The 13 best snaps from India's - and the world's - biggest religious festival

2019-01-16 15:00 - Gabi Zietsman
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Religious pilgrimages were once in the pages of the history books the biggest motivator for travel - people dedicated to their faith and finding spiritual enlightenment by pursuing the holy and sacred sites of their religion.

While travel today has become more commercialised, it still retains some of its spiritual roots, and in India the largest religious festival in the world had the biggest congregation of humans in one city on Tuesday - the Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela.

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It's a journey of spiritual cleansing at a sacred or holy river, the most famous one being the Ganges, as well as the Yamuna and the Saraswati. It rotates between different cities every 6 or 12 years, and this year it was held at Prayagraj, formerly known as Allahabad and where the three rivers meet. It will run until 4 March.

Although this year priests and pilgrims also had to deal with air pollution and toxic dust, it didn't stop the millions of people in attendance. The government spent around R8.9 billion on the event which went to toilet facilities, accommodation, clean water and medical and security services.

If you're willing to deal with the crowds and roughing it out in tents, attending a Kumbh Mela could be quite a unique bucket list experience.

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Check out the stunning snaps from the first day: 

In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, photo, a thick laye

A thick layer of dust is seen over the tent city set up for the spiritual-cleansing Kumbh Festival. (Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP)

An Indian naked sadhu (Hindu holy man) walk in a p

An Indian naked sadhu - Hindu holy man - walk in a procession towards Sangam - the confluence of the Ganges, Yamina and Saraswati rivers. (Photo: Chandan Khanna, AFP)

Saints of Shri Panchayati Bada Udasin return to th

Saints of Shri Panchayati Bada Udasin return to their camp at Sangam. (Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP)

 followers of the Kinnar Akhara monastic Hindu ord

Followers of the Kinnar Akhara monastic Hindu order made up of transgender members ride on a chariot in a procession towards Sangam. (Photo: Chandan Khanna, AFP)

An Indian sadhu (Hindu holy man) smokes as he sits

An India sadhu smokes as he sits inside his tent among the Juna Akhara community. (photo: Chandan Khanna, AFP)

A Hindu holy man dances holding a mace as he arriv

A Hindu holy man dances holding a mace as he arrives for a ritualistic dip on auspicious Makar Sankranti day during the Kumbh Mela. (Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP)

A naked Hindu holy man arrives for ritualistic dip

A naked Hindu holy man. (Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP)

Indian sadhus (Hindu holy men) wait to jump into t

Indian holy men wait to jump into the water of the holy Sangam. (Photo: Chandan Khanna, AFP)

Indian transgender activist

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender rights activist and chief of the Kinnar Akhara Hindu order. (Photo: Sanjay Kanojia, AFP)

Hindu holy men take a dip on auspicious Makar Sank

(Photo: Berenat Armangue, AP)

Hindu devotees take a dip on auspicious Makar Sank

Hindu devotees take a dip. (Photo: Bernat Armangue, AP)

Hindus take ritualistic dips on the auspicious Mak

(Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP)

Women wiping her eye after a dip in the Sagam

A woman wipes her eyes as she takes a dip into the water of the holy Sangam. (Photo: Chandan Khanna, AFP)

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