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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 17:44 GMT
Hindu ire over luxury resort
Cox and Kings camp
The five-star tents - $489 for two nights
A luxury tour operator is being forced to defend itself in court after a row over its operations at the Kumbh Mela Hindu festival in India.

Irate Hindu priests have demanded that British travel agent, Cox and Kings, wind up its 74 Swiss-cottage style tents, set up next to the festival site.

The five star accomodation went against the true Kumbh spirit

Local official Sadakant
The camps were meant to cater for a huge influx of foreign tourists, with rumours that several Hollywood and international celebrities were expected.

But the resort ran into controversy after reports that the camp was serving alcohol and meat to its residents - both taboo at the Kumbh Mela, which is Hinduism's biggest gathering.

A local official said the sentiments of the sadhus or holy men could not be ignored.

"The five star accomodation went against the true Kumbh spirit, the sages felt, and their thoughts had to be respected," the official, Mr Sadakant, said.

'Spiritual seekers'

Organisers ordered the camp be closed using a statute that stated that anything which could affect the sanctity of the religious congregation could be banned.

Cox and Kings camp
Meditation in five-star comfort...
But Cox and Kings said they would fight the order in court.

They said the whole thing was a misunderstanding and the company was catering to "spiritual seekers" rather than five-star tourists.

"We made it clear months ago that only vegetarian food would be served and alcohol banned," Bhaskar Bhattacharya, a consultant for Cox and Kings, said.

The temporary resort features plush tents with shower facilities, mineral water supplied by French company Evian and other modern conveniences - all for $489 for two nights.

Holy man has a bath
...but elsewhere the amenities are a bit basic
All 74 tents are said to be fully booked for the entire 42-day duration of the Kumbh Mela.

There is speculation that celebrities such as pop stars Madonna, Sir Paul McCartney and Courtney Love will attend, as well as film stars like Pierce Brosnan, Demi Moore, Richard Gere and Sharon Stone.

The Kumbh Mela takes place once every 12 years and this year's festival is expected to draw 30 million devotees.

Many of them are staying in basic tents set up by the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers.

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See also:

11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Kumbh Mela: A personal pilgrimage
09 Jan 01 | South Asia
Millions join holy dip
09 Jan 01 | South Asia
Hindu festival goes high-tech
08 Jan 01 | South Asia
In Pictures: Maha Kumbh Mela
08 Jan 01 | South Asia
Pilgrimage to Maha Kumbh Mela
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