Sometime last year, I had tweeted that I would take up unplanned trips as and when possible. I did. And I started with the Maha Kumbh Mela. :)
I decided, since it was a once-someone's-lifetime (or maybe not) sort of an opportunity and because this special maha kumbh is happening during my lifetime, why let go of the opportunity I thought. And I wouldn't have it any less than landing at Allahabad on Mauni Amavasya, the most special day of them all for the sadhus.
Mom, as usual was quite petrified with how we will manage and all that, but somehow I made sure I got what I wanted. We were advised to take the train but thankfully we didn't (and hence avoided the stampede at the railway station that killed a few... else mom and I would have been soil now).
Tickets to Varanasi/Allahabad were selling at 20k one way. Airlines knew they could strike gold with the Maha kumbh I guess. We decided to fly to Delhi and take the road route instead.
Divine romance. That's what this trip was. I thought I'd run into Saadhus or something and have some sort of an other-worldly experience (you know the kind I'd read in Paramahansa Yogananda or Swami Rama's books) but I didn't. I was very disappointed.
We slept in the car for a little while at the parking lot organized (the entire city was having a holiday for 3 days) in a school I suppose and we took the slightly long walk to the Ganga at 3 AM in the morning. The paths were marked out, army and police personnel were deployed all along the way.
Things were tougher once we started getting closer to the Ghats. The real pushing and shoving happened there. But inspite of all that, the people were forever aware and kept shouting out to everyone to go slow. And somehow inspite of the millions that landed on the banks of the Ganga on mauni amavasya, there was no untoward incident on that day.
Mom stepped into the Ganga first, did her prayers and got out shivering. The beginning of February is still quite cold in those parts.
I am the kind that switches off the A/C wherever I go. Even in peak summer, in Chennai, I can't take the A/C for too long.
And for me, stepping into water when it is that cold is nothing sort of torture. I did anyway. I think I dipped into the water several times. Stood right there, teeth chattering away, praying with all my might looking at the sun. I think I stood there in the water for quite a long while.We changed right there on the banks. Like all the millions of others.
The walk back was the mistake I made. I followed (and told mom to follow even though she told me the route is wrong) a lot of others and the route ended up being longer than the one we took to reach the ghats that morning. Mom was dead beat with exhaustion as she didn't want to eat or drink anything before taking the dip. And she couldn't walk anymore. It was 10 AM by the time we reached the car and for her it was 7 hours of starvation. Sometimes I don't understand the romance she has with starving. But she does. She loves doing that.
Somehow an experience like this is a great leveler. And it made for a wonderful memory.
One life. And sometimes it is quite short.
What are we if not for the memories. That's all we are left with, sometimes.