As anyone heading to India must know, the Kumbha Mela is going on in Allahabad from now until 25 February. Estimates range from 80 to 110 million people, which is an unimaginably large number of people. Fortunately, they won’t all be there at once. However, on the main auspicious bathing days, there will be millions of people trying to take a bath in the same place at the same time. The sangam area where the rivers meet, is not all that big relative to the crowds.
It looks like the mela authorities have done a pretty good job of planning, but you have to expect difficulties on every level. Even if you are staying in luxury accommodations, there are likely to be some problems.
If you are planning to go, presumably you have already booked yourself a tent or a room. If not, you’ll find very little available at this late date. The few rooms that are available are going for many times their normal rate. If you haven’t already made plans, don’t think of arrive on one of the main dates. On those dates, roads approaching the main bathing area will be closed to vehicles, so you are likely to have a long walk to where you are staying. Be sure to check in advance about getting where you need to go.
In the past, it was possible to get a boat to go to the sangam, but I’ve heard that they aren’t being allowed this year. That is probably both because of the numbers of people expected and also the fact that the water level is too low. Anyway, this means bathing from the shore, which is pretty iffy at the peak times.
Avoid going into the water in places where people are packed together. If someone goes down, usually many others follow—and the result can be deadly.
My advice is not to go alone, if for no other reason than you’ll need to hold each others’ clothes, keys, etc. while you take turns dipping.
There may or may not be places set up for changing clothes, but I strongly recommend doing it as quickly as possible because walking around in clothes soaked in polluted water seems to increase the risk of infection. Ladies wearing saris can use a dry petticoat as a personal changing tent. It’s not super easy, but I’ve done it many times. Otherwise, use a big shawl. Just watch how the Indians do it.
It is far better to take a portable water purifier than to rely on bottled water all the time. In any case, don’t swallow even a drop of the river water. It is highly polluted. You will see some Indians doing it, but many don’t.
Do bring a pollution/dust mask. And don’t forget the earplugs!
It gets cold at night, so bring something warm to wear. You’ll have to do a lot of walking, so be sure you have shoes or sandals that are comfortable to walk in.
When you see the fogging machines coming along spraying for mosquitoes, try to get out of their way. The chemical companies and the government claims the DDT or whatever they are spraying is safe, but it isn’t. You want to limit your exposure as much as possible.
The Kumbha Mela is one of the greatest photo ops ever, no doubt. But be considerate and if you are photographing people close up, don’t just stick your camera in their face without asking. To ask, all you have to do is hold up the camera with a questioning smile. If someone indicates that they don’t want to be photographed, then respect their wishes. There is no shortage of interesting sights. However, you need a press pass or journalist visa to take photos in the main bathing area. Otherwise, you may have your camera confiscated.
Take it easy and enjoy the mela!