Monday, March 13, 2006

Haridwar : spiritual travel destination

It has been a fairly long time since my last post. I was busy shifting to the national capital of Delhi. With things geting settled and me resuming office, I am posting an article which was actually written about a month ago.

Haridwar : where it all started
It was around 25th July, 2004 when I had my first trip out from Dehradun. The destination was Hardiwar. It certainly was an auspicious begining. One and half year has passed since then and I have visited most tourist destinations of Uttaranchal. Now time has come to leave Dehradun. Before leaving Dehradun for good, we wanted to visit either Hardiwar or Rishikesh, mainly to collect some holy water of Ganga. It was also the month of Magha and so a pilgrimage was on the card. Finally we set out for Haridwar. The final drive in Uttaranchal to the same place where it all started.

Haridwar is 56 km from Dehradun by NH74. It is about 250 km from Delhi. One can travel directly to Haridwar from Delhi, both by train and road. Buses leaves from Kashmere gate ISBT. It is the gateway for going to Rishikesh and places beyond it like Badrinath, Kedarnath and Gangotri. Located on the foothills of Shivaliks, Haridwar is the place where river Ganga reaches the plains after thundering down the Himalayas. The first time I came here was in 1986 when we had a LTC tour of places around Delhi along with parents. We took a conducted tour from Delhi. The bus took us first to Rishikesh and then brought us to Haridwar. I had some memories left of that trip. I had never imagined even in my wildest dream that one day I will be back here. But I came back to the place after 14 years. That too driving down myself. It was destined to happen.

Haridwar is one of the important Hindu pilgrimage sites and attracts devotees from all over India round the year. It is equally popular with spiritual travellers from west. Many Ashrams have been established in idylic hill surroundings which cater to the spiritual needs of tourists. During the kanwariyan season in the month of Sawan (June-July), the place remains heavily crowded. It remains open 24 hours during that period. The place adorns a festive atmosphere and melas (fairs) are held during that period. During that time even the Delhi-Haridwar highway is closed for vehicular traffic. The kanwariyans collects holy water of Ganga and then goes back to far away places like Delhi on foot. One must appreciates the faith these people have in God. Well, this is India.

Haridwar has great importance in Indian mythology. It is said to be one of the four places in earth where elixir (amrit) fell. Brahmakund of Har-ki-Pairi is the place where amrit fell and so a holy dip here, specially during the kumbh, has great significance.

It is said that King Bhagirath performed penance here to free the souls of his ancestors (the sixty thousand sons of King Sagar) from the curse of sage Kapil. Finally his prayer was answered and river Ganga was brought to earth from the heaven which freed his ancestors from the curse.

Har-ki-Pauri was constructed by King Vikramaditya in memory of his brother Bhartrihari. It is believed that Bhartrihari eventually came to Haridwar to meditate by the banks of holy Ganga. When he died, his brother constructed a Ghat in his name which later came to be known as Hari-Ki-Pauri. This sacred bathing ghat is also known as Brahmakund.

Kumbh mela is held here every 12 years and Ardh Kumbh every 6 years. Jupiter (Brahaspati) comes to the sign Aquarius (Kumbh) once in every twelve years the Kumbh fair is celebrated at Haridwar. The last Kumbh at Haridwar was held in 1998. (Kumbh mela is held every three years, rotating through the four cities of Prayag, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain)

Har-ki-Pauri: the gateway to heaven
Har-ki-Pauri is the place where one goes in Haridwar. There is a big parking area just next to the ghat. This is accessible both from inside the town and bypass side. They charge 15 rupees as parking fee for a car. You can safely park your car here.

The words Har-ki-Pauri literally means stairs to heaven. This is a ghat located on a canal diverted from the main Gnaga that flows about a kilometer further. The ghat is considered sacred as this is said to be the place where amrit fell. You will find hundreds of people taking the holy dip in main ghat area in Har-ki-Pauri. I must tell you that the water is very cold even in summer and icy cold in winter. Once I took bath here in July and still found the water to be cold. I took only one dip in four visits here. The first time we came here with parents in October, 1986. I could still visualize the scene when my late father had a dip on a cold and cloudy morning. It might have a bone shattering experience. We collected plenty of holy ganga jal from the Har-ki-Pauri. The stock will last for few years. There are few temples on the other bank of the canal. If you see them you will feel that they are not really ancient. But all of them have written on their walls as ancient temples. Whether you believe or not is upto you. The money you gave in offerings in the temples seems to go to the panditji managing the temple rather then to some trust. This is because the money I laid before one of the deity was picked up the panditji who chanted mantras for us and put it into his pocket. If you go there during daytime, a dip in ganga and a visit to the temple sums up your visit.

