Robbie Hamper gets shot of Sadhu. Photo courtesy of Karl Grobl
Robbie Hamper gets shot of Sadhu. Photo courtesy of Karl Grobl

I remember an old Trident commercial where a woman was whale-watching for hours on a boat eagerly waiting with her camera for the perfect shot. The moment she reached in her bag for gum….it happened — a whale breached out of the water like a moment reserved for National Geographic. She missed the money shot.

This actually happens. There are photography moments when there is only one chance to get the shot. My mother, Robbie Hamper, has been at the spectacular Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India where 80 million Hindu pilgrims converge every 12 years in a religious cleansing in the Ganges river.

Sadhu meditating in Ganges. Photo: Robbie Hamper
Sadhu meditating in Ganges. Photo: Robbie Hamper

While the festival runs for a month and a half, the main bathing day is February 10th. This is where the holy men, the Sadhus and Nagas, lead a bathing ritual that takes place as processions of pilgrims wade into the river. The Hindu religion says that the cleansing at this exact spot on this exact day, on this exact alignment of the moon washes away all sins. This day is full of ceremony, but there are so many people that being in the right place at the right time is critical and not an easy thing to do.

Unfortunately, the masses of people resulted in a horrible tragedy this year at the Kumbh Mela as spotlighted in this week’s NY Times article: Deadly Stampede at Hindu Festival That Draws Millions. I have finally heard from my mother and thrilled to report that she and the nine photographers she was traveling with are not only o.k., but they were able to get “the money shots.”

Sadhu - Photo courtesy Robbie Hamper
Sadhu – Photo courtesy Robbie Hamper

Here’s an excerpt from mom’s email detailing their difficulty getting out of Allahabad and what it took to the THE shots during the bathing rituals:

“We had a long day as we had to walk to the bus station. We left the tent city at 11am and walked several miles to the station which took until 6:30pm. There are millions of people trying to leave town and no one is getting anywhere fast.

For the big bathing day on the 10th, we were up at 1:30am to leave the camp by 2:30 and walked for more than an hour with the thousands of people headed to the Ganges. We wound around and made our way to the press platform. It was a bamboo flat about 12 ft high with all of the media on it with huge cameras and big tripods. We had to climb up the bamboo ladder and everyone squeezed in. We were a little worried that the bamboo press stand might collapse with so many people on it.

In the distance we could see down on the thousands of people trying to get to the bank of the Ganges. The police cleared out a huge
Section (a major feat) so the Nagas and Sadhus could run in first to bathe. This parade went on for 2 hours.

The early morning wake-up was critical to us getting the best shots. I was able to get a lot of great shot before the huge swells of people arrived. Plus, we were able to squeeze into perfect shooting positions on the press platform. While I did not bathe in the Ganges, I DID wade out in the water at one point to get some photos. Otherwise, it was only the back sides of pilgrims sitting down lighting candles and saying prayers.   Robbie Hamper”

Photo courtesy Robbie Hamper
Photo courtesy Robbie Hamper

 

I am thrilled that my mom was able to get the shots of the Kumbh Mela that she traveled so far to get. I have shared a few on here, but because she is not yet connected to reliable Internet, I will share a Part 2 to the money shot conversation so I can actually SHARE the shots that she got from the platform and from the water.