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February 9, 2014: Cycling and Climbing Through a Sufferfest, Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury and More

Join radio host Boyd Matson every week for adventure, conservation and green science. This week, they endure a 750-mile climbing and biking Sufferfest, crash during Olympic snowboard halfpipe training leading to a traumatic brain injury, try to save the Great Barrier Reef from dredging, launch the “coolest” space mission ever, chase Shackleton’s legacy across frigid Antarctic waters, enjoy the restorative health benefits of a 30-million person crowd, celebrate with winners’ dominant body language, and investigate 10 deaths high in a Russian mountain pass.

Kumbh Mela 2013: The Water’s Dirty but Nobody’s Sick

The latest figures on water quality in the Ganges, straight from the Central Pollution Control Board—a government organisation charged with monitoring it daily during the Kumbh Mela—suggest that contrary to earlier reports, it’s neither drinkable nor batheable. Given that 80-odd million people are expected to bathe in the river during the festival, I asked head of medical…

Kumbh Mela 2013: Where Have All The Cobras Gone?

There are elephants at the Kumbh Mela, but no snake charmers, and yet both used to be staples of festivals and fairs in India. So where are the snake charmers? Sulking in Kapari and Lohagra, two villages about an hour’s drive from Allahabad, is the answer. If they try to come close to the Kumbh…

Kumbh Mela 2013: Picking Flowers

Allahabad is a city of 1.2 million people, and despite the proximity of its bigger, noisier neighbour, the Kumbh Mela, life goes on there—including death. The funeral ghats on the Ganges were moved away from the sangam—the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers—for the duration of the festival, but they are still within the…

Kumbh Mela 2013: Form an Orderly Queue

It’s 4am on January 27, an auspicious date for bathing called Paush Purnima. The full moon hangs big and sharp above the shroud of smoke that covers the Kumbh. It’s still dark, and people are moving quietly and calmly from all directions towards the sangam, the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. The temporary…

Kumbh Mela 2013: Lost and Found

There is a stubborn rumour here at the Kumbh Mela that some people come to abandon elderly female relatives and children in the crowd. There are two lost and found camps on site, one of which is run by 86-year-old Raja Ram Tiwari, who took the initiative after seeing an old woman weeping uncontrollably at…

Kumbh Mela 2013: Holy Men

Naga Baba Jai Giri Ji has long, long hair. He hasn’t cut it for 15 years, and when he dances in the processions that the holy men lead to the sangam on bathing days, he loops it over his arms so that it doesn’t trip him up. Lakshman Giri is also famous for his headgear,…

Kumbh Mela 2013: Bathing in the Ganges

If you climb up to high ground above the river plain, you begin to get a sense of the scale of the Kumbh Mela, especially at night. It stretches off in all directions. The sky above it is as light as the sky over a large metropolis, only there are no highrises here—nothing much higher than a lamp-post, in fact. The noise from hundreds of loudspeakers is incessant and very loud—like a human rainforest, technically enhanced.

Kumbh Mela 2013: World’s Largest ‘City’ Rises Alongside Ganges

The stars are aligned. The first aiders are on standby. The latrines are dug. And the city of Allahabad is waiting to see how many tens of millions of people will descend on it between now and March 10. One thing is certain: the Kumbh Mela, a giant gathering of Hindu pilgrims that takes place every 12 years in four cities in northern India, and that is celebrated this year in Allahabad, is unique.