New Year: cleaning up after the world’s largest human gathering

As the sun sets over the Ganges, Vikas Kumar drives his garbage truck through the streets of Prayagraj, a historic Indian city of 1.1 million that was until last year known as Allahabad. “All this stuff people have been eating, drinking and throwing away,” he says, gesturing at piles of food waste, discarded water bottles and mud-spattered flowers. “It will take three or four months to clear.”

Over a 50-day period this normally sleepy city has been visited by around 220 million people for the Kumbh Mela – a Hindu pilgrimage dubbed the world’s largest human gathering.

As Kumar and his team collect garbage, scores of workers are dismantling the vast “pop-up city” they helped build – a temporary megalopolis two-thirds the size of Manhattan, containing more than 4,000 tents erected to house pilgrims, organisers, cultural programmes and shrines.

The temporary infrastructure organisers needed to lay down ahead of time was extensive: 185 miles of temporary metal roads, nearly two dozen pontoon bridges, 120,000 toilets and more than 100 police stations or posts.

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