The numbers are huge. There’s no way to count the crowd, you can only experience it. People stream pass you like water; you have to be careful, or you’ll wash away with them!
The Indian government set up a special administration body about a year ago that is responsible for the smooth-running of the festival. They’re under a lot of pressure to make sure the festival is absolutely perfect. There are millions of potential voters out there, and a lot of influential people come to the Kumbh.
But the people who make it work are the cleaners. They’re the lowest paid, and they’re working around the clock. There are thousands of street cleaners, then there’s a smaller group that cleans the water.
The administration fixes specific times for the “holy men”
to dip. [The term “holy men” encompasses Hindu monks and men considered to be saints]. There are lots of different camps of holy men, and they all want to take their dips first, because they want the water to be clear. People take dips in the water every day, but when the holy men take their dips it attracts big crowds - people want to dip at the same time as the holy men.
The dips are staggered – there’s always a half hour gap between each dip, so the cleaners and can go into the waters and clean. They don’t use chemical products; they fish out any objects left behind, like the flowers people take with them to bathe.
The administration has divided the festival into 14 different areas. I went to an administration meeting on Tuesday, where they discussed how the festival was going. It seemed the weak links were water and sanitation - water leakage, not enough taps. Simple issues, big impact.