Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims descended on the banks of the Ganges river on Thursday, trusting in faith rather than masks to shield them against the coronavirus pandemic during the giant Kumbh Mela festival.
Up to one million people were expected in the city of Haridwar for the first day of the pilgrimage, even though India has the world's second-highest number of cases, more than 10 million, and has recorded more than 150,000 deaths.
Most of the hordes, aged between three and over 80, who walked into the revered but freezing river in the morning mist did not have masks and social distancing was an organisational nightmare.
“The pandemic is a bit of a worry, but we are taking all precautions,” said organiser Siddharth Chakrapani. “I'm sure Maa Ganga will take care of their safety,” he added, referring to the Hindu goddess of forgiveness and purification.
“Yes, there is a pandemic but people will come because of tradition. People are coming from very far away,” said 53-year-old Inderaj Singh.
Hindu devotees crowd the banks of Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, a day considered to be of great religious significance in Hindu mythology, during the annual 'Magh Mela' festival in Allahabad, India on January 14. — AFP