A significant change in the pattern of travellers attending the Prayagraj Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019 has been witnessed by Thomas Cook (India). This observation has implied that attendees have changed their perspective towards the holy and historic Kumbh Mela. A different segment of visitors has been looking forward to explore this spiritual tourism coupled with experiencing high-octane adventure sports at the Mela, bringing a new twist to the fervour.
Following are some of the major reasons according to Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. (TCIL), for millions of passionate travellers to attend the Prayagraj Ardh Kumbh Mela, 2019:
1) World’s largest number of spiritual travellers: While majority of visitors are the ones commuting by air, rail and road this year, there is a considerable amount of people travelling to the Kumbh Mela on foot. A number of them have also been flying into Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi, and have then been travelling to Kumbh by road, which is a 2-3 hours’ drive. While the Mela of 1903 witnessed a crowd of 4 lakh people, the one in 2013 saw the number surge to 12 crores, making it the world’s largest peaceful gathering of visitors. This year, the area of the Mela has been doubled to 3,200 hectares wherein the first Shahi Snan alone, has recorded 2.5 crore people participating.
2019’s budget allocation of Rs. 4,200 crores is the steepest ever for the pilgrimage, and to offset, the expected revenue for Uttar Pradesh is Rs. 1.2 lakh crore, according to CII.
2) Spiritual tourism fused with adventure sports: Due to its cultural significance, the Kumbh Mela was recognised as India’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2017. The surreal congregation of Naga Sadhus taking the Shahi Snan is a highly photographed site, and spiritual tourism has been on the rise in recent years as tourists opt for holistic experiences. Therefore, in a first, adventure sports like parasailing, paramotoring, wall climbing, ball zorbing on land or the Yamuna river, and hot air balloons that have been introduced at the Mela grounds are taking visitors by storm.
3) Cities of Kumbh: The city of Prayagraj comes alive during the Mela with sites like Alopi Devi Temple, Allahabad Fort, and more receiving high traction. The world’s largest temporary city, enlightened by around 40,000 LED lights has been set up in the Mela area, with adequate water provision, 250 km roads, and 1.22 lakh toilets in lieu with the ‘Swachh Kumbh, Surakshit Kumbh’. Along with Tent Cities that offer budget friendly as well as glamping (luxurious) tents, and the new public accommodation provisions by the government, over 4000 tents have been set up in the city for the growing urban-rural, and national-international crowd. This has been further aided by Thomas Cook India Limited, by offering customisable packages to visitors, ranging from 1-4 nights for different budget categories to choose from.
4) An increase in working millennials from metro cities: Interestingly, this year TCIL received over 800 requests from people for its Kumbh Mela packages, of which a majority came from the working millennials of the metro cities of Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi. They have been opting for short, affordable and experiential packages, especially those offered by TCIL to suit their travel schedules. One can definitely conclude that there is a rising interest among millennials about the Mela this year, as around 40% of the packages offered by TCIL, have been booked by them. This growing demand could be attributed to the wonders of social media, which has promoted the rich culture of the Kumbh Mela through the usage of its vivid live, and visual imagery, or the enticing packages that TCIL has offered around the ongoing Kumbh Mela. Through these, they are able to explore the Mela, take a holy dip at the Sangam, indulge in local sightseeing including forts, temples and museums, and experience an adrenaline rush via some adventure sports.
5) Ease of attending and enhanced safety: Complemented by better infrastructure, greater connectivity and a surge in employment, Short Haul Pilgrimages have seen a 40% month-on-month growth. The remodelled infrastructure for Kumbh 2019 comprises of the upgradation of 9 railway stations, two water vessels deployed by the IWAI, construction of a new airport terminal, and the introduction of additional special flights and 800 special trains by Air India and the railway authorities respectively, to facilitate the travel of the increasing visitors to the Kumbh Mela.
Moreover, for enhanced safety and security of visitors, IBM Intelligent Video Analytics have been used for railway station surveillance. ‘Epidemic intelligence officers’ have been deployed to predict and prevent possible outbreaks at the Kumbh Mela, and an application developed by the Uttar Pradesh Police is available to help attendees navigate their way through the Prayagraj Ardh Kumbh Mela, 2019.
So this year has been about surrendering oneself to the spiritual fever of the Kumbh Mela without any tangible worries.