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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kumbh Mela

Around the world, nothing matches this triennial Indian religious festival

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Women drying their saris after bathing in the Ganges River.
Change The Game
Sometimes the best-laid plans simply go awry. Murphy's Law is usually in full effect when you travel. The roads are blocked, the bridge is closed, the permits don't arrive, the guide disappears, the car explodes, the camera sinks in the Ganges. When you can't win, change the game.

I had been unable to procure a journalist's visa, so when the big events of the Kumbh Mela were set to occur, I had no chance to set up on the dedicated journalists' platform. I tried to talk my way onto the platform, to no avail. Instead, I moved under it. I had already figured that setting up a tripod would be impossible, and my guess proved correct. As a ceremony at the river's edge began, more and more people arrived, all of them crowding in for a view. People pressed against me from all sides. At six feet tall, I could still shoot over most of the crowd while stabilizing my telephoto with the stage support. I captured one particularly good image when the people in the foreground raised their hands in unison. I can't take too much credit for the composition—it was the only shot possible—but this shows what can happen when you're not willing to be defeated by circumstances. Then, instead of fighting the crowd, Trevor Peterson and I quickly ran up a hill overlooking the city and the ceremony in the gathering dusk. We arrived just before pure black chased the last blue remaining in the sky.

Sari Blur. A five-second exposure made this dramatic blur possible.
Keep Up Your Strength To Be Visually Creative
Stress and travel can wear down your resistance to infections and disease. No one relishes the idea of spending a day sick in a hotel room, so stay hydrated and watch what you eat. In many places, street food is often safer than restaurant fare because it's fresher. I often attack a queasy stomach immediately with Imodium, and I always clean cuts with antiseptic right away.

Stay In The Moment
Traveling to India to see Kumbh Mela in person is an incredible experience. There's so much vibrant color, exotic culture and dramatic sights that it's easy to become overwhelmed. When the light is changing fast or the subject you dreamed of photographing remains elusive, look around. There's always something wonderful nearby, an element of the story you may have missed had things gone according to an arbitrary plan. Memorable faces, local color and stunning vignettes are everywhere. Don't be blinded by expectations. Instead, take a deep breath, look around, and stay in the moment. The world is waiting for you to notice the whirlwind of life that's right in front of you.

Kumbh Mela 2013
The next Kumbh Mela is in January and February, 2013, in Allahabad, India. Allahabad is located in the southern part of Uttar Pradesh at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. The Kumbh Mela was last held there in 2001. Now is the time to make your plans if you want to go to Kumbh Mela in 2013. There are numerous travel companies who can help you arrange your trip. Amidst India's extraordinary sights and rich culture, Kumbh Mela is not to be missed.

You can see more of James B. Martin's photography at www.jamesbmartin.com. Learn more about Kumbh Mela and traveling to India by visiting www.incredibleindia.org.

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