Gallery: the Kumbh Mela – visiting the largest gathering of people on the planet

In 2013 I was lucky enough to spend two days with some Indian friends at the Allahabad Kumbh Mela, a mass Hindu pilgrimage to bathe in the meeting point of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Sarasvati rivers. It takes place only every twelve years and the event is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, gatherings of people in one place on the planet with 120 million people visiting over the course or two months. An entire tent city appears for the period of the pilgrimage and then disappears again. Spiritual leaders build temporary places of worship from wood, and sadhus pray outside simple tents. During the day, fleets of little wooden boats flock to the exact point where the rivers meet so that the pilgrims can bathe.

It is an incredible event, intense and exciting and often inexplicable to a non-Hindu, but nevertheless totally welcoming to outsiders. We visited for just a couple of days, sleeping on straw and blankets in the spare room of a local pandit.

My photos barely do justice to the experience of being there, and some things I didn’t photograph, not wishing to gawk and potentially offend, but here are a few that may give some idea of it.

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