Kumbh Mela 2019 Special: A brief, totally unreliable treatise on the Ganga jal

A man fills Ganga jal at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.

Ganga jal, or water of the holy river Ganga, is in high demand and supply is plenty during the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad. Passengers are allowed to carry Ganga jal in their hand baggage at the new airport in this southern Uttar Pradesh city dotted with colonial-era buildings. The water at Sangam looks muddy. At least a hundred diesel-powered motorboats on sight-seeing trips criss-cross the river near where millions of people take bath. Hundreds of river birds shit on people and directly into the water. For the uninitiated, it takes quite a leap of faith to believe in the power of the Ganga jal, which if filtered by Science, would be seen as another Kumbh Mela of germs.

But faith wins.

The Kumbh Mela, despite these small annoyances, is a great place to visit at least once in a lifetime. The people are generally nice. The authorities appear to have given a lot of thought on the logistics and support systems. One can easily walk across the fair ground amid the huge crowd. It’s that easy. It’s time to let go of that joke about getting lost in the Kumbh Mela.

In fact, the point is to get lost.

A woman seeks blessings from an ascetic.

Who was that man who wrote "Where the mind is without fear..."

Pilgrims eat free food distributed by a charity group at the Kumbh Mela venue.

The moving parts of the engine that powers the Kumbh Mela.

End note: Entering the Kumbh Mela area (above). This is the second of a four-part series on the Kumbh Mela, being held in Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad, from January 15 to March 4, 2019. First part is here, third here, fourth here. If you want specific information like how to enter the Kumbh Mela grounds, less-crowded places at the site, or general stuff on Prayagraj, I’ll try my best to answer them. Mail to journeybasket [at] gmail