A visit to Haridwar works as a soul cleanser and being a witness to the evening ‘Ganga Aarti’ with hundreds of lamps afloat on the Ganges is simply a celestial experience.
Situated in the Uttarakhand state of India by the banks of river Ganges, Haridwar is one of the seven most revered Hindu pilgrimages. It has been referred to as Mayapuri, Kapila, Gangadwar and interestingly is pronounced distinctively by Shiva and Vishnu followers as Har-Dwar and Hari-Dwar (Har means Shiva and Hari is another name for Vishnu). It is said that during the mythical churning of the sea when nectar was extracted, a few drops fell on Earth from the nectar urn and one of these spots was Brahma Kund at Haridwar. That is why every twelfth year the Kumbh Mela is celebrated in this holy place which draws hoards of visitors both India and abroad. According to Hindu beliefs a dip in the Ganges during this period, especially in the Brahma Kund is enough to attain salvation and rids one of all the past sins. During this festival there is a congregation of sadhus (saints) and visitors alike to experience the surreal atmosphere.
Even on a normal day, Haridwar is abuzz with activities. The most unique and mesmerizing scene is certainly the Ganga Aarti at the Har ki paudi (literally meaning Lord’s steps) where Ganges is worshiped at dusk with hymns and chats accompanied by rhythmic sounds of the bells from the temples around the ghats (banks) adding to the holistic charm. It is the center of faith for the hundreds of devotees thronging these ghats, lighting up a prayer and setting afloat the lamps of faith in a floral basket. The electrifying energy in the atmosphere is an experience that cannot be translated into words, it has to be felt and experienced. The ghat is dotted with temples of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Durga and Ganga. On the walls at the Har ki paudi are footsteps believed to be that of the Lord himself from which the place derives its name.
From a pilgrim’s perspective Haridwar has numerous temples scattered throughout the city. The famous Mansa Devi Temple and the Chandi Devi Temple are both atop two separate mountains- Bilwa and Neel mountains and the trip to these is facilitated by ropeway cable cars called the ‘udankhatola’ and the view of the city from the mountain tops is mesmerizing.
To see the rest of the city, it is advisable to hire an auto or a taxi for the day to take you on a trip around the town. Since we were three of us, we arranged for an auto to guide us through the city and we were taken to:
• Bharat Mata Mandir – A temple dedicated to Mother India which also houses a photo gallery of our national heroes.
• The Bhimgoda Tank – believed to have been made by the Pandava brother Bhima, in an effort to draw water from the rocks with the blow of his knee – hence the name.
• Pawan Dham – A beautiful glass decorated temple where even the idols are made of glass.
• Lal Mata Temple – A replica of the Vaisho Devi Temple at Jammu with an artificially created narrow cave through which we have to make our way to reach the deity. It is an experience not to be missed and is turning out to be a major tourist attraction.
• Harihar Ashram – which houses this mercury shivling and also has a huge Rudraksh tree in the front courtyard with the original beads from them on sale too.
Along the way, our auto driver also took us to some typical tourist spots where we saw tabloids and displays of mythological events. The day tour to these places is enjoyable but do remember to come early in the evening to hold your spot at the ghats or else it becomes too crowded to have a proper view of the Ganga Aarti.
Haridwar is just a 4 hour drive from Delhi (around 220Kms) and there is also good train connectivity directly to Haridwar station. Haridwar also has an inter-state bus depot a few steps away from the railway station. Though a small city, it is accustomed to the tourist inflow and has accommodation options to suit all budgets. There are plenty of hotels and lodges around the railway station area itself and also near the banks. Most of these lodges are associated with temple trusts having prime locations on the banks of the river and even private area for bathing and are pocket-friendly too. The food here is strictly vegetarian and it is an alcohol free area too. Tourists can shop for worship items, brass idols and utensils, vermilion, glass bangles, gemstones, rudraksh and much more in the narrow shopping lanes of the Moti Bazar, Bara Bazar etc.
For those who want to spend more time in the celestial bliss, an excursion to the neighboring Rishikesh and the yoga centers there is advisable. Rishikesh also offers activities like treks and white water rafting for adventure sport enthusiasts.
A word of caution though -like any other pilgrim city in India here too you have to be wary of the ‘holy’ men on the ghats offering ancestor worships and haggling you for donations to the ashrams and temples. Steer clear of these thugs and you are bound to enjoy your tryst with divinity.