Inside India’s pop-up city, Harvard Gazette
By Katie Koch
Life at the Kumbh Mela can be heard long before it can be seen.
Two hours before dawn, the nonstop soundtrack of the world’s largest human gathering drifts up to an oasis of tents on a dusty hill overlooking the site of the Hindu festival. At the camp, a group of Harvard professors, students, and researchers fumbles its way into a few rented jeeps in the 5 a.m. darkness. As the fleet of vehicles makes its descent, the narrow road suddenly opens onto a view of the Kumbh Mela, a temporary tent city of millions of faithful Hindus, many of them already making their way to the banks of the Ganges River to bathe in its life-affirming waters.
Normally, a crowd of Westerners wandering through the streets of the Kumbh would draw attention. But when the group arrives at the Ganga, as the sacred river is known, its presence hardly causes a stir.
Still, it’s a curious sight. How did three dozen Harvardians — undergraduates and graduate students, case writers and professors, architects and anthropologists, doctors and documentarians — end up among millions of pilgrims?