The Hindu calendar has 70 holidays, some lasting days or weeks. It is therefore almost impossible to visit India without having the opportunity to celebrate at least one of them.

I was especially lucky on my recent trip to experience the biggest and most sacred of them all — the Kumbh Mela, a three-month long festival that takes place every 12 years in the holy city of Haridwar.

From January 14 until April 28, millions of pilgrims from every caste gather at the Ganges River in hopes of washing away their sins. A dozen astrologically determined days are believed to be particularly auspicious; the Maha Shivratri is arguably the most significant. On this, “The Night of Shiva,” the Ganges is believed to offer endless blessings.

For most of the day, the Ganges is restricted for use by the sadhus — mystics, usually men,… More…