Travel often takes me to some of the most rural parts of the country, and the time spent there is always the most memorable. Now that I live in Maharashtra, I travel quite a bit in the rural areas in this state (apart from rural Uttar Pradesh).

So on this warm day I was interviewing a local healthcare worker in a small village near Khanapur (about couple of hours from Pune). She had just come back from the district hospital with the spectacles for the villagers and I decided to interview her as she moved from home to home in many different villages. An eye camp had taken place a few weeks back and some of the villagers had their eyesight tested for the first time ever. Today many of them were going to see clearly after many many years.

indian indian woman old portrait portraiture maharashtra rural
Trying out her new spectacles!

It was usually the elderly that I met and it was great to get them to agree for a picture - a man with long hair is not just odd but also quite alien to them all. But I smiled and though I spoke only broken Marathi, I was welcomed inside homes and even some kitchens for tea.


Eventually I could interview the healthcare worker and also take many interesting portraits. I focused only on the women there as they were all so beautiful and friendly. For me the day ended beautifully :)



indian indian woman old portrait portraiture maharashtra rural
Beautiful colors, beautiful smile...
indian indian woman old portrait portraiture maharashtra rural
A slightly grumpy granny :)
indian indian woman old portrait portraiture maharashtra rural
She was least interested in me :)
indian indian woman old portrait portraiture maharashtra rural
This was the first time she ever wore spectacles!
indian indian woman old portrait portraiture maharashtra rural
Finally, the solemn one...
I was recently in Singapore for a few days and enjoyed every bit of it. However, I also realized that many of us don't have the luxury of time and often get to spend just a day there, often in-transit. Lose no heart, for I have created this special one-day itinerary especially for those who have just one day in the city. It would be a busy day, but I shall try and give you a wholesome Singapore experience.

national museum singapore LKY portrait exhibition travel blog
With a portrait of LKY at National Museum

Morning

Start your day at one of my favorite places in the county - Gardens by the Bay. Built completely on reclaimed land, these gardens are bound to surprise and impress you. Things that shouldn't be missed here include the two domes, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, and the elevated walkway outside called Supertrees Grove.

gardens by the bay singapore Supertree Grove
Supertree Grove
gardens by the bay cloud forest
Me at the Cloud Forest in the background

Walking here would certainly tire you down so next on the agenda is food - traditional Singaporean breakfast Kaya Toast. This is available at most places, but I would recommend going to one of the oldest Kaya shops in the city in China Town called Ya Kun Kaya (18 China St, Far East Square). Use the rest of the morning walking around in the area. 

There is shopping to be done, but you must also explore how beautifully the different faiths of Singapore coexist on a single lane (read more). If you want to buy some traditional art, I would recommend Yong Gallery. I didn't buy anything, but I interviewed the owners for my project and loved the passion with which they did their work. If you want to read more about them, read them here and here

china town singapore calligraphy shop
A calligraphy shop at China Town

Next on the agenda is lunch and you must have it at Potato Head Folk at Keong Saik Street. The place serves some great continental food with nice desserts as well. If you prefer oriental, I would suggest Blue Ginger on the Tanjong Pagar Road. Both are very hip and trendy places and you must make a reservation before you go.


Afternoon

Once done with food, next is a visit to the museum. This is also practical as Singapore can get quite hot in the day and the museum can provide you a cool respite as you discover the history of the country. This year Singapore is celebrating its 50th anniversary and there is an exhibition at National Museum, with also had a section on LKY (you can still see it online on their website). Coming from India, I knew little about this man who almost single-handedly built the present day Singapore. 

As your museum visit gets over, things would have also become cooler outside. And so it's time for some more nature (you will be surprised by the green cover in Singapore). So next on the agenda is Southern Ridges. These are natural parks which are interconnected by some beautiful bridges so that you can hop hills and parks for hours without ever crossing a road. Don't overdo the walking/ running bit as there is some more walking after this :)

southern ridges singapore green beautiful
At the Southern Ridges

Head back to China Town to join a walking tour with The Original Singapore Walks. The tour that I did is called 'The Red Lantern' and it allowed me to see Singapore in completely unique way. As you walk peeling layers of history in China Town and later in Geylang, you will realize there is so much more to the city than you would see as a tourist. The walk gives a very humane face to the country and brings you closer to the people, their food, their habits. I strongly recommend this or any other walk with this group.

china town singapore walk the red lantern
Our guide taking us along!

