Amazing Environmental Audio from Maha Kumbh Mela

I’ve been back from India just over a year now, back living in the US and in that time its been a real struggle, both on a personal level and financially.
Looking back on that time, a half-year spent in India, thinking about it and thinking about how much I miss it, and yearn for the Utopian chaos to run through my veins once more.
I have edited my photography over and over trying to extract the essence of the experience. However the personal journey that India was to me, has obscured my objectivity, something that only time can distill.
I have started once again on the editing process, going back over the audio recordings I made, and in doing so, had an epiphany about the work. I realize that I have no choice but to go back to India, and capture more audio, this time with an expanded kit. And to dedicate much more time and effort into making quality environmental recordings.
Audio recordings offer a taste of reality that video and photography simply cannot touch. Where video has to be constructed to make a compelling presentation, and photography provides specificity, and depth, that depth is within just that contextual intimacy.
Audio offers a living reality of time based exploration. Audio treats the consciousness to a wide layered mental vision, one that the mind is intrinsically connected to, there is no learning to listen, whereas there is learning to read photographs.

This Location Sound during the Anup Jalota concert at Pilot Baba’s Ashram camp 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, Sangam Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh India. I had decided to walk around the sector 9 area where the ashram was located, about 7 miles from the actual main bathing area.
You can hear all of the local sounds, and the far distant sounds of the millions (130,000,000 to be more accurate) of pilgrims who existed at the ‘city’. Headphones highly recommended. Sit back and enjoy the Mela as I did for thirteen minutes.

Observations from Varanasi pt.1


Cows and Sponges


Bathing in sacred Ganga.


Varanasi is as much about the rooftops as the Tola’s (streets).



As children we learn to share..


Monkey King on the rooftops Varanasi (at night, during a black-out).


A Sadhu came and joined us on he Ghats for a smoke of Chilum. Chilum has made me sick in the three times Ive tried it. I hate the taste and the effects are crap.




A Swede and a Norwegian two very nice travellers I met on my first week in Varanasi, took a bathe in the Ganga, not me however. I just take the pictures.


First light on the Ghats.


Theres a street photography gem around every nook here..


Second Half of Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 -No Captions

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Maha Kumbh Mela 2


Tribal woman at her tent the night before the big bathe on the 15th


A tarp tent houses a camp of babas.


Tibetan holyman poses for the camera with his Baba and Guru.


Pilgrim with his Baba


Mad Max Apocalypse Now


A veritable army of civil workers cleaned up during the night at Kumbh Mela. This was a basket of Lye plonked on the ground at strategic points to be later swept.


A pilgrim at Kumbh Mela


Maha Kumbh Mela

After coming to Varanasi and being here for a few days, looking back at Kumbh is like rubbing your tongue in the hole left by a pulled tooth. Kumbh is a distant memory, every white person in Varanasi has because we all bailed at the same time. The build up to, then the event and the aftermath we all seem to have similar sentiment towards it, ‘meh’ and apt American word for ‘yeah been there done that…Next!’. Im glad I went, Im glad I saw it, but Im left with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction.

The Kumbh authorities and organizers out-did themselves in terms of putting this unprecedented event together. 120,000,000 people in a 56 square mile area of Indian military engineering mastery; supplying fresh filtered water to everyone, workable roads paved in steel plate, and pontoon bridges, and the policing of such, and the refreshing level of sanitation, litter control and basic but fully functional hygiene and the army of workers who provided it was completely impressive.

The first time I stepped out of the Kumbh grounds I was approached by two students from Allahabad University who were conducting a detailed survey for non Indian travelers and what we thought of the event. The questions themselves were somewhat revealing in that they were asking a lot about what we thought about the administration of the event and whether or not it had much of an impact on us (yes it did), and whether or not we felt more devout about the high levels of celebrity Baba’s and whether or not they needed the level of coverage and pomp they received (no they didnt).

I went to see what millions and millions of people would look like and to feel the presence of such levels of humanity in my face, and the the most part the benevolence of the Indians meant that it was a peaceful affair. Everyone was on vacation, or were there in devotion and to seek enlightenment from their Baba and to bathe in the sacred Ganga, and to take little bottles of it home for their shrines.

The people that impressed me the most were the blue-collar workers, not necessarily only the lower caste, but the people who had put their lives on hold to go.