Aarti at Haridwar:
Once I went there in the afternoon to watch the famed aarti in the evening. I must admit that it was really magnificent. It was an altogether different experience that can not be described in words. All the ills you see during a day visit disappear in the darkness of night. The aarti starts just before twilight. You need to occupy a good place on the banks well in advance. You will be surprised to find thousands of people congregate on the two banks. The best place to see aarti will be the bridge next to the temple. But crowd is not allowed on it during the aarti. The place will be abuzz with chants of devotional songs that build up a very nice atmosphere before aarti starts. Devotees offer puja by floating diyas in boats made of dry leaves. Hundreds of diyas on the swiftly flowing water provides an unforgettable view. The chants of Har-Har-Gange, Jai-Maa-Gange will fill the air during the performance of aarti. One must be there during the aarti to get mesmerized. You will get to feel the tremendous faith we Indian have in god almighty.

What else is worth seeing :
Mansa Devi Temple:
Just next to the Har-Ki-Pauri, there is ropeway that will take you to the Mansa Devi temple on the Bilwa Parbat. I had been there twice earlier. If you are going to Haridwar from a far away place, you should not miss this.

Chandi Devi Temple:
This is located few kilometers away from Har-ki-Pauri, on the other bank of the Ganga. So, this is bit off the track. You can visit this if you are at Haridwar with a day long plan. Perched atop the Neel Parvat this temple was constructed in 1929 A.D. by the king of Kashmir- Suchat Singh. Legend has it that the army chief Chanda-Munda of a local demon King Shumbh- Nishumbha was killed by goddess Chandi here after which the place got the name Chandi Devi . The main statue was believed to have been established by the Adi Shankracharya in 8th century A.D. You can go to this temple by a ropeway which is longer than the one at Mansa Devi. I have never visited this temple. The riding point of ropeway falls on the Haridwar – Najibabbad highway.

For the not so devout :
The place wears a not so clean look. I mean not like places such as Badrinath which evokes a spontaneous peace of different kind in the minds. Though I have been to Haridwar four times, the dirtiness really puts me off. Plus beggars and quacks dressed up like sadhus trying different tricks to earn some livelihood. There is a trust called by Ganga Harisabha which is supposed to maintain the Har-ki-Pauri. Their agents outnumber tourists on a not so auspicious day. Every five minutes, one of the agents will come to you demanding for donation. If you confront then they will tone down their demand to request. Then if you agree to pay 11 or 21 rupees, they will try talking you to shell out more. I told them that the temple complex also has so many donation boxes put up by the trust and devotees normally make donations there. So why are they after further donation? The reply was that the money donated at the temple boxes goes to somewhere else and the money donated here goes to somewhere else. They did not tell where, but in all probability some percent of amount collected each day goes to them as commission.

In the end:
The round trip from Dehradun took about 3 hours. My new found interest in driving and enjoying the beauty in the hills of Uttaranchal ended where it started a year and a half ago. That’s all from Dehradun. We have started counting the days.


Cluny Grey said...

I long for the beauty of India and its people. Thank you for writing such a good descriptive blog. Cluny

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Sylvan said...

Haridwar is a beautiful city and Har ki Pauri is a nice place to visit. I especially lovedits atmosphere at night. I though loved the temple of Mansadevi the most. The views from the top are enchanting.

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Lavanya Sethi said...

I bought a membership of Country Vacations at Andheri Country Club. I was charged an amount of Rs.72000/- for 10 years I was promised to give free accommodations in any of the Country clubs across India and abroad in Country clubs own property.
If at all a certain place is not on the list Country club has a tie up with DAE (Dial an Exchange) & RCI (Resort Condominiums International).
So if one requires a booking in a particular place /state/Country which is listed on these tie up companies then the CLUB shall bear the accommodation charges and the member will have to pay a utility charges ranging not more than between Rs.3000-Rs.15000, depending upon the season and type of rooms. I wanted to book a vacation since November and the club is offering me packages including accommodations and sightseeing for which all the expenses shall be beared by me and the club shall not pay anything.
I told them I accept the fact that the place chosen is not on their club property but is on one of the DAE or RCI properties, so the Club should bear the accommodation charges whereas I pay the utility charges.
But they now refuse to do the same and are showing me packages worth Rs.7000/- per night. If I had to spent Rs.35000/- on my vacation why would I spend Rs.72000 for the country vacations membership??? I have discussed my issue at Consumer Court site also and requested to take some action against them but everything is worthless.

reshma M said...
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