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Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 Travel Tips

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India, Prayag, Kumbh Mela Festival, mass of pilgrims, elevated view
Dario Mitidieri/Photodisc/Getty Images

The 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela will be held in Allahabad (Prayag) in Uttar Pradesh. It officially gets underway on January 14, 2013. Here are some travel tips to keep in mind when planning your trip.

  • Main Attractions: There are actually two main attractions at the Kumbh Mela. The processions of sadhus arriving at their camps at the mela grounds (these processions are particularly flamboyant), and the processions of sadhus to the bathing area to take a holy dip on auspicious bathing days. The arrival of the sadhus will begin on December 18, 2013, with the Juna Akhara (the oldest group of Naga/naked sadhus) leading the procession, accompanied by an assortment of elephants, camels, drummers, conch shellls, and bands.

  • Getting to Allahabad: The city has an air force (not commercial) airport that receives flights from limited cities in India. The other nearest airports are in Varanasi (150 kilometers away) and Lucknow (200 kilometers away). Both these airports are well connected to rest of India. Allahabad is also accessible by road and rail, and an additional 750 special train services are expected to operate between Allahabad and important cities during the Mela.

  • Location and Setup: The Mela takes place where the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers meet. However, only two of them (Ganga and Yamuna) are physical rivers. The Saraswati is a mythological river, that's not currently on the physical plane. The government sets up a huge mela ground at the site and it's divided into administrative sectors, each with its own police station and other facilities. The various sects of sadhus stay in camps within the mela ground. This map shows the layout of the mela ground.

  • Where to Stay: The city of Allahabad is actually quite a distance from the mela grounds. Hence, it's not a good idea to stay there. You'd need to take a rickshaw and then a long walk to reach the Mela -- and it's overwhelmingly crowded. Tented accommodations (ranging from luxury to dormitory) are provided for tourists. However, most are on the opposite side of the river to the bathing, at least a kilometer away. Some are outside the mela grounds. The tents provided by the Uttar Pradesh tourism department are inside the grounds and are recommended as the most reliable option, as incidents of unscrupulous operators trying to rip tourists off are prevalent. It's very important to do your research before booking. Tourists are not restricted to staying in the tourist camps. Foreigners are, however, not allowed to enter the Juna Akhara as there have been problems with sadhus indulging in immoral activities in the past.

  • Bathing: The main bathing area is known as Sangam Nose. It's situated in Sector 3 of the mela grounds and tourists are allowed in the area. Pontoon bridges are put in place to connect the various sides of the rivers. It's also possible to take a boat from Arail ghat to the Sangam area. Motorized vehicles are banned from entering the mela grounds on the main bathing dates and 12-24 hours prior. Otherwise, it is possible to drive in. Do be prepared to walk within a 1 kilometer radius of the Sangam though.

  • Photography: You will need a journalist visa or press pass to take photos in the main bathing area or risk having your camera confiscated (read more about accreditation requirements). Photographers should get to Sangam Nose by 4.30 a.m. on the main bathing day (Mauni Amavasya Snan on February 10) to get the best photos, as the sadhus start jumping in the water at sunrise.

  • Weather: January and February are cold winter months and the temperature can dip to 5 degrees Celsius overnight (close to freezing). Do be sure to carry plenty of warm clothing.

  • Tours:If you would like the added security of visiting the Kumbh Mela with a tour group, there are quite a few companies that conduct escorted tours to the Kumbh Mela. These include Divine Travels and Kumbhmela.net. This type of travel can often provide access to experiences that it would be difficult to have on your own, including access to renowned spiritual leaders.

  • Dress in loose, comfortable clothes in dark or earth colors.

  • Giving money is considered to be an important aspect of pilgrimage to the Kumbh Mela. Place money at the feet of sadhus if seeking an audience with them. An amount ending with one rupee is considered to be most auspicious (eg. 51 rupees, 101 rupees).

  • Not all "holy" people who attend the Kumbh Mela are authentic. Do be careful of con artists.

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