A Ganges Dip ‘n Run
A mini pilgrimage to the Kumbh Mela, a massive Hindu festival in India, was quick, rich, and holy
On the plus side, the water in the river, which in some places contains floating bodies of cows and humans, was surprisingly clear and blue; we were near its source from the Himalayas. The milky blue water actually did look very inviting after our three-hour trek in the strong sun. On the minus side, there are numerous obvious health-related reasons as to why this wouldn’t be a great idea; potentially contracting hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, amoebic dysentery, and skin rashes among them.
In the end, my pragmatic side eked a win over my mystical half, as I took off my shirt, shoes, and socks, rolled up my pants and thoroughly doused the top half of my body, including my head with Ganges water—which is also said to impart many spiritual blessings. But I didn’t fully submerge as I did have a two-hour walk, a seven-hour drive and a four and a half hour plane ride ahead of me. Rob, who constantly doused his hands with Purell the whole trip even got into the spirit, splashing a few drops of river water on his head.
Thus blessed, we rushed back, collapsed into the car, jarred by the crazy traffic, mix of oxen-drawn carriages, tractors, cows, and many cars driving on the wrong side of the road. When I wasn’t being tossed around from the swerving car, I dozed off, and didn’t really process the whole Kumbh Mela experience until I returned to Bangkok, when I finally took that long-awaited shower, and the Ganges water finally came off.
I can’t pinpoint exactly why I feel different now, but I do feel like I’ve been through a rite of passage. Walking with millions of seriously spiritually devoted people for six hours straight on such a holy day can do that to you. The ubiquitous music… the intense sun… the mystic stoicism of the pilgrims... the rough, dusty air… the cool feeling of the Ganges water… all are staying with me.
Still, holy pilgrimages shouldn’t be rushed and I wish that I had more time at the Kumbh Mela. Hopefully I’ll get another chance in this life. If not, there’s always the next one.