These excerpts were taken from my diary when I was shooting a documentary for the BBC at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India.
8th February 2013
The main part of the camping for Kumbh Mela is held on the river bed where the Ganga and Yumana rivers meet. In monsoon season the whole of the camp would be under water! I'm praying it doesn't rain. Imagine a muddy Glastonbury x 100 and I didn't bring my wellies!
Yesterday we met some Kalpavasis, these are people who towards the end of their life commit themselves to god more. This means they spend 2 months of the year at the Kumbh, they live very simply, they eat only once a day, they bathe in the rivers twice a day, they hope to bring themselves closer to god and get to heaven. They must do this for at least 12 years, yesterday we met an 80yr old and his wife both Kalpavasis, the man came for his first bath in the sangam in 1942! I asked what had changed at the mela since then and he said its pretty much the same size with more amenities but the mela has lost it's true religious essence, he thinks it has become a lot of pomp and ceremony and glamour but the people have forgotten the essence of the Kumbh. I am also thinking 60% of this is all for show, everyman and his dog is a guru of some kind! Of course there are many gurus who are doing good things but a lot who seem to collect money and bless people. The 10th is the main bathing day when 100s of naked Naga Sadhus take their dip in the Ganga, it's the new moon which is the most auspicious day to bathe during the Mela. On the 10th no vehicles are allowed anywhere on the site, so we are due to get up at 2am and walk at least an hour to the Sangam bathing with all our camera equipment to capture the first bathers. It's going to be a very long day!
9th February 2013
Whoa! So that was the busiest Kumbh day. I've never seen so many people all in one place and that was just one street! The cross roads are crazy, imagine Oxford circus at peak rush hour, no traffic lights or pavements or any order. Huge groups moving together and fighting not to get separated from each other. A sea of people and most are just arriving so are carrying huge pieces of luggage on their heads, noise, people blowing horns, jostling, pushing. I nearly lost it at one point, I was doing a really tricky shot on a 400mm 2.8 operating and focusing and following a contributor through the crowd, even trying to get the tripod out was difficult enough, noise through the roof plus a really annoying guy blowing a shell horn in my ear. I can't tell you how long it took to set up that shot, trying to control as many variables as possible, and then just as we nearly got it some idiots decide to stand in front of the camera and wave!!!! I took a deep breath, had a small scream internally and then tried again. We got the shot finally but that was nuts. I've also caught myself singing Hare, Hare, Krishna, Krishna hare etc etc in my head... I'm basically loosing it x
10th February 2013
After being awake and filming for 30hours that could possibly be the craziest day of my life. I've never seen so many people, millions and millions came to the sangam to bath on the most auspicious day (10th Feb). All the ashrams paraded down to the river at dawn in chariots with all their followers and sadhus, the arrival of ashrams went on for 4hours there were so many! The naked Naga sadhus covered themselves in ash and charged into the river like they were charging into war. The police were kettling people all over the place, after they cleared the area of normal people so the naga sadhus could charge through down to the river there were so many individual shoes and clothes strewn everywhere. I felt so sorry for these older people who for some of them it may be the first time out of their village, they come to Kumbh to bathe away their sins and are so frightened of getting lost that they tie themselves to each other, but of course after bathing in crowds of millions while they are trying to get dressed the police are herding them away (some beating people with sticks) and they get separated from their group. Over 250,000 people were reported lost yesterday. The lost and found announcements are endless and so loud with speakers all over the place you can't hear yourself think, and instead of announcing their name they give the microphone to the lost person who screams their panicked plea out to the whole mela, this torrent of screaming panic coupled with crowds of millions of people trying not to get lost and pushing and shoving and delirium from lack of sleep made filming really hard. I got very grumpy after 18-24hrs of this and the last 6hrs I was so delirious I started loosing it and laughing at the sheer craziness of it all. I felt like I was not there at points as if I was in a dream - you know those nights after clubbing all night the walk home in the morning is all hazy and weird, imagine walking home with millions of people and the police whistling and jostling you (of course they didn't dare touch us). We walked an hour and a half with all the camera equipment back to our tents, and finally collapsed in bed Zzzzzzzzzz
12th February 2013
Eat, sleep, film, eat, sleep, film, eat, sleep, film... today I found myself in the middle of two huge ashram processions, one going one way full of orange men playing musical instruments, and elephants, and the other with sadhus carrying huge staffs with flags, and lots of camels. I got totally star struck by the elephant, (who was very beautiful and majestic) I was walking backwards filming him, looking through the viewfinder and out of nowhere a chariot full of sadhus comes charging past me, nearly knocked me flying. Luckily the director pulled me out of the way just in time. These sadhus in their vehicles are crazy and totally irresponsible, they charge around full speed through the crowds, sometimes in cars also, and because they are sadhus they get priority. I'd bet most of them are stoned out of their heads from smoking chillums all day long, no wonder they drive so manically. So yes, todays filming I had to contend with elephants, camels, marching pilgrims, and stoned sadhus charging around in chariots. Another day at the office...