Night

Once done with the walk, you will be exhausted both physically and mentally. Hence to relax PS cafe on Harding Road is the perfect place to chill out - good food and even better desserts! The place is popular with both the locals as well as the visitors. Once done with food, do take a walk around in their garden or even outside on the hill. Evenings can be particularly charming in this part of Singapore.


PS Cafe Harding Road Singapore food restaurant
The lovely PS Cafe on Harding Road

To end the day, go to one of most happenings nightclub of Asia - Zouk! Located on the 
Jiak Kim St, the night starts late and the party goes on till the wee hours of the next morning. There are multiple dance floors and you can shuffle around in these, each with a unique ambience and music.
Club Zouk nightclub singapore Jiak Kim street
Me at Zouk :)

The day would almost get over by early morning, so it’s even feasible to have your breakfast and then go off to sleep :)

----------

Singapore offers!

This year Singapore is celebrating it’s fiftieth anniversary and to mark the occasion Singapore Airlines and Singapore Tourism have come together for Indian travellers. When you book your flights in May-June this year at Singapore Airlines, there are some cool deals that you can use. 

1. Fares starting from Rs 22,000
2. Complimentary admission to one of these three unique experiences - 
     - Universal Studios Singapore ( 1-Day pass) OR
     - Executive Lunch Set @ Punjab Grill Restaurant in Marina Bay Sands OR
     - Singapore Flyer (Moet & Chandon Champagne Flight)
3. SG50 bundle which highlights the cultural and heritage elements of Singapore

Read more about the deals here.
Located in the south Indian city of Trichy (or Tiruchirappalli) in Tamil Nadu, Our Lady of Lourdes Church was built in the 1895 in the Gallo-Catholic design. The Catholic church is a replica of our Lady of Lourdes church in France. 


Our Lady of Lourdes Church Tiruchirappalli
At the entrance to the Our Lady of Lourdes Church

So who exactly was Our Lady of Lourdes?

Well Lourdes is a town in France and is famous for numerous apparitions of Virgin Mary in the year 1858. A peasant girl saw her for the first time in a cave and told her mother about ‘the lady’. After that numerous other people saw and corroborated her story, and later was canonised as a saint by the Roman Catholics. The town became tremendously famous for the numerous healing that took place at that time. 

The legend of Our Lady of Lourdes traveled far and wide and came to India also with it’s colonists. And that’s how the church came up in this city, which was already a very popular Hindu pilgrimage centre, especially Srirangam.

How did I end up at the Basilica?

I had already crossed this magnificent basilica a few times during my short stay at Tiruchirappalli. Since the city has bet impressive fleet of local buses, I never had to use an auto-rickshaw, and Chatram bus-stand became my most visited spot. It's located really close to the bus-stand, and if you intend to walk to the Rockfort temple you will cross the church on your right. Oh, and you will also come across the iconic Michael Ice Cream during this short walk.


Our Lady of Lourdes Church Tiruchirappalli
Many worshippers not he want to the altar...
Our Lady of Lourdes Church Tiruchirappalli trichy worshipper
And a few worshippers on the chairs...

Anyway, though I neglected it initially, I can now say confidently that this church is a must-see in the city. Conveniently located in a central area, you don't need much time there. I spent just under an hour just gazing at its beauty. It's not just tall dang impressive from outside, the interiors are also beautifully laid out. I missed having a Catholic friend with me, as I really wanted to understand the stories better.

While I gazed at these, I couldn't help bring out a parallel with the wall art in the temples in the town, especially in Srirangam. Such unique styles at both the places, but the stories they told were similar - that of impermanence of man and absolute love and devotion to God. I am hardly religious, but religion fascinates me to no end. It was only later that I realized that I should have visited a mosque as well, I wonder if they are any different there.


