Due to world class snoring and constant gangs of people roving by outside I gave up trying to sleep a little after four. By 4:30 I was on my way - since I had no idea where I was or how to get to the Melas grounds I just followed the crowds. Sometime before six I got to the grounds. The bridges were not too crowded and were still easy to cross so I headed to the far side of the Gangas River (where I was lost last night). I wandered pretty aimlessly taking pictures when it started to get light. Overall I was still amazed at how well organized things were.
Just before sunrise it really started to get crowded. The sunrise was a little bit of a disappointment after yesterday's brilliant show. After the sunrise I wandered along the river watching people bathe, paint their faces, and shave their heads (except for one knot of hair at the back). I wandered in to see some of the lesser gurus (nails through their tongues, people who hadn't laid down in 30 years, men sitting cross-legged with human skulls in their laps, etc.). Eventually I just started to go with the flow of the crowd. It was nearly impossible to do otherwise, and since I didn't know where to go the crowd gave me direction. I managed to get out of the flow and into an eddy (I'd started to think of the crowd as a river by this point) to watch a parade crossing onto one of the pontoon bridges. It was a procession of Swamis and Gurus seated on elaborate thrones (generally towed by tractors, though sometimes carried), and surrounded by followers and flags. I'd been told that the beginning of the parade was the best part, so after fifteen minutes I slipped back into the stream and continued exploring. Another fifteen minutes ad brought me in a big circle back to the procession in time to see hundreds of naked Sadhus (holy men) caring a giant flag - this was the India I remembered from National Geographic. After the Sadhus went by I realized that if the parade with all the important people was crossing the river I should probably be on the other side as well so I maneuvered into a current heading for a bridge.
On the other side of the bridge their was one main current so I just continued to flow with the crowd. Eventually I was looking down at the confluence - where the Gangas (Ganges), Yamuna, and Sarasvati (mystical underground river of enlightenment) rivers meet - also where Vishnu spilled the drop of amrit. This was truly an amazing sight - a unbelievable amount of people walking out in to the shallow waters with boats on both sides and an endless variety of colored flags. I got out of the tide of people and hung out taking pictures as best as I could. I think the light haze is going to ruin most of the photos I took, but I had to try. I watched the Sadhus sprint as a group into the water and start washing. Everywhere I looked their were people shivering trying to dry off and get warm after the chilly water.
After hanging out at the confluence for an hour I decided I was through with the crowds and started trying to get out - progress was slow. Eventually I headed off towards one of the tent cities attracted by both the lesser crowds and an incredible variety of flags (bicycles, swords, pigs, knives, Sanskrit writing, and carrots were just a few of the designs). From the camp I headed towards the fort. I knew that Allahabad was somewhere on the other side of the fort so I joined a line of people entering through a giant arch. My plan had been to cross the fort and continue on through the fort and back into the city. It didn't work that way. The fort is still used by the military and was only open for a progression through its many shrines. After another hour of trying to get out and being searched twice (they made me take the batteries out of my cameras) I ended up coming out of the fort by another arch on the same side that I'd gone in. I hiked around the fort and ended up in one of the largest markets I've seen (certainly the largest outside of Africa). I wandered around the market some but by this time I was just tired of walking so I left and continued towards where I thought Allahabad was. After the market their was a giant carnival or fair. The snake charmers (dozens of them), rides, and circus acts were very enticing, but my feet and legs just hurt, and I was definitely over the crowds. Finally I ended up in normal city streets. There were tons of people still but more manageable. I stopped to look at some food and was instantly served ahead of the people waiting - and they wouldn't even let me pay. In fact the best part of the entire Mela experience was the people. I'd group them into three categories. The first just ignored me (a welcome reaction after typical India). The second seemed amused at my presence and smiled at me. The third wanted to talk. Why was I there? What did this place mean to me? How did I know about the Mela? Was I Hindu? Was I going to convert? Did I know any Hindus in my country? On and on the questions went - these people were proud that the rest of the world might know about the Kumbh Mela. No one was trying to take advantage of me or sell me anything - it was all a very welcomed relief.
After eating (I had to strenuously turn down seconds) I continued down the street seeing nothing that looked familiar. I finally bargained with a rickshaw driver. I was sure I was being ripped off, but I couldn't think of any other way to find my guest house so I went with him. It was a bargain, I'd gone the wrong way and was on the far side of one of the Mela grounds from Allahabad. Plus after six nonstop hours of fighting crowds it felt so good to sit down!
Back at the guest house I checked out and walked down to the bus station. I immediately caught a bus, I even had a seat, but it was definitely not comfortable. It was a slow ride back, the bus driver stopped twice for chai - once for forty five minutes! - so by the time we got back into Varanasi the traffic was very heavy. I walked back to the train station to try and find an ATM and was told there isn't one in town. I caught a tuktuk to as near to the ghats as the traffic and closed roads would allow, then hiked the rest of the way to the river. I stopped to check the internet on the way then headed back to my guest house (I'd kept my room). At the guest house the manager seemed happy and a little surprised to see me and told me that I could keep my room tomorrow. There was no power so I decided to skip the shower I so desperately needed and went out to get dinner - besides the street food I hadn't eaten yet. I was back in my room by eight. I spent a few hours sorting the digital pictures I'd taken at the Kumbh and trying to work on my journal but I was exhausted.