The biggest religious festival in the world also has the world’s biggest campsite. 120.000 toilets have been set up, 30.000 policeman are on duty and hundreds of thousands do construction work, clean the premises or sell stuff, ranging from cheap plastic products to magic potions – and ganja of course which is in ceremonial use all around the site.
220 million visitors will have been here over the course of two months, staying in their Ashrams for a few nights. Every big Hinduistic congregation (Akhara) has set up camp here – and every small Ashram as well. People are talking, coming together, having vegetarian food on dried leaves in the big congregation halls. Pilgrims are coming and going, taking a dip in the Ganga river, drain cloths in the holy water, and dry them in the hot midday sun.
Time has a different quality here. It is an organic continuum and sets you in a particular flow. Maybe it is because there are no motorbikes or honking cars like in every other Indian city. Maybe it is because at a certain point you get lulled into the prayers and the endless chanting of the Babas. Maybe it is because you dive into the mass of people, get dissolved in it and don’t cause any attention – even when you are only wearing your pale blue long johns scuffling the vast premises of this religious campsite.
In 2019 I was a happy camper for a few days, joining Naranghiri and his crew of Holy Men as one of the Chillas in what became an unforgetable experience – if nothing else because Naranghiri is still calling me three times a week.
Published in JWD Magazine (RIP) in 2019.