On a recent trip to India we flew to Delhi and stayed over night stop to recharge and sleep after a a long flight. The next day after an early morning breakfast we set off on a long drive to Haridwar which is in district of Uttarrakhand, North India. The drive including stops for lunch was about 7 hours and we arrived in Haridwar close to 4.30 in the afternoon.
Haridwar is commonly known as "The Gateway to the Gods". It is amongst one of the seven holiest cities in the world. It is home to the river Ganges, which starts its flow from Gaumukh, Gangotri Glacier, 4100 metres above sea level. It enters North India at the City of Haridwar. Pilgrims from all over the world flock to this holy city to offer prayers to the Ganges.
The river flows through Haridwar and it has many ghats, the main one is Har ki Pauri which translates to "Footsteps of Lord Shiva" The main area around Har ki Pauri is a ablaze with sages, sadus (holy men) in orange robes and long hair.
Each Evening at sunset devotees offer prayers to the Ganga Maa (Hindus refer to the river as the mother). Oil lamps are lit and set to float in the river while priests offer prayers to the Ganges by circling large oil filled lamps whilst reciting the holy prayers. The ritual is beautiful and truly mesmerizing.
We too took part in this beautiful ceremony, which was truly enthralling and spiritual. The start of our holiday was indeed blessed with gods blessings.
There are more temples in Haridwar than one can keep count of but we visited the Mansa Devi Temple which is situated on the Bilwa Parvat on the Sivalik Hills overlooking the city of Haridwar. The hills are home to many monkeys that habitat there.
You can reach the temple by walking or by Udan Khatola a rope way that has cable cars carrying people to the temple. The ride offers good views of the Ganges and the city of Haridwar.
At the temple devotees and visitors can offer prayers to the goddess Mansa and tie a sacred thread to a special tree in the temple to fulfill wishes. The walkways to the temple are lined with vendors selling souvenirs and platters of worshiping items such as coconuts, flowers and offerings.
Shopping in Haridwar
Har ki Pauri Har ki Pauri is lined with many hotels and guesthouses. They are in the lively hub of Haridwar and very near the the main shopping area- Moti Bazaar. Moti Bazaar is made up of entwining narrow streets that are packed with food stalls and street vendors selling an array of religious goods, utensils and prayer accessories, souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes and artificial jewellery. The narrow streets are very lively and extremely packed with shoppers, pilgrims and you have to really dodge in and out of the crowds. Leading from the Moti Bazaar is the upper road market where you can find clothing shops, house ware shops and bedding too.
The whole experience is very enjoyable, the streets are very colorful and there is plenty to buy and of course you must haggle to get the best price.The only negative side is that its heartbreaking to see the number of young children and holy men begging for food and money. You can offer to buy them a thali from the street food vendors along the Har ki Pauri. Each plate of food is approximately eighty rupees.(that is about one pound).
It is common practice amongst visiting pilgrims to offer to to feed these unfortunate people as most hindus believe that the gift of food is the best charity one can offer. We too carried out this ritual, the kids just sat on the floor out side the food vendors, whilst they were served a thali of hot piping food. It was really satisfying to see that they relished the food with true appreciation.
Bathing In the Ganges.
In Hinduism it is believed that one must in their lifetime visit the holy city of Haridwar and of course take a dip in the Ganges. It is thought that bathing in the Ganges will wash away your sins and purify the soul. Since I practice Hinduism, we also wished to follow this belief and take a dip. At the bathing ghats there are steps that lead to the water, unfortunately in February the temperature in Haridwar is not warm, and the Ganges water was icy cold and absolutely freezing. It was not advised to fully immerse in the water in fear of catching pneumonia, however we did manage to dip our feet in which is thought to be good enough.
There are many more temples to visit in Haridwar and also a Tiger Reserve which we did not have time to visit since we were on a tight travel schedule. I could have easily spent a whole week in Haridwar just enjoying the spirituality of the place. Our next stop is Rishikesh which I will feature in my next post.