Our Lady of Lourdes Church Tiruchirappalli ceiling trichy
I was completely blown away by the ceiling of the church!
Our Lady of Lourdes Church Tiruchirappalli trichy inside view
Another view of the worshippers

To reach Lourdes Church

Use public transportation and reach Chatram bus-stand, from there you can easily walk. Else many buses pass from there and you can just get off the bus at the church. You can take an auto-rickshaw but they will be far more expensive and negotiations would be tough as they don't use meters.

Best time for a visit

I think any time is a good time as long as the church is open. I visited late in the afternoon and the light read perfect. Check out the details on timings here.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church Tiruchirappalli trichy outside view
As the specially designed vans carrying food for the school children leave the kitchen compound in Hubli, the day doesn’t quite get over and it’s just the beginning of another one. I am talking about the Mega kitchens run by the largest NGO in the world, Akshaya Patra, which makes and distributes food to over 1.2 million students every single day across ten Indian states. Just this one kitchen in Hubli, Karnataka itself makes food for 175,000 students in villages all around the city.

However, behind these staggering numbers, there is a very human story behind this institution. In every way the NGO lives up to it’s name which literally means ‘an inexhaustible vessel of food’.

This is their story!

akshaya patra hubli karnataka massive kitchens india nat geo
Akshaya Patra kitchen in Hubli

What is Akshaya Patra?

Before we even understand the mammoth scale of operations at Akshaya Patra, let me very briefly talk about why Akshaya Patra even exists. Even today, about half of India’s children go hungry every day and a large percentage of these children are also early drop-outs from school. In the late 1990s the Government of India came up with a scheme to try and solve both the problems together and it was christened Mid Day Meals. Under this scheme, free food was provided to all the children at government primary schools during their lunch breaks. The food provided nutrition to the children and also became an incentive for them to come to school more regularly, as this was often the most wholesome meal that they got in the day.

This is when Akshaya Patra was born and they partnered with the Government of India to help them realise this ambitious project.

My fascination with factories!

I remember the time I saw the functioning of a large factory for the first time from close quarters. It was my first week at TVS Motors and as an engineer fresh out of college, I was both awed and impressed. Once I went through the rigours of making of a motorbike, I valued this machine even more.

However, I always connected factories with machines so it came as quite a pleasant surprise to learn about how Akshaya Patra worked to provide food. Interestingly even as their kitchens work with the professionalism and scale of a factory, the food is still made by human hands, with hygiene and taste as two key priorities.

It was a factory but still felt like your mother’s own kitchen |

So how does this mega kitchen achieve this? To me there are two key factors which make it happen - Passion and Innovation. The passion comes from the cause, and innovation does it’s magic in the kitchen.

akshaya patra hubli karnataka massive kitchens india nat geo
The food getting sorted and prepped

As I am a designer, the story of innovations fascinated me the most. From using gravity to help in movement of massive amounts of food (12,000 to 15,000 kg of rice, 25,000 liters of Sambhar everyday) between different levels and to the use of high pressure steam to cook food quickly, innovations are simple and practical. Innovations also come from simple changes like use of Briquettes instead of conventional fuel which reduce the expense of fuel by 60%.

The mantra is to ‘go big in service, low in cost’ |

Hubli is located in the South Indian state of Karnataka and the staple food here is Sambhar-rice. However, to make sure that the students love their food, a different Sambhar is cooked on each day of the week. In fact there are eighteen varieties of Sambhar which can be made at this kitchen. To achieve perfection and consistency in taste, Akshaya Patra also has an elite group of food tasters who try out new recipes but also check on the food taste for each batch everyday.

akshaya patra hubli karnataka massive kitchens india nat geo
The huge cooking vessels

akshaya patra hubli karnataka massive kitchens india nat geo
Food ready to be sent to schools

If you enjoyed this story, you are bound to love ‘Mega Kitchens’ which is aired on Nat Geo from 10-11pm every Monday to Thursday. And if you want to catch the show on Akshaya Patra, look out for the repeat telecast next Thursday.