The Baba’s were a mix of the high profile dicks with their giant self promoting posters plastered everywhere expressing hollow and borrowed promises to their followers, then there were the smaller Baba’s who had less money prowess and smaller numbers of devotees and offered rudimentary accommodations in the shape of thatched huts with straw beds or tents with straw floor coverings, and then the lowest levels of Baba’s who had nothing but their meagre paraphernalia, a tarp and some pillows to offer their flock to come pray in front of a cleansing fire. And maybe share some of their hashish.

Then there are the various levels of holy men, most of which blend into one another without much of a difference in their ways, some stand out;
The humbleness of the Brahmen monks and their generosity is breathtaking. They are the ones who shave their heads and mark their forheads with stripes and lines, wear orange and carry with them a sick which has a small roof attached so they always have a place to stay. They fed me good food and asked only to be photographed. I would later meet the same Brahman in the chaotic twisted streets of Varanasi where he recognized me and gave me blessing.
Ahgori’s who relish death and devote themselves to it, who eat the flesh of the dead to consume death, they (of course) wear black, and have some party piece like bones or a skull to embellish themselves with a talisman. Later I would find out that they usually have to get mangled on whiskey before they can perform their flesh eating rituals..
Then there were the Naga’s. They are the renounciates, the ones who are naked, and cover themselves in ash and wear marigolds around their necks, and paint their faces and look like something from a White Zombie album cover.. They are also the ones everyone wants to photograph because they are the most outgoing and flamboyant, they are also the most conceited and have been known to smash a camera if you make a picture and dont pay for it. Asshole celebrity photographers have ruined for everyone including non photographers who want to follow their beliefs because the Naga’s know that they are currency in of themselves. I still managed to get the best shots of them on their way to the bathing just because I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The Maha Kumbh Mela is more about show and pomp now then it could have been back in 2001. I saw awesome arrays of film making equipment with cranes and dollies and entire film crews squabbling with each other over locations.

Then the rain came, a giant storm, so much rain, and wind that smashed and destroyed anything up to 60% of the grounds. Some say it was an act of god, and how it would wash away the pomp and leave the devout. Im not going to argue with that.

20130213-14 First Night and Full Day at Maha Kumbh Mela


Pilgrims wait by the entrance to an Ashram looking for a place to settle for their time at the Kumbh


Tribal Pilgrim women gather around a straw fire outside one of millions of Army tents pitched outside of ashrams at Maha Kumbh Mela.


Keeping warm is key at night for me it was warm for them it was freezing.


Basic water supply was available all over the Kumbh grounds for pilgrims to avail of for drinking, cooking and washing.


A family had gathered under a wall-less army marquee in an un marked area of the Kumbh, they beckoned me to come in a make pictures of their children.


A pilgrim wanted me to make a picture of him at Kumbh, he has no way of contacting me for his image. I dont believe the man could write or read, despite the language barrier we had a good conversation.


A man rests under a tarpaulin, to escape the direct heat of the Maha Kumbh Mela Sun.


Commerce on the grounds of the Kumbh for pilgrims. This fruit and vegetable seller on the corner of the ‘block’ had better ssaled then those in the middle of the block.


Boy Scouts of india, filled in for the Police to aide and give directions. This is a map of the grounds, from what I gathered later on, the grounds were approximately 56 sq miles.


Clothing Logos in India are just that Logos, they mean nothing and mostly say nothing intelligible and all are in embroidered in English. I found this one on a chai seller, particularly hilarious..


A bicycle would have been great at the Kumbh before the storm.


Brahman Pilgrims circle and pray around a giant charnel temple, built by hand on the grounds. This was one of three that I could see, a fire is lit inside and the smoke is teh cleansing. Behind this was about 100 single person wooden pyramids where the monks chanted Om and the harmonics amplify the flames.


Millions of army tents covered the Kumbh grounds outside of the Ashrams.


Pilgrims walk around the fire temple with offerings.


Reflections in a sewer pond opposite the Fire temple. You are never far away from food and sewage in India.


A single monk sits by the corner of a field of “personal” chanting pyramids.


Yours truly. Photo by Tim Durkan.


A mystical figure in a back alley near my Ashram at Maha Kumbh Mela.


A family gathers around a straw fire to chat and socialize, outside of their tent.


An entire village of people who came from the south built their own village complete with village square, where the met fed along the tents and the women fed by the fire. They graciously let me in to make images of their life at Maha Kumbh Mela


Matriarchs of the village, ushered us in and offered us food at Maha Kumbh Mela.


Another tall mystical figure floated by me without a sound in the darkness at Maha Kumbh Mela.