Travel Ideas

The Kumbh Mela

Every 3 years in India is held the Kumbh Mela and it rotates between 4 sacred sites: Hardwar, Ahmedabahd, Nasiq and Ujjain, all sites of where drops of Divine Nectar were spilt in some ancient Hindu battle between gods and demons.

The heart of the Mela is a gathering of 100,000 sadhus – holy men who come in from their mountain caves, jungle camps, temples or just wandering around the country (often staying no more than 3 days in any one place). They gather together with the rest of the clan, make chai around the fire, trade gossip, conduct rituals and smoke a lot of charas (hashish).

Hanging out with sadhus can be quite intimidating as they have a very elaborate etiquette involving how to handle a chillum, how to treat the fire, which hand may touch what and it’s easy to end up with a naked holy man covered in ash threatening you with a pair of rusty tongs…

The Kumbh Mela also draws tens upon tens of millions of Hindus, making it the largest single gathering on Earth. So the other aspect of the festival are all the religious sects, the circus acts and the chaos involved in organising such a colossal event.

When there isn’t disease, lack of food and water to worry about, there’s always the chance that the sadhus (some armed with swords, pistols and tridents) will make war upon a rival sect in their bid to be first to bathe in the river on ritual days.

A good bet for staying at the Kumbh Mela is to hang out with the Rainbow Family who usually squeeze their way into having a fireplace of their own. In any case you’ll want to be travelling very light and be prepared to smoke a lot and also get poisoned by masses of DDT, a chemical carcinogen banned in the West that the Indian government sprays everywhere to control contagious disease.

Bring with you enough bedding, a bowl and water bottle and your own but of safi cloth (the piece of cotton as a filter between you and the chillum).

The Kumbh Mela is unlike anything you’ll ever see and an unmissable festival for the Indian traveler who’s there in a Mela year. Who knows, you might get the urge to don a saffron robe and wander India as a sadhu for the rest of your days…

Get a taste of the madness at

Read more about sadhus And also Hinduism.