Leave me a comment and let me know if you know about some more such kitchens - you never know they might be coming up soon on the show!

In the meanwhile, check out the promo of the campaign here:




Note: This post is written in collaboration with Nat Geo India for their latest program ‘Mega Kitchens.’
Kumbh Maha Mela 2015 in coming up soon in Nashik and here is all that you need to plan a trip to this holy city for a complete Kumbh experience.

I attended the Maha Kumbh mela at Allahabad in 2013 and spent a few days there living in an ashram. It was an experience quite unlike any other, especially for someone who isn’t even religious. I was with a friend and we explored not just spiritualism and faith, but also interacted with people from all walks of life. I wasn’t so much into interviewing strangers at that point of time, at least not formally, but I had a great time having small talk and photographing the sadhu babas there, especially the Naga babas. I even had a small tiff with Instagram at that time when they pulled down the picture of a Naga baba which they thought was inappropriate for all audiences :)

Naga baba naked sadhu indian india male man kumbh mela allahabad
Naga babas at the Kumbh Mela

I will certainly be there at 2015 Nashik Maha Kumbh - taking pictures and talking to many many people there. If you are also planning a trip, give me a shout-out and we will catch up there over a cup of chai with pakodas :)

All the pictures used here are from the Kumbh Mela at Prayag (Allahabad) in 2013.

The Legend of Kumbh Mela

Before we proceed ahead, I guess it’s good to do a quick recap on the story behind it. For this we need go back to the the story of ‘Samundra Manthan’. So a long long time ago, the Devas (demi-Gods) lost the battle with the Asuras (demons) who then decided to hatch a conspiracy diplomatically defeat their enemies on advice of Lord Vishnu. It was a known fact that deep within the ocean lay the all powerful amrut or nectar, and even one drop of it would give you immortality. Devas proposed to the Asuras to work together to get this out so that they could both share it and live forever.

Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad truck
A vehicle at the procession to the river ghat
naga baba Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad naked man male indian
A Naga baba 

However, when it came out after much difficulty, fighting ensued and Garuda took the pot and flew off. While in flight, four drops of amrut fell on earth at Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. As amrut fell, the land also became divine and blessed and hence started the tradition of a Mela (fair) here. The rivers at each of these places became blessed as well and it came to be believed that a dip in these holy rivers would rid you of all your sins and help you attain moksha.

So now Kumbh is celebrated every 12 years years in rotation at these places:
Prayag (Allahabad) - confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers
Haridwar - Ganga river
Ujjain - Shipra river 
Nashik - Godavari river

Ardh kumbh (or half Kumbh) is held every six years at only two places - Prayag and Haridwar.

Kumbh Mela at Nashik 2015

The Kumbh Mela starts at Nashik on the 14th of July and finishes on the 25the September 2015

Here are the key dates:
The flag hoisting of the main ceremony: 14 July 2015 at Ram Kunda
The flag hoisting of the Akharas: 19 Aug. 2015 at Sadhugram
Shravan Shudha Pratham (First) Snan: 26 Aug. 2015
Shravan Sudha pornima (First Shahi Snan): 29 Aug. 2015
Bhadrapad Krushna Amavasya Dwitiya (Second Shahi Snan): 13 Sept. 2015
Bhadrapad Rushipanchami Dwitiya (Third Shahi Snan): 18 Sept. 2015
Bhadrapad Shukla Vaman Dwadashi Tritiya: 25 Sept. 2015

It’s difficult to pick a dates from amongst these, especially if you are attending Kumbh for the first time. Well, I can share my two cents from my limited experience at the last Kumbh Mela at Prayag.

