Ram Prasad slowly walks up the steps of Har-ki-pauri, one of the holiest Hindu sites on the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, vermilion marks prominent on his forehead.
It’s the 37-year-old Mauritius citizen’s third trip to the Kumbh Mela.
“I feel quite at home here and am experiencing the kind of spiritual bliss I’ve never felt before,” says Prasad. “I’m also carrying Ganga jal (holy water) back to my home country.”
For this young professional, a visit to the Kumbh Mela is not just a trip to the land of his ancestors — his Bihari forefathers migrated to Mauritius more than a century ago — but it also gives him an opportunity to “connect with the people, places and culture that are our very own and that we greatly miss back home”.
The sea of devotees fascinates Prasad’s Vietnamese girlfriend, Loc, 32.
“I enjoy it (the Kumbh) more as a great sight, a grand colourful spectacle rather than feeling connected with it spiritually,” Loc says.
David Drassalto, a 35-year-old journalist from Switzerland, sits on the bank, silently watching the swift currents of the Ganga — and people. An agnostic, the sheer scale of the festival made him come to Haridwar. “Such a unique and huge fair doesn’t happen every day,” he says with a smile.
Ketut, 35, an Indonesian homemaker and “a Hindu by religion as well as belief”, has come here with her husband to “take a holy dip in the Ganga in the hope that we attain nirvana”.
Ravindra, a Nepalese theatre artiste, draped in saffron-coloured woollens and stick in hand, is here to attain nirvana too — with a little help from a guru.
“I’ve come here in search of a guru who can show me the path to attain nirvana,” says the 27-year-old.