Saffron and red flags on either side of the road and posters of sadhus and their kutias (huts) welcome you to the Simhastha fairgrounds in Ujjain.
Every few metres, a police officer stands guard, some visibly exhausted from a hard day’s work managing vehicular movement and guiding visitors to their destinations. The pomp and splendour of Ram Ghat radiates from the distance, especially during night-time.
Hindustan Times visited the venue of the Simhastha Kumbh and experienced firsthand the nightlife of Ujjain and Ram Ghat.
11 pm [Sadawal Road]
Mohammed Ismail, who vends cold drinks, shared a little-known fact about the behind-the-scenes of Simhastha — 80% of the electric, plumbing and tent work was done by Muslims for this Hindu fair, he said.
“Ujjain is an archetype of Hindu-Muslim unity. Sparing an incident, in which a policeman died in clashes after Babri Masjid demolition in ’92, the city never witnessed any sort of communal violence,” he said. Badrilal police chowki was set up near Fateh Masjid in the deceased cop’s memory.
11:45 pm [Dutt Akhara Media Centre]
It was almost midnight and sanitation workers were still hard at work sweeping roads and lifting garbage onto mini-trucks. The Dutt Akhara area was abuzz with activity, but the media centre set up by the state government was a quiet retreat — with a few journalists churning out stories, clicking away on their laptops and phones.
Devotees and tourists, including foreigners, thronged the ghats, looking for their chance to take a holy dip in the Kshipra river. The most vibrant of the lot dived into the water with chants of ‘Jai Mahakaal’. The temporary bridge across the river was full of people clicking photos in the surreal backdrop of colourful fountains. While some priests sat down to meditate, others retired after a hectic day of attending to devotees.
1 am [Triveni Ghat]
Life on the fairgrounds slowly vanished as a fresh batch of police personnel relieves those that stood guard during the day. Security is always on alert here. “We are keeping a close eye on everyone at the ghat, suspicious people are quizzed and frisked,” said a police officer in plain clothes.
Families began to head back to their homes, hotels and akhadas for the night, while a few sadhus smeared in ash arrived at the ghat for a midnight holy dip.
1:30 am [Dutt Akhara Area]
The spirit of Simhastha is kept alive even at this late hour by the Nagas, who are star attractions for photo enthusiasts.
2 am [Ujjarkheda Hanuman Road]
Grocery shops selling refreshing drinks and snacks continued to serve devotees. A vendor, Sachin Vishwakarma, who came from Lucknow to sell panaa (a mint refresher drink), said visual presentation of the refreshment was what attracted people to his stall, as he placed mint leaves in the glass with the precision of an artist. He also shared how the Kumbh fair is celebrated in Allahabad.
2:30 am [Inner Ring Road]
A bird’s-eye view of Simhastha fair area is a sight for sore eyes from the flyover on Inner Ring Road. The day winds up to the sound of young boys celebrating the end of a hectic Shahi Snan day.