I believe that if you want to truly understand and feel the Kumbh experience, you must attend one of the Shahi Snan (Royal Bath) days. These are three in total (29th August, 13th September and 18th September) and on each of these days there is a procession and a very large number of people participate. As a photographer, it’s almost like heaven, especially if you like people. Naga babas (naked sadhu, ore later in the post below) also come out in full force in procession and though you can't interact with them much, you can certainly click. When I was at Prayag two years back, I got stuck with one of the akharas of Naga babas and ended up taking a holy dip with them. It was not planned, but I got to see them quite up, close and personal, and quite literally too :)

It's good to come for three days, and plan this around one of the main bathing days. Do yourself a favor and never come on the say of the snan, as getting into the city would be close to impossible. Be in Nashik a day in transport and come only using pubic transportation. If you come in your car, you will be asked to park the car somewhere outside the city and then come to the city in a local State Transport bus. The buses will drop you at the main Bus-stand and from there the last 3-4km would be on foot. There might be other arrangements, but right now there is little knowledge about it.

Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad bathing ghats
The busy bathing ghats 
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad procession
Holy men leading the performance
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad men praying on floor
Two men praying on the floor all the way to the ghat

Kumbh celebration in Nashik is split in two locations, and based on who you follow (Shiva or Vishnu), you take a holy dip at a different place. The main celebrations happen at Ramkund which is right in an area called Panchvati (called so because of five vat trees around). Lord Rama took bath in this kund (pond) and so it is named after him. A dip in the water of the kund is very important for pious Hindus and can rid you of all sins.

The second location is Trimbakeshwar which is about 57km from Nashik and take 2-3 hours to reach there. River Godavari starts from there so it has special relevance, and some akhadas prefer this location for the bath. I think this year in Trimbakeshwar only Naga babas and other sadhus will be allowed to take the Shahi Snan due to an unprecedented rise in the numbers of sadhus expected for the Mela.

Suggested Itinerary for Nashik Kumbh

Here is how a typical three-day itinerary for Nashik Kumbh could look like. The intent for this itinerary is to attend the mega event - Shahi snan (Royal bath)  I suggest reaching two days before the event (Shahi snan) and leaving on the day right after that.

Day 1

  • Arrive in Nashik in the morning
  • Find a place to stay and dump all heavy and expensive stuff there
  • Walk to the main ghat (Ramkund) and see where all you will get access on the main day, if required speak to the police. If you have a camera you could say you are a freelance photographer and need help. Check for timings on the Shahi snan day.
  • Take pictures, plan and more importantly soak in the space
  • Walk to the area where sadhus stay (ask politely before you enter the camp)


Day 2

  • Go to Trimbakeshwar and attend the ceremonies there
  • It's a much smaller place and takes about two hours to reach, so leave early in the morning
  • Take pictures, talk to people
  • Go back to Nashik and spend the evening and night near Ramkund or at the sadhu camp - these wre the two spots for action


Day 3

  • Reach Ramkund really early morning, much before sunrise
  • After this, just go with the flow - protect yourself and the camera
  • If you also want to take a holy dip, leave your camera behind or leave it with a friend
  • Wear your shorts under a dhoti, so that you can easily change - it also helps you merge with the crowd
  • Hang out till the day gets over - it can get very very tiring
  • Leave back to your city late in the night or early next morning   

 

Life inside a Kumbh Camp

As I said, there is nothing like staying within the Kumbh camp itself. There is so much to do, and so much to see, it’s just crazy! Here are some images, though they don’t tell you everything that you can do there - it’s just the trailer.

It's really easy to get lost at the camp, and you would often need to ask people for directions. Remember the gate you enter from, and if possible, some landmarks also.

The camp in Nashik is located a little away (about 3km) from the main bathing area due to lack of space at the main venue. The following images are from Allahabad, and I think they can give you an idea of what to expect in Nashik Maha Kumbh mela also.

Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad prayag tents top view
The view of the living area in the Kumbh camp
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad tent morning
An early morning at the camp site
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad begger girl
A young bigger girl at the camp
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad laughing women
Women drying their clothes and chatting up
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad top view tents
Crossing ove a make-shift bridge 
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad food
A community eating area where free food is distributed
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad procession
The guruji from the ashram where we stayed
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad men indian
Lunch in making - most cook in open kitchens

Lost and Found - call of the loudspeakers
As you move around the camp, there is one sound that follows you everywhere, and this is the sound of loud speakers making announcements from the 'Lost and Found' section. It's heart breaking to hear the cries of young children telling their names and calling out to their parents. Most of these kids do get reunited and the endings are happy.

However, you will also hear numerous old men and women calling out to their children to take them back. Often, these calls go unheeded as some misuse the mayhem of Kumbh to leave their old parents behind and go back to their villages. The really old and frail parents sometimes do not remember their homes and villages well, and often have no money to go back, even if they do. What happens to them after that ? Some find a place in an ashram in town, many become beggars on the streets and some simply perish.

The Holy Dip

As I said, a dip in the river is believed to help you attain moksha so it's really important for many Hindus. People come from far far away places for this, and many of these are extremely poor. It's considered auspicious to to take bath on the most important days and the myth is that it cures you of all your illness and washes away all your sins.

In any case, here are some images of people talking a holy dip from Allahabad.


Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad bathing ghat
The bathing area early int he morning 
Indian man male boy underwear bathing at night Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad
A young jumping in to the river
women bathing at night Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad
Bathing goes on late in the night - two women helping each other dress up
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad old man bathing ghats
An old man at the ghat 
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad sadhus night shot
Praying together to the river Ganga
indian male bathing underear river ghat Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad
A young man contemplating on the river bank...

Naga babas - the elusive ones...

Every time you see images of Kumbh, it would most certainly be dominated by these naked sages who come out of their living spaces for the holy dip and then disappear again altogether for the next four years. But the obvious question would be to ask who exactly are these babas? And where do they come from? Do they have a social structure and hierarchy? And most interestingly, why are  they naked or ash-smeared?

Naga baba naked sadhu indian india male man kumbh mela allahabad
Naga babas in their akhada

Long ago when Hinduism was at it lowest in India and Buddhism was the main religion of almost the entire country, there emerged a leader who is considered as one man responsible for the revival of Hinduism and making India in to a Hindu country once again. Born in Kerala, this man came to be known as Shankaracharya. It was not an easy struggle and Shankaracharya realised that to achieve this, he would need to fight this religious war on two front - philosophical as well as on the battlefield. This is how he made both shaastra (knowledge) as well as shastra (weapons) the part of Hinduism, with acharyas taking care of the shaastra while the Naga babas were organised to lead with the shastra. After the religious war was won, they were not needed for fighting any battles and hence the retreated into their own camps, where they continue to learn martial arts and living completely by themselves away from the rest of the world.

Naga baba naked sadhu indian india male man kumbh mela allahabad
More Naga babas in the lanes of the camp 

So what do the Naga babas now? What’s the social structure?
Some of them are part of Dashnam Sanyasi tradition and move around on foot from one Kumbh mela to the other, passing through hundreds of villages and telling tales of Shiva. The rest of them live a life of extreme privacy and rarely seen unless you go to a Kumbh Mela.

The astradhari sadhus or Naga babas are organised into akharas or regiments. Some of the bigger akhara are Juna (old in Gujarati) Akhara with highest number of babas, followed by Niranjani Akhara and Mahanirvani Akhara. An Akhara has a well organised structure and is led by a council called Sri Pancha representing Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti and Ganesha. A Naga baba is often a Shaivite (follower of Shiva), but some are also Vaishnavite (follower of Vishnu).

Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad akhada akhara
These vehicles come out in the procession on the day of Shahi snan
Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad naga baba naked indian man male
A young Naga baba  giving his blessings

When at Kumbh, a specific order is followed for the snan (holy bath) and it is always led by the Naga babas, and then followed by the general public. Even amongst the Naga babas, there is hierarchy which is always followed. 

Can one become a Naga baba?
Well, technically it is possible though it is not an easy task. The first step to initiation is to find a guru who would take you in his fold and under his guidance you can be one like him. Kumbh Mela is the place to be if you intend to find a guru.

