Like so many other Indian paradoxes – Haridwar is
reverential in its chaos
Serene in spite of the hundreds of thousands of devotees that line up on the banks of the river every evening.
Considered as India’s holiest city – Haridwar is the point where the River Ganga (or Ganges) emerges from the Himalayas.
There’s no logical explanation for the feelings of purity and piety; amidst the filth that’s almost become synonymous with the city… I can only say that you do genuinely get overcome with emotion… with serenity.
The primary highlight of a visit to Haridwar is the evening ‘aarti’ at the Har ki Pauri. Haridwar’s most sacred ‘Ghat’ and believed to have been in existence from the 1st Century BC.
Legend goes that Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva both visited this spot and that the former’s footprints are embedded in the stone steps.
Part legend, part belief….but today, Har Ki Pauri is considered by most, if not all Hindus as the ultimate sacred place for a holy ritual. Especially with rites pertaining to death and the afterlife.
Its a very personal emotion of course, but what I definitely felt was a distinct calmness. To my soul.
Every evening the river literally comes ‘alive’ with the flickering of ‘diyas’.
When the small oil lamps are set afloat to the chants of hundreds of priests reciting the evening prayer, from centuries old religious texts. …You pretty much feel all your worries also floating away in the river’s current.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget those evenings sitting with M in our hotel’s beautiful backyard alongside the river, to a backdrop of ‘bhajans’ from nearby temples; seeing the diyas still alit and floating by…. Or the inner peace that I feel, everytime I’m there.
Haridwar isn’t a place for sightseeing…Its an experience.
I say this not only from a spiritual aspect. Even if you were to look at it agnostically – Haridwar is something you should embrace with all of your senses.
The narrow lanes where cars aren’t able to go beyond a point.. Alighting from your vehicle to climb aboard a cycle-rickshaw to finally get to your hotel..
Meandering through the tiny chaotic lanes, feasting your eyes on the colourful saris, bangles and other curios typical to tiny North Indian towns; salivating at the sight of the ‘Chaats’ , the ‘Puri Bhaji’ and tumber fulls of ‘Lassi’…
And ofcourse, the evening ‘Aarti . As a spectacle – if not as a ritual..
An assault on the senses, is the only way to describe Haridwar in a few words.
The other highlight for my family, when visiting Haridwar – the river rafting.
The mountainous route that the Ganga follows until it reaches Haridwar, creates several white water rapids.. Perfect conditions for thrill seekers, as you have rapids ranging from Class I to Class 5.
In fact, this region is considered to be amongst the best in Asia, for rafting.
Technically, the rafting happens closer to Rishikesh…Having said that, its easily reachable from Haridwar by taxi (or the rafting operator organises it for us to be picked up from our hotel).
You can choose the level of rapid you’d want..For first timers or children, the operator will guide you on what’s do-able.
My younger son has been doing it since the age of 9; and Dad’s enjoying it even at 69 – knock on wood….So, if you enjoy thrills – go for it. They have the safety aspect well covered.
Food is another huge thing in the mountains…As it is in Haridwar too. I always end up eating some fabulous meals every time I’m there…These are some of my favourites..
Haveli Hari Ganga..This is also where I love staying. Its a small hotel so book up well in advance.
A hundred year old property. Originally a residence for the royal family. Its right on the banks of the Ganga and has steps leading into the river. So its also perfect for the customary dip.
Mohanji Puri Wale..for the ‘Chaats’, Lassi and ofcourse the ‘Puri Bhaji’.
On your 2nd day in Haridwar, do definitely venture out to Rishikesh. Either when you venture out for rafting…
…Or for the evening aarti at the Paropkar Ashram.
The food’s fabulous in Rishikesh as well…2 must-dos on that note.
Beatles Cafe..Its only vegetarian food. But I can’t imagine anyone leaving this place disappointed. Its a very very extensive menu, covering both European and Asian dishes and every single item on the menu is yumm. And they have an amazing view.
Agarwal Bhojnalaya… Authentic Marwari / Rajathani food..Rich and loaded but really good.
Some more things to know…..
Its generally late afternoon by the time you get to Haridwar, so a 2 night stay is ideal.
Dehradun is the closest airport and about an hour away from the city). Driving in from Delhi is also an option, but the 232 kms distance takes about 5-6 hours..The train is a 4 hour journey.
I’ve stayed in both Haridwar and Rishikesh (we go every year ? )..though personally, I prefer staying in Haridwar..That ‘peace’ in the air is something that touches my soul, every single time.
But If that whole feel of being amidst the mountains.. waking up to that lushness and savouring the sunset…say all of that, appeals to you more; then stay in Rishikesh.
My kids prefer Rishikesh.
Either way, the drive back and forth is easily do-able.