local market near the ghats. I got some amazing silk material. The pursuit to find the perfect frame was still in question and the photo walk continued. 

The fastest way to get to see all the ghats is by boat. I would suggest, take it by 4 pm and roam about until you witness the sunset and the Ganga aarti which is a must-do at Varanasi. Beware, tricky thugs will try to loot you and pictures with the sadhus might cost you a donation of some kind. 

Without a doubt I’d vouch for the street food in Varanasi. Lassi and fresh samosas were to die for and led to overindulgence. But I still had space for some Doodi Halwa.
On my way to the airport I picked up the famous Banarasi paan to wrap up the adventures in Varanasi.

Regardless of how many videos or documentaries you’ve watched, words and films cannot do even half justice to the encounter with the culture, food, people and vibe of the Kumbh or Vanarasi. I travelled back with memories for a lifetime, feeling rejuvenated after a work trip. 

How many people would say that about an official trip?

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