Why are Naga babas naked?
Naga babas give up all things that bind them to life and its comforts, including clothes. It allows for easier communion with the almighty. However, its not a compulsory to be naked and you can see some of the younger Naga babas in a langot (loin cloth) also.

You will also see many with ash smeared on their bodies; this is to keep them warm,e specially if Kumbh takes place during the cold winter months.


Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad naga baba sadhu yoga
Some extreme yoga!

Kumbh mela 2013 ganga allahabad baba sadhu bathing
Babas just after the holy dip

Tips for Nashik Kumbah Mela 2015

General Tips:
  1. Start Early - this means start before the sun comes up and join the devotees when they take the morning bath with the rising sun
  2. Sleep Late - the place never really sleeps and there is much to be experienced late in the night 
  3. Don’t just walk with a camera, interact - talk to people, everyone. It is alright to walk in to the akharas and even talk to the Naga babas. They are not exactly friendly, but they do interact if you are respectful to them and their makeshift home. Taking pictures is alright, but sometimes things can get tricky. Do not sneak in and take pictures, many babas hate to be clicked.
  4. Do not miss talking a holy dip - I know the water gets dirty and looks dirty and with hundreds of naked or semi-naked bodies around, the last thing on your mind is to join them. I would still suggest that you do that. I did it and the experience was very unique.
  5. Attend a sat-sang or two - the mela is full of ashrams and prayer halls. They are all open to everyone (most of them), and you must walk into some and spend sometime listening to what the sadhus have to say. Its an integral part of the mela and you don’t want to come back without the whole experience, do you?
  6. Listen to a guru talk - these are more personal interactions with the guru of an ashram, and you can’t just walk into these sessions. However, if you are dressed well, look respectful and walk in confidently, no one will stop you.
  7. Be humble and be respectful - Don’t ever forget this, because as a traveler you are actually going to witness a highly personal celebration of this group. Smile and be respectful.
  8. Food - you will only get vegetarian food during the festival. There are many dhabas in and around the mela area, and you will get food till late in the night also.
  9. Carry practical stuff - water, extra batteries, cheap footwear (don’t wear shoes, just flip-flops)


Tips for women travellers: 
  1. It’s a little tricky to be a women traveller, though I would not at all recommend you not going there. I hope my suggestions do not sound regressive.
  2. It’s good not to travel solo, so see if you can go with a bunch. A few guys in the group would help.
  3. Dress conservatively and avoid skirts - salvaar kameez would be the best in my opinion
  4. Do not go into the Naga baba akharas, unless you take permission from them in advance. These men are celibates and such distractions may not always be appreciated
  5. Be careful if you want to take a holy dip, its a very busy space and there might be some inappropriate touching

Having given these warnings, I think it’s not a scary place and you must not worry. Just be more cautious and you are bound to have lots and lots of fun :)

Where to stay?
Stay could be tricky during the Kumbh mela as most hotels get pre-booked much in advance, especially around the key bathing days. When I visited Allahabad, my friend and I actually stayed with a baba in his makeshift ashram on the river bank within the Kumbh complex. This happened only because he knew someone who was a big donor to the babaji and so we were almost treated like VIPs and even got a tent with an attached western style toilet and running water. This was luxury and I do not think one should hope for this.

Your best bet would be to stay in a hotel or a lodge in Nashik, unless you know someone already in the city. If you are coming from Mumbai or Pune, start late in the night and reach Nashik before sunrise and spend the entire day there. Of course, living within Kumbh complex is an experience in itself, especially the midnight walks as the place never really sleeps.

I have no personal recommendations to make for Nashik, so use google for it :)

How to reach?
Easy to reach from both Mumbai and Pune by bus/ cab/ car. It can take up to 4-5 hours from Pune and about 4 hours from Mumbai, even though the distance is not as much. Make sure you give enough margin taking in to account the traffic for the Mela.

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Need some more advice on something? Do leave me a comment and I will reply back to you as soon as I can.
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